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Norman v. Haddon Township

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 29, 2017

JUANITA NORMAN, Administratrix ad Prosequendum of the ESTATE of SHERRON J. NORMAN, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
HADDON TOWNSHIP, HADDON TOWNSHIP POLICE CHIEF MARK CAVALLO, BOROUGH OF OAKLYN, OAKLYN POLICE CHIEF JOSEPH T. ABBATE, WOODLYNNE BOROUGH, WOODLYNNE POLICE DIRECTOR EDWIN FIGUEROA, BOROUGH OF COLLINGSWOOD, COLLINGSWOOD POLICE CHIEF RICHARD J. SARLO, CITY OF CAMDEN, POLICE CHIEF JOHN SCOTT THOMSON, and OFFICERS WILLIAM BENHAM, JOSEPH SULLIVAN, SCOTT DEMPSEY, CHARLES BLANCHARD, PAUL MASON, JOHN ROBINSON, BRIAN DICUGNO, JON SIEROCINSKI, YVETTE TRUITT, HERIBERTO INOSTROZA and JAMES ALLEN, individually and/or in their official capacities, jointly, severally, and/or in the alternative, Defendants.

          SHARON A. KING STANLEY O. KING KING & KING, ESQS. On behalf of Plaintiff.

          FRANCIS X. DONNELLY ROBERT J. GILLISPIE, JR. MAYFIELD, TURNER, O'MARA, DONNELLY & MCBRIDE, PC On behalf of Defendants Haddon Township, Mark Cavallo, William Benham, Joseph Sullivan, Scott Dempsey, Charles Blanchard.

          WILLIAM F. COOK WILLIAM M. TAMBUSSI CHRISTOPHER ALBERT REESE BROWN & CONNERY, LLP On behalf of Defendants Borough of Collingswood, Chief Richard J. Sarlo, Brian Dicugno, and Jon Sierocinski, Borough of Oaklyn, Chief Joseph T. Abate, and Paul Mason, and Borough of Woodlynne, Police Director Edwin Figueroa, and Jon Robinson.

          DANIEL EDWARD RYBECK JOHN C. EASTLACK, JR. WEIR & PARTNERS LLP On behalf of Defendants City of Camden, Police Chief John Scott Thomson, Yvette Truitt, Heriberto Inostroza and James Allen.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case involves claims of excessive force, false arrest, failure to intervene, and other state law torts by various police officers, and claims of municipal liability against four municipalities for their practices and customs, all of which led to the death of Plaintiff's brother. Presently before the Court are the motions of Defendants for summary judgment in their favor. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motions will be granted as to the Collingswood, Oaklyn, Woodlynne, and Camden defendants, as well as Haddon Township police officers Charles Blanchard and Scott Dempsey, and denied without prejudice as to Haddon Township, Mark Cavallo, William Benham, and Joseph Sullivan.

         BACKGROUND

         At 12:41 a.m. on September 29, 2012, an employee of Crown Fried Chicken located at the intersection of Mount Ephraim Avenue and Collings Avenue in Haddon Township, New Jersey called 911 to report that a male was causing a disturbance in the restaurant. According to the 911 call, the employee repeatedly asked dispatch to send police “quickly” because the man was breaking things in the store, including a machine and a door. A man is heard yelling loudly in the background. At 12:43 a.m., the man, who was subsequently identified as Sherron Norman, the brother of Plaintiff Juanita Norman, left Crown Fried Chicken and walked out and onto the street.[1]

         Camden County Central Communications dispatched Defendant William Benham, a Haddon Township police officer, and Defendant Joseph Sullivan, a Haddon Township special law enforcement officer. The police dispatch stated that there was a “psych emergency, ” and per Haddon Township protocol, an ambulance was dispatched at the same time.

         At the time of his dispatch, Benham's dash camera was activated. Benham arrived on scene at approximately 12:44 or 12:45 a.m. (recorded as “00:44:40”)[2] and immediately encountered Norman, who was jogging toward Benham's vehicle wearing only a t-shirt and boxer shorts. The dash camera was facing Crown Fried Chicken, and the remainder of the footage captures only the off-camera sounds of Benham's and other officers' interactions with Norman.

         At 00:44:42, Benham exited his vehicle and asked, “What's going on?” From 00:44:42 to 00:46:40, Norman and Benham have an inaudible discussion, and then a struggle. Sullivan arrived on the scene during the struggle, finding Norman lying on his stomach and Benham on his knees. At this same time, Benham radioed for police assistance using code 10-26.[3] Sullivan helped Benham handcuff Norman, and after one of the officers says “Ready?”, they lifted him into the patrol car chest first on the back seat and then picked up his legs and slid him into the car.

