United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Susan D. Wigenton, United States District Judge.
or about April 8, 2019, Plaintiff, Giles Brown, a convicted
state prisoner confined in South Woods State Prison, filed a
civil complaint in which he seeks to raise claims against
several police officers and the Elmwood Park Police
Department based on alleged violations of his constitutional
rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1).
Plaintiff also filed an application to proceed in forma
pauperis. (Document 1 attached to ECF No. 1). Plaintiff
thereafter filed a motion seeking the appointment of counsel.
(ECF No. 2).
Plaintiff has shown that he is entitled to in forma
pauperis status, Plaintiff's application (Document 1
attached to ECF No. 1) shall be granted. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(a).
Because Plaintiff will be granted in forma pauperis
status, and because Plaintiff is a state prisoner, this Court
is required to screen his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. Pursuant to these
statutes, this Court must sua sponte dismiss any
claim that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief
from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id.
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for
failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) [or § 1915A] is the same as that for
dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506
Fed.Appx. 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v.
Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)).
deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6), a district court is “required to accept as
true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all
inferences in the facts alleged in the light most favorable
to the [Plaintiff].” Phillips v. Cnty. of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008). “[A]
complaint attacked by a . . . motion to dismiss does not need
detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atlantic v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, the
Plaintiff's “obligation to provide the
‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to
relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.” Id. (citing Papasan v.
Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). A court is “not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation.” Papasan, 478 U.S. at 286.
Instead, assuming the factual allegations in the complaint
are true, those “[f]actual allegations must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
“A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded
factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for misconduct
alleged.” Id. “Determining whether the
allegations in a complaint are plausible is a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
Id. at 679. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do
not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility
of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not
‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to
relief.'” Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2)). Moreover, while pro se pleadings are
liberally construed, “pro se litigants still
must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a
claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704
F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted) (emphasis
his complaint, Plaintiff essentially asserts that two
officers of the Elmwood Park Police Department, Detectives
Kochis and Woods, planted drugs upon him and several others,
falsely arrested him based on that evidence, falsely
imprisoned him in turn, and then engaged in malicious
prosecution of a drug related charge. (ECF No. 1 at 2-3).
Plaintiff also asserts that they testified falsely at an
evidentiary hearing during his prosecution. In addition to
Detectives Kochis and Woods, Plaintiff also names as
Defendants the Elmwood Park Police Department and the Chief
of that Department. (Id. at 1-2). Plaintiff,
however, pleads no facts about actions taken by the chief or
how any Department policy impugned his rights.
Turning first to the police department, a New Jersey police
is not an independent entity with the capacity to sue and be
sued, but only “an executive and enforcement function
of municipal government.” N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118. The case
law under Section 1983 uniformly holds that the proper
defendant is therefore the municipality itself, not the
police department. See Jackson v. City of Erie Pol[.]
Dep't, 570 Fed.Appx. 112, 114 (3d Cir. 2014) (per
curiam; not precedential) (“We further agree with the
District Court that the police department was not a proper
party to this action. Although local government units may
constitute ‘persons' against whom suit may be
lodged under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a city police department
is a governmental sub-unit that is not distinct from the
municipality of which it is a part.”) (citation
omitted)[;] [s]ee also Boneberger v. Plymouth
Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) ([c]ourt[s]
“treat the municipality and its police department as
a single entity for purposes of section 1983
liability”); Michaels v. State of New Jersey,
955 F.Supp. 315, 329 n. 1 (D.N.J. 1996).
Rivera v. Zwiegle, No. 13-3024, 2014 WL 6991954, at
*3 (D.N.J. Dec. 9, 2014). Plaintiff's claims against the
police department are therefore dismissed.
Although Plaintiff names the chief of the Elmwood Park Police
as a Defendant in this matter, Plaintiff fails to plead any
personal involvement by the chief in the alleged wrongs.
Under § 1983, a claim for supervisory liability may not
be premised solely on a respondeat superior theory of
liability. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; see also
Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir.
1988). A “defendant in a civil rights action must
[instead] have personal involvement in the alleged
wrongs” and a plaintiff must therefore plead a
supervisory defendant's involvement in the alleged
violation through means other than vicarious liability.
Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207-08. Generally, this requires
the plaintiff to show each supervisor's participation by
pleading either that the supervisor's
“establishment of policies, practices or customs . . .
directly caused the constitutional violation[, ] personal
liability based on the supervisor participating in the
violation of [the p]laintiff's right, [that the
supervisor] direct[ed] others to violate [the
p]laintiff's rights, or [that the supervisor had actual]
knowledge of and acquiesc[ed] to a subordinate's
conduct.” Doe v. New Jersey Dep't of
Corr., No. 14-5284, 2015 WL 3448233, at *9 (D.N.J. May
29, 2015) (quoting Barkes v. First Corr. Med., Inc.,
766 F.3d 307, 316-20 (3d Cir. 2014), rev'd on other
grounds, 135 S.Ct. 2042 (2015)); see also Tenon v.
Dreibelbis, 606 Fed.Appx. 681, 688 (3d Cir. 2015)
(§ 1983 Plaintiff pleading supervisory liability must
establish defendant's “participation [in the
alleged wrong], or actual knowledge and acquiescence, to be
liable”). As Plaintiff pleads no actual involvement by
the chief, he has failed to plead a viable supervisory
liability claim against him, and Plaintiff's claims
against the chief are therefore dismissed without prejudice.
to the remaining Defendants, Kochis and Woods, Plaintiff
seeks to raise claims against them in both their individual
and official capacity. A suit against a state or county
official in their official capacity “represent[s] only
another way of pleading an action against the entity of which
an officer is an agent, ” in this case the municipality
of Elmwood Park which operates the Elmwood Park police.
See, e.g., Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 690 n. 55 (1978); Grohs v. Yatauro, 984
F.Supp.2d 273, 280-81 (D.N.J. 2013). A claim against a
municipality, however, can only be made out by showing that
the constitutional violations alleged occurred because of a
policy, practice, or custom put into place by the
municipality itself. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.
Plaintiff has alleged no such policy, practice, or custom,
and thus his official capacity claims against Kochis and
Woods must be dismissed without prejudice.
Turning to Plaintiff's individual capacity claims against
Kochis and Woods, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for
malicious prosecution. To plead a viable claim ...