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Dean v. Deptford Township

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 1, 2015

TAHARQU DEAN, Plaintiff,
DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP, et al., Defendants.


NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

This matter having come before the Court by way of motion [Doc. No. 97] of Defendants Scott Borton and Charles Finnegan seeking judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c); and it appearing as follows:

1. Plaintiff filed the initial complaint on August 29, 2013. Defendants Borton and Finnegan were not named as defendants at that time, although the complaint named "John Doe" defendants. Plaintiff averred in the initial complaint that he was arrested on December 27, 2011, and that the first night in jail he was "severely beaten by Defendant Correctional Officers [and] John Does 1-10, in the jail's shower facility." (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 30.) was granted leave to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff filed the amended complaint on May 8, 2014.

3. In the amended complaint, Plaintiff added Defendants Borton and Finnegan as parties and asserted four causes of action against these individuals. Counts One and Two are based on constitutional violations and are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count Three alleges a violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-2. Count Seven is a common law tort claim for assault and battery.

4. Defendants Borton and Finnegan filed an answer to the amended complaint in which they assert as an affirmative defense that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

5. Generally, a statute of limitations defense may not be raised by way of motion under Rule 12 unless "the time alleged in the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action has not been brought within the statute of limitations." Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotations omitted). If "the bar is not apparent on the face of the complaint, then it may not afford the basis for a dismissal of the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6)." Id . (internal quotations omitted).[1]

6. In this case, Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 have a two-year statute of limitations. Dique v. New Jersey State Police, 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010).

7. With respect to Plaintiff's claim under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, courts in this district have employed a two-year statute of limitations. See, e.g., Johnson v. Passaic Cty., Civ. No. 2:13-4363, 2014 WL 2203842, at *9 (D.N.J. May 23, 2014) (statute of limitations under New Jersey Civil Rights Act is two years, noting that state statute was modeled after Section 1983 and has been interpreted in parallel with Section 1983); Brown v. City of Newark, Civ. A. No. 09-3752, 2010 WL 1704748, at *4 (D.N.J. Apr. 26, 2010) ("[T]he language of New Jersey's generally-applicable personal injury statute of limitations, combined with the NJCRA's similar purpose and design to § 1983, which has employed state statutes of limitations... convinces this Court that New Jersey's two-year limitation applies to the NJCRA."). assault and battery claim is also two years pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:14-2. Pittman v. Metuchen Police Dept., 441 F.Appx. 826, 828 (3d Cir. 2011); Jutrowski v. Twp. of Riverdale, Civ. A. No. 13-7351, 2014 WL 3783874, at *3 (D.N.J. July 31, 2014); Gordon v. East Orange Veterans Hosp., Civ. A. No. 2:11cv-4066, 2013 WL 5730496, at *7 (D.N.J. Oct. 22, 2013).

9. As the allegedly wrongful conduct in this action occurred in December 2011, it appears from the face of the complaint that the two-year statute of limitations on all four claims against Defendants Borton and Finnegan had expired when Plaintiff filed the amended complaint on May 8, 2014.

10. Plaintiff concedes in opposition to the present motion that his claims against Defendants Borton and Finnegan were not filed within the statute of limitations period. (Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pl.'s Response in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [Doc. No. 101], at 2.) Plaintiff argues, however, that the claims against these defendants are not subject to dismissal because the amended complaint relates back to the date of the filing of the original complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. 15(c). (Id.)

11. In deciding whether the amendment in this case relates back to the date of an original pleading, the Court first considers whether New Jersey law - which is the law that provides the applicable statute of limitations as discussed above - would allow relation back. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(A).

12. Two New Jersey rules are relevant to the relation back inquiry in this case: N.J. Ct. R. 4:26-4 and 4:9-3.

13. New Jersey Court Rule 4:26-4, the fictitious party rule, permits a plaintiff to sue a defendant under a fictitious name when the defendant's real name is unknown. "The fictitious party rule may be used only if the plaintiff exercised due diligence to ascertain the defendant's true name before and after filing the complaint." DeRienzo v. Harvard Indus., Inc., 357 F.3d 348, 353 (3d Cir. 2004). A plaintiff may not avail himself of this rule if he "should have known, by exercise of due diligence, defendant's identity prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations." Id . Additionally, the "fictitious name designation also must have appended to it an appropriate description sufficient to identify' the defendant." Id . Finally, the new defendant must not be prejudiced by the application of N.J. Ct. R. 4:26-4. Id.

14. Defendants Borton and Finnegan contend that Plaintiff did not exercise due diligence in obtaining the identity of all parties, arguing that Plaintiff should have received discovery concerning the identity of these officers in connection with an underlying criminal matter and in discovery provided earlier in this civil action. (Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss Compl. Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(c) [Doc. No. 97-2], at 10-12.) Defendants also argue that they are prejudiced because they did not have knowledge of the potential claims against them. (Id. at 9.) In ...

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