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Shoffler v. City of Wildwood New Jersey

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 3, 2019


          Richard F. Klineburger, III, Esq., Klingburger & Nussey Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Richard L. Goldstein, Esq., Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, P.A. Counsel for the Cape May Defendants.

          Vanessa Elaine James, Esq., A. Michael Barker, Esq. Barker, Gelfand & James Counsel for the Wildwood Defendants.


          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case concerns an arrest and subsequent detention that Plaintiff William M. Shoffler experienced after he repeatedly swam naked in the Wildwood Bay in front of the Wharf Restaurant, in Wildwood, New Jersey. He was subsequently processed at the Wildwood Police Station and then transported to the Cape May County Correctional Facility in Cape May Court House, New Jersey until he was bailed out the next day.

         The Complaint asserts various federal and state law claims related to his arrest and his treatment during his hours long detention. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff has asserted these claims against the City of Wildwood, the Wildwood Police Department, Wildwood Police Officers Chobert and Stevens, Cape May County, Cape May County Correctional Facility, the Cape May County Sheriff's Office, Cape May County Sheriff Gary G. Schaffer, and various John and Jane Doe defendants from these entities. Id. Defendants Cape May County Correctional Facility and the Cape May Office of the Sheriff were previously dismissed pursuant to a motion to dismiss based on a lack of liability pursuant to Monell. ECF Nos. 24 (opinion), 25 (order).

         At issue are Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment, which are ripe for adjudication. See ECF Nos. 37 (Cape May Motion), 38 (Wildwood Motion). The Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as this case concerns a federal question. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion and also sua sponte dismiss the unidentified John/Jane Doe defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21.

         I. Factual Background

         On or about June 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed his Complaint. ECF No. 37-2 at 1. Plaintiff named as Defendants Cape May County, Cape May County Correctional Facility, Cape May County Office of the Sheriff, and Sheriff Gary G. Schaffer as Defendants. Id. at 2. Plaintiff also named various John/Jane Does as it pertains to Cape May County Defendants. Id. Cape May County Correctional Facility and Cape May County Office of the Sheriff are departments within Cape May County and are not separate legal entities that can sue or be sued. Id. These entities were dismissed as a result of a partial motion to dismiss. See ECF Nos. 24, 25.

         Plaintiff also named as defendants The City of Wildwood, the Wildwood Police Department, and Wildwood Officers Chobert and Stevens, as well as various John/Jane Doe defendants. See ECF No. 1. Plaintiff has never filed an amended complaint and therefore there are no additional individual defendants.

         Plaintiff's residence during the times relevant to the Complaint was located at 539 West Burk Avenue. ECF No. 38-1 at 2. During all times relevant herein, Plaintiff also owned a property located at 704-06 West Burk Avenue. Id. The property located at 704-06 West Burk Avenue is a waterfront property; it is located on the Wildwood Bay. Id.

         The property consists of a small fenced in area between two parking lots with a shed located within the fenced in area; it is not a residential property. Id. The shed on the property, which according to Plaintiff is approximately 12 feet by 14 feet, is used for a kayak rental business. Id.

         The Wharf Restaurant is located adjacent to Plaintiff's property at 708 West Burk Avenue and is also waterfront. Id. at 3. According to Plaintiff, in the evening of June 30, 2015, after doing some work around his 704-06 West Burk Avenue property with non-parties Gary Meyer and Plaintiff's girlfriend Michelle Walsh, Plaintiff decided to take a swim in the bay. Id. According to Plaintiff, he “probably had a couple beers through the day” of June 30, 2015. Id. Ms. Walsh recalls seeing Plaintiff consume two beers on June 30, 2015. Id.

         According to Plaintiff, he was swimming in the bay when the shorts he was wearing “came off.” Id. Plaintiff describes the shorts “like a corduroy short, not a bathing suit.” Id. Plaintiff was then observed swimming naked in Wildwood Bay by the Wharf Restaurant's manager, Ron Lebenski. Manager Lebenski called the Wildwood Police Department and reported that Plaintiff was swimming naked and that this was disturbing the Wharf's patrons. Id. at 4.

         According to Plaintiff, he heard someone from the Wharf Restaurant yell at him as he was coming out of the water naked, but Plaintiff does not recall what was said. Id. Ms. Walsh recalls seeing Plaintiff come out of the water without his shorts on. Id.

         Wildwood Police Officers Christopher Chobert and James Stevens responded to Manager Lebenski's call at the Wharf Restaurant at approximately 7:44 p.m. on June 30, 2015. Id. Upon arrival at the Wharf Restaurant, Officer Chobert spoke with the caller. Id. at 5. Manager Lebenski informed Officer Chobert that he had observed Plaintiff swimming naked in the water alongside the Wharf. Id. Manager Lebenski informed Officer Chobert that Plaintiff, who was known to Manager Lebenski, owned the property adjacent to the restaurant. Id. Manager Lebenski stated that Plaintiff was in the water completely naked and that this caused a No. of the restaurant's patrons to complain and become alarmed. Id. There are photographs and a video showing Plaintiff naked and walking near the water. Id.

