BATIZ et al v. DETULLIO et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Renee Marie Bumb on 1/25/2016. (dmr)
[Dkt. Nos. 64, 84, 88]
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
LUIS BATIZ and
Civil No. 12-581 (RMB/AMD)
D.K. DETULLIO and JOHN DOES
NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE
BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:
This matter comes before the Court upon supplemental
briefing filed by the parties in the above-captioned action,
[Dkt. Nos. 84, 88], relating to a motion for summary judgment
filed by Defendant D.K. Detullio (“Defendant”).
supplemental briefing concerns whether it was clearly
established that probable cause does not exist to charge for
obstruction of the administration of law under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1
(“Obstruction”) when an individual has refused to provide his
Plaintiff Luis Batiz (“Plaintiff”)1
Cordelia Challenger, formerly a plaintiff in this action prior
to this Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant
on her claims, remains an active party on the docket. As such,
the Court will include in the Order associated with this Opinion
an instruction that she be terminated as a party.
argues it was clearly established.
Because the Court and the parties are familiar with the
underlying facts, the Court relies upon the statement of the
facts contained in the Court’s Opinion dated September 30, 2015,
[Dkt. No. 74], and does not restate them here.
“CLEARLY ESTABLISHED” ANALYSIS
The doctrine of qualified immunity shields police officers
from liability for civil damages so long as their conduct does
not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.
v. Atlantic City, Civ. A. No. 11-cv-1457 (RMB/AMD), 2014 WL
2451137, at *4 (D.N.J. June 2, 2014).
To determine whether an
officer is entitled to qualified immunity from suit, courts ask
two questions: “(1) whether the officer violated a
constitutional right,” and “(2) whether the right was clearly
established, such that it would have been clear to a reasonable
officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201-202 (2001); see
also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 243 (2009) (holding
courts need not address the first step of the inquiry before
reaching the second).
For the “clearly established” prong of the qualified
immunity analysis, “the Court must consider whether existing
precedent [has] placed the statutory or constitutional question
Michtavi v. Scism, No. 14-4104, 2015 WL
8595201, at *3 (3d Cir. Oct. 19, 2015) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (emphasis added).
“Police officers who reasonably but
mistakenly conclude that their conduct comports with the
requirements of the Fourth Amendment are entitled to immunity.”
Luthe v. Cape May, 49 F. Supp. 2d 380, 389 (D.N.J. 1999).
The relevant statute defining the offense of Obstruction
A person commits an offense if he purposely
obstructs, impairs or perverts the
administration of law or other governmental
function or prevents or attempts to prevent
a public servant from lawfully performing an
official function by means of flight,
intimidation, force, violence, or physical
interference or obstacle, or by means of any
independently unlawful act. This section
does not apply to failure to perform a legal
duty other than an official duty, or any
other means of avoiding compliance with law
without affirmative interference with
Plaintiff argues that it is clearly established that a
charge for obstruction lacks probable cause when the individual
has only refused to provide identifying information, as there is
no accompanying physical or independently unlawful act.
Supp. Br. at 1.)
In making this argument, Plaintiff relies upon
the language contained in N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1 and several New
Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division cases.
State v. Camillo, 382 N.J. Super. 113, 121-22 (App. Div. 2005);
State v. Berlow, 284 N.J. Super. 356, 360 (App. Div. 1995)
(“[D]efendant must have affirmatively done something to
physically interfere or place an obstacle to prevent the police
from performing an official function.”).
In Camillo, the Appellate Division held that “[t]he
language of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1 is clear.
It requires that
obstruction be by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence
or physical interference or obstacle.”
Id. at 121.
Court in that case found no ambiguity whatsoever in the
requirement that physical interference be present and held that
simply refusing to provide information was not sufficient to
amount to a violation. Id. at 118-121 (reversing and vacating
conviction); see also State v. Philpot, No. 12-09, 2010 WL
5128658, at *4 (App. Div. 2010) (“We have recognized that merely
refusing to answer the officer’s questions is not a criminal
Defendant responds that—notwithstanding Camillo and the
other cases cited by Plaintiff—it is not clearly established
that a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1 requires physical conduct.
