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Alexander v. Holguin

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 3, 2017

JACKIE ALEXANDER, administrator ad prosequendum of the Estate of DAWUD ALEXANDER, Plaintiff,
v.
MIGUEL HOLGUIN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOSE L. LINARES Cheif Judge, United States District Court

         This matter tomes before the Court by way of Defendant Miguel Holguin's Appeal of Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson's Letter Order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff Jackie Alexander's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses, pursuant to Rule 72.1(c)(1)(A) of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 105). Plaintiff has filed an Opposition to the Appeal (ECF No. 111), to which Defendant has replied. (ECF No. 112). The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's Appeal and affirms Magistrate Judge Dickson's Letter Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Alexander brings this action as administrator ad prosequendum of the Estate of Dawud Alexander ("Decedent"). (ECF No. 1 ("Compl.") at 1). Plaintiff is a resident of Essex County, as was Decedent. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5). Defendant Holguin is a New Jersey State Police detective. (Id. ¶6).

         On October 3, 2013, at around 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m., a confidential informant ("CI") contacted Defendant Holguin[1] stating that CI saw Decedent in possession of a taser and some sort of firearm[2] around Harrison Place, Irvington, New Jersey. (ECF No. 99 at 1-2). Thereafter at approximately 6:30 p.m., New Jersey State Police vehicles converged in front of 83 Harrison Place, where Decedent was walking. (Compl. ¶ 15). Decedent then "ran across the street toward 92 Harrison Place[, ]" and Defendant and several other State Police Officers chased after him. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17). Upon reaching 92 Harrison Place, Decedent discarded a taser "in his possession near the front porch steps located on the right side of said residence." (Id. ¶ 18). Decedent continued to run and turned left into an alley on the left side of 92 Harrison Place. (Id. ¶ 19).

         While in the alley, Decedent attempted to climb a fence to gain entry to the 96 Harrison Place backyard. (Id. ¶ 20). Plaintiff asserts that Defendant then fired his duty weapon at Decedent striking him at least once. (Id. ¶ 21). However, Decedent was still able to reach another fence that would have given him access to the 21 Ellis Avenue backyard. (Id. ¶ 22). When Decedent attempted to climb said fence, Defendant shot him several more times. (Id. ¶ 23). Plaintiff asserts that at no time did Decedent possess a firearm or other object in his hand besides the taser that he previously discarded. (Id. ¶ 24). However, the following day, police found a revolver, which was attributed to Decedent, at the scene. (ECF No. 99 at 5).

         Decedent died at the hospital nearly an hour after the above described incident. (Compl. ¶ 25). Plaintiff asserts that an October 4, 2013 autopsy revealed that Decedent suffered four gunshot wounds to his right medial thigh, upper-left back, chest, and left foot, as well as "blunt force trauma to the right side of his face." (Id. ¶¶ 26-27).

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court asserting federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Id. ¶ 2). Said Complaint contained five causes of action against Defendant, the State of New Jersey, the Township of Irvington, and various John Doe Defendants for Excessive Force (Counts I-II), Conspiracy (Count III), Wrongful Death (Count VI), and State Tort (Count V). (Id. ¶¶ 35-66). This Court dismissed, with prejudice, claims against the State of New Jersey by Consent Order, and the Township of Irvington by Stipulation and Order of Voluntary Dismissal. (ECF Nos. 15, 98). All that remain in said Complaint are individual claims against Defendant Holguin for Excessive Force (Count I), and Wrongful Death (Count VI).

         Following the October 3, 2013 incident, CI provided the New Jersey State Police with a sworn statement recounting his[3] observations and communications with Defendant Holguin. (ECF No. 99 at 2). Said statement was recorded and transcribed, and Defendant Holguin produced a copy of the transcript to Plaintiffs counsel during discovery. (Id.). Plaintiff requested Defendant Holguin to reveal CI's identity, but Defendant objected, asserting informant's privilege. (Id.).

         On February 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a letter with the Court regarding said discovery dispute. (ECF No. 87). On February 27, 2017, the Court ordered Plaintiff to submit a letter setting forth the relief sought and legal arguments for compelling Defendant Holguin to disclose the identity of CI. (ECF No. 88). Thereafter, on March 3, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a Motion to Compel a Discovery Response. (ECF No. 89). On June 23, 2017, by Letter Order, Magistrate Judge Dickson granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs Motion. (ECF No. 99). Specifically, Magistrate Judge Dickson ordered Defendant to produce CI for an in camera deposition on July 31, 2017. (Id. at 7). If the Defendant failed to do so, then the Defendant was ordered to reveal CI's identity to Plaintiffs counsel on an '"Attorneys' Eyes Only' basis so that counsel may issue an appropriate subpoena[.]" (Id.). Defendant now appeals Magistrate Judge Dickson's Letter Order (ECF No. 105), and this Court issued a stay pending the resolution of the Appeal. (ECF No. 109).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms Magistrate Judge Dickson's rulings.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(1)(A), a party may appeal from a Magistrate Judge's determination of a non-dispositive matter. The Court, in reviewing the order of the Magistrate Judge in a non-dispositive matter, may modify, vacate, or reverse the order only if it was "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) (emphasis added); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(1)(A); see also Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1113 (3d Cir. 1986); Jackson v. Chubb Corp., 45 F.App'x 163, 166 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002). A ruling is contrary to law "if the Magistrate Judge misinterpreted or misapplied the applicable law, " whereas a finding is clearly erroneous when the reviewing court "is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Marks v. Struble, 347 F.Supp.2d 136, 149 (D.N.J. 2004). Even if the Court might have decided the matter differently, the reviewing court will not reverse the Magistrate Judge's decision unless it satisfies the clearly erroneous standard. Wortman v. Beglin, 2007 WL 2375057, at *2 (D.N.J. Aug. 16, 2007); see also Andrews v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 191 F.R.D. 59, 68 (D.N.J. 2000) ("A district judge's simple disagreement with the magistrate judge's findings is insufficient to meet the clearly erroneous standard of review.").

         III. ...


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