Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Kneisser v. McInerney

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 30, 2018

ANTHONY KNEISSER, Plaintiff,
v.
HON. DENNIS P. MCINERNEY, J.S.C., individually and in his official capacity as Municipal Court Judge of Burlington township Municipa Court, TOWNSHIP OF BURLINGTON, TOWNSHIP OF BURLINGTON MUNICIPAL COURT, JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          ALEXANDER R. SHALOM, JEANNE LOCICERO, ALEXI MACHEK VELEZ AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW JERSEY FOUNDATION, MARGUERITE KNEISSER CARLUCCIO LEONE DIMON DOYLE & SACKS LLC, On behalf of Plaintiff

          DAVID MALVIN SERLIN On behalf of Defendant Hon. Dennis P. McInerney in his official capacity, Township of Burlington, and Township of Burlington Municipal Court

          JOHN L. SLIMM, MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN & GOGGIN, PC, WOODLAND FALLS CORPORATE PARK On behalf of Defendant Hon. Dennis P. McInerney in his individual capacity

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

          This matter concerns Plaintiff's claims that his constitutional rights were violated at the Township of Burlington Municipal Court when he was sent to jail because he was unable to pay a fine imposed for a littering offense. Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's and Defendants' motions for summary judgment, as well as Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint to add the court administrator as a defendant. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant Plaintiff partial summary judgment, allow amendment, grant Plaintiff's motion to seal, and will, on the present record, deny Defendants' motions for summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Anthony Kneisser, filed this action against Defendant, Dennis P. McInerney, J.S.C. ("Judge McInerney"), the Presiding Judge of all municipal courts in Burlington County, New Jersey, the Township of Burlington ("Township"), and the Township of Burlington Municipal Court ("Municipal Court"), alleging that Defendants violated his civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New Jersey. Plaintiff has also lodged claims against Defendants under New Jersey state law for unlawful imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false arrest and false imprisonment.[1]

         These claims arise from Plaintiff's appearance before Judge McInerney at the Township's Municipal Court in May 2014 for a summons he received for throwing a cigarette butt from the window of his car in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-64. The maximum penalty for violating this statute is a fine ($200 minimum to $1, 000 maximum for each offense) which a defendant can satisfy through the mail, over the phone, or online. At the time, Plaintiff was a twenty year-old college student employed part-time as a line cook making $9.00 an hour. He worked approximately 15-20 hours per week making about $150 each paycheck. Plaintiff alleges he lacked sufficient funds to pay the imposed fine in full prior to the hearing date set on his summons and called the Municipal Court to determine whether there were any alternatives to paying the fine in full. He was advised that because he could not pay the fine in full, an appearance in court was required.

         The details of what occurred at the Municipal Court are set forth in Plaintiff's complaint. On May 27, 2014, Mr. Kneisser appeared before Judge McInerney in the Burlington Township Municipal Court for his first appearance to plead guilty and request a payment plan or community service in order to satisfy the charges in full. The entire amount of the offense, with court costs and fees, was $239. When Mr. Kneisser entered the courtroom, he first spoke to the Municipal Prosecutor to request payment alternatives. He was advised by the Prosecutor to make his request to Judge McInerney.

         Mr. Kneisser sat and waited for his name to be called. During this time, Judge McInerney rendered his opening remarks as follows:

After your case is heard you'11 be asked to check out with the administrator. The administrator is out at the window where everyone checked in, everyone that has a case here today needs to check out with the administrator before you leave the court house. If a fine is imposed in your case the fine is due today. If you're not prepared to pay the fine, you need to make a phone call, make whatever arrangements are necessary so you'11 be in a position to pay your fine today. If you refuse to pay your fine, I will sentence you to the county jail. Now the court does accept credit card payments, so we try to make it as convenient as we can for you to pay your fine. On the other hand, as I said, if you refuse to make a payment, I'll sentence you to the county jail.

(May 27, 2014 Hearing Transcript, pp. 5-6).

         Mr. Kneisser then appeared before Judge McInerney, at which time Judge McInerney asked how he wished to plea. Mr. Kneisser indicated that he wished to plead guilty but that he was present to determine whether there was an alternative to paying the fine in full on that date. Such alternatives included performing community service or being placed on a payment plan. Judge McInerney advised that there would be no penalty imposed other than a fine due in full and ordered him to return to the payment window to pay. Specifically, Judge McInerney stated as follows:

THE COURT: Anthony, it looks like Kneisser, come on up, sir. You're charged with throwing an object from the vehicle. There's a $100 fine for that - actually, there's a $200 fine for that offense. You have the right to be represented by a lawyer. If you can't afford one, you can apply to have one appointed. Do you understand that?
MR. KNEISSER: Yes.
THE COURT: Are you ready to proceed without a lawyer?
MR. KNEISSER: Yes.
THE COURT: How do you wish to plea?
MR. KNEISSER: I mean, I'm guilty, but I was hoping there's a way to avoid the fine. Can I do some community service or something?
THE COURT: No. There's no way to avoid the fine. What did you throw out of the vehicle?
MR. KNEISSER: Cigarette butt on the turnpike.
THE COURT: All right, there's a $206 fine, $33 court costs. The statute specifically mentions cigarettes and cigarette butts.
MR. KNEISSER: All right.
THE COURT: It's a $206 fine, $33 court costs. Either you use an ashtray or quit smoking. Check out at the window.

(May 27 Tr., p. 8, ¶1-3) .

         Mr. Kneisser acquiesced and returned to the Clerk's window. At the window, the Burlington Township Municipal Court's payment policy was clearly expressed in a posted sign. It stated as follows:

         PLEASE NOTE:

IF YOUR FINES TOTAL OVER $2 00:
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO MAKE AT
LEAST
A $200 PAYMENT TODAY
IF YOUR FINES TOTAL $200 OR LESS:
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO PAY YOUR
FINE IN FULL TODAY

         Mr. Kneisser advised the Clerk that he was unable to pay the minimum $200 required fine and was given a "Financial Questionnaire to Establish Indigency" to fill out. Mr. Kneisser filled out the form and requested a payment plan.

         Mr. Kneisser then returned to the courtroom, at which time the following brief colloquy took place:

THE COURT: Anthony Kneisser. Come on up, sir. You have 239, how much are you paying today?
MR. KNEISSER: I don't have anything today.
THE COURT: When can you make a payment?
MR. KNEISSER: Early June.
THE COURT: I'm sorry?
MR. KNEISSER: Early June.
THE COURT: You need to make a payment today, sir. Go make a phone call.
MR. KNEISSER: I don't have anyone that (indiscernible).
THE COURT: All right. I'll sentence you to five days in jail. Go ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.