JONES v. CITY OF VINELAND et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Joseph E. Irenas on 7/22/2015. (tf, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil No. 12-6212 (JEI/JS)
CITY OF VINELAND; DETECTIVE
GAMALIEL “GAMI” CRUZ; POLICE
CHIEF TIMOTHY CODISPOTI; JOHN
DOES 1-10; AND JANE DOES 1-10
BEGELMAN, ORLOW & MELLETZ
By: Paul R. Melletz, Esq.
411 Route 70 East, Suite 245
Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
Attorney for Plaintiff
THE MACMAIN LAW GROUP, LLC
By: Brian H. Leinhauser, Esq.
Charles R. Starnes, Esq.
David MacMain, Esq. (Pro Hac Vice)
101 Lindenwood Dr., Suite 160
Malvern, PA 19355
Attorneys for Defendant Detective Gamaliel Cruz
BARRETT & PAVLUK LLC
By: Judson B. Barrett, Esq.
1200 Eagle Avenue, Suite 204
Ocean, NJ 07712
Attorney for Defendants City of Vineland and Police Chief
IRENAS, Senior United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Jessica Jones brought this civil rights action
against the City of Vineland, Vineland’s Police Chief, and
individual police officers based on an allegedly malicious
prosecution of Plaintiff.
Currently pending before the Court are two separate motions
for summary judgment filed by Defendants Detective Gamaliel Cruz
(“Defendant Cruz”), and the City of Vineland and Police Chief
Codispoti (“Municipal Defendants”).
In addition, Defendant Cruz
has moved for sanctions under Rule 11 against Plaintiff and
Plaintiff’s counsel, Paul Melletz, Esq. of Begelman, Orlow &
For the reasons explained herein, Defendants’ motions for
summary judgment will be GRANTED. The motion for sanctions will
The Court recites those facts relevant to the pending
In 2008, Plaintiff and her partner Richard Kates jointly
purchased a residence at 442 Linwood Avenue in Vineland, New
Jersey. (Def.’s Statement of Undisputed Facts (“D.S.F.”) ¶¶ 3-4)
In March 2009, the Vineland Police Department began
investigating Kates for certain drug activities. (Search Warrant
Aff., Ex. 4 to Def. Cruz’s Motion)
Over the course of their
investigation of Kates, police observed at least one controlled
purchase of crack cocaine at that residence while Plaintiff was
(D.S.F. ¶ 6)
On October 8, 2010, a group of police officers, including
Defendant Cruz, executed a search warrant of the 442 Linwood
Avenue address while Kates was present.
Def. Cruz’s Motion)
(Cruz Rpt., Ex. 6 to
During the search of the master bedroom,
Kates directed the officers to the locations where he had hidden
drugs: a shoebox and brown handbag in the closet Kates stated
that he and his girlfriend, Plaintiff, shared. (Kates Dep. at
8:20-9:10, Ex. 2 to Def. Cruz’s Motion)
Inside the shoebox,
officers found two bags of crack cocaine and a digital scale
with residue, and inside the handbag, four hundred individual
baggies of crack cocaine.
(Evidence Log, Ex. 9 to Def. Cruz’s
Under the bed in the master bedroom police also found a
lockbox containing almost $2,000 in cash. (Id.)
not present during the search. (See Cruz Rpt.)
opposition brief, Plaintiff does not dispute that such items
were present in her home. (Pl.’s Response to Defs.’ Statement of
Undisputed Material Fact (“P.R.S.F.”) ¶¶ 14, 16, 21)
Later that day, police charged Plaintiff with possession of
a controlled dangerous substance (“CDS”) in violation of
N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10(a)(1), possession with intent to distribute
between one-half ounce but less than five ounces of a CDS in
violation of N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-5(b)(2), and possession with
intent to distribute a CDS within 500 feet of a public park in
violation of N.J.S.A. § 2C-35-7.1(a).
