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Coleman v. Schneider

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 14, 2018

WILLIAM COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ADAMS SCHNEIDER et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, William Coleman (“Coleman” or “Plaintiff”), is a state prisoner confined at South Woods State Prison, now represented by counsel, who filed this civil-rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Presently before the Court is an unopposed motion by defendants, Adam Schneider (“Schneider”), [1] Jason Roebuck (“Roebuck”), Nicholas Romano (“Romano”), J. Bard (“Bard”), F. Passantino (“Passantino”), T. Hueston (“Hueston”), F. Sanders (“Sanders”), J. Gant (“Gant”), B. Dinero (“Dinero”), R. Poss (“Poss”), [2] S. Chapparo (“Chapparo”), G. Olski (“Olski”), and the City of Long Branch (“the City”) (collectively, “Defendants”), for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Mot., ECF No. 15). For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Underlying Facts and Allegations[3]

         On March 18, 2015, Coleman was riding as a passenger in a vehicle in Long Branch, New Jersey, which was pulled over by officers of the Long Branch Police Department. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 22; Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ECF No. 15-2, ¶¶ 1-3.) Coleman alleges that when the vehicle was pulled over he thought “he was being setup” because of “his history with Long Branch Police Department and their threats against his life and use of excessive force against him.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 22.) Coleman began to run away, but fell while trying to climb over a fence. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23; ECF No. 15-2 ¶¶ 3-5.) He asserts that Romano then began, “without provocation, ” beating him, and that other defendants Bard, Passantino, Hueston, Sanders, Gant, Dinero, Poss, Chapparo, Olski, and two John Doe defendants soon “deliberately ran up to plaintiff and started beating and stumping [sic] him until he lost consciousness, causing serious and permanent bodily and psychological injuries.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 23.) Coleman also alleges that these defendant officers “repeatedly used racial slurs and insults.” (Id. ¶ 24.)

         Coleman alleges that he awoke in Monmouth Medical Center Hospital with a broken nose, black eyes, facial swelling, and other injuries. (Id.) He asserts that he was then taken to the Long Branch Police Department, where he was put in a holding pen without receiving a phone call, where he was deprived of food, as well as socks and shoes. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) He claims that officers, and specifically Chapparo, taunted him and declined or ignored his requests for medical attention, before he was “maliciously, abusively, and wrongfully” charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance (“CDS”). (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.) Coleman avers that it was not until he was transferred to Monmouth County Correctional Institution that he received any further medical attention. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         B. Procedural History

         On May 26, 2015, Coleman, acting pro se, filed a Complaint claiming that Defendants violated his constitutional rights, in contradiction of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Coleman alleges that Schneider, the mayor of Long Branch, Roebuck, its police chief, and the City itself “have implemented and enforced a practice, policy, and custom of stopping, frisking, searching, and detaining citizens, without legal justification, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, ” which caused him injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.) He further alleges that Schneider, Roebuck, and the City had known that the defendant-officers had “unlawfully, intentionally, willfully, maliciously, recklessly, and violently beaten other innocent African-American men, women, and children in Long Branch because those citizens filed complaints and lawsuits against Defendants, ” (id. ¶ 31), and “were deliberately indifferent to the need to properly train, supervise, audit, and discipline all the individually named police officers under their command in areas involving citizens' constitutional rights, ” (id. ¶ 53; see also Id. ¶¶ 30-45). The Complaint demanded declaratory judgment and compensatory damages of at least $10 million, plus punitive damages, attorney's fees, and costs. (Id. ¶¶ 58-61.)

         Upon an initial screening of the Complaint, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court construed it as asserting § 1983 claims against the defendant-officers for excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as retaliation and conspiracy. (Order, ECF No. 3, ¶ 10.) The Court found that the Complaint also contrued a claim against Chapparo for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id.) Additionally, the Court construed the Complaint as asserting claims of supervisory and Monell liability against Schneider, Roebuck, and the City for deficient policies or customs, failure to train or supervise, and class-based discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 11.) The Court dismissed the malicious-prosecution claim for failure to plead favorable termination, as well as the claims against Defendants in their official capacities, but permitted the remainder of the Complaint to proceed. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Defendants answered the Complaint on December 1, 2015.[4] (Ans., ECF No. 9.) The Honorable Lois H. Goodman, U.S.M.J., then issued a Pretrial Scheduling Order directing the parties to complete all discovery by April 20, 2016 and file all dispositive motions by May 13, 2016. (Order, ECF No. 12.)