         After speaking with Manager Lebenski, Officer Chobert made contact with Plaintiff. Id. He approached Plaintiff's property and observed Plaintiff standing naked inside a shed on the property. Id. Officers Stevens and Chobert walked through the open gate of Plaintiff's property to speak with Plaintiff. Id. at 6. Plaintiff was advised that he was not permitted to swim naked. Id. Plaintiff saw the officers approach the property and began yelling and cursing at them. Plaintiff began to yell obscenities such as “Fuck you cops, ” and “Fuck South Jersey cops.” Id.

         Plaintiff's yelling caused several nearby residents to come outside to investigate the commotion. Id. Based on Plaintiff's behavior, Officer Chobert issued Plaintiff a local ordinance summons for disorderly conduct. Id. Manager Lebenski also signed a criminal complaint against Plaintiff for disorderly conduct. Id. Officers Chobert and Stevens then left the scene. Id.

         At his deposition, Plaintiff stated that he remembered that a police officer showed up on his property and entered his shed. Id. at 6-7, 8. He remembers them coming to the property and telling him that he shouldn't be there with no clothes on. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff then agreed with the police officer. Id. at 7. Plaintiff recalls putting his shorts back on sometime after the officers arrived. Id. Plaintiff stated that he did not recall anything else regarding the conversation with the officers at that time. Id. at 7. After the conversation, Plaintiff recalls that the officers left Plaintiff's property. Id. at 8.

         Ms. Walsh recalls an officer telling Plaintiff that he could not swim naked and that the police had received complaints from the Wharf regarding Plaintiff's swimming naked. Id. Ms. Walsh recalls Plaintiff telling the officer that his shorts “slipped off” and the officer told Plaintiff “not to do it again.” Id. Ms. Walsh does not recall anything else about the initial interaction between Plaintiff and the Wildwood police officers. Id.

         According to Plaintiff, after the officers left, Plaintiff went to take another swim and “basically the same happened” and his shorts came off again. Id. at 8. Officer Stevens was again dispatched to the 700 block of West Burk Avenue based on a report that Plaintiff was once again swimming naked in the water near his property despite the prior warning and summons issued to him earlier that day. Id.

         Upon his arrival back to Plaintiff's property, Officer Stevens observed Plaintiff exiting the bay naked. Id. Officer Stevens approached Plaintiff and informed Plaintiff that he was under arrest. Id. at 9. Plaintiff was initially resistant, pulling away from Officer Stevens and tightening his arms in response to the officer's attempt to handcuff him. Id. Officer Stevens advised Plaintiff many times to stop resisting. Id. He then brought Plaintiff to the ground in order to affect the arrest and to overcome his resistance. Id.

         According to Plaintiff, “the next thing” he knew, he was pushed face down in the sand and handcuffed behind his back. Id. Plaintiff also believes that “a few words might have been exchanged” between him and Officer Stevens when Plaintiff was on the ground but he does not recall what was said. Id. Plaintiff does believe that he was told to put his hands behind his back. Id. Plaintiff was still naked when he was handcuffed but he was allowed to get dressed. Id. at 10. Officer Stevens was able to locate a pair of shorts and Plaintiff was allowed to put them on. Id.

         At no time did Plaintiff advise Officer Stevens that he was in any pain or that the handcuffs were too tight. Id. Officer Stevens recalls that the arrest took place near the water outside of the fenced in area of Plaintiff's property. Id. Officer Stevens then transported Plaintiff to police headquarters for processing at approximately 8:13 p.m. Id. Plaintiff does not recall the discussion with Officer Stevens after he returned to his property but “does not believe” that he was belligerent or aggressive towards him. Id.

         Ms. Walsh did not observe Plaintiff going into or coming out of the water on the second occasion but did observe Plaintiff without his shorts on. Id. When Ms. Walsh observed Plaintiff and the officers, Plaintiff was already on the ground; she had just come out of the shed. Id. at 11. She did observe Plaintiff get taken to the ground. Id. She recalls hearing the police officer tell Plaintiff to “hold still” while Plaintiff was on the ground and she told the officer to “be careful” when handcuffing Plaintiff because he had a bad back. Id. Ms. Walsh recalls that “one, maybe two” officers were present during Plaintiff's arrest. Id.

         When Ms. Walsh observed Plaintiff on the ground, he was in the process of being handcuffed. Id. According to Ms. Walsh, Plaintiff was still naked at this point and the officer permitted Plaintiff to get off the ground and allowed Ms. Walsh and Mr. Meyer to help Plaintiff put his shorts on. Id. Ms. Walsh estimates that Plaintiff was on the ground for “a couple minutes” before being allowed to stand up and put on his shorts. Id. at 13.

