United States District Court, D. New Jersey
NANCY F. WIDMAIER AND VINCENT A. WIDMAIER, individually and as administrator ad prosequendum for the estate of MICHAEL WIDMAIER, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF NEWARK, et al, Defendants.
Michaei Vazquez, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court by way of the motion to dismiss
filed by the City of Newark ("Newark" or the
"City"); former Newark Police Chief Eugene Venable;
Detective Silas Smith, Jr.; Lieutenant John Rodrigues;
Detective Rui Domingues; Sergeant Joseph Frost; and Anthony
Campos. D.E. 73. Plaintiff is now deceased. As a result,
Nancy F. Widmaier and Vincent A. Widmaier
("Plaintiffs") are now Plaintiffs as
administrators ad prosequendum of Michael
Widmaier's estate. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. D.E. 76.
The Court reviewed the submissions made in support and
opposition to the motion and considered the motions without
oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b) and L. Civ. R,
78.1 (b). For the reasons that follow,
Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED
Court previously discussed at length in deciding a prior
motion to dismiss. D.E. 54. As a brief overview, Plaintiffs
allege that on July 21, 2015, after Michael Widmaier fled
from a Jeep on foot, the driver of the Jeep caught up with
him, struck him with the Jeep, knocked him to the ground, and
drove directly over his leg before coming to a stop. Fifth
Am. Compl. ("FAC") ¶¶ 21 -36. The driver
opened the door, looked down and saw Widmaier under the car,
then put the car in reverse and drove over his torso.
Id. ¶¶ 36-39. The driver of the Jeep was
later identified as Defendant Newark Police Detective Silas
Smith. Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiffs assert Section
1983, New Jersey constitutional, and tort law claims against
multiple Newark police officers, the City of Newark, and the
Newark Police department because this alleged wrongful
14, 2017, this Court dismissed every Defendant in this matter
except for Defendant Silas Smith, Jr. for failure to state a
claim. D.E. 54, 55. The claims against the Newark Police
Department were dismissed with prejudice. Widmaier, however,
was provided with an opportunity to file an amended pleading
to reassert claims against the other Defendants. Id.
On September 25, 2017, Nancy F. Widmaier and Vincent A.
Widmaier filed a Fourth Amended Complaint as
administrator ad prosequendum for the estate of
Michael Widmaier because Widmaier passed away. D.E. 61.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and Plaintiffs filed a
cross-motion for leave to file a Fifth Amended Complaint. On
May 17, 2018, Plaintiffs' cross-motion was granted and
Defendants' motion to dismiss was denied without
prejudice. D.E. 67. As a result, Plaintiffs filed the FAC.
be discussed in detail below, the FAC includes a number of
new factual allegations regarding the July 21 incident as to
Plaintiffs' claims against the City and supervisors
within the Newark Police Department. D.E. 72. Defendants
subsequently filed the instant motion to dismiss pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) seeking to dismiss the FAC in its entirety
except as to the claims asserted against Defendant
Smith. D.E. 73.
complaint to survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), it must
contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim that is
plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible
"when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.
Further, a plaintiff must "allege sufficient facts to
raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will uncover
proof of her claims." Connelly v. Lane Const.
Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir. 2016). In evaluating
the sufficiency of a complaint, district courts must separate
the factual and legal elements. Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-211 (3d Cir. 2009).
Restatements of the elements of a claim are legal
conclusions, and therefore, not entitled to a presumption of
truth. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d
212, 224 (3d Cir. 2011). The Court, however, "must
accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as
true." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210.
Plaintiffs' opposition to this motion is premised on a
belief that discovery will uncover proof of their claims.
See, e.g., Plfs. Opp. at 29-30. In so doing,
Plaintiffs appear to be arguing that this Court should apply
the notice pleading standard as derived from Conley v.
Gibson. 355 U.S. 41 (1957). Since Twombly and
Iqbal, however, the notice pleading standard is
no longer in effect in federal court. Rather, claims
must be supported by sufficient factual allegations from the
outset. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, IqbaL
556 U.S. at 678. Thus, the Court rejects Plaintiffs'
argument that certain claims should survive this motion to
dismiss solely based on the assumption that discovery will
reveal the necessary factual support.
CLAIMS AGAINST THE CITY AND THE SUPERVISORY
Monell Claim (Count III)
argue that Count 111, a Monell liability claim,
must be dismissed because Plaintiffs fail to identify a
municipal policy or custom that led to Widmaier's
injuries. Defs. Br. at 21/25. A municipality cannot be liable
under Section 1983 for the acts of its employees on the basis
of respondent superior. Thomas v. Cumberland County,
749 F.3d 217. 222 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Monell v.
Dep't oj'Soc. Sen's. of N.Y.C, 436 U.S. 658,
690-91 (1978)). Rather, to hold a municipality liable, a
plaintiff must demonstrate that the violation of rights was
caused by a municipal policy or custom. Id. In
addition, the Third Circuit recently clarified that a
Monell claim may also be premised on a
municipality's failure to train. For a failure to train
claim, a plaintiff "must demonstrate that a city's
failure to train its employees 'reflects a deliberate or
conscious choice.'" Estate of Roman v. City of
Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 798 (3d Cir. 2019). For claims
involving police officers, a failure to train can only serve
as a basis for Section 1983 liability where the failure
"amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of
persons with whom the police come into contact."
