PETTWAY v. CITY OF VINELAND et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Joseph E. Irenas on 5/14/2015. (TH, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
MAURICE A. PETTWAY,
HONORABLE JOSEPH E. IRENAS
CIVIL ACTION NO. 13-470
CITY OF VINELAND; DETECTIVE
GAMALIEL “GAMI” CRUZ; POLICE
CHIEF TIMOTHY CODISPOTI;
OFFICER ROBERT MAGEE; OFFICER
CHARLES MACKAFFEE; OFFICER
VICTOR RIZZO; OFFICER ROBERT
DIMARCHI; OFFICER FELIPE LABOY;
JOHN DOES 1-10; AND JANE DOES
BEGELMAN ORLOW & MELLETZ
By: Paul R. Melletz, Esq.
411 Route 70 East, Suite 245
Cherry Hill, New Jersey, 08034
Former Counsel for Plaintiffs
BARRETT AND PAVLUK, LLC
By: Judson B. Barret, Esq.
1200 Eagle Avenue, Suite 204
Ocean, New Jersey 07712
Counsel for Defendants City of Vineland & Police Chief
THE MACMAIN LAW GROUP, LLC
By: Brian H. Leinhauser, Esq.
Charles R. Starnes, Esq.
101 Lindenwood Drive, Suite 160
Malvern, PA 19355
Counsel for Defendants Gamaliel “Gami” Cruz, Charles
Mackafee, Victor Rizzo, Robert DiMarchi, and Felipe Laboy
LAW OFFICE OF WILLIAM P. FLAHIVE
By: William P. Flahive, Esq.
Diamond Silver Office Complex
24 Arnet Avenue, Suite 103
Lambertville, NJ 08530
Counsel for Robert Magee
IRENAS, Senior District Judge:
Plaintiff Maurice Pettway 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 three separate
motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants.1
Defendants Cruz, Mackafee, Rizzo, DiMarchi, and Laboy have moved
for sanctions under Rule 11 against Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s
former counsel, Paul Melletz, Esq. of Begelman Orlow & Melletz.
For the reasons explained herein, Defendants’ motions for
summary judgment will be GRANTED.
The motion for sanctions will
be GRANTED as to Plaintiff, but DENIED as to Mr. Melletz.
The Court recites those facts relevant to the pending
The City of Vineland and Police Chief Codispoti filed one motion, Officer
Magee his own motion, and the remaining officers a third motion.
2 Plaintiff, who has proceeded pro se since June 5, 2014, has not filed any
opposition to Defendants’ motions. Plaintiff’s former counsel, Paul Melletz,
Esq., has filed a responsive statement of facts as it applies to the pending
On August 5, 2010, a confidential informant called
Defendant Detective Gamliel Cruz at the Vineland Police
Department with a tip that a black male subject would be driving
a gold-colored Lincoln LS with NJ tags ZMH10V that day, and that
this individual would be in possession of a firearm or cocaine
hidden in the car.
(Defs. Cruz, et al.’s Statement of Relevant
Undisputed Facts (“D.S.F.”) at ¶ 1)3
The informant also stated
that this individual would be wearing khaki shorts and a grey
and white striped shirt, and that the car would be parked in
front of 119 W. Grape St. in the City of Vineland.
Defendant Officer Robert Magee claims he overheard the
conversation and said that he would respond to the area.
Police Rpt. at 1, Ex. 3 to Defs. Cruz, et al.’s Motion)
At the Grape St. address, Defendant Magee found the Lincoln
and observed a man, who matched the informant’s description, and
a woman, who Magee recognized from prior narcotics
investigations as Erica Santiago, enter the Lincoln.
Magee followed the vehicle and decided to conduct a motor
After asking the driver for his license
motion for sanctions. To the extent Mr. Melletz’s submission does not
challenge Defendants’ statement of material facts not in dispute, the Court
deems Defendants’ statement of facts undisputed with regards to the instant
summary judgment motions.
3 Although they filed separate motions for summary judgment, Defendants Magee,
Codispoti, and City of Vineland have adopted the facts set forth in their coDefendants’ motion.
and registration, Magee identified the man as Maurice Pettway.
(Id. at 2)
Defendant Officer Felipe Laboy, who assisted in the motor
vehicle stop, informed Magee that Santiago had an outstanding
warrant for her arrest.4
As Magee placed Santiago under
arrest, K9 Officer Charles Mackafee, whom Magee had also called
to the scene, arrived with his K9 partner.
dog-sniff indicated an odor of narcotics coming from the
vehicle’s driver-side front door.
