United States District Court, D. New Jersey
T.F.R., a minor, Melissa L Rodriguez Mandry, individually and as representative of Minor T.F.R., Jose W. Rodriguez Mandry, individually and as representative of Minor T.F.R., Plaintiffs,
Morris County Prosecutor's Office et al., Defendants.
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Melissa L. Rodriguez and Jose W. Rodriguez bring this §
1983 action individually and as representatives for Plaintiff
T.F.R, a minor. The amended complaint alleges fifteen federal
and state claims against Defendants Morris County
Prosecutor's Office (“MCPO”), Prosecutor
Fredric Knapp, Assistant Prosecutor Samantha DeNegri,
Investigator Keisha Higgs (the “MCPO
Defendants”), Detective Jack Niemynski, the Township of
Roxbury, and Thanh Nguyef. The Township of Roxbury and
Detective Niemynski move under 12(b)(6) to dismiss the
amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. For the reasons below, the motion to
dismiss is GRANTED. Further, claims against
the MCPO Defendants are barred by the Court's previous
Order dismissing claims against them with prejudice.
following facts are drawn from the Plaintiffs' amended
complaint. ECF No. 40. On November 14, 2015, an individual
wielding a handgun entered the Serenity Smoke Shop in Roxbury
Township, Morris County, New Jersey, and left with a $1, 200
bong and $60 lighter. Compl. ¶ 13. Surveillance video
from inside the smoke shop depicted an individual
“wearing a dark grey hooded sweatshirt, black bandana
over the face, gloves (possibly latex), black jeans, and
black shoes with white trim and off-white soles.”
Id. at ¶ 34. Based on the tape, the detective
estimated the individual's height was roughly
5'8” or 5'9, ” although the shop's
cashier estimated between 5'11” and 6'2.”
Id. at ¶ 37. Thanh Nguyef, the owner of an
adjacent store, saw the perpetrator leave the shop and
identified him as Plaintiff T.F.R, a local minor whom Nguyef
“was known to dislike.” Id. at
November 17, 2015, the MCPO advised Detective Niemynski that
evidence was sufficient to apply for a search warrant for
T.F.R.'s home. A warrant was issued by Judge Michael E.
Huebner, J.S.C., and executed on November 19, 2015.
Id. at ¶¶ 43-45. The search turned up
several air pistols, black shoes with white trim/soles, a
grey hooded sweatshirt, latex gloves in off-white/yellow, and
T.F.R.'s cell phone. Id. at ¶ 46. The same
day, Detective Niemynski observed T.F.R at his school wearing
black jeans and “white sneakers with off-white soles
and white trim.” Id. at ¶ 47.
surrendered at the advice of Roxbury police on November 20,
2015, and was charged on the same day with robbery and three
related offenses. Id. at ¶¶ 48-49. He was
detained at the Morris County Juvenile Detention Center for
several weeks. ¶ 51. In the meantime, several relatives
provided alibis for T.F.R. on the day of the crime and told
police that another individual had confessed to other third
parties to stealing the bong. Id. at ¶¶
63-66. Detective Niemynski was unable to corroborate these
claims. Id. at ¶ 68. Following a December 14,
2015, probable cause hearing, T.F.R. was placed on house
arrest. Id. at ¶¶ 51-54. An Order dated
March 1, 2016, permitted T.F.R. to return to school. On May
12, 2016, the charges against T.F.R. were dropped.
Id. at ¶ 62.
original complaint was filed on September 6, 2016, primarily
alleging unlawful seizure and prolonged detention against
MCPO, the Township of Roxbury, Frederic Knapp, Samantha
Denegri, Keisha Higgs and Jack Niemynski. On January 24,
2017, the Court dismissed with prejudice all claims against
MCPO, Knapp, DeNegri, and Higgs, on the basis of absolute and
qualified immunity. See ECF No. 31. Plaintiffs
amended their complaint on May 4, 2016. ECF No. 40. The
fifteen-count amended complaint asserts procedural and
substantive due process claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 and the New Jersey Constitution (Counts Two, Three,
Five, and Six), unlawful seizure and prolonged detention in
violation of the Fourth Amendment and the New Jersey
Constitution (Counts One and Four), conspiracy under §
1983 and N.J.S.A. 10:6-2 (Counts Seven and Eight), malicious
prosecution (Count Twelve), a violation of the Equal
Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment (Count Fourteen),
and a Monell claim against the Township of Roxbury
under § 1983 and N.J.S.A. 10:6-2 (Count Fifteen). The
other Counts-Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Thirteen-are not relevant
to this motion. The Township and Detective Niemynski have
moved to dismiss the amended complaint. Discovery has
been stayed pending the disposition of this motion.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal
of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving
party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been
stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750
(3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint
as true and view them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. See Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v.
Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998)
(citing Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975)).
At the same time, courts “are not compelled to accept
unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a
legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”
Wheeler v. Wheeler, 639 Fed.Appx. 147, 149 (3d Cir.
2016)(citations omitted). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the Plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
Defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged . . . Where a
complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a
Defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between
the possibility and plausibility of entitlement to
relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
Niemynski moves to dismiss the amended complaint on the basis
of qualified immunity as well as Plaintiffs' failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Township
of Roxbury moves to dismiss based on Plaintiffs' failure
to provide facts showing that a specific “policy or
custom” caused Plaintiffs' alleged injuries.
Defendants also argue that T.F.R.'s parents lack standing
because they have not sustained injuries personal to them.
immunity shields government officials who perform
discretionary functions 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.” Harlow v.
Fitzgerald,457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). See Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)(courts may choose to
first ask whether a violation occurred or instead proceed
directly to the question of whether the right in question was
“clearly established”). As explained below,
Plaintiffs fail to plead specific facts plausibly showing
that a violation of T.F.R.'s Fourth Amendment or due
process rights occurred. Detective Niemynski is accordingly
shielded from liability by qualified immunity. See Roth
v. City of Hermitage, 2017 WL 3971397, at *3 (3d Cir.
Sept. 8, 2017) (“Failing to consider the ...