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Estate of Mckloskey v. Franklin Township

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 15, 2017

ESTATE OF MATTHEW MCKLOSKEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, Defendants.

          OPINION

          HON. JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ, United States District Judge.

         These matters come before the Court on motions to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b)(6), filed by Defendants Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton and Gloucester County. The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties, without oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' motions are granted.

         I. Background

         The following facts are alleged in the Third Amended Complaint, which sets forth similar claims as the previous two complaints. The underlying facts of this case are tragic. Matthew McKloskey, aged 10, and two friends were crossing Delsea Drive (also known as New Jersey State Route 47) in Franklin Township, New Jersey, around 7:00 p.m. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 16) It was dark outside and it was raining. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 20) Defendant Officer Locilento, “who had fairly recently been hired by Franklin Township, ” “was responding to a nonemergency call that was less than three miles away.” (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 20) Locilento was driving “around 80 [miles per hour] without lights and sirens” when he struck Matthew with his car. (Id. ¶ 21) Very shortly thereafter, Matthew died as a result of the injuries he sustained. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 103).

         On September 7, 2016, the Court issued an Opinion and Order granting Plaintiff leave to file an Amended Complaint in response to the Court's ruling that, as plead, the Complaint failed to plead sufficient facts to plausibly support a finding of liability against the moving Defendants. Plaintiff subsequently filed a Second and then a Third Amended Complaint. Moving Defendants seek dismissal of the Third Amended Complaint on several grounds, with all parties in agreement that the claims against Defendant Gloucester County are derivative of the actions of Defendant Dalton.[1] As a result, the arguments advanced by Defendant Dalton in support of dismissal also form the basis for Defendant Gloucester County's motion.

         Dalton moves for dismissal on grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, failure to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983, and, alternatively, qualified immunity.

         II. Standard of Review

         Defendants move for dismissal on grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, failure to state a claim, and qualified immunity. A motion to dismiss based on Eleventh Amendment, or sovereign immunity, is appropriate under both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6). Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 343 (3d Cir. 1999) (considering immunity under 12(b)(6)); Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 693 n. 2 (3d Cir .1996) (considering immunity under 12(b)(1)). Defendants move pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b) (6).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for dismissal of a claim based on “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), ordinarily only the allegations in the complaint, matters of public record, orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint, are taken into consideration.[1] See Chester County Intermediate Unit v. Pa. Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3d Cir. 1990). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead evidence. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 561 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). The question before the Court is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (2007). Instead, the Court simply asks whether the plaintiff has articulated “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         “A claim has facial plausibility[2] when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         Thus, a motion to dismiss should be granted unless the plaintiff's factual allegations are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal citations omitted). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘shown'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         III. Analysis

         Defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted because Dalton is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and because the Third Amended Complaint fails to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Dalton. The Eleventh Amendment provides: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend XI. The Eleventh Amendment incorporates a general principle of sovereign immunity that bars citizens from bringing suits for damages against any State in federal court. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01 (1984). Sovereign immunity extends to State agencies and State officers, “as long as the state is the real party in interest.” Fitchik v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, 873 F.2d 655, 659 (3d Cir. 1989). It does not extend to counties and municipalities. Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280 (1977); Bolden v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., 953 F.2d 807, 813-14 (3d Cir. 1991) (“[A]lthough political subdivisions of a state, such as counties and municipalities, fall within the term ‘State' as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, political subdivisions are not ‘State[s]' under the Eleventh Amendment.”).

         Some entities may be entitled to immunity, however, if deemed an arm of the state. Febres v. Camden Bd. of Educ., 445 F.3d 227, 229 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle,429 U.S. 274, 280, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977)). The test to determine whether an entity is an arm of the state and therefore entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity is three-fold: (1) whether payment of a judgment resulting from the suit would come from the state treasury, (2) the status of the entity under state law, and (3) the entity's degree of autonomy. See Chisolm v. McManimon, 275 F.3d 315, 323 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Fitchik, 873 F.2d at 229). The Third Circuit has repeatedly held that the most important factor is whether the payment of a judgment would come from the state treasury. Chisolm, supra, at 323 (citing Carter v. ...


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