Ex. 14 to Def. Cruz’s Motion)
At no point after the search did
Kates admit to the police that the contraband belonged only to
him and not to Plaintiff.
(Kates Dep. at 27:17-23)
15, 2010, police obtained a warrant for Plaintiff’s arrest and
arrested her in her master bedroom.
In 2011, based on Defendant Cruz’s misconduct in an
unrelated case, Plaintiff’s criminal proceedings, along with
proceedings pending against other defendants, were dismissed
with prejudice. (See Compl. ¶ 17.)
Plaintiff filed the instant civil rights action on October
3, 2012, against Defendant Cruz, the City of Vineland, and
Vineland’s Police Chief.
The Complaint includes counts for
malicious prosecution of Plaintiff pursuant to § 1983 and New
Jersey state law, conspiracy to violate civil rights, and Monell
claims against Municipal Defendants.
Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant Cruz initiated criminal proceedings against her
without probable cause, attempted to “intimidate [her] into
giving information regarding other individuals whom Defendant
Cruz intended to charge,” and falsified evidence.
(Id. at ¶¶ 1,
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Codispoti turned a
blind eye to the actions of Defendant Cruz thereby causing the
deprivation of Plaintiff’s civil rights. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-22)
Defendants Cruz and the City of Vineland moved separately for
summary judgment on January 9, 2015.
Defendant Cruz also moved
for Rule 11 sanctions on that date for the second time.1
Plaintiff filed an opposition brief to Defendant Cruz’s motions
on February 3, 2015.2
Defendant Cruz filed a reply brief on
February 17, 2015.
II. Summary Judgment Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary
judgment should be granted if the “pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with 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.”
See also Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
In deciding a motion for
summary judgment, the court must construe all facts and
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
See Boyle v. Allegheny Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998).
The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no
genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).
A fact is material only if it
will affect the outcome of a lawsuit under the applicable law,
and a dispute of a material fact is genuine if the evidence is
The Court dismissed Defendant Cruz’s first motion for sanctions without
prejudice on April 17, 2014, pending additional discovery.
2 Plaintiff filed no brief opposing the summary judgment motion by Defendants
City of Vineland and Police Chief Codispoti.
such that a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party.
See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
The nonmoving party must present “more than a scintilla of
evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Woloszyn v. Cnty. of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 319 (3d Cir. 2005).
“If the evidence is merely colorable...or is not significantly
probative...summary judgment may be granted.”
U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).
The court’s role
in deciding the merits of a summary judgment motion is to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial, not to
determine the credibility of the evidence or the truth of the
matter. Id. at 249.
The Court will first address Defendants’ motions for
summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims before turning to the
Rule 11 motion for sanctions.
A. Plaintiff’s Claims
1. Malicious Prosecution
Counts I and II of the Complaint allege malicious
prosecution claims against Defendant Cruz under § 1983 and New
Jersey State law.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Cruz filed
charges against Plaintiff without probable cause, falsified
police reports, and fabricated evidence.
Because Plaintiff has
failed to bring forth any evidence to support these allegations,
the Court will grant Defendant Cruz’s motions for summary
judgment on the malicious prosecution claims.
The Third Circuit requires a plaintiff to prove the
following in order to prevail in a § 1983 malicious prosecution
action: (1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2)
the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiff’s favor; (3) the
proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the
defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than
bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff
suffered a deprivation of liberty.
582 F.3d 447, 461 (3d Cir. 2009).
McKenna v. City of Phila.,
The standard for malicious
prosecution under New Jersey state law mirrors this test,
excepting the fifth element.
See Lind v. Schmid, 67 N.J. 255,
“The essence of a cause of action [for malicious
prosecution] is lack of probable cause.”
has not provided sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to
find that Defendant Cruz lacked probable cause to initiate
criminal proceedings against Plaintiff.
Probable cause exists when the objective facts and
circumstances known to the police at the time are such that a
reasonable person would believe that the person to be charged
has committed an offense.
Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d
480, 483 (3d Cir. 1995).3
The probable cause analysis involves a
factual, common sense inquiry of the totality of the
circumstances, historical facts, events leading up to the
individual’s arrest, and resultant probabilities.
Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003); see also Illinois v. Gates,
462 U.S. 213, 230-32 (1983); United States v. Glasser, 750 F.2d
1197, 1205-06 (3d Cir. 1984).
To decide what was reasonable,
courts must weigh the inculpatory evidence against the
exculpatory evidence known to officer at the time.
Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 791 (3d Cir. 2000).
In the context of a
malicious prosecution claim, courts must examine each offense
charged for probable cause.
See Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75,
85 (3d Cir. 2007) (“[A] defendant initiating criminal
proceedings on multiple charges is not necessarily insulated in
a malicious prosecution case merely because the prosecution of
one of the charges is justified.”).
Malicious prosecution is an avowedly disfavored cause of
action, and the burden on plaintiffs to retroactively prove lack
of probable cause is difficult to meet.
Supp. 2d 547, 550 (D.N.J. 2012).
Land v. Helmer, 843 F.
Since Defendant Cruz had
reason to believe Plaintiff had committed each offense with
“[T]he standard for probable cause is identical under federal and New Jersey
law.” Martin v. Unknown U.S. Marshals, 965 F. Supp. 2d 502, 548 (D.N.J. 2013)
(citing Schirmer v. Penkethman, Civ. No. 10-1444, 2012 WL 6738757, at *8
(D.N.J. Dec. 31, 2012)).
which he charged Plaintiff, the Court will grant Defendant
Cruz’s motion for summary judgment on the malicious prosecution
The Court addresses each charge in turn.
a. Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance
Plaintiff was first charged with possession of crack
cocaine in violation of N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10(a)(1).
provides, in relevant part: “[i]t is unlawful for any person . .
. to possess, actually or constructively, a controlled dangerous
N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10(a)(1).
Even if a person does
not have actual physical control over an object, he may be in
constructive possession of that object if the “circumstances
permit a reasonable inference that he has knowledge of its
presence, and intends and has the capacity to exercise physical
control or dominion over it during a span of time.”
Spivey, 179 N.J. 229, 237 (2004).
The Supreme Court has opined
that an officer’s reasonable inference of constructive
possession suffices for probable cause to charge an individual
with the crime of possession.
Pringle, 540 U.S. at 372.
Pringle, the Court found that where three men in a car had
access to five baggies of cocaine and none of the men, when
questioned, claimed ownership, the officer made a reasonable
inference that “any or all three of the occupants had knowledge
of, and exercised dominion and control over, the cocaine.”
Presence in a relatively small automobile, the Court said, rose
to the level of constructive possession rather than mere
proximity to criminal activity.
Id. at 373.
Plaintiff argues that mere location cannot be enough to
establish probable cause when the officer is “fully aware that
no additional evidence will be produced to demonstrate
(Pl.’s Opp. at 10)
In support of
this proposition, Plaintiff relies on a series of analogies to
several New Jersey state court cases in which the Appellate
Division overturned possession convictions on the theory of
constructive possession where the only evidence produced at
trial was the defendants’ proximity to contraband.4
court in those cases found the evidence insufficient to support
criminal convictions, rather than the constitutionality of the
defendants’ prosecutions, under a theory of constructive
Plaintiff nonetheless contends that “[a]ppellate
level case law in New Jersey has clearly declined to accept” the
theory of constructive possession based solely on the location
(Id. at 9)
The Court finds Plaintiff’s argument unpersuasive.
the probable cause standard is clearly different from the beyond
a reasonable doubt standard required to sustain a conviction.
See State v. Basil, 202 N.J. 570, 585 (2010) (“Although probable
Plaintiff cites State v. Whyte, 265 N.J. Super. 518 (App. Div. 1992); State
v. Milton, 255 N.J. Super. 514 (App. Div. 1992); and State v. Shipp, 216 N.J.
