RAMIREZ v. CITY OF CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY et al
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 3/26/2015. (tf, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ALICE M. RAMIREZ,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
CITY OF CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY, CHIEF
OF POLICE J. SCOTT THOMSON, POLICE
OFFICER M.M. MATHEWS, POLICE
OFFICER JAMES MELTON, CAMDEN
POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOE 1-6
Civil No. 13-1502 (JBS/AMD)
Herbert McDuffy, Jr., Esq.
200 Campbell Drive, Suite 103E
Willingboro, NJ 08046
Attorney for Plaintiff
Brian E. Turner, Esq.
Timothy J. Galanaugh, Esq.
CITY OF CAMDEN ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
520 Market Street, Room 420
Camden, NJ 08101
Attorneys for Defendants City of Camden and Chief of Police J.
Timothy J. Galanaugh, Esq.
CITY OF CAMDEN ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
520 Market Street, Room 420
Camden, NJ 08101
Attorney for Defendants Police Officer M.M. Mathews and Police
Officer James Melton
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
This is a case involving Camden police officers who entered the
home of Plaintiff Alice Ramirez over her objections in order to make
a warrantless arrest of her son, Raymond, whom they claim they had
pursued to Plaintiff’s house. Defendants the City of Camden, the Chief
of Police, and police officers M.M. Mathews and James Melton seek
summary judgment on this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case, arguing that the
warrantless entry did not violate the Fourth Amendment because it
was made in the course of a “hot pursuit.” Because there is a genuine
dispute of material fact on the present record whether Raymond was
being pursued by the police before the officers entered, summary
judgment will be denied as to the officers. Also, because neither
party addresses the issues of the municipal liability of the City
of Camden and of Chief of Police J. Scott Thomson, their motion for
summary judgment must be dismissed without prejudice to renewal in
a properly-briefed motion.
On March 12, 2012, Plaintiff Alice Ramirez was at home in
Pennsauken, New Jersey with a large group of friends and family members
preparing dinner when two police officers from the Camden Police
Department knocked on her door. The two officers, Defendants M.M.
Mathews and James Melton, were looking for her son, Raymond Ramirez
(“Raymond”), in connection with a complaint lodged by his girlfriend,
Alyssa Maldonado, earlier that day. Raymond lived with his mother
and was at home when the officers arrived. (Def. Statement of Material
Facts (“SMF”) [Docket Item 19] ¶¶ 6, 16; Pl. Counterstatement of
Material Facts (“Counter SMF”) [Docket Item 21-1] ¶¶ 4.) According
to a police report, Maldonado had stated to the police that Ramirez
had gone to her residence “attempting to damage her vehicle.” (Police
Incident Report, Def. Ex. D [Docket Item 19-4].) The officers were
looking for Ramirez and two other individuals, Dwayne Caldwell and
Keon Skinner, who had threatened Maldonado’s friend, Beatrize
Alice Ramirez opened the door and asked the officers for a
warrant. When they could not produce one, she refused to let them
into her house. The officers nevertheless forced their way in to look
for Raymond. (Alice Ramirez Dep. [Docket Item 19-3] 24:14-18; 49:1-9;
SMF ¶¶ 9-12; Counter SMF ¶¶ 6-7.) Approximately 15 people, including
six children, were present, and at some point Defendants called for
backup. The officers caused an uproar in Plaintiff’s home and broke
several chairs and a glass table in the living room. During the chaos,
Plaintiff’s mother fainted and Defendants initially refused to call
for help despite pleas from family members. (Alice Ramirez Dep.
13:10-17; Vargas Dep. 12:1-8; Counter SMF ¶ 8.) The officers
eventually found Raymond inside the house and arrested him on a charge
Campos stated to the police that Dwayne Caldwell had violated his
restraining order by calling Campos and “circling her residence,”
and that Keon Skinner, had “threatened to cut her in the stomach and
cause to her baby.[sic]” (Police Incident Report.) Nothing in the
record suggests that Raymond was involved in these incidents.
of harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. (Police Arrest Report, Def.