In support of this argument, Defendant relies chiefly on State
v. Brennan, 344 N.J. Super. 136, 143 (App. Div. 2001), decided
several years before Camillo and several years after Berlow.
that case, the Appellate Division explained, “Simply stated, if
the police are performing a law enforcement function in an
appropriate manner . . . then a citizen is obligated to comply
with the directions of the police.
Failure to do so can result
in a number of offenses, including obstruction . . . .”
Brennan, 344 N.J. Super. at 143.
In further support of this
argument, Defendant also cites several cases where an
individual’s failure to follow instructions of an officer has
been construed to be sufficient for a violation of N.J.S.A.
See State v. Hernandez, 338 N.J. Super. 317 (App. Div.
2001); State v. Doss, 254 N.J. Super. 122 (App. Div. 1992).
Defendant’s reliance on these cases is not entirely
illogical because in each of these, there was no affirmative
physical conduct by the individual.
distinguished these cases by explaining that the Obstructions
statute requires a “physical act.”
Failure to halt or leave a
scene is also a physical act and therefore falls within the
Camillo, 382 N.J. Super. at 120-121 (“[T]he conduct
referred to in Doss was the defendant’s failure to stop when
told to do so by the police officer.
physical act . . . .”).
That conduct was a
In other words, according to Camillo,
an individual has only committed Obstruction if he engages in
some physical conduct or fails to engage in some physical
conduct that causes interference.
Merely failing to provide
information is legally insufficient.
Since Camillo, the doctrine espoused in that case has been
applied consistently by the Appellate Division.
the court affirmed the conviction of a defendant, holding that
Obstruction does not require physical contact “but it does
require obstruction by physical conduct.”
State v. Hardester,
No. 09-031, 2010 WL 3075523, at *4 (App. Div. Aug. 3, 2010)
(citing Camillo, 382 N.J. Super. at 120). In Clark, the court
ruled that a defendant’s conduct “satisfied the requirements of
N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1” when he yelled at police officers and
repeatedly removed his hands from the car despite being
instructed to keep them there.
State v. Clark, No. 10-11-1161,
2014 WL 1909340, at *7 (App. Div. May 14, 2014); see also State
v. Philpot, No. 12-09, 2010 WL 5128658, at *4 (App. Div. Dec.
17, 2010) (relying upon Camillo standard); State v. Bessey, No.
2012-32, 2014 WL 9928205, at *8 (App. Div. June 23, 2015)
(citing to Camillo standard).
Given the consistent application
of Camillo’s standard, this Court must conclude that the clear
upshot of its holding—that mere failure to provide information
to a police officer—does not give rise to an Obstruction charge.2
In so holding, this Court is mindful of its own holding in
Maples v. Atlantic City, Civ. No. 06-2200 (RMB), 2008 WL 2446825
(D.N.J. June 16, 2008). In that case, upon summary judgment
briefing making no reference to Camillo or its progeny, this
Court held that probable cause existed to arrest for Obstruction
when the arrestee failed to provide his name. Neither party
before the Court in the instant matter cited to Maples and this
Court does not believe that one erroneous District Court opinion
As such, this Court must also agree with Plaintiff that
probable cause is lacking when an individual is charged with
Obstruction after failing to provide information to an officer.
That said, as outlined infra, this does not end the inquiry, as
the briefing has illuminated cause for this Court to reexamine
the issue of probable cause at it relates to the Obstruction
charge under the specific facts of this case.
PROBABLE CAUSE DETERMINATION
Notwithstanding the Court’s holding that the requirement of
physical conduct in order to commit Obstruction is clearly
established, this Court must nevertheless reexamine the conduct
actually engaged in by Plaintiff.
