STATE OF NEW JERSEY et al v. MUHAMMAD
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Noel L. Hillman on 1/22/2016. (drw)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
DR. ABDUL-ALI MUHAMMAD
HEAD OF STATE-ABORIGINAL
REPUBLIC OF NORTH AMERICA XIAMARU INDIGENOUS GOVERNMENT,
Civil No. 15-4812 (NLH/AMD)
FLORENCE TOWNSHIP POLICE
DEPARTMENT, et al.,
3000 CHESTNUT ST #42083
PHILADELPHIA, PA 19101
Appearing pro se
ANTHONY T. DROLLAS, JR.
WILLIAM R. BURNS
ANDREW C. RIMOL
CAPEHART & SCATCHARD, P.A.
142 WEST STATE ST.
TRENTON, NJ 08608
On behalf of defendants
HILLMAN, District Judge
This case involves plaintiff’s claims that he was assaulted
by police officers on the side of the road.
the Court is the motion of defendants to dismiss several of
For the reasons expressed below,
defendants’ motion will be granted and part and denied in part.
Plaintiff will be afforded 30 days to file an amended complaint.
According to his complaint, on the afternoon of July 17,
2014, plaintiff, Dr. Abdul-Ali Muhammad, who states that he is
“Head of State-Aboriginal Republic of North America Xi-Amaru
Indigenous Government,” claims that he was assaulted by Officers
of Florence Township while he was stopped on the side of the
road and engaged in a dispute over the car keys with his wife.
Plaintiff claims that Officers Jonathan Greenburg, Nicole
Bonilla, and an unidentified officer arrived at the scene where
he was having a dispute with his wife and, at some point during
the encounter, all three officers tackled him to the ground.
Plaintiff alleges that after having been tackled, he was
punched, kicked, cuffed, and pepper sprayed “to near
Plaintiff claims that when awoke he was cuffed and bleeding
and talking with a medic.
Plaintiff states that he identified
himself to the officers as an “officer of a foreign government”
and wanted to be taken to a hospital.
Plaintiff claims he was
then “slammed into the back of a vehicle,” almost blinded by
pepper spray, and denied the opportunity to make a phone call.
Plaintiff filed the instant suit against Greenburg,
Bonilla, and the unidentified officer, as well as the Township
of Florence, the Florence Township Police Department, and the
Florence Township Mayor, Craig Wilkie.
requests the following relief: (1) that the Court permanently
enjoin the three officers and the Florence Township Police
Department from arresting plaintiff in the future; (2) that
defendants be ordered to pay him five million dollars for his
injuries, false arrest, assault and battery upon a head of
state; and (3) that criminal charges be filed by the United
States Department of Justice against the three officers “for
color of authority and violation of 18 U.S.C. 112.”
alleges that this Court has federal question jurisdiction over
this action as it involves (1) assault upon a Head of State; (2)
18 U.S.C. § 112 (Battery and Threatening); (3) 18 U.S.C. § 1163;
and (4) 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint on
Plaintiff has opposed their motion.
Subject matter jurisdiction
This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiff’s federal claims
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. 1
Standard for Motion to Dismiss
When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
Plaintiff’s complaint was filed on February 2, 2015 in the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The case was transferred to
this Court on June 30, 2015.
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court
must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as
true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).
It is well
settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains “a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead
evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that
serve as a basis for the claim.
F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977).
Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562
However, “[a]lthough the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth
an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for
relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair
notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests.”
Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S.
147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).
A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks
“‘not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether
the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the
Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007)
(quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in
Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions’
. . . .”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.
2009) (“Iqbal . . . provides the final nail-in-the-coffin for
the ‘no set of facts’ standard that applied to federal
complaints before Twombly.”).
Following the Twombly/Iqbal
standard, the Third Circuit has instructed a two-part analysis
in reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).
First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be
separated; a district court must accept all of the complaint's
well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal
Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129 S. Ct.
Second, a district court must then determine whether
the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that
the plaintiff has a “‘plausible claim for relief.’”
(quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950).
A complaint must do more
than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief.
also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir.
2008) (stating that the “Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of
the pleading standard can be summed up thus: ‘stating . . . a
claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as
true) to suggest’ the required element.
