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Biaggi-Pacheco v. City of Plainfield

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 13, 2017




         The plaintiff, Hector Biaggi-Pacheco, alleges that the defendants wrongfully arrested, charged, and detained him. Most relevant here is his claim that, despite the dismissal of the charges against him, he was held in Union County jail for six more days until finally he was released. In a January 30, 2017 Memorandum and Order (ECF No. 10), I dismissed certain claims directed against the State of New Jersey and granted the plaintiff leave to amend his complaint. He has done so, and the currently operative pleading is the (First) Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11, cited as 1AC and referred to herein as the "Complaint"). Now before the Court are two motions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim: one filed by the State of New Jersey and Union County Prosecutor's Office ("UCPO") (ECF No. 18), and one filed by Union County (ECF No. 24).

         For the reasons stated herein, I will grant the motions in part and deny them in part. What emerges is essentially a two-part case, comprising (a) claims against the City of Plainfield[1] arising from events in connection with the arrest, and (b) claims against UCPO and the County, arising from the prolongation of the plaintiffs detention after his charges were dismissed.

         I. Background[2]

         The allegations of the Amended Complaint are broadly similar to those of the original Complaint. (ECF No. 1) Because there are some revisions, I again review them. They are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion only.

         Mr. Biaggi-Pacheco is a resident of Plainfield, New Jersey, which is in Union County. (1AC at 4, ¶ 1 ["The Parties"]-)[3] While conducting a sweep and mass arrest, police arrested Mr. Biaggi-Pacheco and charged him with a drug offense. (Id. at 6, ¶ 2.) Starting on December 5, 2014, he was incarcerated in the Union County Jail. (Id. at 7, ¶ 3.) He maintained his innocence during that period. (Id. at 7, ¶ 4.) On January 16, 2015, the charges against him were administratively terminated. (Id.) However, he was not released until January 22, 2016. [Id. at 7, ¶ 5.)

         The Complaint asserts seven causes of action:

Count I: Wrongful Arrest and Malicious Prosecution (42 U.S.C. 1983)
Count II: Wrongful Imprisonment
Count III: Malicious Prosecution
Count IV: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Count V: Abuse of Process
Count VI: Negligence Count VII: New Jersey Civil Rights Act

[Id. at 11-22.} The Complaint seeks compensatory damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs of suit.

         II. Standard of Review

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When deciding such a motion, all allegations in the complaint are taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Worth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (noting that the "reasonable inferences" principle was not undermined by Twombly, infra).

         While Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) does not require a complaint to contain detailed factual allegations, the obligations of a plaintiff to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions; the formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action won't do. Bell Atl. Corp, v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See Id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009).

         In Bistrian v. Levi, the Third Circuit outlined a three-step process for analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012). (1) The court outlines the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim for relief; (2) it then "peel[s] away" allegations that are no more than conclusions; (3) finally, it looks for well-pled factual allegations, assumes their veracity, and determines whether they plausibly giver rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. (noting further that the last step is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense") (citations omitted). Accord Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund of Phila. v. Mgmt. Res. Sys., Inc., 837 F.3d 378, 382 (3d Cir. 2016) (citing Bistrian).

         III. Analysis

         Section III.A, infra, briefly discusses the differences between the original and amended Complaints. Section III.B, infra, analyzes all seven counts of the First Amended Complaint as asserted against the State. Section III.C, infra, analyzes all seven counts as asserted against the County and UCPO.

         A. Original and Amended Complaints

         The original complaint in this action was confusing as to facts and format, and contained at least one obvious error as to dates. In the previous Memorandum and Order, I dismissed that complaint. This opinion should be read in the context of that prior Opinion, which is incorporated by reference here.

         My prior Opinion clearly identified the defects of the complaint and explicitly instructed the plaintiff as to what an amended complaint should contain:

A second fundamental flaw is that the Complaint simply contains no facts concerning what the County, acting through individual prosecutors, is alleged to have done. The complaint does not even state specifically what the charges against Mr. Biaggi-Pacheco were, who filed them, and in what form. Some minimal specificity, as required by the federal rules, is needed. The problem is exacerbated by group pleading against all defendants, jointly and severally. The plaintiff may be alleging, for example, that UCPO filed unfounded charges; he may be alleging only that UCPO negligently caused him to be held after charges were dismissed....
In particular, the amended complaint must describe, in chronological order, the events that occurred, the persons and entities involved, and the particular acts they are individually alleged to have performed.

(M&O 7-8)

         The plaintiffs efforts to comply have been minimal. The Complaint, as amended, is a modest improvement. The Complaint does revise some of the chronology (e.g., 1AC 7, ¶¶ 3-5 (amending the date of arrest and release)), and it provides additional detail as to some of the events. The group-pleading problem remains. Still missing are such basic facts as the particular offense or offenses with which the plaintiff was charged, and the manner in which the charges were brought (e.g., by complaint or indictment). The reader still cannot really tell what the involvement of UCPO or the County is alleged to be. Despite these deficiencies, for the reasons stated herein I will permit the plaintiff to explore in discovery the extent to which the County or UCPO caused him to be held after charges were dismissed. Nevertheless, certain claims still fall short as a matter of law or lack the necessary factual support to meet the Twombly plausibility standard, and they will be dismissed.

         B. ...

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