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Lane v. Schade

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 23, 2018

ARNOLD LANE, Plaintiff,


          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). (ECF No. 62). Plaintiff Arnold Lane asserts federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Bivens. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

         On July 13, 2014, Lane visited the Sandy Hook area of the Gateway National Recreation Area. (PL's Statement of Facts in Opp., ECF No. 70-1, at ¶ 1). After spending the day at the beach, Lane walked from the beach to his car that was located in the parking lot to make a phone call. (Dep. Of PI. Arnold Lane, ECF No. 62-14, at 64). Lane carried with him everything he had brought to the beach that day, including a beach chair, back pack, beach umbrella, and an insulated bag for keeping food cold. (ECF No. 62-14, at 61-64). Lane walked to his car, placed the items he was carrying inside the trunk, and opened the door to sit inside his car. (ECF No. 62-14, at 78).

         At this time, Defendant Layla Schade, a National Park Service Ranger, was seated in her law enforcement vehicle, facing the pedestrian footpath from which Lane had emerged. (Tr. Of Trial, Feb. 18, 2015, ECF No. 62-5, at 7-8). Schade noticed Lane walk to his car, and saw that he was carrying a "grocery sack that was full of what appeared to be several cans." (Id.) Schade explained that the cans "appeared to be beer cans." (Id. at 8.) Schade also explained that she noticed Lane specifically because he was "staring" at her vehicle. (Id.) Schade explained, "He was staring at our vehicle as he walked from the pedestrian foot path towards the . . . parking lot ... as he was walking, simply staring directly at the [law enforcement] vehicle, looking towards his vehicle, then staring back at our vehicle." (Id.) Schade found this odd because "of all the hundreds of people that I've seen walk by us, they generally don't focus their attention as intently on us as that." (Id.) Additionally, Adam Huber, a United States Park Ranger on patrol with Schade that evening, observed Lane looking that them. (Id. at 69). Huber explained, "[H]e eyeballed us. He turned and looked, stared at us for quite a while, and ... he looked away. He did that two more times, which I thought was suspicious." (Id.)

         Based on her observation of the grocery bag filled with cans and the way that Lane had "stared" at her law enforcement vehicle, Schade approached Lane and asked whether he had been drinking. (ECF No. 62-14, at 79). Lane responded, "yeah, when I first got on the beach I think I had like one beer or something like that." (Id. at 80). Schade next asked if she could perform a field sobriety test, and Lane responded, "sure ... why not." (Id.) Schade administered three field-sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand test. (ECF No. 62-5, at 15-16). On the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, Schade determined that Lane failed five out of six standard cues of impairment. Specifically, Schade found Lane had a lack of smooth pursuit in his left eye, a lack of smooth pursuit in his right eye, distinct and sustained nystagmus in his left eye; distinct and sustained nystagmus in his right eye; and an onset of nystagmus prior to 40 degrees in his left eye. (Incident Report, ECF No. 62-6, at 2). Schade next determined that Lane passed the walk-and-turn test and the one leg- stand test. (Id.) Schade also administered a portable breath test, however, Defendants allege that Lane was "unable or unwilling" to provide an adequate breath sample. (ECF No. 62-5, at 20-21). In contrast, Lane maintains that the breathalyzer test was not working properly, or that Schade administered it wrong and it was thus inconclusive. (ECF No. 70-1, at ¶12).

         Schade then placed Lane under arrest on suspicion of public intoxication based on the following: Lane's failure of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the fact that he had admitted drinking earlier that day, because "smelled strongly of alcohol," and that he had a "shuffling" gait while walking to his vehicle. (ECF No. 62-6, at 3). Plaintiff supports that at the time of his arrest, there was no evidence that he was publicly intoxicated. (ECF No. 70-1, at ¶ 11).

         After placing Lane under arrest, Schade and Hubert searched Lane's vehicle and found a plastic bag containing nine empty cans of beer in the vehicle's trunk, and a prescription pill bottle with a label that indicated it contained hydrocodone/acetaminophen (generic Vicodin) with a "fill date" of June 5, 2012. (ECF No. 62-6, at 3; Photo Log, ECF No. 62-9; Photo Log, ECF No. 62-8). When Schade arrested Lane, she performed a search of his person incident to arrest. (See Schade's Resps. to Interrogs., ECF No. 62-7, at 6). Schade explained that during the search, she felt a "metal object" in his pocket, and after determining that Lane was wearing a bathing suit underneath his pants, she asked Lane to remove his pants to obtain the metal object. (Id. at 5-6). Lane contends that this search was a strip search in a public parking lot; however, Schade contends that Lane wore his bathing suit during this search. (Id.)

         After searching Lane, Schade handcuffed him and placed him in the back of the law enforcement vehicle that she and Hubert had been driving. (ECF No. 62-6, at 3). Lane remained handcuffed during the approximately five minute drive to the Sandy Hook holding facility. (ECF No. 62-14, at 128). During the drive, Lane complained that his handcuffs were too tight and causing him pain. (Id.) The handcuffs were removed once he was placed in a holding cell, after arriving at the facility. (ECF No. 62-6, at 3).

