United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
CASEY J. JANOWSKI, Plaintiff,
CITY OF NORTH WILDWOOD, et al., Defendants.
C. Scrivo, Esq. McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter,
LLP Attorney for Plaintiff Casey J. Janowski
Michael Barker, Esq. Barker, Gelfand & James Linwood
Greene, Attorney for Defendants City of North Wildwood and
Chief Matthew Gallagher
B. Reynolds, Esq. John J. Bannan, Esq. Reynolds & Horn,
P.C. Attorneys for Defendant Sergeant Keith McGee
RENÉE MARIE BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
presents countless lessons. For many, they are learned too
late. Unfortunately, that is the case here. A
just-turned-21-year old with a misprinted driver's
license had to know that he was courting disaster. An
impatient police sergeant called to the bar--who could have
just “counted to three”--had to know that this
disaster would land him in court. For all sides, life has
presented valuable lessons.
Sergeant McGee (“Sergeant McGee”) and Defendants
City of North Wildwood (“North Wildwood”) and
Chief Matthew Gallagher (“Chief Gallagher”) move
to dismiss the Complaint filed against them by Plaintiff
Casey J. Janowski (“Plaintiff”). The Court has
considered the parties' submissions and, for the reasons
set forth herein, Sergeant McGee's Motion to Dismiss
[Docket No. 19] is denied without prejudice and Chief
Gallagher and North Wildwood's Motion to Dismiss [Docket
No. 20] is granted. Nonetheless, Plaintiff will be permitted
to amend his pleadings to cure the deficiencies identified
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
night of July 16, 2015, Plaintiff and his friends went to
Keenan's Bar in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. As Plaintiff
reached the entrance to the bar after his friends had already
entered, he handed the bouncer his valid New York-issued
driver's license. Compl. ¶¶ 17-20 [Docket No.
1]. The license correctly listed his birthday as November 24,
1993, indicating that Plaintiff was at least twenty-one years
old, which he, in fact, was. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 20.
bouncer, however, did not believe that Plaintiff was
twenty-one years old or that the driver's license
presented was valid. He asked Plaintiff to write his address
on a sheet of paper, which Plaintiff accurately did. Compl.
¶¶ 21-22. Nonetheless, the bouncer stated that he
did not believe the license belonged to Plaintiff and noted
that the height listed on the license was 6'3”,
whereas Plaintiff was significantly shorter in height,
approximately 5'6”. Compl. ¶¶ 23-24.
Plaintiff, apparently well-aware of the mistake on the
license, explained that this was an error by New York State,
but that the license was valid and he was twenty-one years
old. Compl. ¶ 24. The bouncer informed Plaintiff that he
still did not believe him and confiscated Plaintiff's
driver's license. Thereafter, the bouncer told Plaintiff
that if he wanted the license returned, Plaintiff could call
the police. Plaintiff then did so. Compl. ¶¶ 25-26.
response to Plaintiff's call, two police officers arrived
at the scene. Compl. ¶ 26. The bouncer gave
Plaintiff's license to the officers and Plaintiff
explained that he was actually twenty-one years old and that
there was a typographical error as to his height on his
driver's license. Compl. ¶ 28. Plaintiff also
offered to show the officers other forms of identification,
which he had in his wallet, to confirm his identity and age.
Compl. ¶ 29. In response, the officers indicated that
they were waiting for a scanner to determine the authenticity
of the driver's license and asked Plaintiff to complete
certain questions relating to the details on the license,
which Plaintiff did without issue. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30.
Plaintiff and the two officers were waiting for the scanner,
Sergeant McGee arrived on the scene. Plaintiff explained to
Sergeant McGee that his driver's license was valid and
that he was twenty-one years old, as indicated on the
license, but that there was simply an error as to his height
on the license. Compl. ¶ 32. Immediately thereafter,
without inspecting Plaintiff's alternate forms of
identification or any further questioning, Sergeant McGee
ordered the other officers to arrest Casey. Sergeant McGee
was “emphatic” that the license did not belong to
Plaintiff and noted that “his teeth looked
different.” Compl. ¶ 33. The officers then pulled
Plaintiff's arms behind his back, pushed his face into
the outside wall of the bar, tightly handcuffed Plaintiff,
and drove Plaintiff to the North Wildwood Police Station.
Compl. ¶¶ 34-36.
station, Plaintiff's possessions were removed from his
pockets, including several forms of identification, including
his University identification card, his health insurance
card, and various credit and debit cards, all of which
matched the name on his driver's license. Compl.
¶¶ 37-38. Sergeant McGee did not look at
Plaintiff's alternate forms of identification and instead
directed Plaintiff to smile. Sergeant McGee looked at
Plaintiff smiling and Plaintiff's photograph on his
driver's license and stated: “Your teeth look
different.” Compl. ¶¶ 39-40.
then asked Sergeant McGee if he could call his mother, who is
an attorney in New York. Sergeant McGee denied
Plaintiff's request and stated: “Stop you're
making my head hurt.” Compl. ¶ 41. Thereafter,
Plaintiff overheard a phone call from his friend's
mother, also an attorney, who had called the station to
inquire about Plaintiff's arrest, to represent Plaintiff,
and to confirm that Plaintiff was actually twenty-one years
of age. Compl. ¶¶ 42-43. After this call concluded,
an officer asked Plaintiff: “How many more girls are
you going to have pretend to be your lawyer?” Compl.