Super. 662 (App. Div. 1987).
cause is more than a mere suspicion of guilt, it is less than
the evidence necessary to convict.”) (emphasis added).
the case law is clear that, where an individual co-owns a
residence, the location of contraband in common areas of the
residence can suffice for a finding of probable cause for a
possession charge based on a theory of constructive possession.
Ginter v. Skahill, 298 Fed. App’x 161, 164-65 (3d Cir. 2008).
In Ginter, the court held that a reasonable police officer would
have concluded that the plaintiff was in constructive possession
of drug paraphernalia found in her home’s family room, “a common
area of the residence she co-owned and lived in with her
Id. at 164.
Affirming the district court’s grant of
summary judgment to the defendant officer on the plaintiff’s
malicious prosecution claim, the court noted that the plaintiff
had failed to come forth with any affirmative evidence making it
unreasonable for police to have believed that she was in
constructive possession of contraband.
Id. at 165; see also
Williams v. Atl. City Dep’t of Police, No. 08-4900, 2010 WL
2265215, at *1 (D.N.J. June 2, 2010) (finding that because
plaintiff had a romantic relationship with a woman suspected of
selling drugs from a particular apartment, police had probable
cause to arrest him for possession when they found him hiding in
the same room as contraband during a search of that apartment).
Here, no reasonable jury could find that Defendant Cruz
lacked probable cause to bring the possession charge because he
had reason to believe that Plaintiff constructively possessed
cocaine at the time he brought charges against her.
search of Kates and Plaintiff’s shared residence, Kates pointed
police toward the location of contraband in a shoebox and
handbag5 in the master bedroom closet (clearly a common area of
the home) and indicated that he shared that closet with
Police had observed previous drug activity at that
address and knew that Plaintiff had been present for that
activity on at least one occasion.
Further, Kates never claimed
complete ownership over the drugs and paraphernalia when first
questioned by police.
These facts all support Cruz’s reasonable
inference that both Kates and Plaintiff knew about and could
exercise control over the crack cocaine.
Plaintiff argues the theory of constructive possession was
insufficient for a finding of probable cause because police
found no new evidence to link Plaintiff to the contraband in the
week between the search and obtaining a warrant for her arrest.
The parties spend a great deal of time in their papers and depositions
discussing a number of disputes relating to this handbag, including the
effect of reporting the incorrect brand of the bag and whether Plaintiff ever
actually used it. These disputes are immaterial to the probable cause
inquiry. The only relevant question is what was reasonable for Defendant
Cruz to believe at the time he initiated charges against Plaintiff. Nothing
Defendant Cruz knew at that time would have made it unreasonable for him to
believe that any handbag, regardless of its brand, located in their shared
bedroom closet, belonged to either Plaintiff or Kates.
(Pl.’s Opp. at 10)
While there is no explanation for this gap
in time in the record, Defendant Cruz’s lack of further
investigation does not negate his probable cause determination
based on the items found during the search and Kates’s
Police officers need not validate initially proper
probable cause determinations.
Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch.
Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 790 n.8 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Craig v.
Cohen, No. 13-1873, 2013 WL 5271521, at *24 (D.N.J. Sept. 17,
2013) (finding that a police officer has “no general duty to
investigate further after acquiring information sufficient to
establish probable cause”) (quoting BeVier v. Hucal, 806 F.2d
123, 127 n.1 (7th Cir. 1986)).
There is simply no dispute that
police searched the 442 Linwood Avenue home based on an ongoing
investigation of drug activity linked to that house and found
400 plastic baggies of crack cocaine in the bedroom closet
shared by Kates and Plaintiff.
