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Vessels v. Edison Police Department

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 6, 2017



          KEVIN MCNULTY United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff, Brian Vessels, is a pretrial detainee proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At this time, this Court must screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. For the following reasons, the complaint will be permitted to proceed in part.


         The allegations of the complaint will be construed as true for purposes of this screening opinion.[1] Mr. Vessels names as defendants (1) Edison Police Department; (2) Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office; (3) Middlesex County Correction Center; (4) Joseph Perrotte - Officer Edison Police Department; (5) Frank Todd - Officer Edison Police Department; (6) Andrew Chupela - Officer Edison Police Department; (7) Howard Askelson - Officer Edison Police Department; (8) Donald Ship - Officer Edison Police Department; (9) Salvatore Filannino -Officer Edison Police Department; (10) Thomas Marino - Officer Edison Police Department; (11) Alan Houck - Detective Edison Police Department; (12) Jennifer Aldahondo - Case Officer Edison Police Department (13) William Colletto - Officer Edison Police Department; (14) Timothy Lombordo - Officer Edison Police Department; (15) Frank Varga - Detective Edison Police Department; (16) Michael Carter - Officer Edison Police Department; (17) Rajesh Chopra - Supervisor Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office; (18) George Stillwell -Investigator/Reporting Officer Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office; (19) Connelly -Investigator Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office; (20) Gzemski - Investigator Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office; (21) Feneis - Investigator Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office; (22) Mark Cranston - Warden Middlesex County Adult Correction Center.

         Mr. Vessels' allegations center on a search and subsequent arrest that took place at his residence in Edison, New Jersey on June 20, 2014. Mr. Vessels states that Varga, along with three other officers entered without permission and began to search the residence as well as Mr. Vessels' person without his consent. The officers eventually detained Mr. Vessels who was trying to contact his mother in law at the time. Mr. Vessels was placed in handcuffs. Mr. Vessels' sister asked for a warrant, but was not given a response by the officers. When Varga was asked about a warrant, he stated, "No ... and we don't need a warrant [using a racial slur]. And if you bring it up in court I'll just say you invited us in." (Dkt. No. 1-2 at p.46) Mr. Vessels was then placed into an officer's car despite not knowing what he was being arrested for.

         The complaint identifies Varga as one of the officers who conducted the search and subsequent arrest. The complaint alleges that three other officers, Connelly, Gzemski, and Feneis violated Vessels' rights under the United States and New Jersey Constitutions by entering his home without identifying themselves or producing a warrant when asked. (See Dkt. No. 1 at pp. 9, 11) Construed liberally, then, the complaint names those three as additional officers involved in the allegedly unlawful search and arrest.

         The allegations are more vague and conclusory as to the other named defendants. Defendants Stillwell, Chopra, Aldahondo, Houck, Askelson, Marino, Cater, Colletto, Perrote, Todd, Chupela, Filannino, Ship, and Lombardo allegedly "corrupted reports, " or were "involved in case and reports that are corrupted." Chopra allegedly did not thoroughly go over reports to ensure that they were accurate.

         Finally, Mr. Vessels alleges that defendant Cranston, as Warden, has allowed correctional officers to endanger his life by not allowing him to get breathing treatment for his asthma. Furthermore, Mr. Vessels states, Cranston allows officers to beat on inmates. (See Dkt. No. 1 at p. 14)

         Mr. Vessels seeks monetary and injunctive relief.


         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (Apr. 26, 1996) ("PLRA"), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         "The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Schreane v. Seana, 506 F.App'x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F.App'x 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v. United States, 287 Fed.Appx. 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). That standard is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), as explicated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. To survive the court's screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible. See Fowler v. UPMC Shady side, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "[A] pleading that offers 'labels or conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Pro se pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). Nevertheless, "pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).


         A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

         Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See Harvey v. Plains Twp. Police Dep't, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         A. Un ...

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