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Israel v. Smith

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 27, 2017

LIEUTENANT DEAN R. SMITH, et al., Defendants.


          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Lieutenant Dean R. Smith, Earnest Schriefer, Freehold Township, and Freehold Township Police Department's (collectively, “Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) (ECF No. 71). Plaintiff asserts federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for general deprivations of constitutional rights, false arrest, failure to implement appropriate polices and adequately train officers, and excessive force, as well as common law tort claims of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, negligence, and negligent supervision. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

         On December 30, 2010, at approximately 4:52 p.m, Lieutenant Dean R. Smith, who was operating a patrol car, and Plaintiff Barsoum Israel were stopped next to each other at a traffic signal on Route 9 South, in Freehold, New Jersey, waiting to turn onto Route 537. (Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶¶ 1-6). Plaintiff's wife, Isis Korashy, was also in his vehicle. As the light turned green, Plaintiff abruptly turned into Smith's lane without using his turn signal, forcing Smith to quickly hit his breaks to avoid a collision. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 1). Smith then pulled Plaintiff over in the right lane of Route 537 West. (Id.). Plaintiff claims that he was avoiding a large pile of snow stacked on the roadway, when he turned into Smith's lane. (Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶¶ 11-13).

         After Smith requested Plaintiff's license and other documentation, Korashy asked Smith why he had pulled them over. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶¶ 2-3). Smith explained that Plaintiff had switched lanes without using a signal, that he would be issued a summons, and that both of them should remain in their car. (Id.). As Smith returned to his patrol car to write the summons, Korashy exited the car and proceeded towards Smith. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5). Smith then exited his patrol car and ordered her to return to the car; despite his repeated directions, she did not comply. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6).

         Because Korashy was giving Smith a “hard time out there, ” he called for backup and warned her that he would arrest her if she did not return to her car. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 11). According to Smith, she challenged him to arrest her. (Id. at ¶ 8). At this point, Plaintiff exited the car and approached Smith; Smith then advised Plaintiff he would be arrested if he did not return to his car. (Id. at ¶¶ 12, 14). Plaintiff claims that he exited his car because Smith had an aggressive tone towards his wife, and he wished to calm the situation and have his wife return to the car. (Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 32). According to Plaintiff, Smith then left his car and ran toward Plaintiff, ordering Plaintiff to sit inside of his car. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-36). As Smith approached Plaintiff, Plaintiff took his cellular phone from his pocket and purportedly asked Smith, “would you please give me your boss' phone number.” (Id. at ¶¶ 38-40). According to Plaintiff, Smith became irate and charged at Plaintiff, and placed both Plaintiff's hands on top of the car by the driver's side. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41). While pinned against the car, Plaintiff claims that he informed Smith that he was a handicap, and said “I am in pain right now.” (Id. at ¶ 41). Smith then allegedly placed Plaintiff in a “full nelson, ” lifted him up and slammed him to the ground. (Id. at ¶¶ 55-56). In his police report, Smith noted that Plaintiff complained that he had a bad back and medical problems; but also that Plaintiff then tried to break away from him. (ECF No. 85-7, “Exhibit G” at 3). After allegedly throwing Plaintiff to the ground, Smith then knelt on top of Plaintiff s lower back and buttocks and handcuffed him. (Plaintiffs Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 61).

         Several witnesses observed the incident and have conflicting descriptions of what took place. Plaintiff relies upon a motorist who called 911 saying, there is “an old man, and a cop stopped him, and old man and an old woman…the cop stopped him and he's harassing the man…he's pushing the man down, he's pushing the old lady and he's throwing him…the old woman is screaming something . . . police brutality.” (Id. at ¶ 69). However, Defendants refer to several other witnesses, who claim that Plaintiff was the aggressor during the incident and that Smith needed a bystander's assistance to subdue him. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶¶ 20-34).

         Plaintiff claims that Smith, after handcuffing him, allegedly dragged him to the police car, threw him into the back seat, slammed the door on his foot, and drove him to the police station. (Plaintiffs Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 77). Once at the police station, Plaintiff claims that Smith refused to allow him to sit down and dragged him around the station. (Complaint at ¶ 32).[1]

         Plaintiff was ultimately charged with “(1) failure to use a turn signal in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-126, (2) unsafe lane change in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-88(b), (3) resisting arrest in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2A, and (4) obstruction of the administration of law in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1A.” (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 65). Plaintiff eventually pled guilty, in a New Jersey municipal court, to: (1) obstruction of the administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a), and (2) failure to use a turn signal, N.J.S.A. 39:4-126. (Id. at ¶ 66). Plaintiff later sought criminal charges against Smith for bodily assault, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A; however, a New Jersey municipal court judge dismissed the complaint, finding “no probable cause for the issuance of Plaintiff's complaint.” (Id. at ¶ 67). Plaintiff appealed and it was dismissed by a New Jersey Superior Court judge. (Id. at ¶ 68). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, Professional Responsibility and Bias Crimes Bureau, alleging that Smith used excessive force. (Id. at ¶ 69). After investigating the merits of Plaintiff's complaint, the Bureau concluded that Plaintiff's claim was unfounded. (Id. at 70).

         Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit against the Township of Freehold, the Freehold Township Police Department, Chief Ernest Schriefer, and Lieutenant Dean Smith claiming violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, seeking remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and various state law claims. Defendants move for summary judgment on all counts.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). 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 non-moving 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).

         Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the party opposing the motion must establish that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Twp., 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations and instead must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1130-31 (3d Cir. 1995). “[U]nsupported allegations . . . and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment.” Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorp., 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (requiring nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial”).

         Moreover, only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. If a court determines, “after drawing all inferences in favor of [the non-moving party], and making all credibility determinations in his favor…that no reasonable jury could find for him, summary judgment is appropriate.” Alevras v. Tacopina, 226 F. App'x 222, 227 (3d Cir. 2007).


          I. Federal Civil Rights Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         1. Monell Liability [2]

          In Count III of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants maintained unlawful policies and customs or, in the alternative, failed to adequately train and supervise Smith. Section 1983 states:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, 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. . .

Id. To sustain a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) “that they have been deprived of a right ‘secured by the Constitution and the laws' of the United States”; and (2) that the defendant “deprived them of this right acting ‘under color of any statute'” or state law. Flagg Bros, Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155 (1978).

         Here, Plaintiffs Section 1983 claims against Freehold Township, Freehold Township Police Department, and Chief Schriefer are misplaced for several reasons. First, under New Jersey law, a municipal police department is not treated as a separate entity from the municipality. See N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118 (municipal police department is “an executive and enforcement function of municipal government”). Since police departments are administrative components of local municipalities, and not distinct entities, they cannot be sued along with municipalities. See Padillav. Twp. of ...

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