(Id. at 5-6)
refused to consent to a search of the car and the officers sent
for a tow truck.
(D.S.F. ¶ 7)
The officers impounded the
vehicle and transported both Plaintiff and Santiago to the
Vineland Police Department.
(Id. ¶¶ 7-8)
At some point Magee
learned that there was a Pennsylvania detainer warrant out on
Plaintiff and that Plaintiff had four prior felony convictions.
(Id. ¶¶ 8, 16; M. Pettway NJ Criminal History Rpt., Ex 12 to
Defs. Cruz, et al.’s Motion)
After arriving at the police
station, Santiago paid the amount outstanding on her warrant and
Plaintiff was processed and transported to
the Cumberland County Jail.
(Magee Police Rpt. at 2)
Magee’s report does not detail the basis for the arrest warrant. It states
only that “Santiago had an outstanding warrant out of Franklin Twp (warrant
number #SP4324683) for the amount of $39.” (Magee Rpt. at 2)
On August 6, 2010, Magee applied for, and was granted, a
search warrant for the car Plaintiff had been driving.
Aff. in Support of Search Warrant for Pl.’s Vehicle at 4, Ex. 1
to Defs. Cruz, et al.’s Motion)
Magee, along with Defendant
Officers DiMarchi and Rizzo, executed the search warrant that
(D.S.F. ¶ 10)
In the car’s glove box, they
discovered a hidden compartment behind the dashboard that
contained a black handgun and loaded magazine.
floor of the vehicle, the officers found a marijuana grinder and
scale concealed in a fake energy drink can.
(Id. ¶ 11)
they found numerous blue wax bags in the trunk of the car.
The officers ran the gun’s serial number through the
National Crime Information Center and found out that the gun had
been reported as stolen.
(Magee Police Rpt. at 2)
contacted the Vineland Municipal Court Clerk and asked her to
authorize warrants for Plaintiff for the following charges: (1)
unlawful possession of a weapon, (2) possession of a weapon by a
convicted felon, and (3) receiving stolen property.
Magee also sought a summons for Plaintiff for possession of drug
Ms. Santiago was charged with receiving
stolen property, unlawful possession of a weapon, and possession
of drug paraphernalia.
(D.S.F. ¶ 18)
Although the circumstances are not entirely clear from the
parties’ submissions, it appears that Plaintiff’s criminal
charges were terminated in Plaintiff’s favor some time before
June 2012, when Plaintiff retained Mr. Melletz as counsel.5
January 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant suit asserting
claims for malicious prosecution and conspiracy to violate his
civil rights against Defendants Magee, Cruz, Mackafee, Rizzo,
DiMarchi, and Laboy (collectively, “Officer Defendants”), and
municipal liability claims against Defendant Police Chief
Codispoti and the City of Vineland (collectively, “Municipal
The Complaint alleges that the officers
fabricated evidence in order to institute false charges against
Plaintiff without probable cause.
(Compl. ¶¶ 38-40)
Mr. Melletz obtained copies of Officer Defendants’ police
reports on May 24, 2013.
On October 15, 2013, Defense counsel
sent Mr. Melletz a letter stating that Plaintiff’s case was
without merit and informing Mr. Melletz that Defendants would
seek fees and costs under Rule 11 if Plaintiff did not promptly
dismiss the case.
(10/15/2013 Ltr., Ex. 19 to Defs. Cruz, et
Mr. Melletz responded that he and Plaintiff
Based on prior submissions in the record, its seems that Mr. Pettway’s
criminal case was one of many the Cumberland County Prosecutor dismissed with
prejudice following revelations regarding Defendant Cruz’s behavior in an
unrelated case. In their motions for summary judgment, Defendant Officers do
not argue that Plaintiff’s criminal proceedings did not end in Plaintiff’s
favor (an element of the malicious prosecution claim).
6 The Complaint did not challenge the original traffic stop, Plaintiff’s
initial detention, or the vehicle search. In May 2014, Plaintiff made a
motion to amend the Complaint to include an unlawful seizure claim. (Docket
No. 48) The Court denied the motion without prejudice. (Docket No. 55)
believed there to be a reasonable basis for the suit and would
not drop the case.
(11/6/2013 Ltr., Ex. 20 to Defs. Cruz, et
Defendants then filed their first motion for Rule
11 sanctions on January 7, 2014, which the Court dismissed
(Order Dismissing Without Prejudice Motions
for Sanctions, Docket No. 39)
Plaintiff’s opposition to that
motion, submitted on February 4, 2014, included a statement of
facts signed by Mr. Melletz and a Certification from Plaintiff
stating that the police had planted the gun in the car.
