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Morris v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 29, 2014

ALLEN D. MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants

ALLEN D. MORRIS, Plaintiff, Pro se, BRIDGETON, NJ.

For Dominick Ferrari, Douglas Herbert, Mark Rowe, Steve Brown, and Richard Henderson, Defendants: ELIZABETH ANN PASCAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, OFFICE OF THE U.S. ATTORNEY, CAMDEN, NJ.

For City of Pleasantville, Defendant: ROBERT P. MERENICH, GEMMEL, TODD & MERENICH, P.A., LINWOOD, NJ.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and motion to amend his complaint. Also before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants Dominick Ferrari, Douglas Herbert, Mark Rowe, Steve Brown, Richard Henderson, and the City of Pleasantville. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration will be denied, his motion to amend his complaint will be denied, and Defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Allen Morris (" Plaintiff" or " Morris"), brought a civil rights action against Defendants based on events that occurred on May 18, 2010, when he was arrested at his home. The events leading up to the arrest are not in dispute and are as follows.

On May 4, 2010, two detectives from the New Jersey State Police (" NJSP"), Major Crime Unit, Detective Glenn Garrels and Detective Chris Scott, went to Plaintiff's residence to locate Adam Bard (" Bard"). Bard is Plaintiff's brother-in-law and, at the time, had several outstanding arrest warrants. Bard was wanted for questioning in a homicide investigation into the death of an 81-year-old woman a month earlier. Detective Garrels and Detective Scott spoke with Plaintiff, who confirmed that Bard resided with him and Bard's sister, Angela Bard, Plaintiff's then-fiancé e and now wife. Plaintiff told the Detectives that Bard was not home. Plaintiff would not permit the Detectives to search the home for Bard without a search warrant. Garrels and Scott did not enter the home, but requested assistance from the United States Marshals Service's NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force (" Task Force") to locate Bard.

On May 13, 2010, three members of the Task Force, Defendants Steve Brown, Dominick Ferrari, and Mark Rowe[1] returned to Plaintiff's residence to locate Bard. Plaintiff informed them that Bard was not at home and he would not permit them to search the house without a search warrant.[2]

On May 18, 2010, at approximately 6:30 a.m., Task Force Officers (" TFOs") and the NJSP K-9 Unit South went to Morris' house again in the continuing effort to locate Bard. The TFOs and members of the NJSP K-9 Unit set up surveillance at the residence. When Angela Bard left the home and drove off in her car, TFOs Brown, Ferrari, and another task force officer, Steven Melchiore, followed her and stopped her car. They approached Angela and asked whether her brother was at home. Angela was not sure so she called Morris on her cell phone. Morris, who was sleeping at the time of the call, got out of bed to check. Angela heard Morris knock on her brother's bedroom door and call her brother's name; she heard her brother's response; and she heard Morris tell Bard to get up because the Marshals were coming to pick him up. Angela verified for the TFOs that Bard was in the house. Meanwhile, the law enforcement officers who had remained at the Morris residence set up a perimeter around the house.

After Brown, Ferrari, and Melchoire returned to the Morris residence, the TFOs approached the residence, took up tactical positions outside the house, and knocked on the front door several times. After approximately a minute of knocking, Morris opened the window overlooking the front of the house and asked the TFOs what they wanted. The TFOs responded that they had a warrant for Bard and to open the front door. Morris walked away from the window, informing the TFOs that they were not coming in the house. The TFOs continued to knock, directing the occupants to open the door or it would be forcibly opened. After these efforts failed, Rowe gave the order to breach the door. Herbert used a battering ram and forced the front door open. The TFOs secured the first floor where neither Bard nor Morris were found. Some of the TFOs then took up tactical positions at the bottom of the stairs, while others searched and held the kitchen area. Rowe was assigned the rifle (long gun); Melchoire was assigned the shield; Herbert was assigned the ram; and Brown, Ferrari, Henderson, and Herbert were assigned " cover control" and " hands on, " if necessary. The remaining law enforcement officers were outside covering the front and rear of the property and the canine. The TFOs yelled several times to Bard that he was under arrest and to come downstairs with his hands above his head. Bard came downstairs, complied with the TFOs commands, and was handcuffed without incident. Ferrari then took Bard out of the home.

