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Richardson v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 18, 2019



          Kevin McNulty United States District Judge

         The plaintiffs, Jeffery Richardson and Colby Richardson, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of their federal and state constitutional rights and asserting that defendants committed intentional torts against them. The complaint arises from plaintiffs' arrest and prosecution in connection with the December 15, 2013 shooting death of Naeem Williams. Defendants are the State of New Jersey, the Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Jamel Semper, and Detective Nicholas Oriolo.

         When the complaint was filed, the state criminal case was still ongoing. On May 31, 2016, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. (DE 10). In the alternative, defendants moved to stay this action pending the outcome of the state criminal proceeding. On October 15, 2016, I granted the stay, granted the motion to dismiss with respect to the injunctive relief, and administratively terminated the motion to dismiss without prejudice to renewal after the expiration of the stay. (DE 22).

         On July 9, 2018, plaintiffs moved for leave to file an amended complaint and moved to vacate the stay. (DE 23). Plaintiffs attached to their motion a copy of the judgment of acquittal in connection with the December 15, 2013 incident. (DE 23-1). On September 19, 2018, Judge Clark vacated the stay and granted plaintiffs' motion to file an amended complaint. (DE 25). On January 22, 2019, plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint. (DE 34).

         Assistant Prosecutor Semper now moves to dismiss the amended complaint because of the immunity afforded to prosecutors when they are performing essential prosecutorial functions.[1] (DE 39). Plaintiffs oppose that motion. (DE 44).

         For the reasons explained herein, I will grant AP Semper's motion to dismiss.

         I. Summary[2]

         The allegations of the amended complaint are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion only. I summarize them as follows.

         The amended complaint alleges that on December 15, 2013 at approximately 7:34 p.m., there was a shooting near the intersection of Elizabeth Avenue and Clinton Avenue in Newark. (AC ¶ 15). There was a surveillance video, which DSG Oriolo obtained two days later and reviewed. (Id. ¶ 17). The surveillance appears to show two individuals targeting two other individuals who are standing near an Exxon gas station. (Id. ¶ 18). A week later, Oriolo obtained additional surveillance footage from December 5, 2013. [Id. ¶ 19). This time, the footage showed plaintiffs standing outside of a grocery store, Luisa Grocery, located at 123 Elizabeth Avenue. (Id.) The video shows plaintiffs standing at this location from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Id., ). Oriolo then obtained two witness statements which did not match the surveillance video. (Id. ¶¶ 21-23; 30-37). One witness, Kamika Erby, stated that she was standing by a bus stop near the incident on Clinton Avenue at the time of the shooting; the surveillance video, however, shows no one standing in that location at the time of the shooting. (Id. ¶ 31). The second witness, Jennifer Gilbert (who was also a victim of the shooting) stated that both plaintiffs shot her. (Id. ¶ 33). The surveillance video is inconsistent, in that it shows that each of the shooters targeted only one individual. (Id. ¶ 18).

         Nevertheless, Oriolo used these witnesses' inaccurate statements in preparing a criminal complaint and applying for arrest warrants. (Id. ¶ 24). As a result, on February 10, 2014, the plaintiffs were arrested. (Id. ¶ 25).

         On June 6, 2014, AP Semper and DSG Oriolo together used the allegedly false statements of the two witnesses and Oriolo's own allegedly false testimony to obtain a grand jury indictment. (Id. ¶¶ 46-49). The amended complaint alleges that AP Semper used the two witnesses' allegedly perjured statements before the grand jury. (Id. ¶ 46). Semper also purportedly withheld exculpatory surveillance footage from the grand jury and allowed Oriolo to present his false testimony to the grand jury. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48).

         In October 2017, plaintiffs were tried, but the proceeding ended in a declaration of mistrial. (Id. ¶ 26). A second trial was held and on June 25, 2018, plaintiffs were acquitted. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28).

         The amended complaint cites 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and asserts a variety of claims under the U.S. Constitution, the New Jersey State Constitution, and asserts various tort claims:

Count 1 - Violation of 4th Amendment (Oriolo)
Count 2 - Violation of 14th Amendment (Oriolo)
Count 3 - Violations of 5th and 14th Amendments (Semper)
Count 4 - Malicious Prosecution (all defendants)
Count 5 - Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (all defendants)
Count 6 - Compensatory damages Count
7 - Defamation (all defendants)
Count 8 - Punitive/Exemplary damages Count
9 - Declaratory Relief (return of personal property)

         Because the movant, AP Semper, is named only in Counts 3, 4, 5, and 7, I fbcus on those counts.[3]

         The complaint seeks $18 million in damages and seeks an order requiring the Essex County Prosecutor's Office to return ...

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