United States District Court, D. New Jersey
PAMELA WHITE, as administratix ad prosequendem of the estate of Phillip George White, deceased, IYONNA HANNAH, and T.H., a minor, by and through his guardian, Tamyra Downing, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF VINELAND, VINELAND POLICE CHIEF TIMOTHY CODISPOTI, LOUIS PLATANIA, RICHARD JANSIAK, AND, JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 10, individually and/or in their official capacities, jointly, severally, and/or in the alternative, Defendants.
A. KING STANLEY O. KING KING & KING, LLC On behalf of
J. GELFAND BARKER, GELFAND & JAMES LINWOOD GREENE - SUITE
On behalf of Defendants City of Vineland, Timothy Codispoti,
and Louis Platania
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
case concerns alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42
U.S.C. § 1983, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act
(“NJCRA”), the New Jersey Law Against
Discrimination (“NJLAD”), and various New Jersey
state common law tort claims. Presently before the Court is
Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and
Plaintiffs' opposition. For the reasons expressed below,
Defendants' motion will be granted with leave to replead
our brief recitation of the facts from Plaintiff's
initial complaint. Phillip George White visited a
friend's home on West Grape Street in Vineland on March
31, 2015. While speaking with his friend, White raised his
voice, causing a neighbor to call the police and report a
disturbance. Shortly thereafter White lowered his voice,
apologized to his friend, and walked over to the home's
chain link fence. Defendant Louis Platania, a police officer
with the Vineland Police Department (the “Police
Department”) responded to the call and was the first to
arrive at the scene.
Platania found White leaning against the fence outside his
friend's home. Officer Platania stated that he was
responding to a report of a disturbance, and White's
friend responded that there was no disturbance. Officer
Platania approached White and asked if he was
“okay.” White responded that he was
“okay” and started to walk away from Officer
Platania. Plaintiffs allege that Officer Platania “had
a history of harassing White and other African-American men
in Vineland” including detention, searches, and
interrogation without cause.
response to White walking away, Officer Platania grabbed him
and slammed him onto two cars before forcing him to the
ground. White was motionless and appeared to have been
rendered unconscious. Officer Platania continued to strike
White while he was on the ground, repeatedly ordering that he
turn over. An unidentified bystander told Officer Platania
that White was “knocked out” and that he should
“get off” of White, but Officer Platania ignored
point, Defendant Richard Janasiak, another officer with the
Police Department, arrived at the scene with a police dog.
While Officer Platania held White on the ground and
instructed the police dog to “get him, ” Officer
Janasiak released the police dog onto White. Officer Platania
continued to instruct the police dog to “hold”
even as a bystander told the officers that White was
unconscious and motionless. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs
allege that Officer Platania shouted into his police radio
“let go of my gun” even though White never
reached for Officer Platania's gun. Officer Janasiak is
also alleged to have twisted White's ankle during this
the incident, Defendant John Doe 1 - another Vineland police
officer at the scene - took an unidentified bystander's
phone after the bystander stated that he had recorded the
entire incident on his phone. White was taken to Inspira
Medical Center in Vineland and was pronounced dead in the
this incident, Plaintiffs allege that the Latino Leadership
Alliance of New Jersey conducted an investigation “into
use of force practices by members of the Vineland Police
Department.” In 2014, this investigation found that
37.4% of persons subjected to force by Vineland police
officers were African-American, even though they represent
only 14.1% of the population. In the first quarter of 2015,
which would include the date that this incident occurred, the
percentage had increased to approximately 40%. Plaintiffs
allege that these statistics support their contention that
Timothy Codispoti (“Chief Codispoti”), Chief of
the Police Department, and the City of Vineland
(“Vineland”) “were aware of and condoned
their officers' discriminatory conduct against the
African American segment of the Vineland community.”
Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that it was the policy and
custom of Chief Codispoti and Vineland to condone the alleged
misconduct contained in civilian complaints. In support,
Plaintiffs allege that of the 190 civilian complaints of
excessive force filed between 2009 and 2014, only 185 were
investigated and none were sustained. Plaintiffs also allege
that of the 24 civilian complaints of improper arrest filed
between 2009 and 2014 only 22 were investigated and none were
sustained. The necessary implication, Plaintiffs assert is
that Vineland “[o]fficers engaging in misconduct were
therefore not disciplined nor provided with appropriate
in-service training or retraining.” Plaintiffs, Pamela
White, White's mother and the administratrix of his
estate, Iyonna Hannah, White's adult daughter, and T.H.,
White's minor son, filed their complaint on November 7,
2016. Defendants filed their Answer on February 10, 2017 and
their Motion to Dismiss, under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(c) on February 12, 2018. Plaintiffs filed their
opposition on March 26, 2018.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction
over Plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
Standard for Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings may be filed after
the pleadings are closed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); Turbe v.
Gov't of V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). In
analyzing a Rule 12(c) motion, a court applies the same legal
standards as applicable to a motion filed pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). Turbe, 938 F.2d at 428. Thus, a court must
accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true
and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).
district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks
“not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but
whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support
the claim.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 583 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416
U.S. 232, 236(1974)); see also Phillips v. Cty. of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating the
“Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of
the pleading standard can be summed up thus: ‘stating .
. . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter
(taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This
‘does not impose a probability requirement at the
pleading stage,' but instead ‘simply calls for
enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery
will reveal evidence of' the necessary element”). A
court need not credit either “bald assertions” or
“legal conclusions” in a complaint when deciding
a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec.
Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). The
defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been
presented. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744,
750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v.
Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).
addition, “on a motion for judgment on the pleadings,
” a court “reviews not only the complaint but
also the answer and any written instruments and exhibits
attached to the pleadings.” Perelman v.
Perelman, 919 F.Supp.2d 512, 520 n.2 (E.D. Pa. 2013).
Facts Outside of Complaint Referenced in Plaintiffs'
Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
responding to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiffs
reference discovery received after service of the complaint
concerning the disciplinary file of Officer Platania.
Allegedly, this file contains over 1, 600 pages disclosing 47
complaints lodged against Platania between 2009 and 2015.
These files were not attached to Plaintiffs' brief, but
are instead referenced in an attached certification of Sharon
A. King, counsel for Plaintiffs (“King
Rule 12(d) provides that a court should treat a Rule 12(b)(6)
or 12(c) motion as a motion for summary judgment whenever
matters outside the pleadings are considered, the Third
Circuit has clarified that “[m]erely attaching
documents to a Rule 12(c) motion . . . does not convert it to
a motion under Rule 56.” CitiSteel USA, Inc. v.
Gen. Elec. Co., 78 Fed.Appx. 832, 834-35 (3d Cir. 2003).
In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court has
“‘discretion to address evidence outside the
complaint . . . .'” Id. at 835 (quoting
Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n,
288 F.3d 548, 559 (3d Cir. 2002)). Thus, the court
“‘may consider an undisputedly authentic document
that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to
dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the
document.'” Id. (quoting PBGC v. White
Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).
Court declines to exercise its discretion to either convert
this Rule 12(c) motion into a Rule 56 motion for summary
judgment or to consider evidence outside of the complaint. A
motion for summary judgment is not yet ripe, as both parties
are still vigorously pursuing discovery. It would be
imprudent, and possibly prejudicial to the parties, to
convert this motion without either party briefing on this
issue. Moreover, this Court may not consider the new
allegations presented in the King Certification as (1) no
documents have been attached and (2) there is no indication
that the documents are “undisputedly authentic.”
As a result, this Court will confine its analysis to the
allegations disclosed in the pleadings.
Section 1983 and NJCRA Claims Against Chief Codispoti in ...