The TFOs then yelled to Morris that he was under arrest, and they directed him to come downstairs with his hands above his head. Morris did not respond so the TFOs warned Morris that a police dog would be brought in if he did not comply with their commands. Morris still did not respond. Rowe directed the K-9 Unit to bring in the police dog. Once the dog crossed the threshold, he began to bark. Morris then yelled that he was coming down. Morris appeared at the top of the stairs talking on a cell phone. Morris was on the phone with the NJSP Office of Professional Standards complaining that the TFOs had entered his house without a warrant.[3] TFOs shouted for him to drop the phone and walk down the stairs. Morris walked down the stairs and then was instructed to lie face down on the stairs so he could be handcuffed. Morris did not lie down, so Henderson pulled Plaintiff down by his belt loop. Morris was directed to place his hands behind his back but did not do so. A struggle ensued and the TFOs instructed Morris to stop resisting. Henderson straddled Morris in his hip area in an effort to handcuff him. Henderson was unable to pull Plaintiff's right arm behind his back because Plaintiff had his arms on the stairs above his head. Plaintiff testified that he was not able to put his hands behind his back because he was on the stairs and that when Henderson would try to " snatch" his right arm and bring it behind his back, his arm would " bounce" back to its original position.

Melchoire then came from the left side of the stairs to help Henderson handcuff Morris.[4] Henderson and Melchoire told Morris to release his arm from the stair. Henderson lost his balance and fell on Morris. To handcuff Morris's right arm, Henderson had to pull his right arm behind him.

Morris was placed under arrest for obstruction, hindering apprehension, and resisting arrest. Henderson escorted Morris from the home, followed by Brown. Rowe and Melchoire proceeded to clear the second floor of the house. Before they left, Rowe picked up the cell phone Morris dropped, noticed that it said " SP OPS" on the display, closed it, and left it on the stairway banister. Defendants maintain that none of the TFOs struck Morris during the entire incident, although this is disputed by Plaintiff. Plaintiff maintains that he was hit with the butt of a gun during the arrest.

Morris was transported to the NJSP Bridgeton Station for processing. None of the TFOs observed an injury to Plaintiff after his arrest. Defendants have submitted a black and white copy of a photograph of Plaintiff while handcuffed and standing between two TFOs, to support their claim that Morris did not exhibit any injuries after his arrest. Defendants state that despite not exhibiting any injuries, Plaintiff was asked if he wanted medical attention, but he refused. Plaintiff testified he did not know he was injured. Morris was released on his own recognizance. Angela Bard came to the station, picked up Morris, and took him home. Plaintiff states that after he went home, he noticed redness and swelling in his eye. He states that he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a fractured orbital lobe.

On December 15, 2010, and on January 19, 2011, Morris's criminal trial was held in the Fairfield Township Municipal Court, New Jersey. At the conclusion of the trial, the municipal court judge found Morris guilty of obstruction, hindering apprehension, and resisting arrest. Morris appealed his convictions to the New Jersey Superior Court. On June 10, 2011, the Superior Court Judge upheld the resisting arrest conviction but found Morris not guilty of hindering apprehension or obstruction. Morris appealed the resisting arrest conviction to the New Jersey Appellate Division. The Appellate Division upheld Morris' conviction for resisting arrest.

Plaintiff alleges that there was no probable cause for his arrest. Plaintiff asserts that he did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the defendants, that he was not actively involved in escape, and that he was not resisting arrest. Plaintiff states that defendants used excessive force by striking him in the face causing a fracture to his orbital bone that required medical treatment.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed his original complaint on May 16, 2012, and an amended complaint on February 22, 2013, naming additional defendants. Defendants United States of America, and the United States Marshal Service Fugitive Task Force were dismissed as immune under the Eleventh Amendment. After filing motions to dismiss, Defendants State of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police, and the Atlantic County Sheriff's Office were dismissed. Defendants Atlantic County and the City of Vineland were dismissed without prejudice and Plaintiff was granted leave to file a motion to file a second amended complaint.

Plaintiff filed several letters and a proposed second amended complaint. The Court has construed his applications to the Court as a motion for reconsideration of the Court's Order granting the motions to dismiss, and as a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. The remaining Defendants, Dominick Ferrari, Douglas Herbert, Mark Rowe, Steve Brown, and Richard Henderson, and Defendant City of Pleasantville, have filed motions for summary judgment.

III. JURISDICTION

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and therefore, this Court exercises subjection matter jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1343(a)(3), in that the complaint alleges federal civil rights claims.

IV. DISCUSSION

The Court will address Plaintiff's motions first, and then address Defendants' motions for summary judgment.

A. Motion For Reconsideration

A motion for reconsideration may be treated as a motion to alter or amend judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), or as a motion for relief from judgment or order under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b), or it may be filed pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i). The purpose of a motion for reconsideration " is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence, " Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). A judgment may be altered or amended only if the party seeking reconsideration shows: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was ...


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