United States District Court, D. New Jersey
RICHARD G. HOLLAND, MARYANN COTTRELL GLASSBORO, NJ, Appearing pro se.
STEPHEN GUICE, LAW OFFICES OF STEPHEN GUICE, P.C., BARRINGTON, NJ, On behalf of defendants Murphy's Auto Care and Performance Center, doing business as Murphy's Auto, Matthew Murphy, Danny Murphy, Sr., Daniel Murphy, Jr.
LOUIS D. TAMBARO, MARKS & KLEIN LLP, RED BANK, NJ, On behalf of Bill Smith Snap-on Tools.
ROBERT A. BAXTER, KELLEY, WARDELL, CRAIG, ANNIN & BAXTER, LLC, HADDONFIELD, NJ, On behalf of the Washington Township defendants.
NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.
Presently before the Court are the motions of several defendants to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against them. Also pending is plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend their complaint. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motions will be granted and plaintiffs' motion will be denied.
Plaintiffs Maryann Cottrell and Richard Holland, appearing pro se, have been "long time advocates for the disabled." (Compl. ¶ 26.) Ms. Cottrell is hearing impaired and is the mother of a severely disabled daughter. Mr. Holland is Ms. Cottrell's daughter's secondary caregiver.
Plaintiffs' advocacy is well known to this Court. As the Third Circuit summarized, "Holland and Cottrell live together and care for Cottrell's severely disabled child, and are advocates for the disabled. They contact public authorities about businesses that do not provide required access for disabled persons, and lodge citizens' complaints regarding improper use of parking spaces designated for persons with disabilities." Cottrell v. Good Wheels, 458 F.Appx. 98, 99 (3d Cir. 2012).
It is Plaintiffs' practice to document, usually through video in addition to their personal observation, instances of the unauthorized use of handicap-accessible parking spaces, and then report these violations to the business owners and the local police. As a result of this conduct, business owners often "ban" plaintiffs from their property, which plaintiffs allege constitutes retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 et seq. See, e.g., Cottrell v. Zagami, LLC, 537 F.Appx. 46 (3d Cir. 2013); Cottrell v. Nicholson Properties, LLC, 2014 WL 5390671, *1 (D.N.J. 2014); Cottrell v. Rowan University, 786 F.Supp.2d 851, 853-54 (D.N.J. 2011) ("Plaintiffs are advocates for the disabled, and they inform local authorities about businesses that fail to maintain handicap accessible parking and fail to discourage unauthorized use of handicapped parking spaces.... Although plaintiffs dispute that their enforcement activities caused any consternation to Rowan students, staff, visitors or administration, ... their conduct over the course of several months resulted in Rowan University issuing them a trespass letter banning them from campus.").
The situation in this case started with the usual scenario. Plaintiffs claim that on August 2, 2012, they were driving on Delsea Drive in Washington Township, New Jersey when they observed a Snap-on Tools truck parked in the only handicap parking space provided at Murphy's Auto Care. Mr. Holland drove into the parking lot and Ms. Cottrell began videotaping the alleged parking violation. In the parking lot, Mr. Holland turned the car around so Ms. Cottrell could videotape the front of the truck. Mr. Holland then continued to drive toward the parking lot exit.
At this point, the situation diverged from plaintiffs' typical course because, according to plaintiffs, the owners of Murphy's Auto Care, defendants Danny Murphy, Sr., Daniel Murphy, Jr., and Matthew Murphy, and the driver of the Snap-on Tools truck, defendant John Headley, apparently already knew of plaintiffs and their methodology for documenting handicap parking violations, and they instantly "retaliated" against plaintiffs for their efforts. Plaintiffs claim in their original complaint that the four men surrounded plaintiffs' car and Headley banged on the windows, sat on the back of the car, and then moved to the passenger side to take pictures of Ms. Cottrell videotaping. Plaintiffs claim that Matthew Murphy pressed his body against the driver's side door, took pictures of Mr. Holland, leaned onto the surface of the car with this hands, one of which was holding a cigarette, and then sat on the hood. Plaintiffs claim that Daniel Murphy, Jr. gave Ms. Cottrell the middle finger gesture. Plaintiffs claim that they had been frightened by the defendants' conduct, and became even more so when Matthew Murphy tried to open Mr. Holland's door.
Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Holland called the Washington Township Police. When the police arrived, plaintiffs claim that the police did not ask them what had happened, but the police spoke with the four defendants. Mr. Holland was arrested for "assault by auto."
Plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint contains more allegations. In their amendments, plaintiffs claim that the police were told that Mr. Holland backed over Danny Murphy, but Mr. Holland told the police that it was not true. Plaintiffs claim that police officers at the scene repeatedly stood in front of Ms. Cottrell's video camera, and one officer told her to turn it off. Plaintiffs claim that the police retained her driver's license for 45 minutes, and when it was finally returned to her, she could not leave because Daniel Murphy, Jr. was standing behind the car, and the officer would not tell him to move.
Plaintiffs further claim in their proposed amended complaint that the four defendants made a video statement to the Washington Township Police Department, where Danny Murphy admits to standing behind plaintiffs' vehicle, and stating, "I put my hands on the truck to kind of get myself out of the way, my knee wanted to go the other way, then a crack maybe a pop and on the ground I went." (Amend. Compl. ...