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Songg v. Paterson City Police Department

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 1, 2019

PRISCILLA SONGG, Plaintiff,
v.
PATERSON CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, el al, Defendants. Count Claim Defendant(s)

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Priscilla Songg brings this civil rights action against various municipal and individual Defendants. The matter conies before the Com! on the City of Paterson's, the City of Paterson Police Department's, and the County of Passaic's motions to dismiss. ECF Nos. 7, 12. The individual defendants did not move. For the reasons set forth below, the County of Passaic's motion to dismiss, ECF No. 12, is GRANTED while the City of Paterson's and Paterson Police Department's motion to dismiss, ECF No. 7, is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Priscilla Songg ("Plaintiff) alleges that on November 12, 2016, Officer Robert Shirey ("Shirey") and others from the Paterson Police Department ("Police Department") met Plaintiff while responding to a call. Amended Complaint ¶¶ 8-9, ECF No. 3 ("AC"). Witnesses apparently told Officer Shirey nothing illegal had occurred, but Shirey seized Plaintiff by the arm nonetheless. AC ¶ 9. Plaintiff accuses Shirey of twisting her arm and throwing her down a flight of stairs, causing her to lose consciousness. When Plaintiff awoke, she alleges that she was not provided appropriate medical treatment despite her obvious need. AC ¶¶ 13-15. Plaintiff complains that she has been unable to regain full use of her arm and continues to suffer from pain in her arm and back, impairing her ability to live and work. AC ¶ 26. Plaintiff also complains that she had to endure a period of incarceration based on false charges and to incur the costs of legal representation. AC ¶ 27.

         As a result of these events. Plaintiff asserts the following claims against the City of Paterson ("the City"), its Police Department, Officer Shirey and other police officers ("Officers"), and the County of Passaic ("the County" or "Passaic") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), and various state tort theories:

Count
Claim
Defendant(s)

Count 1

Police Interference to Prisoner Welfare and Failure to Render Aid

The City, Police Department,

Officers, and John Does (1-30)

Count 2

8th and 14th Amendments via the NJCRA and 42U.S.C. § 1983

The City, Police Department, Officers, and John Does (1-30)

Count 3

4th and 14th Amendments via the NJCRA and 42U.S.C. § 1983

The City, Police Department, Shirey, and John Does (1-30)

Count 4

5th and 14th Amendments via the NJCRA and 42U.S.C. § 1983

The City, Police Department, Shirey, and John Does (1-30)

Count 5

Malicious Prosecution

The City, Police Department, Officers, and John Does (1-30)

Count 6

Battery

The City, Police Department, Shirey, and John Does (1-30)

Count 7

Public Entity Liability for Acts of Public Employees

The City and Police Department

Count 8

Public Entity Liability for Customary Practice or Failure to Provide Adequate Training and Supervision

The City and Police Department

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The movant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). "[A]ll allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true, and the plaintiff must be given the benefit of every favorable inference to be drawn therefrom." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). But the court is not required to accept as true "legal conclusions," and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter ... to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         B. Claims Against the County of Passaic

         Plaintiff names Passaic as a defendant but fails to allege any wrongdoing by the County or name the Comity in any count. All eight counts are asserted against the City, its Police Department, the Officers, or John Does. AC pp. 4, 6-8, 10-12. The only factual allegations regarding the County simply state Plaintiff was held in County jail. Id. ¶¶ 7, 18, 19, 22, 24. The only other references to the County simply declare liability in "wherefore" clauses at the end of each count. Id. pp. 6-12, 14. Even if the Amended Complaint contained substantive allegations against the County, it would be immune under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because Plaintiff failed to adequately allege a policy or custom deprived her of her civil rights. See Monell v. Dep 't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (requiring a municipal policy or custom to cause the constitutional violation). Further, nothing indicates any wrongful conduct could otherwise be attributed to the County. See generally AC. Therefore, the claims against the County are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         C. Claims Against the Paterson Police Department

         Plaintiff names the Paterson Police Department in each of her claims. However, police departments in New Jersey are merely arms of the township, not separate entities. Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 Fed.Appx. 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing N.J.S. 40A:14-118 for proposition that “New Jersey police departments are ‘an executive and enforcement function of municipal government.'”). According, the claims against the Police Department are truly claims against the City, which is also named as a Defendant in every count. Therefore, the claims against the Paterson Police Department are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         D. State Tort Claims Against the City of Paterson

         Plaintiff brings claims for Police Interference to Prisoner Welfare and Failure to Render Aid (Count One), Malicious Prosecution (Count Five), Battery (Count Six), and “Public Entity Liability for Acts of Public Employee” (Count Seven). Paterson argues Plaintiff has not stated any claim for Malicious Prosecution or Battery and, in any event, the City is immune from liability.

         1. Malicious Prosecution (Count Five)

         As an initial matter, the Court must decipher whether Plaintiff brings her malicious prosecution claim under a common-law tort theory or Section 1983. Paterson assumes Section 1983 before arguing the City is immune. Paterson Mot. at 15-17. However, Plaintiff appears to assert malicious prosecution liability under a common-law tort theory. When Plaintiff asserts Section 1983 claims in Counts Two, Three, and Four, she cites 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges Defendants' conduct was “under color of law.” AC ...


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