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Perez v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 15, 2015

NELSON PONCE PEREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

CLAIRE C. CECCHI, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Defendants State of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police ("NJSP"), Colonel Rick Fuentes ("Fuentes") and New Jersey State Trooper Brian Murray ("Murray") to dismiss Plaintiff Nelson Ponce Perez's Second Amended Complaint. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 44. Defendants New Jersey State Troopers Edward Walther ("Walther"), Michael Hughes ("Hughes"), Michael Travis ("Travis") and Sergeant James Snyder ("Snyder") joined in the motion. See Letter filed February 9, 2015, ECF No. 45; Letter filed February 19, 2015, ECF No. 51.[1] Plaintiff did not oppose the motion. No oral argument was heard pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part. The Court will dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims, with the exception of his § 1983 and NJCRA claims against Defendants Murray, Walther, Hughes, Travis and Snyder, in their individual capacities.[2]

II. BACKGROUND

This civil rights action arises from Plaintiff's arrest subsequent to a motor vehicle stop. Plaintiff alleges that on August 1, 2012, at approximately 1:22 a.m., New Jersey State Troopers Murray, Hughes, Walther and Travis, as well as an additional unnamed trooper ("John Doe 1"), stopped Plaintiff's vehicle as he was driving southbound on Route 9 in Little Egg Harbor Township. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-32.[3] Murray "cited Plaintiff for Traffic on Marked Lanes - Unsafe Lane Change." Id. at ¶ 33. The troopers then arrested Plaintiff without explanation and drove him to the "State Police Barracks, " and then to a rest stop on the New Jersey Parkway, where they transferred him to the custody of "unknown Englewood Police Officers." Id. at ¶¶ 34-36.

The Englewood Police Officers transported Plaintiff to the City of Englewood Police Department, where they informed Plaintiff that he was arrested pursuant to a warrant based on charges in two criminal matters. Id. at ¶ 39. Plaintiff contends, however, that those charges had been "discharged, " and that Plaintiff had posted bail on April 28, 2011 in both matters. Id . The Englewood Police Officers then transported Plaintiff to Bergen County Jail, where Plaintiff was able to contact his family, and where Plaintiff "participated twice in video arraignment proceedings where it was never concluded that there was an ongoing criminal matter, or that there was a valid warrant for [Plaintiff's] arrest." Id. at ¶¶ 41-42. After Plaintiff's family posted bail for his release on August 4, 2012, they were informed that "the officers had made a mistake and there was never an open arrest warrant for [Plaintiff], " and the bail money was returned to them. Id. at ¶¶ 43-45. Plaintiff was not charged with an offense related specifically to the traffic stop, and was never given a date to appear in court for the two criminal matters for which Plaintiff had posted bail on April 28, 2011. Id. at ¶¶ 47-48.

On July 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court, against the City of Englewood, its police department, police chief and unnamed police officers, Little Egg Harbor Township, its police department, police chief and unnamed police officers, and the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police, Murray, Fuentes and unnamed state troopers. See Compl., ECF No. 1. Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-1 ("NJCRA"), contending that his arrest and imprisonment violated his rights under the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution, and seeking relief in the form of compensatory damages and punitive damages. See generally, id. Subsequently, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of the City of Englewood Police Department and its police chief, see ECF Nos. 10, 34, and to the dismissal of Little Egg Harbor Township, its police department, and its police chief, see ECF No. 43. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on September 22, 2014 and a Second Amended Complaint on October 31, 2014.[4]

The Second Amended Complaint contains substantially the same allegations as the initial Complaint, alleging that the State Defendants are liable for violations of Plaintiff's civil rights under § 1983, § 1985 and the NJCRA. See Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 36.[5] Plaintiff alleges that the troopers, Murray, Hughes, Walther and Travis, participated in Plaintiff's arrest, and that Plaintiff's arrest was "permitted and approved by Sergeant Snyder." Id. at ¶¶ 32-37. Plaintiff contends that his constitutional rights were violated because he was arrested without probable cause, the troopers failed to check the validity of the arrest warrant before transferring him to the Englewood police, Plaintiff was not provided with a timely arraignment on a specific charge, Plaintiff was not released on bail, Plaintiff was not permitted to contact his family and Plaintiff was not provided with a public defender. Id. at ¶¶ 55-56, 61. Plaintiff also alleges that "Defendants worked in connection with one another and/or conspired to arrest and/or imprison [Plaintiff] without due process of law in violation of his constitutional rights, " thus making them liable for conspiracy to interfere with his rights under § 1985. Id. at ¶ 69.

Finally, Plaintiff alleges that the State of New Jersey, NJSP, Snyder and Fuentes are liable for failing to properly train and supervise troopers Murray, Hughes, Walther and Travis, and for failing to properly implement and enforce policies and procedures pertaining to checking the validity of arrest warrants, transferring individuals they have arrested, racial profiling and selective enforcement. Id. at ¶¶ 73-76, 80-86. Plaintiff's factual allegations against Fuentes are limited to the fact that "[a]t all relevant and material times, Superintendent Fuentes was responsible for the promulgation, review and enforcement of all policies, customs and practices of the New Jersey State Police." Id. at ¶ 23.

The State Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint on December 5, 2014. See Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 44. The State Defendants first request that the Court dismiss all claims against the State of New Jersey, the NJSP, and all individual defendants in their official capacities, both for failure to state a claim under § 1983 and the NJCRA, and based upon the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court. Defs.' Br. 6-11. The State Defendants also argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against the State of New Jersey and NJSP for failure to train and/or supervise. Id. at 12-15. The State Defendants further argue that Plaintiff's § 1985 claims against all State Defendants should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Id. at 15-17. Finally, the State Defendants request that the Court dismiss all claims against Fuentes in his individual capacity as well as his official capacity, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim. Id. at 18-20. Plaintiff has not opposed the motion.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

The State Defendants bring this motion to dismiss both for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted and based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity. See generally, Defs.' Br., ECF No. 44-1. For a complaint to survive dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), it "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, district courts must first "accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard legal conclusions." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-211 (3d Cir. 2009). Then, the court must determine "whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief.'" Id . (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). "This plausibility' determination will be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id . (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Further, an amended complaint "supersedes the original and renders it of no legal effect, unless the amended complaint specifically refers to or adopts the earlier pleading." West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat'l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 171 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting New Rock Asset Partners, LP v. Preferred Entity Advancements, Inc., 101 F.3d 1492, 1504 (3d Cir. 1996)).

A motion to dismiss based upon sovereign immunity is properly brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because sovereign immunity implicates the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction. See Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 693 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996). In considering a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the Court must determine whether the motion "presents a facial' attack or a factual' attack on the claim at issue, because that distinction determines how the pleading must be reviewed." Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 357-58 (3d Cir. 2014). A facial attack "is an argument that considers a claim on its face and asserts that it is insufficient to invoke the subject matter jurisdiction of the court." Id. at 358. A factual attack, in contrast, "is an argument that there is no subject matter jurisdiction because the facts of the case... do not support the asserted jurisdiction." Id . Here, the State Defendants' motion asserts the defense of sovereign immunity based on the facts as pleaded in the Second Amended Complaint and is thus a facial attack. Accordingly, the Court "must only consider the allegations of the complaint and ...


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