On April 2, 2014, Mr. Melletz received new evidence from
Defense counsel that caused him to doubt his client’s
(Melletz Counter Statement of Material Facts
(“M.C.S.F.”) at ¶ 17)
Apparently, in the weeks following his
initial detention, Plaintiff made a number of phone calls from
prison to Ms. Santiago.
Recordings of these calls, which
Defendants obtained after subpoenaing the Cumberland County
Prosecutor’s Office, show Plaintiff’s concerns over both the
discovery of the gun and the charges brought against Ms.
(See Pettway Prison Calls, Exs. 21 & 22 to Defs. Cruz
et al.’s Motion)
On August 8, 2010, Plaintiff tells Ms.
Santiago to “get out the house” because “they found it” and
brought charges against both him and Ms. Santiago.
The Court declined to rule on the merits of the case couched within a Rule
11 motion rather than on motions for summary judgment.
During further calls on August 8 and 9,
Plaintiff says that he will take all the charges and agrees to
write an affidavit “so [Santiago] cannot be charged.”
Call Nos. 881V10JC.v10, 891S1003.v10)
have snitched on him.
He says that someone must
(Id., Call No. 881S101D.v10)
Santiago asks who knew that he “carr[ied] that there,” Plaintiff
explains that he “got that from Mike . . . . He gave me that
At one point, acknowledging that the calls were
being recorded, Plaintiff says: “I know they listening.
was my gun.
(Id., Call No. 891U10Z4.v10)
After receiving the recordings, Mr. Melletz informed the
Court that this new evidence placed his office into an
“unresolvable conflict” (4/28/2014 Ltr., Docket No. 41), and
subsequently filed a motion to withdraw from the case, which the
Court granted on June 5, 2014 (Order Granting Motion to
Withdraw, Docket No. 56).
Municipal Defendants filed their motion for summary
judgment on January 8, 2015, and Officer Defendants followed
with their own motions for summary judgment on January 9, 2015.
Defendants Cruz, Mackafee, Rizzo, DiMarchi, and Laboy also moved
for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11.
Despite being given
additional time to file a response,8 Plaintiff has not submitted
The Court granted Plaintiff’s pro se letter request for time to file an
opposition. (Docket No. 85)
any opposition to Defendants’ motions.
Mr. Melletz filed a
separate opposition to the motion for sanctions.
Docket No. 77)
Summary Judgment Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary
judgment should be granted if “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 a
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.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
See Celotex Corp. v.
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 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.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).
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
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
Courts may not automatically grant a motion for summary
judgment when the opposing party fails to respond.
Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. Of Tax Review, 922 F.2d
168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990) (“Even though Rule 56(e) requires a nonmoving party to ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial,’ it is ‘well-settled . . . that this
does not mean that a moving party is automatically entitled to
summary judgment if the opposing party does not respond.’”)
(quoting Jaroma v. Massey, 873 F.2d 17, 19-20 (1st Cir. 1989).
“The Court must still determine, even for an unopposed summary
judgment motion, whether the motion for summary judgment has
been properly made and supported and whether granting summary
judgment is ‘appropriate.’”
Muskett v. Certegy Check Servs.,
Inc., No. 08-3975 (JBS/JS), 2010 WL 2710555, at *3 (D.N.J. July
Where, as here, “the moving party does not have the
burden of proof on the relevant issues, . . . the district court
must determine that the deficiencies in [Plaintiff's] evidence
designated in or in connection with the motion entitle the
[Defendants] to judgment as a matter of law.”
Assocs., 922 F.2d at 175.
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 assert malicious
prosecution claims against Officer Defendants under § 1983 and
New Jersey State law.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Cruz
filed false charges against Plaintiff without probable cause,
that Defendant Magee filed false reports and fabricated evidence
on which county prosecutors relied, and that the remaining
Officer Defendants knew the charges were false but failed to
disclose that fact.
(Compl. ¶¶ 38-41)
Since Plaintiff has
failed to present any evidence to support these allegations, and
Plaintiff’s own statements contradict the them, the Court will
grant Officer Defendants’ 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
(1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding;
(2) the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiff’s
(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 deprivation of liberty
consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence
of a legal proceeding.
McKenna v. City of Phila., 582 F.3d 447, 461 (3d Cir. 2009).
The standard for malicious prosecution under New Jersey State
law mirrors these elements, excepting the fifth requirement.9
Here, Plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence to show
that Officer Defendants lacked probable cause.
