United States District Court, D. New Jersey
STOPPER LOPEZ, LLC By: William Stopper, Esq., Attorneys for
BIRCHMEIER & POWELL LLC By: James R. Birchmeier, Esq.
Attorneys for Defendants
RENÉE MARIE BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Edward
Lenart asserts that Defendant City of Wildwood police
officer, Defendant James A. Stevens, Jr., violated his
federal constitutional rights when Stevens attempted to serve
a temporary restraining order on Lenart, and shortly
thereafter arrested Lenart for violating the restraining
order. Lenart was also charged with, and later
convicted of, resisting arrest.
move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the
motion will be granted in part and denied in
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
evening of July 14, 2014, Defendant City of Wildwood Police
Officer Stevens, and an unidentified police officer in
training, responded to Plaintiff Lenart's home,
dispatched to serve Lenart with a temporary restraining order
granted to the woman living with Lenart, Patricia Smith.
(Defs' Ex. B) Stevens testified that the Wildwood Police
had had “several” other “contacts”
with Lenart and Smith “regarding domestic disputes and
domestic violence” (Stevens Dep. p. 34), however,
Lenart testified that the Wildwood Police had never been
called to the Smith / Lenart residence before. (Lenart Dep.
Stevens' and Smith's versions of events are largely
consistent as to how the encounter began. Stevens and the
officer in training were let into the residence by Smith.
(Lenart Dep. p. 38; Stevens Dep. p. 39; Smith Trial
Testimony, p. 50) It is undisputed that there was no
disturbance at the time; Lenart was sitting on the couch
watching television when the officers entered the room.
(Id.) Smith and Stevens testified that Lenart
seemed “surprised” to see the police, and Lenart
testified that he was “totally shocked.” (Stevens
Dep. p. 47; Trial Transcript p. 50; Lenart Dep. p. 38)
point, the parties' accounts diverge. Lenart and Smith
testified that Stevens immediately began
“yelling” and “screaming” and
ordering Lenart “to get the hell out of here.”
(Trial Transcript, p. 50; Lenart Dep. p. 38) Stevens
testified that he “was calm”; he
“wasn't yelling at [Lenart] or anything, ”
but “explained” that Lenart “had to
leave” and attempted to obtain Lenart's signature
on the TRO. (Stevens Dep. p. 44)
to Lenart, “[Stevens] was like, this is a restraining
order, you got to go. I said, fine, I'm out of here. . .
. He said get all your stuff and get out of here. I said,
I'm not taking any of my stuff. I have too much of it.
I'm leaving.” (Lenart Dep. p. 38-39) In contrast,
Stevens testified that “[Lenart] kept saying that he
lived here, he wasn't gonna leave.” (Stevens Dep.
p. 44) Stevens further testified, “I threatened to
arrest him for not leaving . . . . It took him a little bit,
a minute or so. After talking to him and explaining to him
that he had to leave he did stand up.” (Stevens Dep. p.
47) Lenart then “walked” out of the house and
stood on the sidewalk. (Lenart Dep. p. 39, 47; Stevens Dep.
p. 48-49, 53) There is no evidence in the record that Lenart
ever raised his voice or otherwise reacted violently.
outside the house, Stevens testified that Lenart
“continued to say that he wasn't leaving” and
“kept saying that . . . [he'll] come back once [the
police] leave.” (Stevens Dep. p. 51) According to
Stevens, that's when Stevens “advised” Lenart
that he was under arrest “for violating the Restraining
Order, refusing to leave, ” although at this point
Stevens testified that Lenart was, indeed, “in front of
the house, ” not inside it. (Stevens Dep. p. 52)
testimony about the moments leading up to his arrest is
different. Lenart testified that he “never” said
he was going to come back to the property, instead he
testified that he told Stevens he wanted to speak to his
attorney before signing the TRO papers. (Lenart Dep. p.
42-43) As to what happened next, Lenart testified,
[Stevens] grabbed the papers out of my hands. I said, I'm
leaving. And I turned around and I walked up the block. And .
. . he was still screaming at me. . . . Look you piece of
shit, I told you to sign these papers. And I didn't say
anything. I told him I was leaving. I said, there's an
order for me to leave the premises, I'm already off the
premises, and I'm leaving. And I walked away. . . more
than 75 . . . yards. . . . I stopped and turned around and
[Stevens] was screaming my name from the sidewalk, yo Lenart,
Lenart, Lenart, get your ass back here. . . . I stopped, I
turned around . . . I walked all the way back. I got within .
. . 18 inches to a foot. . . . [Stevens] lunged at me,
grabbed me around the neck and shoulders, threw me to the
Dep. p. 42-44) Smith's testimony from the Municipal Court
trial corroborates Lenart's testimony; Smith testified
that she watched from the house as Lenart walked down the
street and “then the officer called him back.”