Defendants contend that the facts show the officers entering
Plaintiff’s home while pursuing Raymond Rodriguez. According to
Defendant Mathews’ Police Incident Report, Maldonado and Campos told
the officers that Raymond, Skinner, and Caldwell were standing on
a nearby street corner. (Police Incident Report [Docket Item 19-4],
Ex. D to Def. Br.) Then, “[u]pon [the officers’] arrival,” the men
“fled into” Plaintiff’s house. (Id.) Mathews and Melton “followed
the suspects at which time was greeted by an abundant amount of people
screaming and surrounding myself and Officer Melton.” (Police
Incident Report.) Defendants’ Police Arrest Report, however, which
was filled out approximately twenty minutes before the Incident
Report, did not provide this detail. The description of the incident
stated only that
THIS UNIT WAS DISPATCHED TO 4001 MYRTLE (APT# H-2), IN
REFERENCE TO DOMESTIC DISPUTE. THIS UNIT ALONG WITH OFC.
MATHEWS (UNIT#234) AND THE TWO FEMALE COMPLAINANTS,
WHEN[SIC] TO 4625 WOODLAND, PENNSAUKEN. UPON ARRIVAL THIS
UNIT ALONG WITH SEVERAL OFFICERS PLACE[D] MR. RODRIGUEZ
 UNDER ARREST AND AND TRANSPORTED HIM TO PAB AND CHARGED
(Police Arrest Report, Ex. D to Def. Br.)
In contrast to the version of events described in the Police
Incident Report, Plaintiff repeatedly testified that her son was at
Plaintiff was also charged with obstructing the administration of
law but the charges were later dismissed. (Counter SMF ¶ 9.)
home the entire day and was inside the house for at least two hours
before the officers came to her door. (Alice Ramirez Dep. 20:7-9;
52:5-22; 53:16-18.) When asked whether she knew whether Raymond,
Skinner, and Caldwell might have been standing on the street corner
named in in the police report, she stated, “I have no idea about that.”
Plaintiff’s sister, Marisol Babilonia, was also at Plaintiff’s
home that evening and testified that in the one and a half to two
hours she was there before the police arrived, she did not see Raymond
leave the house. (Babilonia Dep. [Docket Item 19-5] 16:4-16;
Babilonia’s daughter, Mariah Vargas, arrived at Plaintiff’s
house around the same time as her mother and likewise testified that
Raymond had been playing a video game upstairs and “was just hanging
out with the rest of us.” She never saw Raymond leave the house. (Vargas
Dep. 12:18-13:3.) When asked if there ever was a time “where [she]
didn’t see him at all,” Vargas responded, “No, I don’t think so.”
Plaintiff Alice Rodriguez filed an amended complaint in July
2014, arguing that the warrantless entry into her home was
unconstitutional. In addition to the City of Camden and Chief Thomson,
the amended complaint names Officers M.M. Mathews and James Melton,
in addition to “Camden Police Officers John Doe 1-6.” Plaintiff
asserts claims against all Defendants under § 1983 for unreasonable
search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments (Count One). She also asserts § 1983 claims against
Defendants Thomson and City of Camden for failure to intervene (Counts
Three). She asserts common law claims of assault, false arrest, and
intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendants
Mathews and Melton (Count Two). Count Four asserts that the City of
Camden and Chief Thomson have adopted a policy, custom or practice
of failing to properly train, supervise and discipline members of
the Camden Police Department regarding the constitutional constraints
of wrongful search and seizure, with deliberate indifference to the
right to be free from warrantless entry into one’s home, in violation
of the Fourth Amendment. Defendants moved for summary judgment,
arguing that the officers followed Raymond Ramirez to the house after
seeing him flee the scene and their actions thus fell within the “hot
pursuit” exception to the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff disputes
Defendants’ version of events, arguing that Raymond was at home all
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
At summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden
of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(a); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).
