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Castro v. Atlantic County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 25, 2018




          JAMES T. DUGAN ATLANTIC COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF LAW On behalf of Atlantic County Defendants

          ROBERT J. MCGUIRE NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL On behalf of State of New Jersey Defendants

          THOMAS B. REYNOLDS REYNOLDS & HORN, P.C. On behalf of Mullica Township Defendants



         This matter concerns constitutional and state law claims by Plaintiff arising out of his arrests and grand jury indictments for murder and other charges, all of which were ultimately dismissed. Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss by the State Defendants and Atlantic County. For the reasons expressed below, the State Defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part, and Atlantic County's motion will granted.


         Plaintiff, Michael Castro, was arrested on April 9, 2013 and indicted by the grand jury on July 3, 2013 for the February 5, 2012 murder of John Kingsbury in Mullica Township, Atlantic County, New Jersey. On June 30, 2014, the New Jersey Superior Court granted Plaintiff's motion to dismiss the indictment, finding that the Grand Jury did not have “an entirely accurate presentation of the evidence in order to determine whether there was reason to believe that the crimes alleged were committed by [Castro].” After having been incarcerated for sixteen months, Plaintiff was released from custody on August 8, 2014 because the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office did not re-indict him within the 45-days afforded by the Superior Court.

         On March 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant case against the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office (ACPO), Mullica Township, and Atlantic County, as well as numerous actors involved in the investigation of the Kingsbury murder, including the ACPO prosecutors, the ACPO investigators, and the Mullica Township police officer who assisted in the ACPO's investigation. On May 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, and simultaneously filed a similar complaint in New Jersey Superior Court.

         The APCO Defendants, hereinafter referred to as the State Defendants, [1] removed Plaintiff's state court complaint, which was later consolidated with this case. The State Defendants and Atlantic County filed motions to dismiss.[2]

         While those motions were pending, on January 26, 2016, an Atlantic County Grand Jury again indicted Plaintiff on nine counts, including a count for the first-degree murder of Kingsbury. Pursuant to a warrant on indictment, Plaintiff was arrested on January 27, 2016. Plaintiff was released on $250, 000 bail. On March 31, 2016, this Court administratively terminated the case until Plaintiff's criminal case had reached its final resolution. (Docket No. 53.)

         On February 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the second indictment. A hearing on the motion to dismiss the indictment was scheduled for May 25, 2017, but in advance of that hearing, the ACPO moved to dismiss the case on its own accord. On May 23, 2017, the Atlantic County Superior Court entered an Amended Order dismissing the indictment, discharging the bail, and ordering the release of Plaintiff from custody.

         The Court reopened the matter on May 31, 2017. Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint on September 11, 2017, while again simultaneously filing an almost identical complaint in New Jersey Superior Court. The State Defendants removed that case, which was then consolidated with this action. The Mullica Hill Township Defendants filed their answer on November 10, 2017, and the State Defendants and Atlantic County moved to dismiss Plaintiff's second amended complaint on November 13, 2017.

         In his 219-page, 1159-paragraph second amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants willfully, recklessly, and callously disregarded his rights under federal and state law by blatantly ignoring evidence pointing to other suspects, fabricating evidence and misrepresenting the actual facts adduced through investigation, and failing to obtain and preserve critical evidence, including evidence that likely would have exculpated him and exposed third parties who actually committed or participated in the homicide. Plaintiff has asserted nine counts for violations of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, and for the common law torts of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring.

         The State Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims on numerous bases, but they primarily invoke several immunity doctrines to compel the dismissal of his complaint. Atlantic County moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims because it argues that it had no involvement in the investigation and prosecution of Plaintiff. Plaintiff has opposed both motions.


         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         B. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

         The State Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims based on various immunities is a challenge to this Court's subject matter jurisdiction, and is therefore decided under Federal Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Cope v. Kohler, 2015 WL 3952714, at *3 (D.N.J. 2015) (citing Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 357-58 (3d Cir. 2014)). Because Defendants mount a facial attack on jurisdiction as opposed to a factual attack, the Court accepts the allegations in the complaint as true and utilizes the standard for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), which also governs Atlantic County's motion to dismiss. Id. (citing Constitution Party, 757 F.3d at 357-59).

         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do . . . .” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (citations omitted) (first citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957); Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994); and then citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

To determine the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must take three steps. First, the court must “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Second, the court should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Third, “whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.”

Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011) (alterations in original) (citations omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664, 675, 679 (2009)).

         A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks “not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684 (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Iqbal . . . provides the final nail in the coffin for the ‘no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.”). “A motion to dismiss should be granted if the plaintiff is unable to plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Malleus, 641 F.3d at 563 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         C. Analysis

         1. State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         The State Defendants consist of:

• The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office;
• James McClain, the Atlantic County prosecutor;
• John Maher, a Chief Assistant Prosecutor assigned to the Major Crimes Unit, who presented the first indictment against Plaintiff before a grand jury;
• Diane Ruberton, a Chief Assistant Prosecutor to the Major Crimes Unit, who presented the second indictment against Plaintiff before a grand jury;
• Darren Dooley, a member of the ACPO and a captain in the Major Crimes Unit who supervised the investigation of ...

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