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Graham v. Timmins

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 25, 2017

CHRISTOPHER GRAHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. TIMMINS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Christopher Graham brings this 42 USC § 1983 action against several individual Jersey City police officers (“Defendants”), raising Fourth Amendment claims of false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure. This matter now comes before the Court upon Defendants' renewed, unopposed motion for summary judgment. For the below reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         The Court writes for the benefit of the parties and assumes familiarity with the underlying facts of this action as described by this Court in its December 2014 Opinion. Graham v. Jersey City Police Dep't, 2014 WL 7177362, at *1 (D.N.J. Dec. 16, 2014).[1]

         Briefly, in his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that individual Jersey City police officers (“Defendants”) broke down his door, entered his apartment without a search warrant, brought “illegal items” into his home, and then charged him with possession of those items. ECF No. 1. He further alleges that Defendants handcuffed and arrested him while he was “naked in bed, ” aggravating a prior knee injury. Id.

         In December 2014, this Court denied Defendants' first motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Defendants had not provided an “affidavit based on personal knowledge, or pointed to any other admissible evidence to support their factual contention that the police had a basis under the Fourth Amendment to enter Graham's apartment, arrest him and search his apartment, without a warrant.” Graham v. Jersey City Police Dep't, 2014 WL 7177362, at *3 (D.N.J. Dec. 16, 2014).

         Defendants have now refiled their motion for summary judgment, this time including in their submission supporting affidavits, exhibits, and transcripts. ECF No. 65. Plaintiff does not oppose the motion.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides for summary judgment “if the pleadings, the discovery [including, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file] and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and is material if it will affect the outcome of the trial under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court considers all evidence and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007). “Where, as here, the [summary judgment] motion is unopposed, summary judgment may only be granted if record evidence supports the moving party's affirmative claim.” See United States v. Zarzycki, 2011 WL 13645, at *1 (D.N.J. Jan. 4, 2011) (citing Anchorage Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         At the outset, the Court notes that, construing the Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Plaintiff has properly alleged Fourth Amendment claims for false arrest and unlawful search and seizure.[2] Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004) (“Courts are to construe complaints so as to do substantial justice, keeping in mind that pro se complaints in particular should be construed liberally.” (citations omitted)). The Court addresses each claim in turn below.

         A. False Arrest Claim

         “The proper inquiry in a section 1983 claim based on false arrest ... is not whether the person arrested in fact committed the offense but whether the arresting officers had probable cause to believe the person arrested had committed the offense.” Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988); see also Andrews v. Scuilli, 853 F.3d 690, 697 (3d Cir. 2017) (Because a false arrest claim “hinge[s] on probable cause, the constitutional violation question … turns on whether a reasonable officer could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest the plaintiff at that time.” (citations omitted)). “[P]robable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested.” Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 483 (3d Cir. 1995). Ordinarily, the existence of probable cause is a factual issue for the jury. See Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 300 (3d Cir. 2014). However, a court may grant summary judgment if “no genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether” there was probable cause. Anderson v. Perez, 2017 WL 371339, at *2 (3d Cir. Jan. 26, 2017) (citing Sherwood v. Mulvihill, 113 F.3d 396, 401 (3d Cir. 1997)).

         In this case, the evidence proffered by Defendants confirms that the police officers had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff as a matter of law. Id. Pursuant to the Domestic Violence Procedures Manual issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court and the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, a police officer “must arrest” a domestic violence suspect if the victim exhibits signs of injury caused by an act of domestic violence, or if there is ...


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