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Shoffler v. City of Wildwood

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 29, 2018


          Richard F. Klineburger, III, Esq., Klineburger & Nussey, Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Richard L. Goldstein, Esq., Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Counsel for Moving Defendants


          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case concerns the alleged maltreatment that Plaintiff William Shoffler suffered while he was briefly in the custody the Wildwood Police Department and Cape May County Correctional Facility. ECF No. 1, Compl. Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss the Complaint of Defendants Cape May County, Cape May County Correctional Facility, Cape May County Office of the Sherriff, and Sheriff Gary G. Schaffer (the “Moving Defendants”), which is ripe for disposition.[1] ECF No. 12. The Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as this case concerns a federal question. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Motion.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff, represented by counsel, is an adult individual who resides in Green Creek, New Jersey. ECF No. 1, Compl., ¶ 6. On or about June 30, 2015, Plaintiff took an evening swim in the bay, which he entered and exited from his property located on West Burk Avenue in Wildwood, New Jersey. Id., ¶ 17. During that swim, a manager at a nearby restaurant observed Plaintiff to be apparently swimming in the nude. Id., ¶ 18. The manager called the City of Wildwood Police Department. Id., ¶ 20.

         The Wildwood Police responded to the call and entered the property of Plaintiff, allegedly without probable cause, a warrant, or exigency. Id., ¶ 21. The police spoke with Plaintiff, who became angered and told the police that he had nothing more to say and he requested that they leave his property. Id., ¶ 22. The police issued Plaintiff a disorderly conduct summons and left his property. Id., ¶ 23.

         Later that evening, the police returned to Plaintiff's property in response to a call that Plaintiff was again swimming in the bay. Id., ¶ 24. When the Plaintiff exited the water onto his property, Defendant Officer Stevens was waiting for him. Id., ¶ 25. Plaintiff alleges that the officer was on his property without a warrant, probable cause, or exigency. Id. The officer placed Plaintiff under arrest, handcuffed him, and took him into custody to police headquarters to be processed. Id., ¶¶ 25-26. When Plaintiff arrived at the police station, Plaintiff alleges that he was in a manic mental state, which would be obvious to anyone, especially trained police officers. Id., ¶ 27. Plaintiff was charged with various offenses and taken to Cape May County Correctional Facility pending bail. Id., ¶ 28.

         After arriving at the Cape May County Correctional Facility, Plaintiff did not receive any medical treatment or a mental health evaluation. Id., ¶ 29. Instead, Plaintiff alleges that while strapped to a chair with wrist and leg restraints he was assaulted by various employees, agents, or servants of the Cape May County Sheriff's Department or the Cape May County Correctional Facility. Id., ¶ 29. Plaintiff was then pepper sprayed repeatedly by those persons and had a hood placed over his head, which intensified the effects of the pepper spray. Id., ¶ 30. This treatment continued repeatedly and over the course of multiple hours. Id. Because of this treatment, Plaintiff lost track of time and became confused, in addition to being in pain. Id., ¶ 31. Plaintiff requested to have the hood removed so that he could breathe, but when the hood would be removed, various employees, agents, or servants of the Sheriff's Department or the Correctional Facility would flash bright lights into Plaintiff's eyes, which caused him further confusion and pain. Id., ¶ 32. After this alleged torture and assault, Plaintiff was issued a summons for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, both of which were resolved at the municipal court level as “disorderly persons offenses.” Id., ¶ 33.

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on June 30, 2017, and paid the civil filing fee of $400. See ECF No. 1. The Complaint alleges various constitutional violations along with similar state law claims. Defendants City of Wildwood, City of Wildwood Police Department, Christopher Chobert, James Stevens, John/Jane Doe Decision Makers 1-10, and John/Jane Doe City of Wildwood Police Officers 1-10 filed an Answer to the Complaint on August 7, 2017. ECF No. 3. The Moving Defendants, however, filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint alleging that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, that the Moving Defendants are cloaked with qualified immunity, and that Plaintiff's claims fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. ECF No. 12 (motion), 12-1 (brief).

         II. Standard of Review

         In a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh, 824 F.3d 353, 361 n.11 (3d Cir. 2016) (citing Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005)). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a complaint must set forth a claim for relief which contains a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; the complaint must provide the defendant with fair notice of the claim. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all factual allegations. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (per curiam).

         The issue in a motion to dismiss is whether the plaintiff should be entitled to offer evidence to support the claim, not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (the Rule 8 pleading standard “‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element.”); Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996).

         The onus is on the plaintiff to provide a well-drafted complaint that alleges factual support for its claims. “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.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original and internal citations omitted). The court need not accept unsupported inferences, Cal. Pub. Employees Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004), nor legal conclusions cast as factual allegations, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Legal conclusions without factual support are not entitled to the ...

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