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Taylor v. Ambrifi

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 11, 2018

EUGENE TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANCISCO AMBRIFI, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer for the Township of Delanco, THE TOWNSHIP OF DELANCO, NEW JERSEY, JOHN HARRIS, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer for Edgewater Park Township, and EDGEWATER PARK TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY, Defendants.

          DANIELLA GORDON HYLAND LEVIN BARRY J. POLLACK ROBBINS, RUSSELL, ENGLERT, ORSECK, UNTEREINER & SAUBER LLP On behalf of Plaintiff

          JOHN CHARLES GILLESPIE MICHAEL E. SULLIVAN GEORGE M. MORRIS PARKER MCCAY, PA On behalf of Defendants Francisco Ambrifi and The Township of Delanco

          MICHELLE L. COREA BETSY G. RAMOS CAPEHART AND SCATCHARD, P.A. LAUREL CORPORATE CENTER On behalf of Defendants John Harris and Edgewater Township

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case involves claims of excessive force, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state law torts committed by two police officers, as well as claims of municipal liability against two municipalities for their inappropriate hiring and training of the officers. Presently before the Court are the motions of Defendants for summary judgment. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motions will be denied as to Plaintiff's constitutional violation claims and ADA claims, and granted as to Plaintiff's state law claims.

         BACKGROUND

         Just before 3:45 a.m. on May 14, 2013, a resident on Delaware Avenue in Delanco Township, New Jersey called 911 to report a man on the street running around and screaming about Jesus. Defendant Francisco Ambrifi, a Delanco Township police officer, responded to the call and encountered Plaintiff, Eugene Taylor, a paranoid schizophrenic who was unarmed. Ambrifi's interaction with Plaintiff resulted in Ambrifi spraying Plaintiff twice with pepper spray, repeatedly hitting Plaintiff with his flashlight, and then shooting Plaintiff three times, with one of the bullets also striking Ambrifi. Eventually other officers responded to the scene, including Defendant John Harris, a police officer with Edgewater Township, who struck Plaintiff at some point during the incident. The encounter was witnessed by the 911 caller, her husband, and their 17-year old daughter. Those are the only relevant facts not disputed by the parties.

         The remainder of the encounter is disputed by the parties. Plaintiff claims Ambrifi instigated an increasing use of force while he at first remained stationary and then started walking away with his hands up. Ambrifi claims that Plaintiff jumped in front of his patrol car, and then continued to approach him, refusing to obey his verbal orders, and physically resisting his attempts to secure Plaintiff's compliance. Plaintiff claims that Harris, who assisted in handcuffing Plaintiff once he arrived on the scene, punched him while he lay motionless and bleeding on the ground after he was handcuffed. Harris claims that while he was assisting in handcuffing Plaintiff, Plaintiff grabbed Harris's skin under his pant leg and dug in his nails.

         Harris claims that when Plaintiff ignored his verbal commands to stop, Harris used an open palm of his non-dominant hand to strike Plaintiff's hand away from his leg.

         Plaintiff claims that Ambrifi and Harris violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act by using excessive force. Plaintiff also claims that Delanco Township violated his constitutional and NJCRA rights for its hiring and inadequate training of Ambrifi, and, similarly, that Edgewater Township violated Plaintiff's rights by failing to adequately train Harris. Plaintiff claims that Ambrifi committed the state law torts of negligence, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and Harris committed the state law torts of assault and battery and intention infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff also asserts a claim against Ambrifi and Delanco Township for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act because of Delanco Township's failure to properly train its officers on how to respond to persons suffering from mental disabilities, and because of Ambrifi's failure to make the appropriate accommodations to Plaintiff, who is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Ambrifi and Harris argue that their use of force was reasonable under the circumstances, and they are entitled to qualified immunity. The Township Defendants reject Plaintiff's claims, supported by expert reports, that they did not properly train their officers on the proper use of force and how to make accommodations for suspects with disabilities. Delanco Township also rejects Plaintiff's claim, and supporting expert report, that it erred in the hiring of Ambrifi. Defendants further argue that Plaintiff's state law claims fail on the same bases as Plaintiff's constitutional violation claims, but also because Plaintiff failed to timely comply with the notice requirement under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.

         Plaintiff has opposed Defendants' motions in all respects.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff has brought his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New Jersey state law. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction of Plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         B. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that the materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, or interrogatory answers, demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         An issue is “genuine” if it is 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 considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence “is to be believed and all ...


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