         From approximately 00:46:47 to 00:47:28, Norman can be heard as he is placed in the rear of Benham's vehicle. Sullivan can be heard advising Benham on how to adjust Norman in the rear of the vehicle. The officers then closed the car door, with Norman lying on his stomach with his head facing the back seat.

         From 00:47:28 to approximately 00:48:18, Norman can be heard muttering, kicking a door, and at 00:48:08 yelling. Starting at approximately 00:48:18, Norman is quiet in the back of the vehicle. During this time, additional officers from other jurisdictions respond to Benham's 10-26 request for assistance.

         At 00:49:30, Collingswood EMTs Timothy Tredanari and John Fleming, who were dispatched at the same time as Benham, are shown walking towards the driver's side of Benham's vehicle. At 00:50:17, Defendant Haddon Township Officer Scott Dempsey is heard opening the door to Benham's vehicle and saying “Yo!” on multiple occasions in an apparent attempt to get Norman's attention. At 00:50:43, Dempsey states, “I got nothing . . . I got no pulse.” At 00:50:49, Dempsey states, “Yo!” again. At 00:50:57, Dempsey states to Defendant Woodlynne Officer Robinson, “See if you can feel it on his arm. Do you feel a pulse on his arm?” At 00:51:03, Robinson states, “That's a negative.” An individual states, “I got no pulse, ” after which Norman is removed from the vehicle. Officers are heard ordering removal of handcuffs and initiating CPR. At 00:56:47, EMTs Tredanari and Fleming are observed wheeling Norman from the scene on a stretcher towards an ambulance.

         EMTs Tredanari and Fleming immediately initiated basic life support, while Benham dispatched Virtua EMTs. Virtua EMTs quickly arrived and transported Norman to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, New Jersey by ambulance, as Tredanari continued to provide CPR in the ambulance. Norman could not be revived by medical personnel, and was pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m. at the hospital. It is undisputed that Norman had used cocaine just before going to Crown Fried Chicken.[4]

         Plaintiff, as administratrix ad prosequendum of Norman's estate, has lodged numerous claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, New Jersey's Wrongful Death Act and the New Jersey Survivorship Statute, against all the officers and municipalities that were involved in the events on September 29, 2012.

         Plaintiff's original complaint brought the action against Haddon Township, its police chief, Mark Cavallo, its police officers William Benham, Joseph Sullivan, Scott Dempsey, and Charles Blanchard (“Haddon Township defendants”); the Borough of Oaklyn, its police chief Joseph T. Abate, and its police officer Paul Mason (“Oaklyn defendants”); Woodlynne Borough, its police chief, Kevin R. Cattell, and its police officer John Robinson (“Woodlynne defendants”); the Borough of Collingswood, its police chief, Richard J. Sarlo, and police officers Brian Dicugno and Jon Sierocinski (“Collingswood defendants”); and the City of Camden and its police chief John Scott Thomson (“Camden defendants”).

         As to defendants William Benham and Joseph Sullivan, she alleged excessive use of force and false arrest/false imprisonment in violation of the Fourth Amendment. As to all defendants, she alleged failure to intervene to prevent the excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and failure to provide medical attention by monitoring the decedent in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         As to Haddon Township, Chief Cavallo, Borough of Oaklyn, Chief Abate, Woodlynne Borough, Chief Cattell, Borough of Collingswood, Chief Sarlo, City of Camden and Chief Thomson, she alleged that these defendants adopted policies and customs of failing to enforce the laws, and failing to supervise and train their officers in the proper and lawful use of force, the execution of lawful arrests, the proper use of restraints and the provision of medical care for detainees. She also alleged that these municipal entities and their police chiefs failed to properly investigate known incidents of use of force. Plaintiff further alleged that all defendants violated the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. She also alleged common law claims of assault and battery as to Defendants Benham, Sullivan, and Haddon Township and Chief Cavallo; false arrest/false imprisonment as to Defendants Benham, Sullivan, Truitt, Haddon Township, Chief Cavallo, City of Camden and Chief Thomson; and negligence and gross negligence as to all defendants.

         On October 1, 2015, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint, where she substituted Camden police officers, Yvette Truitt, Heriberto Inostroza and James Allen for John Doe defendants 1 through 3, substituted Woodlynne Police Chief Kevin R. Cattell with Police Director Edwin Figueroa.

         All the Defendants have moved for summary judgment in their favor on all of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff has opposed defendants' motions in all respects.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff has brought her claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New Jersey state law. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction of Plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         B. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that the materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, or interrogatory answers, demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         An issue is “genuine” if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence “is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary ...


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