         III. DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Presently pending before the Court is a motion by Defendants for summary judgment on all claims.[5] (ECF No. 15.) When Coleman did not timely oppose the motion, the Court gave him additional time to do so, but warned that, otherwise, the motion would be decided as unopposed. (Order, ECF No. 17.) Subsequently, attorney Ronald J. Brandmayr entered an appearance on Coleman's behalf. (Notice of Appearance, ECF No. 22.) The Court again granted Coleman extra time to oppose the pending motion. (Mem. & Order, ECF No. 23.) Despite subsequently granting Coleman a third opportunity to oppose summary judgment, (Letter Order, ECF No. 28), no opposition to the motion was ever filed.

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 permits a court to award a party summary judgment only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is genuine if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 422-23 (3d Cir. 2006). A fact is material if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Kaucher, 455 F.3d at 423. In determining whether a genuine dispute 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 [non-movant].” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         A movant for summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). While a defendant moving for summary judgment must support assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), the movant is not required to “support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim, ” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Instead, “the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing'- that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 325. If the movant has shown an absence of material factual dispute, the non-movant then bears the burden to “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, the non-movant may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the pleadings. Id. at 324; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994), aff'd 67 F.3d 291 (3d Cir. 1995). The non-movant must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. A mere “scintilla of evidence . . . will be insufficient.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         Local Civil Rule 56.1 requires that a motion seeking summary judgment include a statement of material facts not in dispute, and that an opponent of summary judgment shall file “a responsive statement of material facts, addressing each paragraph of the movant's statement, indicating agreement or disagreement and, if not agreed, stating each material fact in dispute and citing to the affidavits and other documents submitted in connection with the motion.” L. Civ. R. 56.1(a). The rule further provides that “any material fact not disputed shall be deemed undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion.” Id. Although a motion for summary judgment may not be granted by default, merely because it goes unopposed, Anchorage Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990), the motion may be granted if the undisputed facts warrant judgment as a matter of law, Miller v. Ashcroft, 76 Fed.Appx. 457, 462 (3d Cir. 2003); Houston v. Twp. of Randolph, 934 F.Supp.2d 711, 723 (D.N.J. 2013), aff'd 559 Fed.Appx. 139 (3d Cir. 2014).

         Defendants have submitted a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts that includes citations to relevant exhibits. (See ECF No. 15-2.) As Coleman has filed no opposition to the motion, despite ample opportunity to do so, the facts included in Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts are deemed undisputed for the purposes of resolving this motion. See L. Civ. R. 56.1.

         B. Section 1983 Generally

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the statutory basis for asserting violations of a plaintiff's constitutional rights. That section provides,

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See Harvey v. Plains Twp. Police Dep't, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011); see also West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         C. False Arrest and False Imprisonment

         The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees a right to be free from unreasonable seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. A seizure occurs when a government official restrains a person's freedom of movement such that the person is deprived of his/her free will to leave. Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 254 (2007). A seizure is generally permissible only if it is supported by probable cause to believe the person has committed a crime. Bailey v. United States, 568 U.S. 186, 192 (2013).

         A claim for false arrest thus requires that the plaintiff show (1) an arrest and (2) that the arrest was made without probable cause. James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 680 (3d Cir. 2012). Similarly, a claim for false imprisonment requires a showing that (1) the plaintiff was detained, and (2) the detention was unlawful. Id. at 682-83. Indeed, when a person is arrested without probable cause, a claim for false imprisonment may be asserted as to the detention following that arrest. See Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S.Ct. 911, 919 (2017).

         Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate as to Coleman's claims for false arrest and false imprisonment because, the record shows that probable cause existed to arrest him. (Br. in Supp., ECF No. 15-1, at 4-5.) For support, the Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, with ...


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