United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Amended Complaint alleges state and federal civil rights
claims against the State of New Jersey; the Essex County
Prosecutor's Office (“ECPO”), Quovella M.
Spruill (“Spruill”) in her official and
individual capacities, Robert D. Laurino
(“Laurino”) in his official and individual
capacities, (collectively, the “ECPO
Defendants”); the City of East Orange, East Orange
Police Chief William C. Robinson in his individual and
official capacities, Officer Green of the East Orange Police
Department in her individual and official capacities; Essex
County, the Essex County Jail, Essex County Sheriff Armando
B. Fontoura; John Doe(s) 1-10, and ABC Entities
pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss the Amended
Complaint filed by the State of New Jersey and the ECPO
Defendants, including Defendants Spruill and Laurino in both
their individual and official capacities. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), (b)(6). Plaintiff filed a Cross-Motion
to Compel Disclosures under Rule 26. There was no oral
argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the following reasons,
Defendants' motion is GRANTED and all
claims against the ECPO Defendants and the State are
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Plaintiff's
discovery motion is DENIED. Claims against
the other Defendants named above-including Essex County and
the City of East Orange-remain pending.
2015, Plaintiff Chiffone Brunson, a New Jersey resident,
temporarily relocated to St. Lucie County, Florida, to care
for her ill father. Am. Compl. ¶ 25, ECF No. 22. On June
23, 2015, a St. Lucie police officer executed a traffic stop
on Plaintiff for failing to stop at a red
light. See Id. ¶ 38. Upon
conducting a routine background check, the officer discovered
an outstanding arrest warrant for Plaintiff in East Orange,
New Jersey. Id. ¶ 39. The warrant based on
Plaintiff's suspected involvement in the 2015 robbery of
a grocery store in East Orange, which was captured on store
surveillance video. Id. ¶¶ 30, 31. That
video depicted a female with a tattoo on her upper left arm.
about June 24, 2015, local authorities notified the Essex
County Sheriff's Office of Plaintiff's arrest. St.
Lucie officers provided East Orange police with photographs
of a tattoo located on Plaintiff's lower arm that
depicted her daughters' names and flowers. Id.
¶ 30. These photographs did not align with the
appearance of the suspect caught on video and thought to be
Plaintiff. According to the Amended Complaint, “[e]ven
the most cursory review of the videotape obtained from the
store's surveillance system would have revealed, based on
a comparison of tattoos, that [Plaintiff] did not perpetrate
the crime.” Id. ¶ 31. Nevertheless,
Defendants John Doe Officer #1 and Officer Green provided the
video and photographs to ECPO “to support an indictment
against [Plaintiff] as the perpetrator of the crime, despite
. . . [knowledge] that this evidence was, in fact,
exculpatory.” Id. ¶ 32.
the ECPO employees who reviewed the photographs and
surveillance tape were Defendants Laurino and Spruill.
Defendant Laurino was Acting First Assistant Prosecutor for
Essex County. Spruill's title was Temporary Acting Chief
of Investigators assigned to ECPO, responsible for, inter
alia, “facilitating the overall extradition
process . . . and whose duties included personally reviewing
files to ensure that all ECPO policies and procedures
regarding investigative support were complied with.”
Id. ¶ 12.” Plaintiff alleges that the
ECPO Defendants “willfully failed to verify the
identity of [Plaintiff] as the correct suspect . . . .”
Id. ¶ 35. On June 25, 2017, based on the tattoo
photographs and surveillance video, the ECPO Defendants
initiated an extradition request in to prosecute Plaintiff
back in New Jersey. Id. ¶ 45. According to
Plaintiff, Assistant Prosecutor John Doe #5 “willfully
failed to notify the judge who issued the extradition order
that the surveillance video did not depict [Plaintiff] as the
perpetrator of the crime . . . .” Id. ¶
28, 2015, after four days in the custody of the St. Lucie
County Sherriff's Office, id. ¶ 48, two
unnamed members of the Essex County Sheriff's Department
(Officers # 3 and #4) picked up Plaintiff and transported her
by motor vehicle back to New Jersey. Id. ¶ 50.
The trip took several days, during which time Plaintiff was
required to eat and sleep in the vehicle. Id. ¶
8, 2015, Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Essex County Jail.
Id. ¶ 52. During Plaintiff's incarceration,
Assistant Prosecutor John Doe #5 attempted to extract a
guilty plea by informing Plaintiff's Public Defender that
video evidence in the State's possession showed Plaintiff
committing the burglary, whereupon the Public Defender
advised Plaintiff to plead guilty. Id. ¶ 54.
Plaintiff refused, and remained incarcerated for over a
month. Id. ¶ 55. She made a court appearance on
August 17, 2017. Id. ¶ 62. Upon reviewing the
surveillance video, the judge dismissed all charges against
Plaintiff. Id. She had spent a total of 55 days in
custody. Id. ¶ 63.
initially filed her complaint on June 21, 2017, against the
ECPO Defendants, the City of East Orange, the East Orange
Police Department, Essex County, Essex County Jail, Essex
County Sherriff Armando B. Fontoura, Officer Green, Essex
County Chief of Police William C. Robinson, Essex County
Prosecutor's Office (“ECPO”), Laurino,
Spruill, and other unnamed or fictitious individuals and
entities. ECF No. 1. The parties then stipulated to dismissal
of the East Orange Police Department. ECF No. 18. Plaintiff
filed her amended complaint on February 2, 2018. ECF No. 22.
On March 2, 2018, a motion to dismiss pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) was filed by the State of
New Jersey, ECPO, and Laurino and Spruill, in both their
official and individual capacities. Plaintiff conceded to
dismissal of the State in light of sovereign immunity, ECF
No. 18, but opposes dismissal of the ECPO Defendants.
Plaintiff's opposition paper also includes a cross-motion
to compel ECPO Defendants to comply with certain Rule 26
disclosure requests. This Opinion addresses both the motion
to dismiss and Plaintiff's Rule 26 motion.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal
of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving
party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been
stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750
(3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint
as true and view them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501
(1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage
Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).
a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations,
“a plaintiff's obligation to provide the
‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement 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). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient
to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a
speculative level, such that it is “plausible on its
face.” See Id. at 570; see also Umland v.
PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008).
A claim has “facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129
S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
While “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a
‘probability requirement' . . . it asks for more
than a sheer possibility.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at
Court has subject matter jurisdiction under, inter
alia, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and pendant jurisdiction
over the state claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1367. Title 42, Section 1983 provides relief for the
deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution and laws
by a “person” acting “under color of any
[State] statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or
usage.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1985 provides
relief for conspiracy to interfere with civil rights in three
separate scenarios. See § 1985(c). Plaintiff
asserts seven causes of action against Defendants:
Count 1: 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1981, & 1985 for
deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights,
including those secured under the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments. U.S. Const. amend. IV, XIV;
Count 2: New Jersey Civil Rights Act (“NJCRA”),
N.J. Const. art. I;
Count 3: Negligence;
Count 4: Abuse of ...