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Murphy v. Middlesex County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 13, 2017

ALAN MURPHY, Plaintiff,
v.
MIDDLESEX COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE TONIANNE J. BONGIOVANNI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Alan Murphy's (“Plaintiff”) motion to amend the pleadings in order to add the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (“MCPO”) as a defendant and to assert claims of conspiracy; county and supervisory liability for the deprivation of constitutional rights; and violations of New Jersey's Survivor's Act and Wrongful Death Act against it. Defendant Middlesex County (“Middlesex”) has opposed Plaintiff's motion on futility grounds.[1] The Court has fully reviewed the arguments made in support of and in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. The Court considers Plaintiff's motion to amend without oral argument pursuant to L.Civ.R. 78.1(b). For the reasons set forth more fully below, Plaintiff's motion to amend to add MCPO as a defendant is GRANTED.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         This matter involves Plaintiff's claims as general administrator and administrator ad prosequendum of the Estate of Arthur J. Murphy against Middlesex, Warden Edmund Cicchi, Officer Christopher Belinksy, Officer Brian Fogerty, Officer Daniel Marcinkko, Lt. Michael Domanoski, Officer Eugene Marra, Sgt. Jason Turner, Officer Anthony Porcella, Officer Toby Metzger, Officer John Bartlinksi, Jr., Police Officer Brian Favretto, Police Officer Douglas Turner and John Does 1-10 for alleged violations of decedent, Arthur Murphy's (“Decedent”) rights articulated under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the United States Constitution and the laws and Constitution of the State of New Jersey. The Court assumes the parties are familiar with the nature and history of this litigation and will not recite all those details here. Relevant to this motion is Plaintiff's attempts to obtain discovery regarding MCPO's internal affairs investigation of the Defendants use of force with respect to Decedent, which allegedly resulted in Decedent's death.

         Both before the Complaint in this matter was filed and afterwards, Plaintiff attempted to secure discovery that would indicate whether MCPO presented the matter surrounding the use of force and Decedent's death for independent grand jury review, which Plaintiff maintains was required by the compulsory investigative procedures of the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey. In this regard, Plaintiff relies on ¶9 of the New Jersey Attorney Law Enforcement Directive No. 2006-5 (the “Directive”), which states, in relevant part:

Where the undisputed facts indicate that the use of force was justifiable under the law, a grand jury investigation and/or review will not be required, subject to review by and prior approval of the Division of Criminal Justice, except under Paragraphs 5 and 6 where the final decision will be made by the Attorney General or his designee. In all other circumstances, the matter must be presented to a grand jury.

         (Ex. C. to Cert. of Brad M. Russo; Docket Entry No. 33-5).

         Unsatisfied with the material produced by Middlesex, which Plaintiff contended failed to establish that the matter involving the use of force on Decedent was either (1) presented to a grand jury as required by the Directive or (2) MCPO's investigation revealed undisputed facts indicating that the use of force was justifiable and that a grand jury investigation was not required because MCPO's findings were submitted to review by and prior approval of the Division of Criminal Justice, Plaintiff enlisted the Court's assistance. During a telephone conference held on June 29, 2016, the Court instructed Middlesex to confirm whether or not said matter was submitted to a grand jury and, if not, what MCPO did with the close out investigation report, i.e., was it submitted to the Attorney General for a waiver, who contacted the Attorney General and how. On July 15, 2016, Middlesex confirmed that the matter was not presented to a grand jury “because the Prosecutor's Office concluded that no criminal wrongdoing took place.” (Ex. B to Cert. of Brad M. Russo at 2; Docket Entry No. 33-4). Middlesex also indicated that “there are no records that indicate whether or not the State Attorney General was contacted and/or consulted in the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office decision not to present this matter to a Grand Jury.” (Id.)

         Based on Middlesex's representations, Plaintiff sought permission to move to amend his Complaint to add MCPO as a defendant. The Court found good cause to adjust the schedule to permit Plaintiff's motion and ordered that it be filed by September 9, 2016. (See Minute Entry of 8/9/2016). Plaintiff complied and filed the instant motion.

         As noted above, Middlesex opposes Plaintiff's motion to amend on futility grounds. In this regard, Middlesex raises two futility arguments. First, it contends that Plaintiff's proposed amendments are futile because his proposed conspiracy claim fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) as it is “the epitome of … ‘unwarranted inferences, unsupported conclusions or legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations.'” (Def. Ltr. Br. of 9/22/2016 at 5 (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 211 (3d Cir. 2007))). Indeed, Middlesex claims that Plaintiff's conspiracy “allegation is an unwarranted inference that stretches conceivability and fails to establish the plausibility standard enunciated in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.” (Id. at 5-6). Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's proposed amendments are futile because MCPO is entitled to absolute immunity with respect to its decision not to proceed with prosecution of law enforcement, a decision Middlesex contends falls “squarely within the MCPO's prosecutorial duties.” (Id. at 7). For these reasons, Middlesex argues that Plaintiff's motion to amend should be denied.

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2), leave to amend the pleadings is generally granted freely. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Court may deny a motion to amend where there is “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment.” Id. However, where there is an absence of undue delay, bad faith, prejudice or futility, a motion for leave to amend a pleading should be liberally granted. Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004). Here, the Court focuses on futility as that is the basis for Middlesex's objections.

         An amendment is futile if it “is frivolous or advances a claim or defense that is legally insufficient on its face.” Harrison Beverage Co. v. Dribeck Imp., Inc., 133 F.R.D. 463, 468 (D.N.J. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). To determine if an amendment is “insufficient on its face, ” the Court utilizes the motion to dismiss standard under Rule 12(b)(6) (see Alvin, 227 F.3d at 121) and considers only the pleading, exhibits attached to the pleading, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the party's claims are based upon same. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

         To determine if a complaint would survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all the facts alleged in the pleading, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, and determine if “under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief[.]” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). “[D]ismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the [pleading] as true, the p[arty] has failed to plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'” Duran v. Equifirst Corp., Civil Action No. 2:09-cv-03856, 2010 WL 918444, *2 (D.N.J. March 12, 2010) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Put simply, the alleged facts must be sufficient to “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Additionally, in assessing a motion to dismiss, while the Court must view the factual allegations contained in the pleading at issue as true, the Court is “not compelled to accept unwarranted inferences, unsupported conclusions or legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations.” Baraka, 481 F.3d at 211.

         B. Discussion

         Turning first to Plaintiff's conspiracy claim, Plaintiff alleges in relevant part the following:

ΒΆ16. Pursuant to New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines, this Defendant [MCPO] is responsible for conducting mandatory internal affairs investigations when County law enforcement personnel utilize force which results in serious bodily injury or death, in accordance with ...

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