United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MCNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiff, Daniel Catalano, was a pretrial detainee at the
Monmouth County Jail, in Freehold, New Jersey, when he
commenced this action. He is proceeding pro se and
in forma pauperis with a civil rights complaint
filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
before the Court is a motion by defendants to dismiss Mr.
Catalano's fourth amended complaint under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Irrespective of that motion,
however, the Court is obligated to review the fourth amended
complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to
determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or
malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from suit. Upon review, Mr.
Catalano's third cause of action, for violation of the
Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, will be
Court also decides defendants' unopposed motion to
dismiss the fourth amended complaint. For the reasons stated
below, the motion will granted in part and denied in part.
Catalano commenced this action on June 19, 2015, with a
complaint against the Newark Police Department and two
unknown officers. (ECF No. 1.) This Court, after performing a
screening review, found that Mr. Catalano stated claims of
unlawful search and seizure, false arrest, and false
imprisonment against the unknown officers, and it gave Mr.
Catalano ninety days to file an amended complaint identifying
those defendants. (ECF Nos. 3, 4.) The Court further
dismissed the complaint with prejudice as against the Newark
Police Department, which is not an independent entity that
can sue or be sued. Construing the allegations liberally as
being asserted against the City of Newark ("the
City"), I nevertheless found that the complaint failed
to state a municipal liability claim under Monell v.
Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658
(1978). (ECF Nos. 3, 4.)
Catalano filed a first amended complaint on October 29, 2015,
alleging claims against the City and again against two
unknown officers. (ECF No. 6.) An accompanying letter
explained that Mr. Catalano had "filed numerous public
records requests with Newark, " but had not yet received
any identification of the officers who arrested him. (ECF No.
6-1.) Upon screening, this Court found that the first amended
complaint stated the same claims against the unknown-officer
defendants and further found that this time Mr. Catalano had
stated a Monell claim against the City. (ECF No. 7.)
November 30, 2015, Mr. Catalano filed a second amended
complaint, (ECF No. 10.) The claims asserted in this
complaint were substantively the same as those raised in the
first amended complaint, but in the place of unknown
defendants it named three specific officers: Det. Thomas Del
Mauro, Det. Brian Costa, and P.O. Edward Santiago.
(Id.) The Court accepted the complaint for filing
and directed that it be served upon the defendants. (ECF No.
thereafter filed a motion to dismiss the second amended
complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
(ECF No. 27.) Mr. Catalano, in response, moved to file, and
concurrently did file, a third amended complaint. (ECF Nos.
28, 29.) In November 2016, he moved to file a fourth amended
complaint. (ECF No. 38.)
January 19, 2017, this Court granted the motion to file a
fourth amended complaint and administratively terminated the
dismissal motion and the motion to file a third amended
complaint. (ECF No. 40.) It also notified Mr. Catalano that
no further amendments would be accepted without a proper
motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15.
ALLEGATIONS OF THE FOURTH AMENDED COMPLAINT
fourth amended complaint (ECF No. 42) presents the following
allegations, which will be construed as true for the purposes
of this opinion.
fourth amended complaint alleges that Mr. Catalano and
non-party Nicholas Frunzi, both of whom are white (a fact
relevant to his claims), were in a vehicle parked on Johnson
Avenue in Newark at approximately 9:00 p.m. on August 20,
2013. It alleges that Mr. Catalano and Mr. Frunzi turned left
onto Clinton Avenue and saw a white minivan parked on the
street. Mr. Frunzi, who was driving, "committed no
traffic offenses, " but the complaint states that the
white minivan "made a u-turn on Clinton Ave. to
follow" their car. The complaint recounts that the
defendant police officers, who were in the white minivan,
pulled up next to Mr. Catalano and Mr. Frunzi while stopped
at a traffic light and yelled, "Where are you
from?" They did not, however, identify themselves as
police officers. Mr. Catalano states that he ignored the
question and that he and Mr. Frunzi drove away. Defendants
then stopped Mr. Catalano and Mr. Frunzi.
Catalano alleges that defendants immediately began searching
him, Mr. Frunzi, and the vehicle, without at first asking any
questions. He contends that he and Mr. Frunzi denied
accusations that they had been buying drugs. The complaint
states that, despite finding no drugs or any other
contraband, defendants arrested Mr. Catalano and Mr. Frunzi
and placed them in the rear of the white minivan. It asserts
that defendants then drove to Johnson Avenue and arrested two
more people "simply because their ID did not list
Johnson Ave as their address."
Catalano recounts that he was placed in a holding cell for
twelve hours following his arrest and then released. When he
appeared for a trial on October 9, 2013, the single charge of
"wandering to obtain CDS" was dismissed
"because even assuming arguendo that what the officers
wrote in the report was true it did not constitute a
complaint asserts that various statements in the arrest
report were false, and that officers of the Newark Police
Department have, as a matter of practice, inserted fabricated
statements in reports to justify otherwise improper arrests.
