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Colon v. City of Paterson

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 9, 2014

JOSE COLON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PATERSON, ANTHONY CASTRANOVA, individually and in his capacity as a City of Paterson Police Officer, TERRENCE DUFFY, individually and in his capacity as a City of Paterson Police Officer, KELVIN MATOS individually and in his capacity as a City of Paterson Police Officer and DOES 1-15, Defendants.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

Plaintiff brings this claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries suffered while officers of the Paterson Police Department ("PPD") were arresting him. The instant matter comes before the court on motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants City of Paterson, Anthony Castranova, Terrance Duffy, and Kelvin Matos. The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because the Complaint presents questions of federal law. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 17, 2010, Plaintiff Jose Colon drove two individuals, Carlos Vasquez and Kenny Garcia, to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey so that they could burglarize a car in order to obtain a laptop. (City of Paterson's Statement of Facts ("Paterson SOF") at ¶ 1). Plaintiff drove Vasquez and Garcia to the parking garage and then waited for the two to return. ( Id. at ¶ 2). Upon their return, they urged Plaintiff to leave quickly because a security officer had seen them. ( Id. at ¶ 2). PPD officers Anthony Castranova, Terrence Duffy, and Kelvin Matos (collectively "the Officer Defendants") responded to the report of this burglary. ( Id. at ¶ 3).

Plaintiff testified at his deposition that police vehicles blocked the entrance and exit to the garage. ( Id. at ¶ 4). Plaintiff knew the police officers were yelling for him to stop, but he would not comply. ( Id. at ¶ 4). Plaintiff knew he was eluding the police officers, and during his attempt to leave the garage, he struck a vehicle driven by Officer Duffy. ( Id. at ¶ 4; Official Report of Terrence Duffy ("Duffy Report"), ECF No. 48-8 at 18). After hitting Officer Duffy's vehicle, Plaintiff continued driving, ran through a stop sign, and struck another vehicle. (Paterson SOF at ¶ 5). As a result of the impact, Plaintiff's vehicle started spinning, and once it came to a rest, Plaintiff, Garcia, and Vasquez exited the vehicle and started to run from the police. ( Id. at ¶ 5; Declaration of Lawrence Hersh ("Hersh Decl.") Exhibit G, ECF No. 48-8 at 1). The police chased Plaintiff. ( See Paterson SOF at ¶¶ 6-8).

What happened next is disputed, but for the purposes of this motion, we must accept the version of the facts most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 968 (3d Cir. 1996) ( citing Macleary v. Hines, 817 F.2d 1081, 1083 (3d Cir. 1987)). According to the Plaintiff, he ran about 25 feet before the police stopped his flight by jumping on his back. (Declaration of Jose Colon ("Colon Decl.") at ¶ 2; Plaintiff's Deposition at 35; Hersh Decl. Exhibit G, ECF No. 48-8 at 9). After slamming Plaintiff into the ground, the police immediately put him into handcuffs. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 36). Plaintiff claims that once he was on the ground, Plaintiff gave up and stopped resisting arrest. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 37).

According to the Plaintiff, "at least two police officers" began hitting him with a long, hard metal object, either a night stick or a flash light as he lay on the ground in handcuffs and not resisting. (Colon Decl. at ¶ 3). Officer Castranova agrees that he did strike Plaintiff with an expandable baton called an ASP. (Official Report of Officer Anthony Castranova, ECF No. 48-9 at 3). Officer Matos admits to being with Castranova as the confrontation with Colon occurred, but both deny that Matos hit Plaintiff. (Official Report of Officer Kelvin Matos, ECF No. 48-8). According to documents from PPD Internal Affairs, Officer Duffy stated that he was apprehending Kenny Garcia while Matos and Castranova pursued Colon. (Hersh Decl. Exhibit G, ECF No. 48-8 at 4).

The officers hit the top and rear part of Colon's head three or four times with the baton while he was lying face down and handcuffed. (Colon Decl. at ¶ 4). They also hit him multiple times on other parts of his body, including his ribs, back, and chest while he was lying on the pavement. (Colon Decl. at ¶ 5). The police then dragged him face-down to the patrol vehicle, causing the skin to come off of his arm, elbow, knee, and hand. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 40-41).

Plaintiff needed 18 staples in his head to close the wounds from the baton strikes. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 44). His entire arm swelled. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 45-47). His hand remained swollen for a long time, and he had to get physical therapy for his hand. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 45-58). Plaintiff developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the confrontation with the police. (Plaintiff's Deposition at 57).

Plaintiff filed a Section 1983 Complaint, seeking damages against the Officer Defendants for excessive force and against the City of Paterson ("Paterson") for maintaining a policy, practice, or custom of deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of the people the PPD serves.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides for summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery [including, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file] and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and is material if it will affect the outcome of the trial under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court considers all evidence and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007).

III. DISCUSSION

In this motion, Defendants argue that the claims for excessive force and municipal liability should be dismissed. The Officer Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity, and Paterson argues that Plaintiff has not brought forth enough evidence to prove that Paterson had a policy, practice, or custom of acquiescing to excessive force. Defendants' arguments are not persuasive.

A. Qualified Immunity

At the outset, Castranova, Matos, and Duffy argue that qualified immunity should shield them from ...


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