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Torres v. Velasquez

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 28, 2017

GWENDOLYN TORRES, et al., Plaintiffs,
GIL VELASQUEZ, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Gil Velasquez and Dawn McCargo-Williams, pursuant to Fed, R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6). The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties, and, pursuant to L. Civ. R. 78 (b), grants the motion because: (a) Defendants enjoy quasi- immunity from suit, (b) Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and (c) Defendants are cloaked in qualified immunity.

         I. Background

         Defendants Gil Velasquez (“Velasquez”) and Dawn McCargo-Williams (“McCargo-Williams”) are both New Jersey State employees in the Camden County Probation Office; Velasquez is the Division Chief. Plaintiff Gwendolyn Torres (“Torres”) brings this action individually and as Guardian/Personal Representative of Anya Wilson and as Administrator of the Estates of both Scarlett Wilson and Seven Wilson. The underlying facts of this case are tragic.

         Anya Wilson is the daughter of the deceased Scarlett Wilson, the sister of the deceased Seven Wilson, and the granddaughter of Torres. Am. Comp. ¶ 2. Defendant McCargo-Williams was responsible for the supervision of Leon Wilson during his term of probation beginning January 18, 2013. Id. ¶ 10. Leon Wilson is Scarlett Wilson's son and the brother of Anya and Seven Wilson. Id. ¶ 12. According to the Amended Complaint, on or before April 2014, Leon Wilson communicated to Defendant McCargo-Williams his intent to kill his mother, Scarlett Wilson. Id. Plaintiff claims that Leon Wilson has a documented history of making threats to harm his mother. Id.

         On April 13, 2014, Leon Wilson murdered his mother by stabbing her repeatedly. Id. ¶ 15. Scarlett Wilson was pregnant with Seven Wilson at the time of the stabbing and, although he was born alive, Seven eventually died from his injuries on May 1, 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 15, 17. Anya Wilson witnessed the murder of her mother. Id. ¶ 16. The Amended Complaint alleges claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, for violations of the 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments, on the theory that Defendants are liable for failing to communicate Leon Wilson's threats to Scarlett Wilson.

         As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff agrees that the claims against Defendants are alleged in their individual capacity and not in their official capacity.[1] In addition, because the Amended Complaint does not allege that Plaintiff or Plaintiff's decedent and/ or granddaughter were incarcerated at the time of the underlying incident, the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim under the 8th Amendment and the motion to dismiss is granted as to this claim. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). In addition, “[a] defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.” Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). The claims against Velasquez are solely premised upon a theory of respondeat superior and are dismissed.

         For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted because, as probation officers, Defendants are cloaked with quasi-judicial immunity with respect to the allegations set forth in the Amended Complaint. Alternatively, Defendants are cloaked with qualified immunity because Plaintiffs' state created danger claim fails as a matter of law.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 12 (b) (6), a complaint may be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b) (6). When reviewing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, 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.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotations omitted). Under such a standard, the factual allegations set forth in a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Indeed, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[A] complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to ‘show' such an entitlement with its facts.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009).

         III. Analysis

         A. Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         Like judges, “quasi-judicial officials acting within the scope of their official duties are absolutely immune.” Delbridge v. Schaeffer, 238 N.J.Super. 323, 340, 569 A.2d 872 (Law Div. 1989). “When judicial immunity is extended to officials other than judges, it is because their judgments are ‘functionally comparable' to those of judges-that is because they, too, ‘exercise a discretionary judgment' as part of their function.” Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 436, 113 S.Ct. 2167, 124 L.Ed.2d 391 (1993). As quasi-judicial officers, probation officers are cloaked with judicial immunity when they act pursuant to a court directive. Stankowski v. Farley, 251 Fed.Appx. 743, 746 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Robinson v. McCorkle, 462 F.2d 111, 113 (3d Cir. 1972)); see also Price El v. Superior Court of New Jersey, No. CIV.A. 11-2213 NLH, 2012 WL 95210, at *4 (D.N.J. Jan. 12, 2012). “Quasi-judicial absolute immunity attaches when a public official's role is functionally comparable to that of a judge.” Dotzel v. Ashbridge, 438 F.3d 320, 325 (3d Cir. 2006). This immunity does not attach to actions taken in the probation officers' executive or administrative capacity, but only where the probation officer is acting in an adjudicatory capacity. Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 775 (3d Cir. 1989); Harper v. Jeffries, 808 F.2d 281, 284 (3d Cir. 1986); Thompson v. Burke, 556 F.2d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1977). Quasi-judicial immunity is overcome where the alleged actions are not taken in their capacities as probation officers or where their actions are taken in the absence of all jurisdiction. See Mireless v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991); Williams v. Consovoy, 333 F.Supp.2d 297, 299-300 (D.N.J. 2004), aff'd, 453 F.3d 173 (3d Cir. 2006).

         Here, Defendants are employed by the Probation Division of the Camden County Vicinage of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2B:10-3(d) and 4(b) (2006), both Velasquez[2] and McCargo-Williams are considered judicial employees of the State of New Jersey. The Amended Complaint does not allege any facts to suggest that Defendants' interactions with Scarlett Wilson occurred outside of their duties as probation officers. Rather, inaction is alleged: Plaintiff argues that Defendants should have acted when they learned that Leon Wilson had made threats against his mother and that Defendants should have acted when Leon Wilson failed to comply with the terms of his probation by failing to appear at his mandatory appointed probation meeting before April, 2014. Am. Compl. ...

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