No information known to police
at the time would have made it unreasonable to believe the
contraband belonged to the either individual who used the
These objective facts known to Defendant Cruz
at the time supported his reasonable belief that Plaintiff had
committed the offense of possession.
b. Possession of CDS with Intent to Distribute
Defendant Cruz also had probable cause to charge Plaintiff
with possession with intent to distribute between one-half ounce
but less than five ounces of a CDS in violation of N.J.S.A. §
For the reasons articulated above, Defendant
Cruz had probable cause to believe that Plaintiff was in
constructive possession of the contraband found in her shared
The question here is whether Defendant Cruz
also had reason to believe Plaintiff intended to distribute the
crack cocaine present in her home.
Evidence of intent to distribute typically includes the
quantities and packaging of CDS and cash, and the existence of
See United States v. Robinson, No. 09-473,
2012 WL 1671325, *20 (E.D. Pa., May 14, 2012) (surveying the
sufficiency of evidence in the Third Circuit for a finding of
intent to distribute).
Here, any reasonable juror would find
the packaging of crack cocaine in 400 individual baggies gave
Defendant Cruz clear probable cause to initiate criminal
proceedings against Plaintiff for possession with intent to
Police also found a scale with residue and a large
quantity of cash nearby, which gave Defendant Cruz further
evidence that Plaintiff and Kates were selling narcotics.
Plaintiff points to nothing Defendant Cruz knew at the time that
would have made it unreasonable to reach such a conclusion.
Defendant Cruz thus had probable cause to believe Plaintiff
violated N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-5(b)(2).
Possession of CDS Near Public Park
Finally, Plaintiff was charged with possession with intent
to distribute a CDS within 500 feet of a public park in
violation of N.J.S.A. § 2c:35-7.1(a).
For the reasons already
described, Defendant Cruz had probable cause to believe that
Plaintiff had committed the underlying offense of possession
with intent to distribute a CDS.
Police discovered the evidence
of this crime at the 442 Linwood Avenue home jointly owned by
Plaintiff and Kates, and neither party disputes the location of
the home in proximity to Romano Park. (See Jones ComplaintWarrant (Ex. 14).)
Thus, the undisputed facts demonstrate that
Defendant Cruz had probable cause to charge Plaintiff with
possession with intent to distribute near a public park.
2. Civil Rights Conspiracy
To prove a civil rights conspiracy claim, Plaintiff must
show that she suffered an actual deprivation of her
constitutional rights. See Ridgewood Bd. Of Educ. v. N.E. ex
rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 254 (3d Cir. 1999) (“In order to
prevail on a conspiracy claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must
prove that persons acting under color of state law conspired to
deprive him of a federally protected right.”); Fioriglio v. City
of Atl. City, 996 F. Supp. 379, 385 (D.N.J. 1998) (“[A] § 1983
conspiracy claim is not actionable without an actual violation
of § 1983.”).
Here, Plaintiff’s conspiracy claim relies on her
underlying malicious prosecution claim.
Since the Court holds
that Plaintiff cannot prove her malicious prosecution claim, the
conspiracy claim in Count III must fail as well.
In Counts IV and V, Plaintiff asserts § 1983 supervisory
and municipal liability claims against Police Chief Timothy
Codispoti and the City of Vineland for policies or customs
responsible for the malicious prosecution Plaintiff alleges she
suffered. (Compl. ¶¶ 47, 50)
The Court will grant summary
judgment to Municipal Defendants on both counts.
First, the Court notes that Plaintiff brings her claims
against Defendant Codispoti in Codispoti’s official capacity
only. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 10)
The Supreme Court has opined that
official capacity claims, as opposed to claims brought against
officials in their individual capacity, “generally represent
only another way of pleading an action against an entity of
which an officer is an agent.”
Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25
Courts should therefore treat suits against state
officials in their official capacity “as suits against the
“A suit against the Chief of Police in his
official capacity is really a claim against the police
department and, in turn, the municipality.”
Cordial v. Atl.
City, No. 11-01457, 2014 WL 1095584, at *9 (D.N.J. March 19,
The claims against Defendant Codispoti are therefore
redundant and will be dismissed.
