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Muhammad v. Sarkos

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 8, 2014

NAADIR I. MUHAMMAD, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES A. SARKOS, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Naadir I. Muhammad, is proceeding pro se with this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After initial screening, this action proceeded on plaintiff's claims that three defendants, James A. Sarkos, Tim Witkowski and Dave Smith falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned plaintiff when he was arrested by them on January 25, 2012. Defendants Witkowski and Smith have jointly filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ( See Dkt. No. 36.) Defendant Sarkos has separately filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). ( See Dkt. No. 40.) For the following reasons, Witkowski and Smith's motion to dismiss will be granted in part and Sarkos' motion will be denied.

II. LEGAL STANDARD ON MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6) & MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS PURSUANT TO RULE 12(c)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In evaluating a motion to dismiss, "courts accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). In other words, a complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

In making this determination at the motion to dismiss stage, a court must take three steps. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010). "First, the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947). "Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). "Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).

Where a defendant's motion is one for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), it is treated under the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion where it alleges that a plaintiff has failed to state a claim. See Turbe v. Gov't of V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted); see also Gebhart v. Steffen, No. 14-1055, 2014 WL 3765715, at *2 (3d Cir. Aug. 1, 2014).

III. BACKGROUND

This case was initially screened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. At that time, the Court permitted plaintiff's claims of false arrest and false imprisonment to proceed against defendants Sarkos, Witkowski and Smith. The Court summarized the facts alleged in the complaint giving rise to the proceeded claims against these three defendants as follows:

On January 25, 2012, Defendant Sarkos, Witkowski, Smith and John and Jane Does conducted an unlawful search of Plaintiff's room at the Sunset Inn in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Plaintiff alleges that the officers did not have a warrant, exigent circumstances did not exist, and there was no probable cause. Though the complaint acknowledges that a warrant issued by Defendant Sarkos five days after the arrest states that there was telephonic probable cause which was authorized by JMC William Cuppuccio, Plaintiff argues that JMC Cappuccio never signed said document. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that, though he was arrested in his room for an "NCIC hit" for unpaid child support, Defendant Sarkos was not even aware of the "hit" until after the officers had already entered and searched the room. Therefore, according to Plaintiff, the police initially entered the room without any warrant.

(Dkt. No. 4 at p. 2.)

The Court then laid out what was required to allege a false arrest/false imprisonment claim. Specifically, "[t]o state a Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was made without probable cause." (Dkt. No. 4 at p. 5 (citing Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)).) With respect to stating a false arrest claim, the Court noted that "[W]here the police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the arrestee has a claim under § 1983 for false imprisonment based on detention pursuant to that arrest.'" (Dkt. No. 4 at p. 6. (quoting Groman v. Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995)).) Ultimately, the Court found that plaintiff's allegations stated a claim noting that plaintiff alleged that he was arrested without probable cause and without a warrant. The Court noted that plaintiff "specifically states that at the time that the police entered his room and conducted their search, they had no basis for his arrest because they were not yet aware of his outstanding child support warrant." (Dkt. No. 4 at p. 6.)

Subsequently, the complaint was served on defendants Sarkos, Witkowski and Smith. Defendant Sarkos answered the complaint. Defendants Wiktkowski and Smith filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant Sarkos subsequently filed a ...


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