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Sharif v. City of Hackensack

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 29, 2018

IBN SHARIF, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HACKENSACK, CITY OF HACKENSACK POLICE DEPARTMENT, CAPT. FRANCESCA AQUILA, DET. ROCCO DUARDO, DET. JOSEPH GONZALES, DET. LT. SCOTT SYBEL, ABC CORP. 1-3 Name hereby fictitious, JOHN DOES 1-10 Name being hereby fictitious, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. KEVIN MCNULTY, J.

         Plaintiff Ibn Sharif brings this action against the City of Hackensack, the City of Hackensack Police Department, Captain Francesca Aquila, Detective Rocco Duardo, Detective Joseph Gonzales, and Detective Lieutenant Scott Sybel (collectively, "Defendants"), based on Sharifs allegedly unlawful arrest. According to the Complaint, [1] Sharif was arrested and charged with selling cocaine to undercover police officers. Those officers were subsequently reprimanded following a separate incident in which they allegedly entered a house without a warrant. Sharif attempts to draw a connection between that incident and his own arrest, implying a common denominator of relaxed constitutional standards. He asserts claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, Monell violations, and violations of the New Jersey State Constitution, seeking damages. Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons explained in this opinion, I will dismiss the Complaint for failure to meet the minimal pleading standards of Rule 8.

         I. SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS

         Sharif s Complaint alleges the following facts. For purposes of this motion to dismiss only, I must assume their truth, although of course they have not yet been tested by any fact finder. See pp. 4-5, infra.

         Plaintiff Ibn Sharif is a resident of New Jersey. (Compl. ¶ 7). The City of Hackensack ("the City") is a New Jersey municipality; one of its departments is the Hackensack Police Department ("Hackensack PD").[2] [Id. ¶ 9). During the relevant conduct in issue, Hackensack PD employed the four individual defendants, Captain Francesca Aquila ("Aquila"), Detective Rocco Duardo ("Duardo"), Detective Joseph Gonzales ("Gonzales"), and Detective Lieutenant Scott Sybel ("Sybel"). (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10).

         On March 15, 2016, at approximately 6:00 p.m., Sharif was arrested by Duardo and Sybel pursuant to three outstanding warrants. (Id. ¶ 18). The charges and the arrest warrant were based on Sharif s alleged participation in sales transactions for cocaine with Gonzalez and Duardo (in an undercover capacity) on March 15, April 12, and May 11, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 20-22). Sharif was charged with selling cocaine to an undercover officer in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(3), as well as knowingly possessing a controlled dangerous substance in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1). (Id. ¶ 23).

         After Sharifs arrest, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office dismissed the charges against him based on "serious concerns about the credibility" of Gonzalez, Duardo, and Sybel. (Id. ¶ 24). Those concerns emanated from a separate incident in which those detectives were accused of "engaging in misconduct as police officers" when they allegedly "broke into an apartment without a warrant." (Id. ¶ 25). As a result of the suspected misconduct, Gonzalez and Duardo were placed on administrative leave. (Id. ¶ 26). Sybel retired from the police force. (Id. ¶ 26).

         Sharif claims that the allegations which caused him to be arrested were false and that he was wrongfully arrested. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 27). Defendants allegedly arrested Sharif "without probable cause or [a] reasonable belief that [he] was committing a crime." (Id. ¶ 26). These actions supposedly stemmed from a broader municipal practice of "failing to investigate crimes adequately" and "fabricating evidence in investigations." (Id. ¶ 33). That pattern or practice led the individual officers "to believe that misconduct would be tolerated and that allegations of abuse of constitutional rights would not be investigated." (Id. ¶ 35).

         Sharif brought the following claims against Defendants: (1) false arrest and false imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983;[3] (2) malicious prosecution under § 1983; (3) a Monell claim[4] based on a municipal practice of failing to investigate crimes adequately and fabricating evidence during investigations; (4) a Monell claim based on failure to properly discipline, supervise, and train police officers; and (5) violations of Article 1, Paragraphs 1 and 5, of the New Jersey State Constitution.[5]

         Since Sharif has brought civil rights claims for damages arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a). Diversity of citizenship is not alleged, and does not appear to be present. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Thus, the Court may hear the remaining state law claims, if at all, solely on the basis of supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Now before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (See Def. Mot.) For the reasons stated below, I will dismiss the Complaint without prejudice.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Rule 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Animal Science Products, Inc. v. China Minmetals Corp., 654 F.3d 462, 469 n. 9 (3d Cir. 2011). For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. New Jersey Carpenters & the Trustees Thereof v. Tishman Const Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2014).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs 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 complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also West Run Student Housing Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). That facial-plausibility standard is met "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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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, 556 U.S. at 678.

         A. False Arrest and False Imprisonment (Count 1)[6]

         To state a claim under Section 1983, Sharif must allege facts sufficient to show that (1) he was deprived of a constitutional right or a federal statutory right, and (2) the conduct at issue occurred under color of law. Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995). Sharif alleges his arrest constituted a violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution "to be free from unreasonable seizure of his person." (AC ¶ 28).

         Sharifs false arrest claim must be analyzed as an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and not under the more general due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271-73 (1994) ("Where a particular Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of government behavior, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process, must be the guide for analyzing these claims." (internal quotations omitted)); Manuel v. City of Joliet, III, 137 S.Ct. 911, 918-20 (2017). It is well established in the Third Circuit that an arrest without probable cause is actionable under Section 1983 as a violation of rights secured by the Fourth Amendment. See Hill v. Algor, 85 F.Supp.2d 391, 397 (3d Cir. 2000).

         The elements of a false-arrest claim are "(a) that an arrest occurred; and (b) that the arrest was made without probable cause." Brown v. Makqfka,644 Fed.Appx. 139, 143 (3d Cir. 2016). "The proper inquiry in a claim for false arrest under § 1983 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.'' Shelley v. Wilson,152 Fed.Appx. 126, 129 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Dowling v. City of Philadelphia,855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)). Probable cause for an 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." Merkle v. Upper Dublin School Dist,211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir.2000) (quoting Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police,71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)). "[P]robable cause requires only 'a probability or ...


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