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Fisher v. Pratt

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 24, 2018

DANIEL D. FISHER, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN PRATT, NEW JERSEY STATE FIRE MARSHAL OFFICE, and SOUTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP FIRE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.[1]

          DANIEL D. FISHER, SR. Appearing pro se.

          BETSY G. RAMOS CAPEHART & SCATCHARD LAUREL CORPORATE CENTER On behalf of Defendants Steven Pratt and Southampton Township Fire Department.

          DOMINIC LARUE GIOVA NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL, DIVISION OF LAW On behalf of Defendant New Jersey State Fire Marshal Office.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter arises from the demolition of Plaintiff Daniel Fisher, Sr.'s house following a fire. Before the Court are a Motion to Dismiss by Defendant New Jersey State Fire Marshal (the “State Defendant”) and a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement by Defendants Steven Pratt and Southampton Township Fire Department (the “Fire Department Defendants”). Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the State Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the Fire Department Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and the Court will deny, without prejudice, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend.

         I.

         The Court takes its facts from Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Around 12:35 AM on December 16, 2016, Plaintiff smelled wood burning in his bedroom, which housed a chimney. Plaintiff did not see smoke or fire in his bedroom. Plaintiff proceeded to his dining room, which had a wood stove directly under his bedroom. Plaintiff put the wood fire out and then checked the front and sides of the chimney for excessive heat, finding it cool to the touch.

         Plaintiff then returned to his bedroom, where he found a fire burning next to the chimney. Using two fire extinguishers, Plaintiff attempted to put out the fire. After trying unsuccessfully to use a garden hose to put out the fire after the fire extinguishers ran out, Plaintiff dialed 9-1-1. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, a fire truck from the Pemberton Borough Fire Department arrived, followed by the Southampton Township Fire Department and others.

         Plaintiff makes various allegations regarding the insufficiency of the firefighting efforts. He alleges “[t]he initial firefighting efforts were misdirecting the water to the east/northeast side of the north end of the house on the second floor.” He also alleges at one point “they simply stopped putting water onto the fire for two to three minutes, allowing it to spread into another bedroom on the west side of the house.”

         Around 2:00 AM, Plaintiff was taken to Virtua Hospital Emergency Room to be treated for smoke inhalation. Plaintiff returned to his home later that morning, where firefighters were still present. Plaintiff was “confronted by a man who stated to [him] that [his] house had to be torn down th[at] very day.” Another fireman identified the individual as Steve Pratt, the Chief of the Vincentown Fire Department. Pratt informed Plaintiff “that both the County and New Jersey State Fire Marshals” visited the property and “recommended that the house needed to be torn down.” While Plaintiff asked to speak to them, Pratt refused to call them or give Plaintiff their contact information. Plaintiff also told Pratt he wanted a structural engineer to examine his house. Pratt told Plaintiff his house was a danger to children. After removing some items from his house, Plaintiff pleads he had a second conversation with Pratt:

Pratt . . . stated to me . . . that he was also an investigator from the State Fire Marshal's Office in Trenton and that he had the backing of both the County and State Fire Marshal's Office, as a representative of both entities had been here while I was in the hospital between 2 AM to 6 AM. Mr. Pratt also stated that the house had to be torn down today, and he had the authority to do so, and he didn't want Southampton Township's fire department to have to come back here again.

         After this conversation, smoke started coming out of the roof of the house. Plaintiff told Pratt “to have the operator of the excavator peel some of the roofing away where the smoke was so the firemen could put out what was burning.” The house was thereafter demolished.

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on December 15, 2017, followed by a December 28, 2017 Amended Complaint. The December 28, 2017 First Amended Complaint appears to assert causes of action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. Plaintiff asks for monetary compensation from Defendants.

         On January 29, 2018, the Fire Department Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alterative, for a more definite statement. On February 14, 2018, the State Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. On February 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. The Court issued a March 14, 2018 Order requiring Plaintiff to file a formal motion with the Court asking for leave to file the February 20, 2018 Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff thereafter filed a Motion for Leave to Amend on March 27, 2018.

         II.

         The Court has federal question subject matter jurisdiction over this matter ...


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