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Diaz v. Bullock

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 3, 2017

TIMOTHY DIAZ, Plaintiff,
v.
POLICE OFFICER BULLOCK, Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOHN MICHAEL VAZQUEZ, U.S.D.J.

         This matter concerns the arrest of the wrong person, Plaintiff, by New Jersey police officers in response to an outstanding Maryland warrant. This Opinion addresses motions for summary judgment filed by (1) South Plainfield Police Officer Mark Bullock and Lieutenant Peter Arancio (the "Officer Defendants") (D.E. 88); (2) the Borough of South Plainfield and the South Plainfield Police Department (the "South Plainfield Defendants") (D.E. 89); and (3) the County of Middlesex and Middlesex County Office of Adult Corrections and Youth Services (the "Middlesex Defendants") (D.E. 91). Plaintiff Timothy Diaz opposed the motions (D.E. 93, 96, 101), and Defendants filed briefs in reply (D.E. 97, 98, 102). The Court reviewed the submissions made in support and opposition to the motions, and considered the motions without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b) and L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motions are GRANTED as to Plaintiffs Section 1983 claims. As a result, however, the Court no longer has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. Therefore, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs remaining state law claims and this case is REMANDED to the Superior Court of New Jersey.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         1. Factual History

         Plaintiff Timothy Jarah Elijah Diaz, an African American male, was born in December 1988. At the time of the underlying incident, Plaintiff was approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall; weighed 250 pounds; and lived in Plainfield, New Jersey. Plaintiffs Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 1-3; see also Certification of Renee Biribin ("Biribin Cert.") Ex. D. Plaintiff was mistakenly arrested pursuant to an outstanding warrant for Timothy Joshua Diaz, which was issued in Prince George's County, Maryland. Plaintiff was arrested after a National Crime Information Center ("NCIC") report alerted the New Jersey officials as to the Maryland warrant. The wanted "Timothy Diaz" was a Hispanic male who was born in 1993. The NCIC report, which was generated by Prince George's County employees, indicated that the wanted Timothy Diaz was approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 140 pounds, was born in 1993, and lived in Maryland. Id. Ex. E. The Prince George's County employees, who have since been dismissed from this matter on jurisdictional grounds, acknowledged that they incorrectly entered Plaintiffs driver license number, FBI number, and social security number into the NCIC report instead of the correct information for the wanted Timothy Diaz. Certification of John Gillick ("Gillick Cert.") Ex I, T17:18-18:3; Ex. K, T27:21-32:7.

         On Saturday, July 14, 2013, South Plainfield Police Officer Mark Bullock saw a car pull into the parking lot, without signaling, of a Ramada Inn. Deposition Transcript of Mark Bullock ("Bullock Dep.") T9:16-10:15; T14:4-12. The hotel was an area known for criminal activity. Id. As a result, Bullock "ran the plate" of the car. As Bullock was running the plate, three men got out of the vehicle and entered the hotel. Id. 14:6-24. After the men entered the hotel, Bullock noticed that there was a "hit" for Plaintiff, the registered owner of the vehicle, as indicated by an NCIC report. The NCIC report showed an active arrest warrant for Plaintiff from Prince George's County. See Biribin Cert. Ex. E. Bullock called dispatch to confirm that he actually had a match and also notified his Lieutenant, Defendant Peter Arancio. Bullock Dep. T15:4-13. Dispatch informed Bullock that Plaintiff appeared to match the description of the wanted individual and that dispatch was attempting to contact the Prince George's County Sheriffs Department for additional corroboration. Id. T31:20-23.

         Bullock remained in his patrol car while waiting for confirmation. During this time, Arancio and one other South Plainfield police officer arrived. Id. T32:l-17. Eventually, Bullock received the necessary confirmation from dispatch, including verification that Prince George's County would extradite the wanted Timothy Diaz if arrested. Id. T33:16-2.

         Bullock, Arancio, and the other police officer then went to Plaintiffs room in the Ramada Inn. When they arrived, one of the officers asked Plaintiff if he was Timothy J. Diaz, to which he answered "yes." The officers informed Plaintiff that there was a warrant for his arrest and asked if he had ever been to Maryland. Plaintiff told the officers he had received a speeding ticket on I-95 in Maryland, but that he had never been to Prince George's County. Deposition of Timothy Diaz ("Diaz Dep.") at ¶ 1:14-24. Based on this information, Plaintiff was arrested at the Ramada Inn and brought to the South Plainfield Police Station for booking. Bullock, however, noticed the weight discrepancy between Plaintiff and the wanted Timothy Diaz before leaving the motel. Bullock Dep. T40:4-14.

         Once at the police station, Plaintiff learned through the booking process that the wanted Timothy Diaz had a different address, middle name, and birthdate. Plaintiff tried explaining that he was arrested by mistake and offered to show his birth certificate and social security card, which Plaintiff carried at all times. Diaz Dep. T22:21-9; PSOMF ¶ 6. According to Plaintiff, the officers refused to look at either document. Arancio, however, does not believe that Plaintiff ever offered to show his birth certificate and does not recall discussing the birthdate difference with Plaintiff. Deposition Transcript of Timothy Arancio ("Arancio Dep.") T21:11-22:2. Both Bullock and Arancia, however, were aware of the birthdate discrepancy during the booking process. Bullock Dep. T35:l 1-15; Arancia Dep. T20:19-23. Despite knowledge of these differences, Plaintiff was not fingerprinted and neither officer asked the Prince George's County Sheriffs Department for a picture or other information to confirm that they had arrested the correct person.