The Court’s previous
determination that probable cause was lacking, [Dkt. No. 74 at
22-23], was based upon what appeared to be the parties’ view in
the initial summary judgment briefing that Plaintiff’s
obstructing conduct on the scene was merely the failure to
provide his name.
(Def.’s Br. at 19-20.)
The record belies
Upon consideration of the law cited by the
parties in their supplemental briefing and upon a re-review of
the record in light of that case law, this Court is compelled to
revisit its holding that Defendant’s charge of Obstruction
lacked probable cause.
undermines the consistency with which Camillo has been applied
by the Appellate Division.
To reiterate, “Lack of probable is the sine qua non of
Trabal v. Wells Fargo Armored Service
Corp., 269 F.3d 243, 249 (3d Cir. 2001).
means reasonable grounds for suspicion supported by
circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant an
ordinarily cautious [person] in the belief that the accused is
guilty of the offence with which he is charged.”
Id. at 249
(quoting Lind v. Schmid, 67 N.J. 255, 263 (1975)).
Reviewing the record in light of the parties’ supplemental
briefing, it is now plain that Defendant’s reason for charging
Plaintiff went beyond merely his failure to answer questions.
Indeed, in his deposition, Defendant claimed that he made the
arrest and subsequent charge based upon facts “as a whole that
day, all the factors involved.”
(Ex. J at 97:21-23.)
Defendant’s testimony shows that Plaintiff did not comply with
an order to sit on the porch, was non-compliant with an
instruction to speak to officers in a seated position, and was
pointing in Defendant’s face as he tried to conduct his
Such physical conduct, if proved, would easily
Defendant also presented this information to a Fairfield
Township Judge prior to the Judge’s finding of probable cause.
(Ex. J at 110:8-16 (“[W]e contacted the Fairfield Township Judge
who was Judge Caserolle at that time. Presented him with the
facts of the case, which are documented in the police report.”);
Ex. A (Police Report) at 3 (“Furthermore [Plaintiff] would not
comply with Troopers[’] instructions.”).)
fall in line with the requirements of Camillo and its progeny.
Importantly, Plaintiff’s testimony largely corroborates
Defendant’s version of events.
Plaintiff admits that when he
was instructed to stand away from Defendant as he conducted his
investigation, Plaintiff responded, “I don’t have to stand
This is my porch.
go ahead and talk to the man.
porch walking back and forth.”
I’ll be – I’ll be here.
I’ll be – I’ll be here on my
After Defendant again repeated
the instruction to stand aside, Plaintiff repeated, “I’m sorry,
but I’m not going to – I have no reason at all to stand over
there where you want me to stand.
I’m not a danger to anyone
and I’m not being confrontational with you or the – the
(Ex. O. at 39:11-22.)
Later, when asked again by
Defendant to sit down on the porch, Plaintiff admits that he
refused to do so.
(Id. at 60:8-9.)
Such conduct is consistent
with Defendant’s description.
Given the lack of a genuine disputed fact concerning
Plaintiff’s conduct in this regard, the Court holds that
Plaintiff’s actions—refusing to move aside from Defendant or
take a seat as instructed—are sufficient physical acts as
developed in the case law for probable cause under the Camillo
Accordingly, summary judgment is proper with regard
to the malicious prosecution charge concerning Obstruction.
At this juncture, it would be beneficial to take stock of
where the litigation stands.
This Court has ultimately
determined that a vast swath of the claims contained in
Plaintiff’s complaint shall not proceed to trial.
the matter now stands, the only issues for trial will be
malicious prosecution with regard to the Disorderly Conduct and
Hindering Apprehension charges.
If a jury were to find
liability as to these narrow issues, the jury would then be
required to address the issue of damages, if indeed they find
any, given that Plaintiff’s charges for Theft and Obstruction
were otherwise proper.
DATED: January 25, 2016
s/Renée Marie Bumb
RENÉE MARIE BUMB
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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