         After being placed in the holding cell, Lane began to complain of wrist pain, and the rangers called a Sandy Hook emergency medical technician to treat Lane. (EMT Report; ECF No. 62-11). At that time, the EMT found there was no swelling in Lane's wrists, no visible marks, and no bleeding. (Id.) The EMT determined that Lane had good movement in both hands; "good cap refill"; "vitals within normal limits"; "no other complaints"; "no other findings upon exam"; and "no need for transport to hospital;" he was then given an ice pack. (Id.) According to Lane, he wore a splint on his right wrist for "a few weeks" after this incident. (ECF No. 62-14, at 193). In his statement of undisputed facts, Lane contends that when X-rays of his wrist were taken, an injury was shown; however, in his deposition he stated that he not suffer any injury apart from the alleged wrist pain. (ECF No. 70-1, at ¶ 29; ECF No. 62-14 at 129).

         Lane was held in the holding cell until approximately 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m., and after he provided a breath sample that indicated it was safe for him to operate a car, he was released. (See ECF No. 62-6, at 6). Lane was charged with public intoxication, unlawful possession of prescription drugs, and interference with agency functions. (Id.) Lane alleges that when he was released, he was ordered not to return to Sandy Hook pursuant to a policy entitled "Standard Operation Procedures and Guidelines for Disposition of Offenders/Enforcement Action at the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway." (See Amended Complaint, ECF No. 38, at ¶¶ 49-55). These guidelines explain that when a visitor is arrested at Sandy Hook and required to appear in court, the visitor "may be issued a lawful order to leave the Park and not to return until the case has been resolved either by payment of the collateral forfeiture or by judicial or U.S. Attorney decision." (See Standard Operating Procedures, ECF No. 62-13, at 2).

         A trial was held on February 18, 2015. At the conclusion of testimony, the judge found that "the Government failed to sustain its burden of proof in each of these charges," and acquitted Lane. (ECF No. 62-5, at 93). Despite Lane's acquittal, the judge found that his arrest was appropriate, explaining:

[Lane] got himself arrested through his actions and his responses to their questions. Had he acted any differently, we wouldn't be here going through the trial of this case. I think that based upon the things that he did and responses that he gave, these rangers acted properly in every single thing that they did.

(Id. at 92).

         Based on these facts, Lane brought thirteen causes of action against Defendants: (1) deprivation of federal civil rights; (2) unlawful seizure of person; (3) excessive force; (4) false arrest; (5) unlawful search and seizure of property; (6) cruel and unusual punishment; (7) malicious abuse of process; (8) conspiracy to violate civil rights; (9) violation of the equal protection clause; (10) a claim for "declaratory relief seeking "issuance of a temporary and permanent injunction against Defendants and their unconstitutional policies and procedures;" (11) "joint and several liability";[1] (12) a claim under New Jersey law for "violation of New Jersey Civil Rights;" and (13) a claim under New Jersey law for "joint and several liability." (See ECF No. 38, at ¶¶ 64-121).


         Summary judgment is appropriate under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). 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 justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the party opposing the motion must establish that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Twp., 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations and instead must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. See Anderson, 411 U.S. at 248; Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1130-31 (3d Cir. 1995). "[U]nsupported allegations ... and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorp., 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (requiring nonmoving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial"). Moreover, only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. If a court determines, after drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, and making all credibility determinations in his favor "that no reasonable jury could find for him, summary judgment is appropriate." Alevras v. Tacopina, 226 Fed. App'x. 222, 227 (3d Cir. 2007).


         I. Unlawful Search and Seizure and False Arrest (Claims I, II, IV and V)

         Lane asserts a claim of unlawful search and seizure and false arrest against Defendants, arguing that probable cause for the arrest and subsequent searches did not exist. In response, Defendants argue that probable cause existed for the arrest and subsequent search of Lane and his vehicle, and even if probable cause did not exist, they are entitled to qualified immunity for their conduct.

         Ordinarily, police may arrest an individual based upon probable cause. See O'Connor v. City of Phila., 233 Fed.Appx. 161, 164 (3d Cir. 2007). An individual can bring a claim for false arrest when probable cause to form the basis of an arrest is absent. Id. To sustain a claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must establish: "(1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was made without probable cause." James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 680 (3d Cir. 2012). "[P]robable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested." Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482-83 (3d Cir. 1995). In the context of a false arrest claim, the inquiry is "not whether the person arrested in fact committed the offense, but whether the arresting officers had probable cause to believe the person arrested had committed the offense." Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988).

         Regarding the Defendants qualified immunity argument, the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the principles of qualified immunity in the context of warrantless arrests in District of Columbia v. Wesby,138 S.Ct. 577 (2018). There, the Court explained that law enforcement officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless: "(1) they violated a federal statutory or constitutional right, and (2) the unlawfulness of their conduct was 'clearly established at the time.'" Wesby, 138 S.Ct. at 589. The Court explained that "[c]early established means that, at the time of the officer's conduct, the law was 'sufficiently clear' that every reasonable official would understand that what he is doing is unlawful." Id. (citations omitted). This demanding standard protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Id. However, ...

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