         Later that evening, Plaintiff was processed and admitted to the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center in North Brunswick, New Jersey. Plaintiff was detained pursuant to a local fugitive from justice warrant that was drafted by the South Plainfield Police Department and a temporary commitment order signed by a municipal court judge. Certification of Patrick J. Bradshaw ("Bradshaw Cert.") Exs. L, M. The record is not clear when Plaintiff first appeared before a judge or when he first spoke with an attorney. Based on Plaintiffs deposition testimony, however, it appears that Plaintiff appeared before a judge on Sunday, the day after his arrest, and retained an attorney by Monday. Diaz Dep. T60:2-24. Plaintiff alleges that while he was detained at the Correctional Center, the Middlesex Defendants ignored his claim of mistaken identity. See, e.g., Id. T61:6-17.

         During a bail hearing on July 24, 2012, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office contacted the Prince George's County authorities to confirm that Plaintiff was the wanted Timothy Diaz. After about an hour of research, Prince George's County learned that the wanted Timothy Diaz had been arrested by Maryland authorities on July 16, 2012. Biribin Cert. Ex. H, T31:13-33:15. Plaintiff was released that day, once the Middlesex County Department of Corrections received a court order for Plaintiffs release. Certification of Robert Grover, Jr. ¶ 5; Bradshaw Cert. Ex. O.

         2. Procedural History

         Plaintiff brought suit on June 12, 2013, in New Jersey state court against Defendants alleging various tort claims and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants removed the matter to this Court on August 29, 2013. D.E. 1. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on June 19, 2014, that included additional defendants who were affiliated with the Prince George's County Sheriffs Department. D.E. 32. These additional parties, however, were dismissed from the case due to lack of personal jurisdiction. D.E. 55. After the close of discovery, Defendants filed the current motions for summary judgment.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact in dispute is material when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law" and is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude granting a motion for summary judgment. 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 nonmoving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)). A court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter but rather "to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         A party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the basis for its motion and must demonstrate that there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After the moving party adequately supports its motion, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). To withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. "[I]f the non-movant's evidence is merely 'colorable' or is 'not significantly probative, ' the court may grant summary judgment." Messa v. Omaha Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 122 F.Supp.2d 523, 528 (D.N.J. 2000) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50)).

         Ultimately, there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact" if a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. "If reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence, " however, summary judgment is not appropriate. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51.

         III. ANALYSIS

         1. Section 1983 Claims

         Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, instead it provides a vehicle for vindicating the violation of other federal rights. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). Section 1983 provides, in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress[.]

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) there was a violation of a right under the Constitution and (2) the violation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).[1]

         a. The Officer Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         The Officer Defendants contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity for the Section 1983 claim. Qualified immunity "shields government agents 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." Thomas v. Independence Township, 463 F.3d 285, 291 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 305 (1996)). In determining whether qualified immunity exists, a court must assess whether (1) the facts alleged by plaintiff show the violation of a constitutional right; and (2) the plaintiffs constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the violation. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). See also Egolf v. Witmer, 526 F.3d 104, 109-11 (3d Cir. 2008) (reviewing the two-step inquiry that generally occurs in a qualified immunity analysis).

         Plaintiffs Section 1983 claim as to the Officer Defendants appears to be based on false arrest and false imprisonment. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 46-47. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable seizures of the person. See U.S. Const, amend. IV. The Fourth Amendment, in turn, is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 142 (1979). The proper inquiry in a Section 1983 claim based on false arrest is whether the arresting officer had probable cause to make the arrest. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)). In addition, a false imprisonment claim is based on "the Fourteenth Amendment protection against deprivations of liberty without due process of law." Id. at 636. A false imprisonment claim that "is based on an arrest without probable cause is grounded in the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable seizures." Id. at 636. An unlawful detention outside this context may still give rise to a false imprisonment claim but such a claim is premised solely on the Fourteenth Amendment. Potts v. City of Philadelphia, 224 F.Supp.2d 919, 937 (E.D. Pa. 2002). As is discussed below, the Court concludes that after a person is initially arrested pursuant to probable cause, it is the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Fourth Amendment, that provides the appropriate avenue for redress whether the person is asserting a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment.

         "[A]n arrest warrant issued by a magistrate or judge does not, in itself, shelter an officer from liability for false arrest." Wilson v. Russo,212 F.3d 781, 786 (3d Cir. 2000). At the same time, "when the police have probable cause to arrest one party, and when they reasonably mistake a second party for the first party, then the arrest of the second party is a valid arrest." Hill v. California,401 U.S. 797, 802 (1971). Thus, in assessing whether probable cause existed in the case of a mistaken-identity arrest, a court ...


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