United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Olugbenga O. Abiona, Esquire, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorney for Plaintiff Jessie Brown.
Allan E. Richardson, Esquire, Richardson & Galella, Woodbury, New Jersey, Attorney for Defendant Carol Mincey.
Todd J. Gelfand, Esquire, Barker Scott & Gelfand, Gibbsboro, New Jersey, Attorney for Defendant Borough of Penns Grove.
NOEL L. HILMAN, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendant Borough of Penns Grove's motion [Doc. No. 42] for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides this matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.
For the reasons expressed below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be denied.
In this case, Plaintiff alleges violations of her federal constitutional rights and brings her claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also asserts several state law causes of action. The Court exercises jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
As set forth in the Court's December 31, 2012 Opinion, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant Borough of Penns Grove (hereinafter, "the Borough"), and former Borough council president, Defendant Carol Mincey, an elected official of the Borough's municipal government, for alleged violations of her civil rights. (Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 11] ¶¶ 4-6.) The amended complaint alleges, in essence, that Plaintiff Jessie Brown is a "citizen-activist" and vice president of the Salem County Coalition who resides in Penns Grove, New Jersey. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 7.) Plaintiff asserts that in her individual capacity as a resident of the community and as a member of this legal political action group, she is "concerned with the operations of the government of Penns Grove[.]" (Id. ¶ 7.) At some time in 2010, as a result of her "citizen-activist efforts", Plaintiff allegedly learned of a proposal by then Borough Councilman Joseph Venello, Jr. that the Borough "hire a Public Safety Officer, a white male, to oversee the police department, including the Chief of Police, Gary Doubledee, a black male and veteran officer who had served 25-plus years on the force." (Id. ¶ 10.)
According to Plaintiff, Defendant Mincey supported Venello's proposal, but Plaintiff opposed it believing the plan was too costly for the Borough given that the Borough already employed a Chief of Police. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff further contends that she and several other Borough constituents considered the plan to hire a public safety officer as "an underhanded effort by Mincey and Venello to circumvent the Chief of Police[.]" (Id. ¶ 12.) On November 3, 2010, Plaintiff, purportedly exercising her rights as a citizen, attended a Borough council meeting where the proposed hiring of a public safety officer was up for public discussion. (Id. ¶ 15.) At that meeting, Plaintiff voiced her opinion on the proposal in accordance with the proper timing and procedures for speaking publically at Borough council meetings, and questioned the rationale for hiring a safety officer. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)
Approximately two months later, on January 3, 2011, a Complaint-Summons was issued charging Plaintiff with harassment under the New Jersey Criminal Code, N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:33-4,  and Plaintiff was ordered to appear in municipal court on February 22, 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) According to Plaintiff, the Complaint-Summons charging her with harassment was issued on December 21, 2010 as a result of false accusations by Defendant Mincey that Plaintiff "had threatened and/or insulted her and/or made terroristic threats" against Defendant Mincey during the November 3, 2010 Borough council meeting. (Id. ¶ 21.) The record at this stage of the proceeding reflects that the basic nature of the alleged threat was to the effect of "You better not come outside." The deposition testimony of other witnesses present at the November 3, 2010 meeting, however, offers conflicting accounts. There is testimony indicating that Plaintiff was seen and heard making this statement. However, there is also testimony that Plaintiff did not make this statement and that the statement was made by an unknown third party in the hallway outside the meeting around the same time Plaintiff was returning to her seat after speaking. Plaintiff herself denies ever making this alleged statement. Therefore, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Mincey "knowingly and deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth, made false statements or omissions that create[d] a falsehood in applying for a warrant for" Plaintiff's arrest.
Plaintiff represents that she was later found not guilty of the harassment charge after a criminal trial in municipal court which occurred on April 26, 2011. (Id. ¶ 24.) Rather than conducting a thorough investigation of the events which occurred at the November 3, 2010 Borough council meeting, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Mincey unjustly initiated criminal charges against Plaintiff in an attempt to stifle Plaintiff's political activities and opposition to Defendant Mincey actions on the council. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Mincey and the Borough retaliated against Plaintiff for the exercise of her constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment to publically speak out against the proposed plan to hire a public safety officer. (Id. ¶¶ 48, 54-55.)
Count I of Plaintiff's five count amended complaint asserts a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges that the Borough and Defendant Mincey violated her civil rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments by retaliating against Plaintiff for speaking freely about civic matters of public concern, by falsely accusing Plaintiff of harassment, and by falsely arresting and unlawfully detaining Plaintiff. Count II alleges that Defendant Mincey conspired to deprive Plaintiff of her civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count III asserts a common law conspiracy claim against Defendant Mincey under New Jersey law. In Count IV, Plaintiff brings a ...