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Benhaim v. Borough of Highland Park

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 6, 2015

SHLOMO BENHAIM, Plaintiff,
v.
BOROUGH OF HIGHLAND PARK, HIGHLAND PARK POLICE DEPARTMENT, PATROLMAN DAVID SODEN, AND JOHN DOES 1-5, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 515

For SHLOMO BENHAIM, Plaintiff: WANDA M. AKIN, LEAD ATTORNEY, ONE GATEWAY CENTER, NEWARK, NJ.

For BOROUGH OF HIGHLAND PARK, Defendant: ALAN J. BARATZ, LEAD ATTORNEY, WEINER LESNIAK, PARSIPPANY, NJ.

For PATROLMAN DAVID SODEN, Defendant: LORI A. DVORAK, LEAD ATTORNEY, DVORAK & ASSOCIATES, LLC, NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.

OPINION

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KEVIN MCNULTY, United States District Judge.

This action arises from a physical altercation between the plaintiff, Shlomo Benhaim, and defendant David Soden, a patrolman in the Highland Park Police Department. Benhaim was convicted in state court of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice. Thereafter, Benhaim filed this action against Soden and the Borough of Highland Park (" Highland Park" ).[1] In his Complaint, Benhaim asserts a Section 1983 claim for excessive force and a state law claim for assault and battery. He also asserts against Highland Park a Monell claim for unlawful customs and inadequate training. Presently before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by Soden and Highland Park. For the reasons set forth below, defendant Soden's motion is denied and defendant Highland Park's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The Altercation

On May 3, 2009, Benhaim drove his daughter, Talia, to a Rite Aid pharmacy in Highland Park, New Jersey. (Defendant Soden's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Dkt. No. 57-3, ¶ 14), Leaving the Rite Aid, Benhaim accidently backed his car into a light pole in the store's parking lot. ( Id. ¶ 17) After determining that the damage to the car and the light pole was negligible, Benhaim drove home. ( Id. ¶ 19) Shortly after Benhaim returned home, defendant Soden arrived to investigate a report of the accident that had been filed by a bystander. ( Id. ¶ 12) Benhaim did not deny that he may have " tapped" the light pole. ( Id. ¶ 13) Benhaim then escorted Soden to his car, which was parked in the rear of his property. ( Id. ¶ 14). After inspecting the car, Soden requested Benhaim's license, registration, and proof of insurance. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 14, 17) Benhaim complied, but his insurance card was expired. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 18-19) Soden issued Benhaim a

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ticket based on the parking lot accident. ( Id. ¶ 19)

The parties agree that Benhaim became agitated or upset when he realized he was going to get a ticket. They disagree, however, about what happened next.

Soden states that he smelled alcohol on Benhaim's breath and asked him if he had been drinking. ( Id. ¶ 19-21) Benhaim demanded that Soden " get [off] his property," and then, Sodden says, " push[ed] [Soden] in the chest with the palms of both his hands" ( Id. ¶ 23) After the push, Soden placed Benhaim under arrest and called for back-up.

According to Benhaim, Soden asked Benhaim if he had been drinking. Sensing Benhaim's growing agitation, Soden began to walk toward the sidewalk. (Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Dkt. No. 67-1, ¶ 15) When Soden told Benhaim that his insurance card was expired, Benhaim started to approach the car so that he could search for an up-to-date version. ( Id. ¶ 16). Benhaim states that, as he walked toward the car, Soden " [s]uddenly...[and] forcefully poked/hit [Benhaim] in the upper chest." ( Id. ¶ 17) Soden allegedly grabbed Benhaim's left arm and twisted it backward, and then pushed Benhaim forward to the ground. ( Id. ¶ 18) Benhaim states that Soden held him down by placing a knee in his back, and handcuffed him. While Benhaim was being handcuffed, Soden allegedly " repeatedly punched him in his back" before finally calling for back-up. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 18-19) Benhaim's daughter, who was watching from inside the house, also recalls seeing Soden " beating on" Benhaim after he had been handcuffed. She reportedly pleaded with Soden " to stop beating her father." ( Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21).

These accounts of the altercation, though divergent, end the same way: Benhaim was arrested and taken to the police station, and later was taken to the hospital to be treated for his injuries. (Dkt. No. 57-3, 1(25) A police internal affairs investigation found no evidence that Soden had used excessive force. (Dkt. No. 67-1, ¶ 27)

The State Criminal Case

Benhaim was charged with simple assault of a police officer, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, leaving the scene of an accident, and failing to report an accident. ( Id. ¶ 29) On April 22, 2010, after a bench trial in Edison Municipal Court, Benhaim was found guilty of all charges. Benhaim appealed his conviction to the Middlesex County Superior Court, Criminal Division. The Criminal Division reversed his convictions for leaving the scene of an accident and failing to report an accident, but upheld his convictions on the three arrest-related charges. Benhaim appealed to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, which affirmed the Criminal Division's holding.

This Action

On May 2, 2011, Benhaim filed this action against defendants Soden and Highland Park. The Complaint comprises four counts: Count 1 asserts Section 1983 claims against both defendants for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution; Count 2 asserts Section 1983 claims against Soden for use of excessive force; Count 3 asserts a Monell claim against Highland Park for unlawful customs and inadequate training; and Count 4 asserts a tort claim against Soden for assault and battery. Benhaim voluntarily dismissed Count 1 pursuant to a Stipulation of Dismissal entered by the Court on December ...


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