In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the court is required
to examine the evidence in light most favorable to the non-moving
party, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.
Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999); Wishkin v. Potter, 476
F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). Summary judgment will be denied if there
is “some evidence” on which a reasonable jury could return a verdict
in favor of the non-moving party. Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759,
764 (3d Cir. 1994).
A. Fourth Amendment Claim Against Officers Mathews and Melton
The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that “[t]he right
of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. Searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant
are “‘presumptively unreasonable’” under the Fourth Amendment.
Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006) (quoting Groh v.
Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559 (2004)). A warrantless entry into a home
may, however, be appropriate in certain limited exceptions, where
the Court has found that exigent circumstances justified the
intrusion. See Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1980) (noting
that the threshold of a home may not be crossed “[a]bsent exigent
circumstances”). One well-recognized exception, and the one at issue
in this case, applies when police officers enter a premise in hot
pursuit of a fleeing suspect. See Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S. Ct.
1552, 1558 (2013); Kentucky v. King, 131 S. Ct. 1849, 1857 (2011).
In United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38 (1976), the Supreme Court
held that when officers attempt to make a warrantless arrest in a
public place but the suspect flees into a dwelling, the officers do
not need a warrant to pursue the suspect and carry out the arrest.
Id. at 42-43; see also Bodine v. Warwick, 72 F.3d 393, 399 (3d Cir.
1995) (“[W]hen the police attempt to make an arrest with a warrant
in a public place and the suspect flees into his or her home and closes
the door, it is reasonable for the police to pursue the suspect inside
without stopping and announcing their presence and intentions at the
threshold.”) In such situations, the warrantless entry is reasonable
because “there is compelling need for official action and no time
to secure a warrant.” Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 509 (1978);
see also United States v. Mallory, 765 F.3d 373, 384 (3d Cir. 2014).
The government, however, bears the burden of demonstrating that
exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search, and the
burden is “heavy.” Mallory, 765 F.3d at 383-84 (quoting Welsh v.
Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 749-50 (1984)).
In this case, the parties agree that the police officers entered
Plaintiff’s house without consent to make a warrantless arrest.
Defendants argue, however, that Raymond Ramirez had been fleeing from
Defendant officers immediately before they showed up at Plaintiff’s
doorstep and that the pursuit of a suspect justified the warrantless
entry. While Defendants characterize the facts as showing a “hot
pursuit,” a close examination of the record reveals that the only
document supporting this view is the Police Incident Report. The
report states that Mathews and Melton spotted Raymond, Skinner, and
Caldwell on a street corner and that the men “fled” upon the officers’
arrival and went to Plaintiff’s house.
By contrast, the Police Arrest Report, which was filled out
twenty minutes earlier, makes no reference to a chase and merely states
that after speaking with the two complainants, Officer Mathews and
the complainants went to Plaintiff’s residence and placed Raymond
under arrest. There is no mention in the Arrest Report that Raymond
was first spotted at a street corner, nor is there any mention that
he fled the scene. Evidence that there was a pursuit is also
contradicted by Plaintiff, Babilonia, and Vargas, who testified that
Raymond had been in the house for at least one and a half or two hours
before Defendants knocked on the door. Vargas’s testimony is
particularly notable, since she stated that she was with Raymond for
much of the time at Plaintiff’s house and did not see him leave.
