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Veneziale v. Deichman

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 25, 2018

TROOPER D. DEICHMAN, JR., et al., Defendants.



         This case arises from the arrest of Plaintiff Ryan Veneziale by two New Jersey State Police Officers on September 28, 2012. Presently before the Court are the competing summary judgment motions of the remaining parties in this case: Plaintiff Ryan Veneziale (“Veneziale”) and Defendants Trooper Steven Stone (“Stone”), Sergeant Kion Wilson (“Wilson”), and the State of New Jersey.[1] A number of other claims have been withdrawn and the claims against Defendants John Doe (1-5) will be dismissed.[2]The remaining claims against the individual defendants Stone and Wilson are for False Arrest (Count V), False Imprisonment (Count VI), and Excessive Force (Count I) under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1. The remaining claim against the State of New Jersey alleges Failure to Train in violation of both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 (Count IV).

         The Court has considered the written submission of the parties and the arguments advanced at the hearing on November 1, 2017. For the reasons stated on the record that day, as well as those that follow, Plaintiff Veneziale's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied and the motion of Defendants Wilson, Stone, and the State of New Jersey is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         On September 28, 2012, Plaintiff Ryan Veneziale was a passenger in a car driven by Nicolas Geracito. Geracito was intoxicated and crashed the car into a tree on private property in Hainesport Township, New Jersey. Police Officers from the New Jersey State Police arrived on the scene, including Stone and Wilson. The car was totaled, but both passengers survived. Geracito failed a field sobriety test and was arrested at the scene.

         What happens next is recorded by police video cameras which capture audio and video; however, there is a significant period of time where the parties can be heard, but they are outside the view of the camera. Veneziale was questioned by Wilson and was asked for his driver's license in order to the complete the accident report. This interaction can only be heard. Based on subsequent activity, it could be that the parties where positioned just beyond the camera view. The interaction between Veneziale and Wilson begins the chain of events that form the predicate for Plaintiff's Complaint.

         There is no dispute that Plaintiff refused to give Wilson his driver's license, despite being asked and directed multiple times to furnish it. The video/audio depicts a frank, but tension filled conversation carried out in calm, metered tones. Veneziale can be heard protesting that, because he was not driving the car, he was not obligated to turn his license over to the police. The audio/video captures Veneziale saying “I wasn't driving” in response to Wilson's demands for the license. After Wilson informs Veneziale that he is required to furnish his license even though he was not operating the vehicle, Plaintiff states that he “disagree[s].” At this point, although the words alone may suggest a conversational tone and there is no yelling, the frustration is palpable. Then, Stone intervenes and the situation escalates. Stone can be heard shouting at Veneziale and demands that he “get[s his] driver's license out now[]” and warns Veneziale that this is his last chance to cooperate with the police. Veneziale retorts: “what are you going to do to me?” Shortly after Veneziale's retort, Wilson, Veneziale, and Stone come into the camera view in a tussle. Stone places his forearm into the shoulder or back of Veneziale and appears to forcefully slam him to the ground. Upon impact, Plaintiff's mouth strikes the cement while his right side strikes the driver's parked car. Veneziale can be seen hitting the front of a car and striking the ground with some force. On two separate occasions, Veneziale informs the officers of damage to his teeth.

         Wilson and Stone contend that they all fell to the ground because Veneziale, who was intoxicated, lost his balance while he was actively resisting arrest. Veneziale contends that he was unnecessarily thrown to the ground by the frustrated officers, causing his face to strike the cement resulting in the fracture of his front teeth. The video only depicts the parties as Veneziale hits the car and the ground. There is no video account to prove or disprove the parties' accounts of how they all came into a struggle. The audio confirms the parties' assertion that no one verbally informed Veneziale that he was under arrest before he can be seen hitting the ground.

         Veneziale was handcuffed, taken to the hospital by ambulance, and then placed under arrest and charged with obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. More charges were filed against Veneziale because he was combative during his transport from the hospital to the police station. During this ride, he allegedly spit blood on Stone, repeatedly unbuckled his seatbelt, struggled with Stone, and attempted to kick Wilson, who was operating the vehicle. As a result, additional charges of aggravated assault on a police officer, attempted escape, and throwing of bodily fluid charges were levied against him. These charges stemming from the transport are not relevant here.

         On April 9, 2013, Veneziale applied for and was granted entry into a pre-trial diversion (“PTD”) program for both sets of charges. He successfully completed the program and both complaints were dismissed. Plaintiff filed this action on September 26, 2014. The Defendants' chief claim is that Plaintiff's Complaint is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because successful completion of a pre-trial intervention/diversion program is not a favorable termination. For the reasons that follow, the Court disagrees as to Count I only.

         II. Standard of Review

         A court will grant a motion for summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c). Thus, this Court will enter summary judgment only when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c).

         An issue is “genuine” if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue 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 nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Andersen, 477 U.S. at 256-57. Indeed, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the finder of fact. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         III. Analysis

         The primary issue is whether Plaintiff's claims of False Arrest, False Imprisonment, and Excessive Force are barred by the holding in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because none of the criminal charges levied against him were favorably terminated. Both parties move for summary judgment on the balance of the remaining claims. The court will address whether any claims survive Heck scrutiny, then consider the balance of the claims on the merits.

         A. Scrutiny under Heck v. Humphrey

         The Court finds that Plaintiff's claims of false arrest and false imprisonment are barred by Heck but, for the reasons that follow, the claim of excessive force is not ...

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