         Plaintiff was then transported to the Wildwood police station. Id. During processing one of Plaintiff's hands was handcuffed to a bar as is standard procedure when processing arrests in order to ensure the safety of police officers. Id. After being processed, Plaintiff was released with a summons for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Id. As Stevens was escorting Plaintiff out of police headquarters, Plaintiff aggressively lunged at Officer Stevens. Id. Plaintiff was not handcuffed at this time as he was being released. Id.

         Officer Stevens then pushed Plaintiff against the booking area wall and placed Plaintiff under arrest for disorderly conduct. Id. Officer Stevens then contacted Municipal Court Judge Garrabrant who authorized a warrant for disorderly conduct. Id. at 14. Judge Garrabrant set Plaintiff's bail at $3, 500. Id. Once back in the processing area, Plaintiff was extremely belligerent and was yelling and cursing. Id. Plaintiff had a bowel movement on himself while in the processing area. Id. Plaintiff never asked to use the restroom. Id. The bathroom is adjacent to the processing area. Id. It is standard policy to allow arrestees to use the restroom when they ask. Id. Plaintiff was never sprayed with Lysol or any other substance. Id. Officer Stevens then transported Plaintiff to the Cape May County Correctional Facility. Id. At no time during the transport did Plaintiff complain of any pain or injury. Id. at 15. The transport occurred without further incident. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that while at the station, he was handcuffed to a bar while being processed. Id. Plaintiff alleges that while being processed, he asked to use the bathroom. Id. He alleges that he was not permitted to do so and so he went where he was. Id. After that, he stated at his deposition that “Officer Shawn got very angry with me at that point. And to the best of my recollection he sprayed me down with Lysol or a substance of the same type. . . . So that I was choking from the Lysol or whatever he was spraying me with.” Id.

         Plaintiff also alleges that when he was handcuffed at the Wildwood police station, he asked to sit down because he was tired but was not permitted to sit down. Id. Plaintiff does not believe any officer hit him while at the Wildwood police station. Id. Plaintiff does not believe that any officer kicked him while at the Wildwood police station. Id. Plaintiff states that the Wildwood police officers were “aggressive” with handling him and they “chained” him to a bar. Id. When asked about any physical injuries caused by any Wildwood police officer, Plaintiff stated that his back “was a little sore” as he stood for processing. Id.

         When asked about any psychological injuries caused by any Wildwood police officer, Plaintiff stated that he was denied use of the bathroom and sprayed with Lysol. Id. at 16. Plaintiff stated that the Wildwood officer was approximately three to four feet away from Plaintiff when the officer sprayed the Lysol. Id. When asked what the Wildwood police officers did that was inappropriate Plaintiff stated that they denied him use of the bathroom he was being processed at the station, they sprayed him with Lysol, and he had to “twist around” to be able to sit in the back of the police vehicle during transport as well as coming onto his property and into the shed, arresting him, and pushing him face down into the sand while arresting him. Id. at 16-17.

         Plaintiff arrived at Cape May County Correctional Facility around 7:00 p.m. on June 30, 2018. ECF No. 37-2 at 4. Plaintiff was placed in a cell with steel bars. Id. Plaintiff repeatedly laid on the floor and kicked the bars for a half an hour or so. Id. No. one came so plaintiff put a roll of toilet paper in the toilet and started flushing it. Id. Plaintiff was doing these things because he wanted a phone call. He had heard you get a phone call but is not certain whether that was true. He screamed about twenty times about wanting his phone call. Id. Officers then entered the cell, rushed the plaintiff, and pepper sprayed him. Id. Plaintiff was then placed in a restraint chair. Id. A spit bag was placed over plaintiff's head. Id. Plaintiff alleges he was in the restraint chair with a spit bag on his head for six hours. Id. at 5.

         In addition to Plaintiff's testimony, reports from Cape May County Correctional Facility state that Plaintiff was trying to stuff his mattress down the toilet and that after spray was administered, he was secured to the Emergency Restraint Chair and then taken to the front shower where he was cleansed of spray and then evaluated by the nurse. Id. The Inmate Emergency/Medical Treatment form shows that the spray was cleansed from his face. Id. The videotape of this incident demonstrates that plaintiff was put in a restraint chair and then rolled to the shower where his eyes were cleansed. Id. Sheriff Gary G. Schaffer had no personal involvement in regard to this incident at the Correctional Facility. Id.

         Plaintiff's girlfriend bailed him out on July 1, 2015. Id. The charges against Plaintiff were dismissed because the complainant did not appear for Plaintiff's criminal trial. Id.

         Plaintiff has not disputed any of the above facts. Indeed, Plaintiff's opposition brief provides no factual support to refute these facts and instead only references ...

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