Taking the evidence in light most favorable to Plaintiff, a
reasonable jury could find that police officers did not pursue Raymond
Rodriguez from a street corner to Plaintiff’s door, but instead went
to Plaintiff’s house to seek him out in response to Maldonado’s
complaint. As such, the arresting officers’ conduct could be found
unlawful under the Fourth Amendment because it fell outside the hot
pursuit exception. See Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 753 (1984)
(rejecting government’s claim of hot pursuit because “there was no
immediate or continuous pursuit of the petitioner from the scene of
a crime.”); Santana, 427 U.S. at 42 and n.3 (noting that “‘hot pursuit’
means some sort of chase”); Hazleton v. Trinidad, 488 Fed. App’x 349,
352 (11th Cir. 2012) (finding no hot pursuit where officers paused
in their pursuit and “directed their attention elsewhere for several
minutes” after plaintiff ran into her home); United States v. Schmidt,
403 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2005) (explaining that government must
demonstrate an “immediate or continuous pursuit” of the suspect from
the scene of the crime in order to fall within the hot pursuit exception
to the warrant requirement); United States v. Dawkins, 17 F.3d 399,
407 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (finding no hot pursuit where police officers
“were not chasing [the suspect] in a literal sense” and the evidence
in the record pointed to the contrary). Because questions of fact
remain as to whether Defendants entered Plaintiff’s home in the course
of a pursuit, and Defendants do not argue that any other exigent
circumstance existed to justify the warrantless entry, summary
judgment will be denied.
The Court also finds that Defendants Mathews and Melton are not
entitled to qualified immunity. The doctrine of qualified immunity
protects government officials from liability for civil damages as
long as their conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); Kelly v.
Borough of Carlisle, 622 F.3d 248, 253 (3d Cir. 2010). Qualified
immunity will not, however, act as a shield for “the official who
knows or should know he is acting outside the law.” Butz v. Economou,
438 U.S. 478, 506-07 (1978). In each case, the government’s interests
must be balanced against the citizens’ interest in vindicating their
constitutional rights, as well as the public interest in holding
officials accountable “when they exercise power irresponsibly.”
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231. The qualified immunity claim is
traditionally addressed in two steps. The court must decide whether
the facts alleged, taken light most favorable to the plaintiff, makes
out the violation of a constitutional right. See Saucier v. Katz,
533 U.S. 194, 121 (2001); Larsen v. Senate of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, 154 F.3d 82, 86 (3d Cir. 1998). The court must also
examine whether the right at issue was “clearly established” at the
time of the violation. Although the two-step sequence is no longer
mandatory, see Pearson, 555 U.S. at 241-42, the Court will address
With respect to the first step, the Court finds that the facts
of record, when viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
supports that Defendants violated Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right
to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. As already noted
above, there is sufficient evidence in the testimony of Plaintiff,
Babilonia, and Vargas from which a reasonable jury could find that
Defendants’ forcible entry was not based upon a hot pursuit. The second
step of the traditional Saucier analysis asks whether the law was
clearly established when the officials acted such that reasonable
officials could fairly have known that that their alleged conduct
was illegal. Larsen, 154 F.3d at 87. Defendants have pointed to no
cases – and the Court finds none – to suggest that the law in 2012
was unsettled as to whether the Fourth Amendment allowed for
warrantless entry into a home in the absence of exigent circumstances.
On the contrary, it was clearly established at the time that
warrantless searches and seizures inside a home are “presumptively
unreasonable unless the occupants consent or probable cause and
exigent circumstances exist to justify the intrusion.” United States
v. Coles, 437 F.3d 361, 365-66 (3d Cir. 2006) (emphasis in original).
It was also clearly established that in the absence of evidence
establishing hot pursuit, a warrantless entry was generally justified
only to prevent imminent destruction of evidence, to prevent a
suspect’s escape, or to neutralize a risk of danger to the police
or to other persons inside or outside the home. See Minnesota v. Olson,
495 U.S. 91, 100 (1990); Couden v. Duffy, 446 F.3d 483, 496 (3d Cir.
2006); Davis v. Township of Paulsboro, 421 F. Supp.2d 835, 850-51
(D.N.J. 2006) (same); see also Mallory, 765 F.3d at 384. No other
exigencies were present in this case to justify Defendants’ conduct.