(Trial Transcript, p. 50)
testified that he and Lenart were standing “face to
face” when he “told Mr. Lenart that he was under
arrest” and “grabbed his one arm, ” at
which point Lenart
started to like-- started to pull away from me, tried to pull
away and get away, so I just pulled down and tripped him.
He went down on his stomach and then he continued to squirm
and made it hard-- didn't comply and put his hands right
behind his back, he was squirming around a little bit.
And after a brief struggle I forced his hands behind his back
and placed him in handcuffs.
Dep. p. 53-54)
denies resisting at all. (Lenart Dep. p. 46-47) Smith also
testified that Lenart “did not resist arrest.”
(Smith Trial Testimony, p. 51) Smith testified,
“[Stevens] threw [Lenart] to the ground and beat --
excuse me -- the shit out of him.” (Id. at p.
testified that once he was on the ground,
Officer Stevens . . . tread on my right hand with his foot,
like a stomp, came back and dropped on my . . . right knee,
then he got up, tread on my left foot, laid back into my back
with his . . . knee . . . . grabs my head and starts grinding
my face . . . . grabs my right hand and then grabs my left
hand and handcuffs me.
Dep. p. 44-46)
handcuffed, Lenart testified that Stevens “literally
threw me in [the backseat of the police car], smashing my
forehead against the side of the panel of the car, the roof
of the car . . . . He's kicking my feet to get in. . . .
[H]e's trying to slam the door on my legs.” (Lenart
Dep. p. 49)
Lenart arrived at the police station, he told unidentified
officers that he “need[ed] medical attention.”
(Lenart Dep. p. 55) When he arrived at the County jail, he
told the nurse that he “need[ed] medical
attention.” (Id.) “[A]pproximately a day
and a half later, ” when Lenart was released on bail,
Smith took pictures of Lenart's injuries (Trial
Transcript, p. 51), and took Lenart to Cape Regional Medical
Center's emergency room. (Lenart Dep. p. 57) Lenart
testified that his injuries included bruises and abrasions on
his face, forehead, cheek, and chin; his right hand,
forefinger and thumb were broken, requiring a cast; his right
knee “ACL” was torn; and his left foot was in
pain. (Lenart Dep. p. 57-59)
was charged with violation of a restraining order in
violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9(b), and resisting arrest in
violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2. (Defs' Ex. B) He was only
tried, however, on the resisting arrest charge, and was found
guilty. (Defs' Ex. F) The Municipal Court imposed a
sentence of five days in jail, with “credit for the two
days” of time already served. (Trial Transcript, p. 75)
Lenart's conviction was affirmed on appeal.
(Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of
Material Facts ¶ 10)
Complaint asserts five counts, all pursuant to §
1983: (1) false arrest in violation of the
Fourth Amendment; (2) false imprisonment in violation of the
Fourth Amendment; (3) excessive force in violation of the
Fourth Amendment; (4) malicious prosecution in violation of
the Fourth Amendment; and (5) Monell
liability against the City of Wildwood.
elected not to file a Motion to Dismiss. The instant Motion
for Summary Judgment is the first dispositive motion filed in
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
judgment shall be granted if “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it
will “affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is
“genuine” if it could lead a “reasonable
jury [to] return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
determining the existence of a genuine dispute of material
fact, a court's role is not to weigh the evidence; all
reasonable “inferences, doubts, and issues of
credibility should be resolved against the moving
party.” Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corps., 720
F.2d 303, 307 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1983). However, a mere
“scintilla of evidence, ” without more, will not
give rise to a genuine dispute for trial. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 252. Moreover, a court need not adopt the version
of facts asserted by the nonmoving party if those facts are
“utterly discredited by the record [so] that no
reasonable jury” could believe them. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). In the face of such
evidence, summary judgment is still appropriate “where
the record . . . could not lead a rational trier of fact to
find for the nonmoving party[.]” Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
movant “always bears the initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). Then,
“when a properly supported motion for summary judgment
[has been] made, the adverse party ‘must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.'” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (citing
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). In the face of a properly supported
motion for summary judgment, the nonmovant's burden is
rigorous: he “must point to concrete evidence in the
record”; mere allegations, conclusions, conjecture, and
speculation will not defeat summary judgment. Orsatti v.
New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir.
1995); accord Jackson v. Danberg, 594 F.3d 210, 227
(3d Cir. 2010) (citing Acumed LLC v. Advanced Surgical
Servs., Inc., 561 F.3d 199, 228 (3d Cir. 2009)
(“[S]peculation and conjecture may not defeat summary
The Heck Doctrine
Court first turns to an issue not raised by the parties but
which frequently arises in § 1983 cases challenging an