It further contends that the Newark Police Department has a
custom and practice of using "racial stereotypes in
their decisionmaking as it relates to stopping, detaining, or
making arrests." Mr. Catalano asserts that the Newark
Police Department knew of this because of U.S. Department of
Justice oversight reports, civilian complaints, and testimony
as to such practices, including estimates that up to 75% of
stops by Newark police were unconstitutional. Despite this,
Mr. Catalano alleges, the Newark Police Department failed to
take corrective action or make changes to police training.
the first amended complaint, the fourth amended complaint
asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful
search, false arrest, and false imprisonment against the
defendant officers (now identified) and for Monell
liability against the City. The fourth amended complaint adds
a new claim against the defendant officers under the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for racial
profiling and selective enforcement. In support of this
claim, Mr. Catalano alleges that defendants "signaled
[sic] out the plaintiff because of his race, or more simply
put, because he is white, and was in a majority African
American neighborhood, that defendants allege is a known drug
area." Mr. Catalano notes that defendants did not stop
"persons driving off the street who did not appear to be
white." He thus alleges that defendants "relied on
cultural stereotypes that white persons were in the area to
fourth amended complaint seeks compensatory damages,
including compensation for pain, suffering, and humiliation,
with pre- and post-judgment interest, as well as punitive
SCREENING OF THE FOURTH AMENDED COMPLAINT
the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. 104-134,
§§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (Apr. 26,
1996) ("the PLRA"), district courts must review a
complaint when the plaintiff is proceeding in forma
pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The PLRA
directs district courts to sua sponte dismiss claims that are
frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief. See Id. As
the fourth amended complaint has not yet been subject to this
mandatory screening, the Court now reviews that pleading.
legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to
state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)
is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Schreane
v. Seana, 506 Fed.Appx. 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012). That
standard is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544 (2007). To survive the Court's screening for
failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege
"sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is
facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside,
578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks
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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678; see also Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster,
764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014). "A pleading that
offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Glunk v.
Noone, 689 Fed.Appx. 137, 139 (3d Cir. 2017).
Nevertheless, "pro se litigants still must allege
sufficient facts in their complaints to support a
claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704
F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013).
Catalano's fourth amended complaint, the first cause of
action, for unlawful search, false arrest, and false
imprisonment, and the second cause of action, a
Monell claim against the City, are substantially the
same as those claims asserted in prior complaints, which have
already been subject to screening review by the Court.
(See ECF Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6, 7.) They will be permitted
to proceed for the reasons stated in the earlier opinions.
(ECF Nos. 3, 7)
Catalano's equal protection claim, however, is new to
this pleading, and, as Mr. Catalano is still proceeding
in forma pauperis, the Court will screen it under 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). To state an equal-protection
claim for racial profiling or selective enforcement, a
plaintiff must allege that acts by law enforcement "(1)
had a discriminatory effect and (2) were motivated by a
discriminatory purpose." Bradley v. United
States, 299 F.3d 197, 205 (3d Cir. 2002); see also
Patterson v. Strippoli, 639 Fed.Appx. 137, 144 (3d Cir.
2016) (selective enforcement); Alvin v. Calabrese,
455 Fed.Appx. 171, 177 (3d Cir. 2011) (racial profiling).
discriminatory effect requires that a plaintiff was a member
of a protected class who received different treatment than
similarly situated persons in an unprotected class.
Alvin, 455 Fed.Appx. at 177; Bradley, 299
F.3d at 206. A plaintiff must show discriminatory purpose by
demonstrating that the defendant took the challenged action
"at least partially because the action would benefit or
burden an identifiable group." Doe ex rel. Doe v.
Lower Merion Sch. Dist, 665 F.3d 524, 548 (3d Cir. 2011)
(citing Pers. Adm'r v. Feeney, 442 U.S.
256, 279 (1979)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-77
(finding that stating discrimination claim requires pleading
facts that show challenged policy was adopted "not for a
neutral, investigative reason but for the purpose of
discriminating"). "Thus, the mere awareness or
consideration of race should not be mistaken for racially
discriminatory intent or for proof of an equal protection
violation." Doe, 665 F.3d at 548; cf.
Patterson, 639 Fed.Appx. at 143-44 (finding sufficient
evidence of discriminatory purpose because the jury could
find that the defendant "harbor[ed] racial
animus"); Carrasca v. Pomeroy, 313 F.3d 828,
834 (3d Cir. 2002) (finding that the plaintiffs pleaded facts
sufficient to find discriminatory purpose because the
defendant employed what was "arguably ... a pejorative
case, while Mr. Catalano alleges that defendants stopped and
arrested him and Mr. Frunzi, who were white, while not
stopping non-white persons who were engaged in similar
behavior, he does not allege any facts that would suggest
that the defendants acted with discriminatory purpose.
(See ECF No. 42 ¶¶ 72-76.) Mr. Catalano
contends that defendants "relied on cultural stereotypes
that white persons were in the area to purchase narcotics,
" that there were no other facts at all that would have
supported an inference that he was buying drugs, and that
there was a history of discriminatory stops by the Newark
Police. The allegations are thin, and proof may be difficult,
but I will permit the equal protection claim to proceed.
DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
have now filed a motion to dismiss the fourth amended
complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
(ECF No. 45.) Defendants raise arguments that the Newark
Police Department is not a proper defendant in this case,
that Mr. Catalano fails to state claims for false arrest or
false imprisonment, that the claims against the defendant
officers are time barred, that Mr. Catalano fails to state a
claim for supervisory liability, that Mr. Catalano fails to
state a claim for Monell liability, that Mr.
Catalano fails to state a claim for racial profiling or
selective enforcement, that claims against the defendant
officers are barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity,
and that Mr. Catalano's demands for punitive damages and
prejudgment interest must be dismissed. (Id.) In the
interests of clarity, these arguments are addressed one by
Catalano, despite receiving an extension of time to do so
(see ECF No. 46), filed no papers opposing this
motion. Nevertheless, consistent with the well-established
preference for deciding claims on their merits rather than on
procedural technicalities, see Dole v. Arco Chem.
Co., 921 F.2d 484, 487 (3d Cir. 1990), the Court reviews
the substantive arguments advanced in this motion as applied
to the fourth amended complaint.
discussed above, the legal standard for deciding a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is the same as that used for
screening review under the PLRA. As the Court has already
outlined this standard in ...