Id. (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489
U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). Deliberate indifference is plausibly
pled by showing that "(1) municipal policy makers know
that employees will confront a particular situation, (2) the
situation involves a difficult choice or a history of
employees mishandling, and (3) the wrong choice by an
employee will frequently cause deprivation of constitutional
rights." Id., (quoting Doe v. Luzeme
County, 660 F.3d 169, 180 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal
Roman, the plaintiffs Monell claim alleged
that Newark was liable, with respect to police searches,
because it failed to train police officers and engaged in a
pattern or practice of constitutional violations.
Id., at 797. The plaintiffs claims were based in
part on a consent decree between the Department of Justice
and the City of Newark that pertained to police misconduct.
Id. at 799. The Third Circuit determined that the
plaintiff adequately pled failure to train and
unconstitutional custom Monell claims. The court
determined that the plaintiffs allegations as to an improper
search of his apartment, coupled with the consent decree,
which addressed similar police misconduct, provided
sufficient factual support to survive a motion to dismiss.
Id. at 799-801. Although the consent decree was not
in place when the events giving rise to Roman's claims
occurred, the court determined that it "may fairly infer
that the problems that led to [the consent decree] were
occurring during die time of [Roman's] allegations and
for some time before that." Id. at 799.
Consequently, the Third Circuit determined that the consent
decree "fortifie[d]" the plaintiffs Monell
claims "because It acknowledges a pattern or practice of
conduct by the Newark Police Department that deprives
individuals of rights, privileges, and immunities secured by
the Constitution." Id. (internal quotation
omitted). Finally, the Third Circuit determined that these
violations were widespread and causally linked to the
plaintiffs allegations because the Police Department was
aware of complaints but rarely acted upon them. Id.
Monell allegation resembles the claim in
Roman. Plaintiffs' claim is premised on
Newark's custom of failing to adequately train its police
officers as to the use of force and pedestrian stops.
Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Newark failed to adopt
policies and training programs to ensure that the Newark
Police Department and its officers complied with state and
federal law as well as the Constitutional rights of
individuals in custody or being pursued by Newark police
officers. FAC ¶ 113. Further, Plaintiffs allege that
Newark failed to train its police officers as to the use of
excessive force, or to take actions to prevent injury and
death due to the use of excessive force. Id. ¶
115. While not as clear. Plaintiffs also appear to allege
that there was a custom within the Newark Police Department
of unconstitutional and discriminatory behavior surrounding
arrests and the use of force. Id. ¶ 147.
Roman, Plaintiffs' Monell claim relies
heavily on a July 22, 2014 Department of Justice, Civil
Rights Division Investigative Report of the Newark Police
Department (the "DOJ Report") and the resulting
Consent Decree. To that end, the FAC asserts new factual
allegations regarding the DOJ Report. See FAC ¶
117. Defendants respond that Plaintiffs cannot rely on the
DOJ Report. Defendants maintain that because Newark entered
into a consent decree to correct the deficiencies outlined in
the DOJ Report, the Report is settlement material. Defs. Br.
provide no legal support for this argument, and the Court is
not aware of any reason why it cannot consider
Plaintiffs' factual allegations that address the DOJ
Report. Cf. Roman, 914 F.3d at 796 (stating that
court could consider undisputedly authentic settlement
material that plaintiffs claims were based upon).
Accordingly, the Court will consider Plaintiffs'
allegations that pertain to the DOJ Report.
to Plaintiffs' claims, the DOJ Report found reasonable
cause to believe that approximately 75% of reported
pedestrian stops by the Newark Police Department violated the
Fourth Amendment, and that unjustified and excessive force
occurred in more than 20% of the incidents reviewed. FAC
¶¶ 119, 122. Moreover, during the review period,
Newark police officers "made thousands of stops of
individuals described as milling, loitering, or wandering,
without any indication of reasonable criminal activity."
Id. ¶ 120. Plaintiffs allege that the DOJ
report "concluded that at least part of the pattern of
unlawful stops could be traced to Police Department training
and policies." Id. ¶ 129. In addition,
Newark Police Officers are required to complete a "Field
Inquiry Report," which among other things, documents the
legal support for the stop. But the DOJ Report found that the
Police Department's use of such reports was not
consistent with its policy. Id. ¶¶ 124-26.
Report also found reasonable cause to believe that the Police
Department engaged in a pattern or practice of
unconstitutional use of force. The DOJ Report stated that the
Police Department failed to refer serious use of force cases
to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office for review, that
it did not hold police officers accountable for failing to
document the use of force, and that this inadequate
supervision contributed to the pattern of Constitutional
violations. Id. ¶¶ 132-36. Finally,
Plaintiffs contend that the City, Campos, Domingues, Frost
and Venable knew of and helped to continue the customs and
practices documented in the DOJ Report, and that these
policies proximately caused Widmaier's injuries.
Id. ¶¶ 149-64.
adequately asserts a Moncll claim. As discussed in
die prior Opinion, Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that Smith
attempted to stop Widmaier without any indication that
criminal activity was occurring, and that Smith used unlawful
and unreasonable force on Widmaier after Widmaier had already
been knocked to the ground by Smith's Jeep. In addition,
Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants failed to correctly
document the incident and failed to take proper disciplinary
action with respect to Smith. Opinion at 9-15. The FAC
asserts additional allegations that neither a use of force or
field inquiry report were completed after the incident, and
that there was no internal investigation. FAC ¶¶
150-55. Like Roman, the wrongdoing doing set forth
in the DOJ Report covers the same type of wrongful conduct
that Plaintiffs allege occurred here. Thus, the Court can
infer that the alleged Constitutional violations surrounding
Widmaier's arrest had been occurring within the Newark
Police Department for some time, were ...