November 6, 2017
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Mercer County, Docket No. L-0889-16.
Christopher Markos argued the cause for appellant (Williams
Cedar, LLC, attorneys; Christopher Markos, on the briefs).
Benjamin H. Zieman, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause
for respondent (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General,
attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of
counsel; Benjamin H. Zieman, on the brief).
Judges Sabatino, Ostrer and Whipple.
John Watson appeals from a July 22, 2016 order granting
defendant New Jersey Department of the Treasury's
(Treasury) motion to dismiss his complaint pursuant to the
Mistaken Imprisonment Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 52:4C-1 to -7. We
affirm because plaintiff's complaint was not filed within
the two-year statute of limitations under the Act.
discern the following facts and procedural history from the
record. On November 17, 1988, plaintiff was arrested in
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after delivering cocaine to an
undercover police officer. Six days later, on November 23,
1988, the New Jersey State Police (State Police) arrested
plaintiff on the New Jersey Turnpike (Turnpike) for
possession of cocaine and weapons. Plaintiff was tried on
these charges before a jury and found guilty of possession of
controlled dangerous substances and weapons. We affirmed this
conviction. State v. Watson, No. A-1096-91 (App.
Div. Feb. 15, 1994).
asserts he was tried in absentia. The recorddemonstrates
plaintiff absented himself from the second day of trial, and
we affirmed the trial judge's jury instruction on the
flight charge. Ibid. Plaintiff served approximately
five-and- a-half years for this conviction and was released
in or around March 1996.
April 1999, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General
(Attorney General) issued a report acknowledging the State
Police's use of racial profiling on the Turnpike from
1988 to 1999. See State v. Herrerra, 211 N.J. 308,
324-28 (2012) (detailing the history behind the investigation
into the State Police's use of racial profiling) (citing
Att'y Gen. N.J., Interim Report of the State Police
Review Team Reagding Allegations of Racial Profiling 3-4
(1999)). Pursuant to this report, numerous criminal
defendants raised allegations of racial profiling and sought
discovery relating to that issue. Id. at 326. Our
Supreme Court entered an Administrative Determination and
Order, on January 31, 2000, to coordinate management of those
cases. Ibid. Beginning in 2000, the Attorney General
agreed to vacate convictions and dismiss charges for cases it
identified. Id. at 327-28. According to plaintiff,
his New Jersey conviction was not vacated at that time
because it "fell through the cracks."
November 2011, plaintiff was convicted in the United States
District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania for
another narcotics offense. Plaintiff was sentenced to thirty
years, with five years of supervised release. Notably, the
court found plaintiff's 1988 convictions in New Jersey
and Pennsylvania enhanced his federal sentence because he
qualified as a three-strike "career offender" under
federal sentencing guidelines.
2, 2014, the New Jersey court entered a consent order
vacating defendant's 1988 New Jersey conviction because
it was subject to inclusion in the aforementioned State
Police racial profiling consent order. In light of the
vacated conviction, on August 13, 2015, the United States
District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
resentenced plaintiff to sixty-three to seventy-eight months
as he no longer qualified as a "career offender."
filed a complaint alleging a violation of the Act in the
Superior Court on April 27, 2016. The complaint was signed by
counsel but not verified by plaintiff. Plaintiff sought
damages for time spent incarcerated on the vacated 1988 New
Jersey conviction as well as the enhanced time he served in
Treasury moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for
failure to state a claim, Rule 4:6-2(e), and
plaintiff opposed the Treasury's motion and cross-moved