A municipality may be liable under § 1983 “when the
execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made by
its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be
said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury.”
v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
on a municipal liability claim, however, a plaintiff must have
suffered some underlying violation of his constitutional rights
for which the municipality is to blame.
See Mulholland v. Gov’t
Cnty of Berks, Pa., 706 F.3d 227, 238 n.15 (3d Cir. 2013) (“It
is well-settled that, if there is no violation in the first
place, there can be no derivative municipal claim.”
City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986))).
Since no reasonable jury could find an underlying constitutional
violation, i.e. malicious prosecution, Plaintiff’s municipal
liability claims must be dismissed.
B. Rule 11 Sanctions
The Court will deny Defendant Cruz’s motion for sanctions
against Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s counsel, Paul Melletz, Esq.
Rule 11 states in relevant part:
(b) Representations to the Court. By presenting to the
court a pleading, written motion, or other paper—whether
by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it—
an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the
best of the person’s knowledge, information, and belief,
(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose,
such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or
needlessly increase the cost of litigation;
(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions
are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous
argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing
law or for establishing new law;
(3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or,
if specifically so identified, will likely have
evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for
further investigation for discovery; and
(4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on
the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are
reasonably based on belief or lack of information.
If a party or its counsel violates this
provision, the opposing party may move for the imposition of
sanctions, which may include an order directing payment to the
movant of “part or all of the reasonable attorney’s fees and
other expenses directly resulting from the violation.”
The goal of Rule 11 is the “correction of litigation
Gaiardo v. Ethyl Corp., 835 F.2d 479, 483 (3d Cir.
“[S]anctions awarding counsel fees do not automatically
or usually follow an adverse judgment or ruling. Substantially
more is required.”
Generally, sanctions are warranted
“only in the ‘exceptional circumstance’ where a claim or motion
is patently unmeritorious or frivolous.”
Ford Motor Co. v.
Summit Motor Prods., Inc., 930 F.2d 277, 289 (3d Cir. 1991)
(citing Doering v. Union Cnty. Bd. Of Chosen Freeholders, 857
F.2d 191, 194 (3d Cir. 1988).
As indicated by the Rule, a court
must look to whether an attorney's or party's representations to
the court were objectively reasonable under the circumstances.
Bus. Guides v. Chromatic Commc'ns Enters., 498 U.S. 533, 551
“The wisdom of hindsight is to be avoided; the
attorney's conduct must be judged by what was reasonable to
believe at the time the pleading, motion, or other paper was
Schering Corp. v. Vitarine Pharm., Inc., 889 F.2d
490, 496 (3d Cir. 1989).
“When the attorney reasonably relies
upon the misrepresentations of a client, the client not the
attorney should be sanctioned under Rule 11.”
Unlimited, Inc. v. Richard Silva & SNA, Inc., No. 97–7430, 1999
WL 675469, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 31, 1999).
permitted to assume his client is honest with him unless and
until circumstantial evidence is obviously to the contrary.” Id.
1. Sanctions Against Plaintiff
In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that certain police
officers, including Defendant Cruz, “conspired to plant drugs on
Plaintiff” and charged Plaintiff based on other “deliberately
(Compl. ¶¶ 10, 42)
The record directly
contradicts these allegations of false evidence and reporting.
At the time of the search warrant, Kates directed police to the
drugs hidden in his bedroom closet.
(Kates Dep. at 8: 20-24)
Kates admitted in his deposition that the drugs found were in
fact his. (Id. at 8:25-9:24)
Finally, Plaintiff herself no
longer disputes that drugs were found in her home rather than
(Jones Dep. at 27:7-17, 30:13-18, 33:14-17)
logically follows that at some point prior to her deposition on
January 14, 2014, Plaintiff must have had actual knowledge that
the factual allegations in her Complaint regarding planted
evidence were false.