¶ 44. Another officer asked if Plaintiff's parents
had been called. After this, the officers returned
Plaintiff's belongings, apologized, and released
Plaintiff from custody. Compl. ¶¶ 49-50.
following day, Plaintiff's mother spoke with Chief
Gallagher at length over the phone. Compl. ¶ 51. Chief
Gallagher informed her that he had reviewed the dashboard
camera footage of Plaintiff's arrest and acknowledged
that the arrest was improper. He further stated that he was
“appalled” at what he had observed. Compl. ¶
52. Chief Gallagher assured Plaintiff's mother that he
would “get to the bottom of this” incident. He
further noted that this was not the first incident concerning
Sergeant McGee and that he would commence an Internal Affairs
investigation into Plaintiff's arrest. Compl. ¶ 53.
Internal Affairs investigation was commenced after the
incident and Plaintiff testified at Sergeant McGee's
disciplinary hearing on March 2, 2016. Compl. ¶ 57. The
investigation found that Sergeant McGee violated the North
Wildwood Police Department's policies and procedures by
ordering Plaintiff's arrest. Compl. ¶ 58.
upon these events, on July 22, 2016, Plaintiff instituted
this action by filing a Complaint against Sergeant McGee,
Chief Gallagher, and North Wildwood [Docket No. 1], alleging
that he was falsely arrested and imprisoned. The Complaint
sets forth the following causes of action: (1) a claim for
false arrest and false imprisonment against Chief Gallagher
and Sergeant McGee in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section
1983”); (2) a supervisory liability claim against Chief
Gallagher under Section 1983; (3) a municipal liability claim
against North Wildwood under Section 1983; (4) a claim for
false arrest and false imprisonment against Chief Gallagher
and Sergeant McGee in violation of the New Jersey
Constitution under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A.
§ 10:6-1, et seq. (“NJCRA”); (5) a
supervisory liability claim against Chief Gallagher under the
NJCRA; and (6) a municipal liability claim against North
Wildwood under the NJCRA. All Defendants subsequently moved
to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint.
MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD
withstand a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint 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, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). “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.” Id. “[A]n
accusation” does not suffice to survive a motion to
dismiss. Id. “[A] plaintiff's obligation
to provide the ‘grounds' of his
‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels
and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements
of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S.
265, 286 (1986)).
reviewing a plaintiff's allegations, a district court
should conduct a three-part analysis:
First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff
must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should
identify allegations that, because they are no more than
conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.
Third, when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a
court should assume their veracity and then determine whether
they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief. [The]
inquiry is normally broken down into three parts: (1)
identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the
complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3)
looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and
evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one
of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.
Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011)
(internal citations, quotations, and modifications omitted)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675, 679).
12(b)(6) requires the district court to “accept as true
all well-pled factual allegations as well as all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn from them, and construe those
allegations in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Bistrian, 696 F.3d at 358 n. 1.
Only the allegations in the complaint and “matters of
public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and
items appearing in the record of the case” are taken
into consideration. Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein,
Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir.
1994) (citing Chester Cty. Intermediate Unit v.
Pennsylvania Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3d Cir.
1990)). A court may also “consider an undisputedly
authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to
a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based
on the document.” Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White
Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
“[i]t is axiomatic that the complaint may not be
amended by the briefs in opposition to a motion to
dismiss.” Com. of Pa. ex rel. Zimmerman v. PepsiCo,
Inc., 836 F.2d 173, 181 (3d Cir. 1988) (internal
citations and quotations omitted). As such, the permissible
role of a plaintiff's opposition brief is merely to
explain the “legal theories . . . that [ ] find support
in the allegations set forth in the complaint.” See
Complaint, Plaintiff asserts six causes of action against
Defendants. In the first and fourth counts, Plaintiff sets
forth false arrest and false imprisonment claims against
Sergeant McGee and Chief Gallagher under Section 1983 and the
NJCRA respectively. The second and fifth counts set forth
supervisory liability claims against Chief Gallagher in his
official capacity as Chief of the North Wildwood Police
Department under Section 1983 and the NJCRA respectively.
Finally, the third and sixth counts set forth municipal
liability claims against North Wildwood under Section 1983
and the NJCRA respectively. “This district has
repeatedly interpreted NJCRA analogously to §
1983.” Pettit v. New Jersey, 2011 WL 1325614,
at *3 (D.N.J. Mar. 30, 2011) (collecting cases); see also
Borden v. Sch. Dist. of Twp. of E. Brunswick, 523 F.3d
153, 164 n. 5 (3d Cir. 2008). Accordingly, the Court will
consider Plaintiff's claims under the NJCRA together with
his claims under Section 1983.
McGee moves to dismiss the false arrest and false
imprisonment claims asserted against him, arguing that he is
entitled to qualified immunity. Additionally, North Wildwood
and Chief Gallagher have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's
claims for failure to state a claim.
False Arrest and False Imprisonment Claims (Counts 1 and
Sergeant Keith McGee
McGee argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity on
Plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims.
“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government
officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as
their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)); accord Plumhoff v.
Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2023 (2014) (“An official
sued under § 1983 is entitled to qualified immunity
unless it is shown that the official violated a statutory or
constitutional right that was ‘clearly established'
at the time of the challenged conduct.”). Qualified