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Matos v. Laielli

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 6, 2018

VICTORIA MATOS and BRUCE BULLOCK, Plaintiffs,
v.
LAUREN LAIELLI, CHRISTOPHER DODSON, VICTOR E. GUADALUPE, PAULO PEREIRA, HARRY R. ALBERT, FRANK X. BALLES, ATLANTIC COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE AND ATLANTIC COUNTY, Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ U.S.D.J.

         This matter is before the Court on motions of Defendants Atlantic County [52] and Lauren Laielli, Christopher Dodson, Victor E. Guadalupe, Paulo Pereira, Harry R. Albert, and Frank X. Balles [53] for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Oral argument was heard on the record on March 5, 2018. For the reasons placed on the record that day, as well as those stated here, the motion of Atlantic County will be granted and the individual defendants' motion will be denied.

         Background

         Plaintiffs, Victoria Matos and Bruce Bullock, were employed by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families as Family Service Specialists. Plaintiffs allege that they were wrongfully arrested and prosecuted in connection with their November 6, 2014 work assignment of escorting a juvenile to a court hearing in the Atlantic County Courthouse.

         Plaintiffs allege that upon entering the courthouse, the juvenile was confronted by a sheriff's officer, but ignored a direction from one of the officers and proceeded to enter the elevator with Bullock. At that point, multiple sheriff's deputies entered the elevator, restrained, and allegedly assaulted the juvenile. Bullock witnessed the assault, but allegedly did not interfere in any way. As Matos approached the elevator, she was pushed out of the way by one of the sheriff's officers. After the juvenile was taken into custody by the sheriffs, Matos complained about the way she was treated and the way the juvenile had been treated.

         When Bullock left the courthouse to go to his vehicle and retrieve paperwork, he was followed by several of the individual defendants and he used his phone to record their actions. This resulted in the sheriffs placing him in handcuffs and bringing him into the courthouse in their custody. Defendant Albert allegedly told Bullock that he would be released and no further action would be taken if he deleted the video that he had taken.

         After the Defendants learned that Plaintiffs intended to file an internal affairs complaint against them, Plaintiffs allege that they collectively decided to file criminal charges against the Plaintiffs, knowing that there was no basis for those charges. Plaintiffs were fired from their jobs based on the false allegations of the Defendants. The charges against them proceeded to trial in the Atlantic City Municipal Court, where they were acquitted of all charges.

         Although he was not involved in the original encounter with Plaintiffs, Defendant Balles is alleged to have ratified and endorsed the arrest and prosecution of the Plaintiffs for the purpose of protecting the sheriff's officers from civil liability and other consequences of their misconduct. Further, Balles allegedly made it clear to the Plaintiffs' criminal attorneys that his office was prosecuting the Plaintiffs to protect the Atlantic County Sheriff's Office from criticism and civil liability, and that all charges could be dropped in exchange for an agreement protecting the sheriff and his officers.

         Jurisdiction

         Plaintiffs have brought their claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as New Jersey state law. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a). Thus, the Court will enter summary judgment in favor of a movant who shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and supports the showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c)(1)(A).

         An issue is “genuine” if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally'sPark Place, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Andersen, 477 U.S. at 256-57. “A nonmoving party may not ‘rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . ...


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