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Janowski v. City of North Wildwood

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

May 5, 2017

CITY OF NORTH WILDWOOD, et al., Defendants.

          Robert C. Scrivo, Esq. McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP Attorney for Plaintiff Casey J. Janowski

          A. Michael Barker, Esq. Barker, Gelfand & James Linwood Greene, Attorney for Defendants City of North Wildwood and Chief Matthew Gallagher

          Thomas B. Reynolds, Esq. John J. Bannan, Esq. Reynolds & Horn, P.C. Attorneys for Defendant Sergeant Keith McGee



         Life 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.

         Defendant 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 herein.


         On the 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.

         The 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.

         In 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.

         As 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.

         At the 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         The 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.

         An 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.

         Based 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.


         To 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 unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me 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)).

         In 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).

         Rule 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. 1993).

         Finally, “[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 id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         In the 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.

         Sergeant 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.

         A. False Arrest and False Imprisonment Claims (Counts 1 and 4)

         i. Sergeant Keith McGee

         Sergeant 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 ...

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