United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ, United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on motion of Defendants
Detectives Atem K. Ako (“Ako”) and Christine A.
Sullivan (“Sullivan”) to dismiss pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court has considered the written
submissions of the parties and the arguments advanced at the
hearing on February 22, 2017. For the reasons stated on the
record that day, as well as those that follow,
Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.
Michael Watts and Jessica Olsen were arrested by the
Defendants on February 19, 2014 and charged with money
laundering and involuntary servitude. The Defendants are both
members of the State of New Jersey Department of Law and
Safety, Division of Criminal Justice. In the eight count
Complaint, Plaintiffs set forth numerous Constitutional
violations related to the arrest and search of the
Plaintiffs, which stems from an alleged factually baseless
warrant obtained by Ako. Compl. ¶ 16. In general terms,
Defendants claim they were given information by two witnesses
related to R.W., who is a young adult that resided with the
Plaintiffs. These witnesses claim, among other things, that
R.W. was being held in the house against her will. Based in
part on this information, Ako made an application for a
search warrant and the eventual execution of the warrant lead
to the Plaintiffs' arrest and detention.
plead, the Complaint sets forth facts sufficient to meet
notice pleading standard set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 8.
However, the Complaint includes references and citations to
several exhibits, which include the search warrant,
transcripts of interviews with the two alleged witnesses, a
copy of an interview with R.W., and a copy of the return of
the search warrant. These references significantly expand the
factual underpinnings of the Complaint and form the basis for
most of Defendants' motion to dismiss.
Complaint sets forth the following claims. Counts I through
IV set forth violations against Plaintiff Watts. Counts I and
II allege a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Ako
and Sullivan respectively, based on false arrest, malicious
prosecution, illegal search and seizure, due process
violations, and deprivation of property. Count III alleges
similar claims against John Doe #1 police officer. Count IV
is styled as “Violation of Plaintiff's First,
Fourth, Fourteenth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment
Protection Against False Arrest, Malicious Prosecution, and
Unlawful Search and Seizure of the Person and Property”
as alleged by Watts against Defendants Ako, Sullivan and John
Doe #1. Counts V though VIII relate to violations against
Olson which mirror those plead as to Plaintiff Watts.
move for dismissal on the following grounds. First, all
claims against the Defendants in their official capacity
should be dismissed on the basis of sovereign immunity and
because Defendants are not persons amenable to suit pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Second, Defendants claim that
Plaintiffs' repeated claims of negligent behavior fails
to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Third,
Defendants move to dismiss the claims under the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments. Fourth, Defendants claim that the
exhibits referenced in the Complaint undermine
Plaintiffs' claims that probable cause was lacking for
the search warrant and arrest. Fifth, Defendants claim that
even if probable cause was lacking, the law at issue was not
clearly established on February 19, 2014. For all of these
reasons, Defendants claim that that the Complaint fails to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted and should be
their brief and on the record during oral argument,
Plaintiffs state that they are not pursuing claims against
the Defendants in their official capacity and stipulate that
any reference to claims against the Defendants in their
official capacity be stricken from the Complaint. Plaintiffs
also agree that to the extent these claims can be inferred in
the Complaint, these claims are dismissed with prejudice. In
addition, Plaintiffs acknowledge claims exclusive predicated
upon negligent conduct fail to state a viable claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Here, Plaintiffs' use of the
negligence standard is coupled with allegations of purposeful
and intentional actions related to the Defendants'
conduct in the application for the warrant, execution
thereof, and arrest and detention of the Plaintiffs. During
the hearing in this matter, Defendants agreed that such
pleadings on their face give rise to a claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. For these reasons, the Court finds that the
Complaint as plead in paragraphs 38, 43, 45 are predicated
willful and intentional conduct and not merely negligence.
Defendants' motion to dismiss on this basis is denied.
Plaintiffs agree that despite listing a Fifth Amendment
violation in the Complaint, Plaintiffs do not intend to
pursue such a claim. As a result, Defendants motion to
dismiss on this basis is granted. The remainder of the claims
will be addressed in turn
Standards of Review
Motion to Dismiss
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for
dismissal of a claim based on “failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). A complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a
claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to
dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), ordinarily only the
allegations in the complaint, matters of public record,
orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint, are taken
into consideration. See Chester County Intermediate Unit
v. Pa. Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3d Cir. 1990). It
is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead evidence.
Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 561 F.2d 434, 446 (3d
Cir. 1977). The question before the Court is not whether the
plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Watson v. Abington
Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (2007). Instead, the Court
simply asks whether the plaintiff has articulated
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
“Where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a
court should assume their veracity and then determine whether
they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
motion to dismiss should be granted unless the
plaintiff's factual allegations are “enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the
assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are
true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556 (internal citations omitted). “[W]here the
well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than
the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged-but it has ...