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Hardy v. Gloucester County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 2, 2017

VERONICA HARDY, and JOHN A. VICKERS, Plaintiffs,
v.
GLOUCESTER COUNTY; WESTVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT; SERGEANT MICHAEL PACKER, Individually; OFFICER THOMAS CURL, Individually; HUDSON BAIL BONDS; MANNY NIEVES, Individually; OCTAVIO MEDINA, Individually, Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER having come before the Court upon defendants Westville Police Department, Sergeant Packer, and Patrolman Curl's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 47) and defendants Hudson Bail Bonds, Manny Nieves, and Octavio Medina's[1] motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 52). For the reasons set forth in the opinion below, both motions are GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 8, 2013, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Sergeant Michael Packer, Patrolman Thomas Curl, and Patrolman Brian Ewe[2] escorted bounty hunters Manny Nieves and Octavio Medina of Hudson Bail Bonds to plaintiff Veronica Hardy's (“Hardy”) residence at 1029 Broadway, Apt. B-5 in Westville, New Jersey. The officers and bounty hunters sought Joshua Cariola, Hardy's son, who was a fugitive. The officers knocked on Hardy's door and Sergeant Packer asked if they could search the apartment. Hardy testified that she spoke with Sergeant Packer and gave consent for the search.[3] There is a factual dispute about whether Hardy gave informed consent; Hardy maintains that Sergeant Packer did not inform her that she could refuse the search-a requirement under New Jersey law-while Sergeant Packer claims that he did. The officers and bounty hunters then searched the apartment.[4] They did not find Cariola. Hardy testified that Sergeant Packer was “very, very nice” throughout the encounter but that the other officers did not speak at any time. Def. MSJ Br. Ex. A, Pl. Hardy Dep. Tr. 53-54.

         Hardy's second amended complaint alleges that the bounty hunters “came back and searched the apartment again on July 9, 2013 and July 10, 2013” without a police escort. See Am. Compl. at 2.[5] Hardy's fiancé, plaintiff John Vickers (“Vickers”), joins in the suit. He was not present during the search and not a tenant of the apartment.[6]

         II. STANDARD

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         The court should grant a motion for summary judgment when the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is “material” to the dispute if it could alter the outcome, and a dispute of a material fact is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Matsushida Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (“Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'”) (quoting First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). In deciding whether there is any genuine issue for trial, the court is not to weigh evidence or decide issues of fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Because fact and credibility determinations are for the jury, the non-moving party's evidence is to be believed and ambiguities construed in her favor. Id. at 255; Matsushida, 475 U.S. at 587.

         Although the movant bears the burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the non-movant likewise must present more than mere allegations or denials to successfully oppose summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party must at least present probative evidence from which jury might return a verdict in his favor. Id. at 257. The movant is entitled to summary judgment where the non-moving party fails to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         B. Motion To Dismiss Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When evaluating a motion to dismiss, “courts accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). In other words, a complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         To make this determination, a court conducts a three-part analysis. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010). First, the court must “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Second, the court should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 131 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680). Finally, “where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680). This plausibility determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. A complaint cannot survive where a court can only infer that a claim is merely possible rather than plausible. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Sergeant Packer And Patrolman Curl Are Entitled To Summary Judgment Because No Reasonable Jury Could Find That They ...


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