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Campbell v. The City of New Brunswick

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 16, 2018

JAMES C. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW BRUNSWICK, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MICHAEL A. SHIPP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter conies before the Court on three motions to dismiss by Defendants: (i) The City of New Brunswick[1] ("New Brunswick"), the New Brunswick Police Department ("NBPD"), Officer Sean Freeman, Officer James Hayes, Officer Samuel Hillyer, and Karlo Sarmiento (collectively, "NB Defendants") (ECF No. 11); (ii) the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office ("MCPO") (ECF No. 17); and (ii) Officers Nicholas DeFalco and Ryan DeGraw (ECF No. 12). Plaintiff James C. Campbell[2] ("Plaintiff) filed opposition (ECF No. 19), and Defendants replied (ECF Nos. 20, 21, 22). The Court has carefully considered the parties' submissions and decides the matter without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 78.1. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motions to dismiss are granted, without prejudice.

         I. Background [3]

         This action arises out of Plaintiff s arrest on or about December 1, 2012. (Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff is a self-employed auto mechanic, and was working on a vehicle in a parking lot where he frequently performed his services. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 5-6.) An unmarked sedan sped into the parking lot and immediately thereafter, two Caucasian males exited the sedan and approached the Plaintiff with their guns drawn. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) The two men stated that they were police officers, but did not present any form of identification. (Id. ¶ 8.) The officers subsequently handcuffed Plaintiff, and forced other unnamed individuals to kneel and cross their legs. (Id. ¶ 9.) The unidentified officers claimed they saw an African American man holding a beer and walking down the street, believed he came through the parking lot, and wanted to charge him. (Id. ¶ 11.) At this point, one of the officers walked towards the front of the vehicle that Plaintiff had been working on and "'claimed' he found a gun." (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff explained to the officers that "he had never seen the gun before and had no knowledge where [sic] it came from." (Id.)

         Plaintiff consented to a search of his vehicle, but the officers did not perform the search. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff was arrested on charges of unlawful possession of a handgun, possession of weapons for unlawful purposes, receiving stolen property, and as a person unauthorized to have a weapon. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff was indicted on all charges. (See Indictment, ECF No. 1-1.) Plaintiff spent eighteen days in jail before being released on bail of $35, 000 at a cost of $3, 500 to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 17.) After three jury trials, two of which resulted in a mistrial, Plaintiff was ultimately found not guilty of all charges stemming from the incident. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff alleges that the extended litigation resulted in several missed days of work and financial loss. (Id.)

         On September 26, 2016, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint pursuant to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J. Stat. § 59:1-1, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") seeking "punitive and actual damages in excess of $500, 000." (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff claims that he was restrained without probable cause, that the officers' actions were racially motivated, and that he was questioned without being read his Miranda rights and without an attorney present. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 14.) He asserts that Defendants "fabricated evidence, changed their testimony, and threatened Plaintiff during the trials. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         II. Legal Standard

         "Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the, . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In addressing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief" Phillips v. Cly. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). While a complaint does not need to contain detailed factual allegations to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a pleader must "provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief [which] requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).

         "Where, as here, a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the complaint is 'to be liberally construed, ' and, 'however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers."' Walsh v. Household Fin. Corp. Ill. No. 15-4112, 2016 WL 6826161, at *2 (D.N.J. Nov. 17, 2016) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007)). "While a litigant's pro se status requires a court to construe the allegations in the complaint liberally, a litigant is not absolved from complying with Twombly and the federal pleading requirements merely because s/he proceeds pro se." Id. (quoting Thakar v Tan, 372 Fed.Appx. 325, 328 (3d Cir. 2010)).

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the "defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented." Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). A district court is to conduct a three-part analysis when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). "First, the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.''' Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Second, the court must "review[] the complaint to strike conclusory allegations." Id. The court must accept as true all of the plaintiffs well-pleaded factual allegations and "construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). In doing so, the court is free to ignore legal conclusions or factually unsupported accusations that merely state "the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Finally, the court must determine whether "the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). A facially plausible claim "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 210 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         III. Parties' Positions

         The NB Defendants argue that: (i) the NBPD is an improper party because the NBPD is an administrative arm of New Brunswick, not a separate entity (NB Defs.' Moving Br. 6, ECF No. 11-1); (ii) the claims against New Brunswick must be dismissed because respondeat superior liability is unavailable for constitutional violations and Plaintiff has not identified any municipal policy, practice, or custom that caused a constitutional violation (id. at 6-8); (iii) any claim for false arrest accrued at the time of the arrest in December 2012 and is time-barred because it was not filed within the two-year limitations period (id. at 9-10); and (iv) claims against the individual officers are not sufficiently pled to put the officers on notice of the claims against them, and, in any event, the officers are entitled to absolute immunity for their testimony at trial (id. at 11-12). Officers Nicholas DeFalco and Ryan DeGraw joined in the arguments set forth by the NB Defendants and did not submit their own brief. (ECF No. 12.)

         The MCPO argues that: (i) the claim against it is actually a claim against the state and, thus, subject to 11th Amendment immunity (MCPO's Moving Br. 7-11, ECF No. 17-3); (ii) the MCPO is not a "person" amenable to suit under either Section 1983 or the NJCRA (id. at 12-14); (iii) vicarious liability claims are not available under Section 1983 and, to the extent that Plaintiff attempts to hold the MCPO vicariously liable under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, it is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity (id. at 14-15); and (iv) the false arrest claim is time barred (id. at 15-17).

         In opposition, Plaintiff submitted a one-page item of correspondence that asked the Court not to dismiss the Complaint as Plaintiff has been wronged, and attached exhibits related to the underlying charges and trials. (ECF No. 19.) On reply, Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to address any of the legal arguments raised by Defendants and ask the Court to dismiss the Complaint, (NB Defs.' Reply 2, ECF No. 20; MCPO's Reply I, ECF No. 22; DeFalco and DeGraw's Reply I, ECF No. 21.) ...


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