However, the exact date of such knowledge is unclear from
During police questioning immediately following her
arrest, Plaintiff admitted twice that she believed that “the
drugs” belonged to Kates.
(Jones Interview Video at
11:38:20/4:24; 11:49:30/15:34, Ex. 5 to Def. Cruz’s Motion)
However, she denied knowledge that Kates sold narcotics out of
the home and the police never specified in their questioning the
amount of drugs found or the way those drugs were packaged.
these reasons, it is not clear whether Plaintiff knew exactly
what the officers had found when searching her home until Kates
later admitted to the contraband.
Since filing her Complaint, Plaintiff has made no
additional representations to the Court regarding false or
Further, the undisputed evidence in the
Defendant Cruz points to Plaintiff’s Opposition to Defendant Cruz’s earlier
motion for sanctions, but the Court finds that Plaintiff made no such
misrepresentations in that submission. Plaintiff merely argues that “[i]n
record does not show that Plaintiff had actual knowledge that
the drugs in question belonged to Kates prior to filing her
Complaint on October 3, 2012, and the Court declines to make
such a finding.
As the Court cannot definitively conclude that
Plaintiff made false representations to the Court, Defendant
Cruz’s motion for sanctions against Plaintiff will be denied.
2. Sanctions Against Plaintiff’s Counsel
Defendant Cruz argues that Plaintiff’s counsel had reason
to know prior to the date of filing the Complaint that the
malicious prosecution claims were “factually false and legally
(Def. Cruz’s Motion at 23)
Defendant Cruz contends
that Plaintiff’s counsel had ample evidence that the drugs were
not planted as Plaintiff alleged in her Complaint, and that the
constructive possession argument in Plaintiff’s opposition brief
runs contrary to well-settled law and was therefore not made in
good faith. (Id. at 20.)
The Court disagrees with Defendant Cruz’s contention that
Plaintiff’s counsel knew that the malicious prosecution claims
were factually false.
Plaintiff’s counsel stipulates that at
the time of filing Plaintiff’s Complaint, he was unaware that
the drugs found at 442 Linwood Avenue, in that volume and as
packaged, belonged to Mr. Kates.
(Certification of Melletz,
this case, although the drugs were found in Plaintiff’s home . . . the
presumption that the Plaintiff knew of their existence remains unsupported.”
(Pl.’s Opp. to Def.’s Motion for Sanctions, April 4, 2014, ECF No. 23)
Feb. 3, 2015, ¶ 16)
While it is a close case, the record does
not indicate that Plaintiff’s counsel had sufficient reason to
doubt his client’s honesty at the time he filed this case.
Concededly, Plaintiff’s counsel must have known the truth of the
drugs’ ownership after the completion of discovery.
Plaintiff’s briefs after the depositions of Kates and Plaintiff
do not rely on these unsupported factual contentions to make any
Neither will the Court sanction Mr. Melletz for his
argument related to the probable cause standard for constructive
Again, this is a close case.
Mr. Melletz seems to
contend that the beyond a reasonable doubt standard to convict
should also apply to the probable cause inquiry.
he ignores prior case law affirming probable cause in factually
However, “substantially more is required”
for the court to find that this unsuccessful argument rises to
the level of litigation abuse.
See Gaiardo, 835 F.2d at 483;
see also Poltrock v. N.J. Auto. Accounts Mgmt. Co., Civ. No.
3:08-1999, 2008 WL 5416396, at *32 (D.N.J. Dec. 22, 2008)
(declining to impose sanctions despite the failure of an
argument to extend well-settled law under limited
The Court will therefore deny Defendant Cruz’s
motion for sanctions as it applies to Mr. Melletz.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court will GRANT
Defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Defendant Cruz’s
motion for Rule 11 sanctions will be DENIED.
Order accompanies this Opinion.
Date: July 22, 2015
s/ Joseph E. Irenas
JOSEPH E. IRENAS, S.U.S.D.J.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?