Nothing in the evidence suggests that there was a risk that evidence
would be destroyed; nor does the evidence indicate that Ramirez had
a weapon or that he presented a threat to the safety of police officers
or persons inside the home. Although the officers were responding
to a domestic violence complaint, the complaint related to a past
act and the danger had already dissipated. Indeed, according to the
Police Arrest Report, the complainants were outside with the police
when the officers chose to forcibly enter Plaintiff’s home and were
therefore at no risk of harm. Compare United States v. Goree, 365
F.3d 1086, 1090-91 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (noting that 911 call about a
domestic assault “in progress” justified warrantless entry).
Defendants’ argument, that the officers were required to act
because “[t]he crime being investigated was [the] threat of domestic
violence in the form of cutting the stomach of a pregnant woman,”
is contradicted by the record. The Police Incident Report states that
the threat of bodily harm was made by Keon Skinner against Beatrize
Campos, and the only complaint against Raymond was that he went to
Maldonado’s residence “attempting to damage her vehicle.” (See Police
Incident Report, Def. Ex. D.) Raymond was charged only with
harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, a petty disorderly persons offense
subject to punishment not to exceed thirty days imprisonment. See
N.J.S.A. 2C:43-8; State v. Avena, 657 A.2d 883, 898 (N.J. Super. Ct.
App. Div. 1995).
The fact that the offense at issue was relatively minor further
supports the denial of qualified immunity. In Welsh v. Wisconsin,
466 U.S. 740 (1984), the Supreme Court noted “that an important factor
to be considered when determining whether any exigency exists is the
gravity of the underlying offense for which the arrest is being made.”
Id. at 753. The court held that “[w]hen the government's interest
is only to arrest for a minor offense, that presumption of
unreasonableness is difficult to rebut,” and the government should
normally be allowed to make warrantless arrests in the home “only
with a warrant issued upon probable cause by a neutral and detached
magistrate.” Id. (finding no exigent circumstance to justify
warrantless entry into a home for a traffic offense). Any reasonable
official would therefore have known that invading a home in order
to carry out an arrest for a petty offense involving damage to a
vehicle, in the absence of any exigent circumstance, was unlawful.
Under the circumstances claimed by Plaintiff, i.e., that her
son had been continuously in the home with her, no reasonable police
officer could have believed that this was a case of hot pursuit
excusing the requirement of a warrant. The Court holds that Defendants
Mathews and Melton are not entitled to qualified immunity.
B. Section 1983 Claims Against Defendants Chief Thomson and City
Plaintiff has alleged in the Amended Complaint that Defendants
City of Camden and Chief of Police J. Scott Thomson violated her right
by adopting and ratifying a policy, custom or practice of indifference
to the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unwarranted entry and
search of one’s home (Count Four). [Amended Compl. ¶¶ 37-40.]
Plaintiff also has alleged in Count One that the City of Camden has
been deliberately indifferent to the unlawful practices regarding
the use of excessive force and unlawful physical seizure of persons,
and the use of force and entry without a warrant into a person’s home.
[Amended Compl. ¶ 26a & b.]
Defendants have not briefed the law applicable to these
allegations, nor are they mentioned in Plaintiff’s Opposition Brief.
This motion on behalf of Defendants Chief Thomson and the City of
Camden cannot be decided where the moving papers omit any factual
or legal arguments directed at these pattern-and-practice and
failure-to-train claims under Monell and its progeny.3
If Plaintiff does not intend to pursue such Monell claims, which
See Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
will necessarily involve discovery and proof of training regimens,
patterns of similar constitutional violations, and internal
disciplinary practices of the Camden Police Department, then
Plaintiff should voluntarily dismiss the municipal defendants.
Otherwise, the City of Camden and Chief Thomson may renew their summary
judgment motion with proper briefing and evidentiary support.
The present motion for summary judgment by Chief Thomson and
the City of Camden will therefore be dismissed without prejudice.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will deny Defendants’ motion
for summary judgment. The accompanying Order will be entered.
March 26, 2015
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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