United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
his arrest, Leonard Capra (“Plaintiff”) claims
police officers used excessive force and that the incident
stemmed from their municipal employers' failure to train
its officers. He now asserts violations under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and the New Jersey Tort Claims Act against
Hackensack Police Officer John Knapp (“Knapp”)
and Detective Alexander Lopez-Arenas
(“Lopez-Arenas”) and Bergen County Sheriff's
Officer Vincent Surace (“Surace”) (collectively,
the “Officers”); City of Hackensack (the
“City”); County of Bergen (the “County,
” and together with the Officers and City,
“Defendants”); and other fictitious individuals
and entities. Defendants now move for summary judgment under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The Court has
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and
1367 and decides the matter without oral argument.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons below, Defendants'
motions are GRANTED.
multi-agency investigation that included the Bergen County
Sheriff's Office and Hackensack Police Department
(“HPD”), Plaintiff sold drugs to an undercover
officer. City SOF ¶¶ 8, 12, 19. Once arrested,
Lopez-Arenas took custody and, with Knapp and Surace, drove
Plaintiff to HPD headquarters for processing. Id.
¶¶ 21-22. On the way there, Plaintiff shouted
vulgarities, threatening to kill the Officers. Decl. of John
Visconi (“Visconi Decl.”), Ex. B, Lopez-Arenas
Dep. 18:2-14, Jan. 26, 2017, ECF No. 61-2; Visconi Decl., Ex.
E, Lopez-Arenas Investigation Report 0112, ECF No. 61-5. Yet,
Plaintiff claims he said nothing to the Officers and cannot
recall if they said anything to him. Id., Ex. D,
Capra Dep. 58:17-60:1, Jan. 12, 2017, ECF No. 61-4. At HPD,
the Officers took Plaintiff to a processing room (OD Room),
so he could remove his jacket and any prohibited items on him
before entering the holding cell. City SOF ¶ 24. As to
what happened next, the OD Room's video camera recorded
what took place when the parties entered and remained in the
OD Room. Barnett Cert., Ex. E, ECF No. 66-5; Visconi Decl.,
Ex. O, ECF No. 61-15.
Room video shows once in the OD Room, Lopez-Arenas uncuffed
Plaintiff. Ex. O, 22:42:02-33. Next, per HPD's
“Pre-Incarceration Searches” policy, told
Plaintiff more than once to remove his jacket and empty his
pockets. City SOF ¶¶ 24, 25, 28, 30. Instead,
Plaintiff just sat down. Capra Responsive SOF ¶ 32, ECF
No. 66-1. So Lopez-Arenas decided to conduct the
pre-incarceration search in the holding cell, which involved
moving to another room. City SOF ¶ 33. He then
approached and placed his hand on Plaintiff to move him, but
Plaintiff pulled his arm away. City SOF ¶ 33-34. Noting
Plaintiff's “agitated” state, Knapp and
Surace also approached him. City SOF ¶ 38; Ex. E, at
0112; Ex. O, at 22:43:08.
next to Plaintiff, Lopez-Arenas and Knapp each grabbed his
arms, while Surace positioned himself behind Knapp. Ex. O, at
22:43:12. Plaintiff then stood up with Lopez-Arenas and Knapp
holding his arms, as Surace grabbed Plaintiff's waist and
jacket. Id. at 22:43:13-15. The Officers and
Plaintiff are then propelled forward into a desk towards the
OD Room doorway, and then Knapp, Surace, and Plaintiff fell
to the ground. Id. at 22:43:15-18. When Plaintiff
fell, his face hit the floor. City SOF ¶ 43. While on
the ground, Plaintiff claims someone kicked him in the face
but does not identify who kicked him. Id. ¶ 47.
Yet, Plaintiff asserts from the time he was thrown to the
ground to seeing the bruise on his face, he may have
“blacked out.” Capra Dep., Ex. D, 94:7-22.
Plaintiff hit the ground, Knapp heard a popping noise. City
SOF ¶ 49. He then pulled Plaintiff's left arm from
under his body, removed Plaintiff's jacket, and
discovered a deformity that required medical attention.
Id. ¶¶ 50-52. At the hospital, a surgeon
diagnosed Plaintiff with a fractured left distal humerus with
complete left radial nerve palsy. Id. ¶ 53;
Barnett Cert., Ex. G, ECF No. 66-2. A medical triage report
also noted small bruises on Plaintiff's forehead and
lower lip. Barnett Cert., Ex. I.
now move for summary judgment. First, the Officers argue
their conduct was objectively reasonable considering
Plaintiff's irrational behavior, failure to follow
instructions, and demonstrated physical resistance. And even
if they used excessive force, the Officers aver qualified
immunity shields them from liability. City Summ. J. Br. 15-
23, ECF No. 63; Surace Summ. J. Br. 8-17, ECF No. 64-3. Next,
the City and County both claim Plaintiff failed to show how a
specific custom or municipal policy was the moving force
behind the excessive force violation. City Summ. J. Br. at
6-10; Cty. Summ. J. Br. 11-14, ECF No. 65-7.
opposes, arguing genuine issues of material fact exist as to
the reasonableness of the Officers' use of force.
Pl.'s Opp'n Br. 8-15, ECF No. 66; Pl.'s Surace
Opp'n Br. 5-12, ECF No. 67. And as to the City and
County, Plaintiff also asserts a failure to investigate use
of force complaints as well as noncompliance with
State-mandated use of force reporting and training
requirements enabled the constitutional violation.
Id. at 5-7, ECF No. 66; Pl.'s Cty. Opp'n Br.
5-6, ECF No. 68. In reply, Defendants essentially reiterate
their original arguments. See City Reply Br. 1-10,
ECF No. 69-5; Cty. Reply Br. 6-12, ECF No. 71.
judgment is appropriate “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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough
Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual
dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the
non-moving party and is material if it will affect the
outcome of the trial under governing substantive law.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). In its review, the Court considers all evidence and
inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641,
647 (3d Cir. 2007).
42 U.S.C. § 1983, a defendant, acting under color of
law, may be sued for deprivation of constitutional or
statutory rights. Miller v. Mitchell, 598 F.3d 139,
147 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Although subject to
suit for on-duty actions, officers may assert qualified
immunity “insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow
v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982) (citations and
decide if qualified immunity applies, the Court will
consider: (1) whether Plaintiff presents sufficient facts to
show the Officers' conduct violated his constitutional
right and (2) whether that right was clearly established at
the time of the OD Room incident. See Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2009). To find a “clearly
established” right centers on “whether it would
be clear to a ...