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Thomas v. Pogorzelski

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 19, 2018

JEFFERY PERRY THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
I.R. POGORZELSKI et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Jeffery[1] Perry Thomas (“Thomas” or “Plaintiff”), is a state prisoner presently incarcerated at the Central Reception and Assignment Facility, in Trenton, New Jersey. Thomas is proceeding pro se with a Complaint alleging claims for civil-rights violations, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Presently before the Court is a motion by the named defendants, New Jersey State Troopers I.R. Pogorzelski (“Pogorzelski”) and R. Diaz (“Diaz”) (collectively, “the Trooper Defendants”), for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Mot., ECF No. 22.) For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Underlying Facts[2]

         On May 14, 2015, officers participating in a program known as the Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort (“T.I.D.E.”), including the Trooper Defendants, received information that Thomas was in possession of a concealed handgun. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ECF No. 22-2, ¶¶ 7-8.) The Trooper Defendants encountered Thomas and, upon frisking him, discovered that he possessed heroin and a loaded handgun. (Id. ¶ 8.) The Trooper Defendants arrested Thomas, noting that, although he claimed to have been struck with a brick earlier that day, he showed no visible signs of injury. (Id. ¶¶ 8-11.) Thomas was handcuffed to a bench at a police station, but managed to slip out of the handcuffs and escape. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         Later the same day, Detectives Tuccillo and Udijohn, from the Mercer County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”) found Thomas outside of Big E's Liquor Store and attempted to arrest him again. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Thomas apparently resisted, and those detectives used force to effect the arrest, resulting in Thomas sustaining a bloody nose. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17.)

         B. Procedural History

         On November 29, 2016, Thomas, acting pro se, filed a Complaint claiming that the actions of the Trooper Defendants and various John Doe defendants violated his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Specifically, the Complaint alleged that, at 9:45 p.m., outside Big E's Liquor Store, Thomas was approached by the Trooper Defendants and the Doe defendants “and was immediately struck in the head with a blunt object and slammed to the ground with such force it knocked me unconscious.” (Id. ¶ 6(4).) The Complaint alleged that, once he was on the ground, “defendant's [sic] began punching and kicking [him], ” that they handcuffed and shackled him, and that they ”then began beating and kicking me to my head, body, torso, legs and my entire body.” (Id.) The Complaint contends that Thomas “was beaten to the point of unconsciousness and blood coming my [sic] mouth and out my ears” and that he was “beat by all defendants with closed fist and steal [sic] toe boots.” (Id. ¶¶ 6(4)-(5).)

         The Complaint alleged that, while Thomas was being transported to the police station, Diaz told him “that if there was no witnesses he would made [sic] sure that I was beat to death.” (Id. ¶ 6(6).) It further asserted that Thomas “repeatedly asked the defendants for medical attention, which was denied.” (Id. ¶ 6(7).) The complaint recounts that Thomas did not receive medical treatment “until he was taken to the Trenton Police Station for processing.” (Id. ¶ 6(8).) The Complaint alleges that Thomas thereafter spent at least a week in the Helen Fuld Medical Center, and then five months in the medical unit of the Mercer County Correctional Center. (Id. ¶¶ 6(9)-(10).)

         The Complaint impleaded the defendants in both official and individual capacities. (Id. ¶ 6(14).) It sought declaratory judgment, various forms of damages, prejudgment interest, attorney's fees and costs, and a permanent injunction against future harm. (See Id. ¶ 7.)

         Upon an initial screening of the Complaint, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court dismissed with prejudice the claims seeking damages from the defendants in their official capacities. (See Mem. & Order, ECF No. 8, ¶ 3.) Otherwise, the Court construed the Complaint as asserting federal constitutional claims[3] for excessive force, denial of medical care, and failure to intervene, and it permitted these claims to proceed. (Id. ¶ 2.)

         The Trooper Defendants answered the Complaint on September 11, 2017. (Ans., ECF No. 14.) Magistrate Judge Tonianne J. Bongiovanni issued an order requiring the completion of all discovery by January 12, 2018, and the filing of any dispositive motions no later than February 23, 2018. (Order (Sept. 12, 2017), ECF No. 15.) The deadline for completing discovery was subsequently extended to March 12, 2018. (Letter Order (Dec. 18, 2017), ECF No. 19.) After gaining additional time to take Thomas's deposition, the Trooper Defendants ultimately elected not to depose him and, instead, to move for summary judgment. (See Letter Order (Mar. 19, 2018), ECF No. 21.)

         III. THE MOTION FOR ...


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