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Barron v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 8, 2018

JOSPEH BARRON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.:

         Plaintiffs Joseph Barron (“Barron”), Janine Watts (“Watts”), and Tammy Godfrey-Khalil (“Godfrey-Khalil”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) bring this action, sounding in civil rights and in tort, against the State of New Jersey, then-New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes (“Fuentes”), Detective Stephen Reifler (“Reifler”), 12 other police officers (“Officer Defendants”), the Essex County Prosecutor and Assistant County Prosecutor Jennifer Fetterman (“ECPO Defendants, ” and together with Fuentes, Reifler, and the Officer Defendants, the “State Defendants”); Essex County; the Township of Irvington, its then-Police Chief Michael Chase (“Chase”), and then-Police Director Joseph Santiago (“Santiago”); and other unnamed individuals and entities. This matter comes before the Court on the State Defendants' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.[1] No oral argument was held. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons below, the State Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Investigation and Arrest of Plaintiffs

         The State Defendants, Township of Irvington, and Essex County (the “Public Entity Defendants”) planned an operation as to suspected drug-dealing activities in apartment 2F at 525 Chancellor Avenue, Irvington, New Jersey. Compl. ¶ 46, ECF No. 1.[2] The Public Entity Defendants used a confidential informant to buy drugs from “Dawn, ” who was the target of the investigation. Id. ¶ 47. Dawn lived in apartment 2FL (“2FL”), next door to Plaintiff Barron's apartment at 2FR (“2FR”). Id. ¶ 48.

         During the investigation, Reifler obtained a search warrant on affidavit for Dawn's residence (2FL). Id. ¶ 49. Over a week later, the Officer Defendants held a briefing on the proposed sting operation. Id. ¶ 50. Fuentes, Township of Irvington law enforcement officers, including Chase and Santiago, Essex County employees, and the ECPO Defendants were either present or had knowledge of the operation and otherwise helped plan it. Id. ¶¶ 51-52. After the briefing, the Officer and Public Entity Defendants set up surveillance on 2FL, during which time someone saw “a black male wearing glasses and a black female with blondish hair” through a back rear window blind. Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. A ¶ 53, ECF No. 19-18 (“Am. Compl.”). The Officer and Public Entity Defendants then forcibly entered 2FL and found drugs, but located no individuals, including Dawn. Id. ¶ 54.

         Upon leaving 2FL, the same Defendants went to 2FR-where Plaintiffs were-and, without probable cause, requested and obtained consent to search that apartment. Id. ¶¶ 55-56. Once inside, the Defendants saw drugs which led to Plaintiffs' arrest and incarceration. Compl. ¶ 58. Plaintiffs claim the Officer Defendants and Public Entity Defendants planted the drugs as a pretext for arrest. Id. ¶¶ 57-58; Am. Compl. ¶ 29.

         After Plaintiffs' arrest, Assistant Prosecutor Fetterman elicited grand jury testimony from Reifler that she knew or should have known was false. Am. Compl. ¶ 68. Reifler testified that Godfrey-Khalil was Dawn-although he never met or saw her, id. ¶ 69; that he spoke with the landlord of 2FL and 2FR who only speaks Portuguese, id. ¶ 70; that the landlord was unable to pick Dawn out of a photo lineup that included Godfrey-Khalil- having only the characteristics of being African-American females in common, id. ¶¶ 70- 71; and that Barron leased and paid utilities on both apartments. Id. ¶¶ 72-73. He also testified about seeing Godfrey-Khalil and another person from 2FL's window, but the police report is devoid of that observation. Id. ¶ 74. Finally, Reifler gave false testimony because Godfrey-Khalil and another individual were African-American. Id. As a result of the arrests, Barron was incarcerated for four months, Godfrey-Khalil for six months, and Watts for two and a half weeks. Id. ¶¶ 75-77. Assistant Prosecutor Fetterman then dismissed all charges against Plaintiffs. Id. ¶ 78.

         B. The Action Here

         By consent, the parties agreed to dismiss certain claims. So the Court will address the remaining issues, those being violations of Plaintiffs' civil rights for false arrest, wrongful incarceration, racial profiling, and conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1981, and 1985 (Count I) and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (“NJCRA”), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-2, et seq. (Count II) and a state law malicious prosecution claim (Count V).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). Thus, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a defendant, acting under color of law, may be sued for deprivation of alleged constitutional or statutory rights. Miller v. Mitchell, 598 F.3d 139, 147 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 31 (1991) (“[S]tate officers [are not] absolutely immune from personal liability under § 1983 solely by virtue of the ‘official' nature of their ...


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