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Jones v. Burlington Township

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 13, 2017

DEANNA JONES, Plaintiff,


          DANTE C. ROHR JOHN L. SLIMM MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN & GOGGIN, PC On behalf of Defendants Burlington Township, Burlington Township Police Department, Burlington Township Police Officer Steven Cosmo #99, Burlington Township Police Officer Det. Marc Carnivale #60, Rebecca Concepcion

          EVAN H.C. CROOK CAPEHART SCATCHARD LAURA DANKS CAPEHART & SCATCHARD On behalf of Burlington County Detention Center and Burlington County


          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter concerns claims by Plaintiff, Deanna Jones, that she was falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted for credit card fraud, which resulted in unconstitutional strip searches at two county correctional facilities. Presently before the Court are the motions of the Burlington Township Defendants and Burlington County Defendants to dismiss some or all of Plaintiff's claims.[1] (Docket No. 11, 15.) For the reasons expressed below, the Burlington Township Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and the Burlington County Defendants' motion will be granted.


         According to Plaintiff's amended complaint, on March 23, 2016, she rented a storage unit at IStorage in Burlington, New Jersey. For the period of March 23, 2016 through March 31, 2016, she paid $41.64 in cash. On April 1, 2016, Plaintiff used her Wells Fargo debit card, which ended in numbers 6309, online to pay $78.48 for the next month's rent.

         On April 7, 2016, Defendant Burlington Township police officer Steven Cosmo called Plaintiff at work and asked her if she had rented a storage unit at IStorage using her credit card. Plaintiff alleges that she told Cosmo she used her Wells Fargo debit card, and Cosmo asked her to read her debit card numbers to him, which she did. Plaintiff claims that Cosmo told her to not use her debit card, and asked her to come to the police station to speak with him further. Plaintiff claims that she told Cosmo that she did not have access to a car and that if she had to come she could not arrive until Friday, April 15, 2016 because of her work schedule. She also advised him that she had not done anything wrong and asked if she was required to come to the police station, to which Cosmo replied it was her decision.

         Plaintiff claims that she was so taken aback by Cosmo's questions that she believed the call might have been a prank or someone trying to steal her debit card information. Plaintiff called the Burlington Township police department to inquire about the call and asked to speak with a supervisor. Plaintiff claims that Cosmo believed that Plaintiff was aggressive when she called, and was angry that she called and asked for a supervisor.

         On that same day, an arrest warrant was issued for Plaintiff's arrest for credit card fraud in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:21-6h. The probable cause statement was issued by Defendant Rebecca Concepcion, Deputy Court Administrator. Plaintiff claims that Cosmo and Concepcion willfully and maliciously ignored exculpatory information in issuing a warrant for her arrest. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that when Cosmo called Plaintiff, he never informed her that he was investigating a complaint of credit card fraud by Aida A. Gonzalez-Brown, whose Wells Fargo credit card - not debit card -ended in numbers 6390 - not 6309 - and that Gonzalez-Brown had already cancelled her credit card and was unable to use it again.

         After Plaintiff was arrested, she was transported to Defendant Burlington County Detention Center (BCDC). Plaintiff was subjected to a pat-down search by a female corrections officer, during which no weapons or contraband were found. Plaintiff was then subjected to a strip search, where Plaintiff removed all of her clothing leaving her completely naked and exposed. Plaintiff was instructed to bend over and cough in front of and while being observed by a female officer. Plaintiff claims that she never entered the general population at BCDC, [2] and was transported to Defendant Atlantic County Correctional Facility (ACCF) the next day. At ACCF, Plaintiff claims she was placed in a cell with three or four other women, and was again subjected to the same strip search procedure performed at BCDC.

         When Plaintiff was released from ACCF[3], Plaintiff claims that she was advised to appear in court on May 10, 2016. When Plaintiff went to Burlington Township Municipal Court, Plaintiff was informed that she was not scheduled to be there. Plaintiff claims that no one informed her that the charges against her had been dropped on May 3, 2016.

         Plaintiff claims that in addition to her false arrest and malicious prosecution by Burlington Township, Cosmo, and Concepcion, the resulting strip searches were unconstitutional because they were performed without probable cause and were conscious-shocking, especially because her alleged crime was minor and she was cooperative throughout the entire ordeal.

         Plaintiff has asserted claims against Burlington Township and its police department, [4] Cosmo, and Concepcion[5] for violations of the Fourth Amendment and New Jersey state law for false arrest and malicious prosecution, and conspiracy to commit those violations, along with a claim for equitable relief. Plaintiff also asserts a claim for municipal liability against the Burlington Township Defendants for its policies and procedures including failing to check or verify facts, failing to cooperate with other police officers to verify facts, and failing to properly investigate incidents of alleged criminal offenses. Plaintiff further claims that the Burlington Township Defendants are liable for the allegedly unconstitutional strip searches.

         As for Plaintiff's claims against Burlington County and Atlantic County, Plaintiff alleges Fourth Amendment violations for unconstitutional strip searches, and having policies that permit unconstitutional strip searches. Plaintiff has also asserted a claim for equitable relief against Burlington County and Atlantic County.[6]

         The Burlington Township Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims in Plaintiff's complaint against them that arise out of the strip searches. The Burlington Township Defendants argue that they cannot be held liable for the allegedly unconstitutional strip searches because it was BCDC and ACCF that performed those strip searches and maintained the policies and procedures governing them. The Burlington Township Defendants also argue that Plaintiff's conspiracy claim and her count for equitable relief must be dismissed for deficient pleading. The Burlington County Defendants have moved to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims against them, arguing that the strip search performed on Plaintiff was constitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, 566 U.S. 318 (2012). Plaintiff has filed oppositions to both motions.[7]


         A. Subject matter jurisdiction

         This civil action is brought for the redress of alleged deprivations of constitutional rights as protected by 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. Jurisdiction is founded on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 and 1367.

         B. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Under the liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that serve as a basis for the claim. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, “[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).

         A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks “‘not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Iqbal . . . provides the final nail-in-the-coffin for the ‘no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.”).

         Following the Twombly/Iqbal standard, the Third Circuit has instructed a two-part analysis in reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; a district court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “‘plausible claim for relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). A complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. Id.; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the “Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: ‘stating . . . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This ‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element”). A court need not credit either “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions” in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

         A court in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must only consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, the documents attached thereto as exhibits, and matters of judicial notice. S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Kwong Shipping Grp. Ltd.,181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999). A court may consider, however, “an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). If any other matters outside the pleadings are ...

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