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Smith v. Fowlkes

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 10, 2019

KRISHA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
KENNETH FOWLKES, MICHAEL PEREZ, AND JACK KLUK, Defendants.

          OPINION

          HON. JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant Jack Kluk as to the claims against him as plead in the Third Amended Complaint, which was filed on December 18, 2017. The Court has considered the written submissions of the parties, including the video submission, and the arguments advanced during the hearing on June 6, 2019. For the reasons stated on the record that day, as well as those that follow, Defendant Kluk's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         I. Background

         On August 27, 2015, Plaintiff Krisha Smith (“Smith”) was arrested at her home for obstructing the arrest of her son, Ryan Smith. The arrest is fully captured on video by the body cameras of Voorhees Township Police Officers Jack Kluk and Michael Perez. Def.'s Exs. B and C respectively. Smith filed a Third Amended Complaint against Defendants Officer Kenneth Fowlkes, Detective Michael Perez, and Officer Jack Kluk alleging violations under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, as well as a tort claim for false arrest/imprisonment. [Dkt. No. 21].

         By way of consent order filed on January 29, 2018, Smith dismissed all causes of action against Defendants Officer Kenneth Fowlkes and Detective Michael Perez, dismissing Counts I, III, IV, VI, and VII. [Dkt. No. 23]. As a result, the only remaining claims in this matter allege excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (Counts II and V) against Officer Jack Kluk. In addition to compensatory damages, Smith is seeking punitive damages.

         Plaintiff Smith claims that Defendant Kluk “yanked [her] arm back” during his attempt to place handcuffs on her to effectuate the arrest. Smith Dep., 20:10-11. During oral argument, counsel for Smith conceded that the video of Smith's arrest, as depicted by Kluk's body camera, does not depict the use of excessive force. Instead, Smith claims that the “yank” which forms the basis for the excessive force occurred during a 2 second portion of the video, at 16.26:12- 16.26:14 where Smith's right shoulder is not captured on screen. According to Smith, when her left arm was secured, her right arm was yanked, causing a tear of her rotator cuff.

         Based on this argument, the only issue before the Court is whether a reasonable juror could believe, based on the video depiction of the arrest, that an injury occurred to Smith as a result of the use of excessive force deployed by Kluk during the two second period Smith describes.

         II. Standards of Review

         A court will grant a motion for summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c). Thus, this Court will enter summary judgment only when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c).

         An issue is “genuine” if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

         In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the finder of fact. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         Smith's constitutional claims are governed by Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a civil remedy against any person who, under color of state law, deprives another of rights protected by the United States Constitution. See Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115');">503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992). Any analysis of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should begin with the language of the statute:

         Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation,

custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party ...

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