“Probable cause to arrest exists when the facts and
circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are
sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to
believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the
person to be arrested.”
Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 789 (3d
In the context of malicious prosecution claims,
Specifically, “[a] civil action based upon the malicious prosecution of a
criminal complaint may be sustained only with proof (1) that the criminal
action was instituted by the defendant against the plaintiff, (2) that it was
actuated by malice, (3) that there was an absence of probable cause for the
proceeding, and (4) that it was terminated favorably to the plaintiff.”
Epperson v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc., 373 N.J. Super. 522, 530 (App. Div. 2004)
(internal quotations omitted)
10 Similarly, New Jersey courts have defined probable cause as “facts such as
to lead a person of ordinary prudence to believe on reasonable grounds the
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.”).
Plaintiff faced charges for unlawful possession of a
weapon, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, possession
of drug paraphernalia, and receiving stolen property.
Defendants argue that they had clear probable cause to bring
each of these charges.
Upon executing a search warrant of the
vehicle Plaintiff had been driving, the officers found a stolen
handgun and loaded magazine hidden in the glove compartment.
They also found two marijuana grinders and numerous small
Finally, Plaintiff’s criminal history includes
Based on these facts and circumstances, a
reasonable officer in Officer Defendants’ position would believe
that Plaintiff had committed each of the charged offenses.
As mentioned above, Plaintiff has not filed any opposition
to the instant motions.
The Complaint indicates Plaintiff’s
belief, in contradiction with Defendants’ statement of facts,
that Defendant Officers “planted” the gun and drug-related
evidence in the car and therefore had no legitimate probable
truth of the charge at the time it was made.”
Credit, 199 N.J. 381, 398 (2009).
Brunson v. Affinity Fed.
cause to charge Plaintiff based on such evidence.
considering Plaintiff’s own admissions in the prison calls made
to Ms. Santiago, the Court finds no genuine dispute of fact
Plaintiff states quite clearly during his conversations
with Ms. Santiago that the gun belonged to him.11
eliminate any dispute of fact as to whether Defendants planted
the evidence that gave the officers probable cause to bring the
It being undisputed that the officers found a
firearm, ammunition, and drug paraphernalia in a vehicle driven
by a convicted felon, no reasonable jury could determine that
Defendant Officers lacked probable cause to bring the relevant
charges against Plaintiff.
Plaintiff’s § 1983 and New Jersey
State law malicious prosecution claims must therefore fail.
2. Civil Rights Conspiracy
To prove a civil rights conspiracy claim, Plaintiff must
show that he suffered an actual deprivation of his
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
While Plaintiff also acknowledges the fact that the calls were recorded and
emphasizes for those listening that the gun was his and not Ms. Santiago’s,
the Court does not take such statements as merely evidence of Plaintiff’s
chivalrous attempt to direct blame away from Ms. Santiago. Plaintiff makes
direct admissions that he obtained the gun from an individual named Mike and
that someone must have “snitched” to the police about the gun.
prove that persons acting under color of state law conspired to
deprive him of a federally protected right.”); Fioriglio v. City
of Atlantic 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 his underlying malicious prosecution claim.
Court holds that Plaintiff cannot prove his malicious
prosecution claim, the conspiracy claim must fail as well.
3. Municipal Liability
In Counts IV and V of the Complaint, 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 he suffered.
(Compl. at 14-16)
The Court will grant
Municipal Defendants summary judgment on both counts.
First, the Court notes that Plaintiff brings his claim
against Defendant Codispoti in Codispoti’s official capacity
(Compl. ¶ 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 (1991).
should therefore treat suits against state officials in their
official capacity “as suits against the State.”
against the Chief of Police in his official capacity is really a
claim against the police department and, in turn, the
Cordial v. Atlantic City, No. 1:11-cv-01457
(RMB/AMD), 2014 WL 1095584, at *9 (D.N.J. March 19, 2014).
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
County 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.”) (citing
City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986)).
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 Defendants Cruz, Mackafee, Rizzo,
DiMarchi, and Laboy’s motion for sanctions against Plaintiff’s
former counsel, Paul Melletz, Esq., but will grant the motion as
it applies to Plaintiff.
Rule 11 states, in pertinent 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, formed after an inquiry
reasonable under the circumstances:
(1) it is not being presented for any improper
purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary
delay, or needlessly increase the cost of
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 or discovery;
(4) the denials of factual contentions are
warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so
identified, are reasonably based on belief or a
lack of information.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.
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.”
Civ. P. 11(c).
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.
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.3d 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 reasonable under the circumstances.
v. Chromatic Commc’ns Ent., 498 U.S. 533, 551 (1991).
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 submitted.”
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.”
Horizon Unlimited, Inc. v. Richard Silva & SNA,
Inc., No. CIV. A. 97-7430, 1999 WL 675469, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Aug.
“Counsel is permitted to assume his client is honest
with him unless and until circumstantial evidence is obviously
to the contrary.”
Id. at *6.
Defendants argue that Mr. Melletz continued to pursue the
litigation despite being provided with evidence that his
client’s claims were frivolous.
Specifically, Mr. Melletz had
received copies of reports authored by Officer Defendants, which
detail how and where the officers discovered the gun and drug
paraphernalia in Plaintiff’s vehicle.
Mr. Melletz denies that he knew Plaintiff’s allegations –
that the police had planted the gun and drug paraphernalia in
the car – were false until April 2, 2014, when Defense counsel
sent Mr. Melletz recordings of Plaintiff’s prison calls.
(Melletz Opp. at 9-10)
Up to that point, Mr. Melletz relied on
his client’s version of the events.
After listening to
the recordings, on April 28, 2014, Mr. Melletz sent a letter to
the Court stating that there was an “unresolvable conflict”
necessitating his filing a motion to withdraw from the case.
(See Docket No. 42)
Mr. Melletz filed the motion on May 7,
2014, and the Court granted the motion on June 5, 2014.
Melletz states, and the docket reflects, that he did not file
any further papers with the Court between April 2, 2014, and his
withdrawal from the case that could lead to Rule 11 sanctions.12
In support of the reasonableness of his continued belief of
Plaintiff’s story, Mr. Melletz argues that the police reports
did not prove that Plaintiff’s story was false.
entire case, which centered on a malicious prosecution claim,
was premised on Officer Defendants’ having lied and fabricated
Mr. Melletz did file a motion to compel discovery (Docket No. 33) and a
motion to seal that docket entry (Docket No. 35) during this time period.
However, Rule 11 “does not apply to disclosures and discovery requests,
responses, objections, and motions under Rules 26 through 37.” Fed. R. Civ.
evidence in order to pursue charges against Plaintiff.
to be expected that the police reports would counter Plaintiff’s
Mr. Melletz points to inconsistencies in the police
reports regarding the information provided to Officer Defendants
by the confidential informant that lead to Plaintiff’s initial
In addition, the vehicle Plaintiff had been driving
was registered to a third-party, which supported Plaintiff’s
contention that the items in the car did not belong to him.
The Court does not find this to be the exceptional case
that warrants sanctions against Plaintiff’s counsel and will
deny the Rule 11 motion as it applies to Mr. Melletz.
Plaintiff clearly knew that Officer Defendants did not plant the
gun in his vehicle, and that each of his claims, which rely the
allegation that police fabricated evidence, were frivolous.
Rule 11(c)(1) states that a court may impose appropriate
sanctions “on any attorney, law firm, or party that violated
[Rule 11(b)] or is responsible for the violation.”
P. 11(c)(1) (emphasis added).
Fed. R. Civ.
Here, Plaintiff is responsible
for numerous submissions to the Court that contain patently
For example, it is unclear what exactly the confidential informant said
would be in Plaintiff’s vehicle. Magee’s police report states that the
informant claimed drugs would be in the car. In a supplemental report,
Defendant Mackafee writes that there was “reliable information that there was
a handgun and illegal drugs in the vehicle.” (Mackafee Rpt., Ex. 2 to Defs.
Cruz, et al.’s Motion)
false factual contentions.
The Court will therefore grant the
Rule 11 motion against Plaintiff.
Defendants ask for an award of sanctions to “compensate the
Officer Defendants for costs, attorney’s fees, and damage to
(Defs. Cruz, et al.’s Motion at 16)
However, Rule 11 sanctions are meant “to deter, not to
DiPaolo v. Moran, 407 F.3d 140, 145 (3d Cir.
Defendants may submit an itemized petition for
reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs within 20 days.
reviewing Defendants’ submission, the Court will determine an
For the reasons set forth above, the Court will grant
Defendants’ motions for summary judgment.
Mackafee, Rizzo, DiMarchi, and Leboy’s motion for Rule 11
sanctions will be denied as to Plaintiff’s former counsel, but
granted as to Plaintiff.
An appropriate Order accompanies this
Date: May 14, 2015
s/ Joseph E. Irenas
JOSEPH E. IRENAS, S.U.S.D.J.
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