This ‘does not impose a
probability requirement at the pleading stage,’ but instead
‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation
that discovery will reveal evidence of’ the necessary element”).
A court need not credit either “bald assertions” or “legal
conclusions” in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss.
In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 142930 (3d Cir. 1997).
The defendant bears the burden of showing
that no claim has been presented.
Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744,
750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor,
Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).
A court in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must only
consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, the documents
attached thereto as exhibits, and matters of judicial notice.
S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Kwong Shipping Grp. Ltd.,
181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999).
A court may consider,
however, “an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant
attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff’s
claims are based on the document.”
Pension Benefit Guar. Corp.
v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
If any other matters outside the pleadings are presented
to the court, and the court does not exclude those matters, a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be treated as a summary judgment
motion pursuant to Rule 56.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).
As a primary matter, plaintiff’s claims premised on his
position as a “head of state” fail as a matter of law. 2
Defendants argue in their motion to dismiss that plaintiff does
not qualify as a “head of state” who could be afforded
112 and 1163 of Title 18 of the United States Code are criminal
provisions that do not provide for a private cause of action.
See 18 U.S.C. §§ 112, 1163; see also Central Bank of Denver,
N.A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, 511 U.S. 164, 190
(1994) (explaining that courts will not infer a private right of
action from a criminal statute alone).
With regard to plaintiff’s claims premised on 42 U.S.C. §
1983, the Court points out that § 1983 is not a source of
substantive rights, but provides a vehicle for vindicating the
violation of other federal rights.
386, 393-94 (1989).
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S.
Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other
person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable
to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Therefore, to state a claim for relief under
§ 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and,
second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by
a person acting under color of state law.
West v. Atkins, 487
protections under 18 U.S.C. §§ 112 and 1163. The Court does not
need to opine on plaintiff’s political status. Even accepting
as true that plaintiff is a “head of state,” his claims based on
that status are not cognizable.
U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250,
1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).
Moreover, municipalities and other local government units
are among those “persons” to which § 1983 liability applies.
Monell v. New York City Dep’t of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658,
Local governments, however, cannot be held liable
for the actions of their employees solely based on the doctrine
of respondeat superior.
Id. at 691-95; Bielevicz v. Dubinon,
915 F. 2d 845, 849-50 (3d Cir. 1990).
In order to successfully
state a claim for municipal liability, a plaintiff must allege
that the employees’ actions were pursuant to a policy or custom
of the municipality itself.
Monell, 436 U.S. at 694; Watson v.
Abington, 478 F.3d 144, 155 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Evancho v.
Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (“A[n individual
government] defendant in a civil rights action must have
personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing; liability cannot
be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.
Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of
personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.”).
Although Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleges the
individual officers’ use of excessive force and false arrest in
violation of the Fourth Amendment, 3 plaintiff’s complaint does
Although sparse, the factual allegations against the individual
officers are concrete and specific enough to survive a motion to
not contain those specific allegations necessary for a plausible
§ 1983 municipality liability claim.
Even though plaintiff has
named as defendants the Township, the police department, 4 and the
mayor, plaintiff does not allege a policy or custom of the
municipality, or how the mayor had personal involvement in the
July 17, 2014 incident.
All of these omissions are fatal to the
viability of plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against defendants other
than the individual officers.
In light of the dismissal of some of plaintiff’s claims,
the Court will afford Plaintiff an opportunity to amend.
Circuit case law “supports the notion that in civil rights cases
district courts must offer amendment--irrespective of whether it
is requested--when dismissing a case for failure to state a
claim unless doing so would be inequitable or futile.”
Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482
F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007).
Following the Third Circuit’s
instruction, the Court will afford plaintiff 30 days to file an
amended complaint to reassert any claims brought pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 dismissed as a result of this Opinion and
Plaintiff should be mindful of the case law
Accordingly, those claims may go forward.
A municipality and its police department are a single entity
for the purposes of § 1983 liability. Boneberger v. Plymouth
Township, 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997).
governing § 1983 claims, which is briefly set-forth above.
Plaintiff is also reminded that he cannot maintain any claims
based on his position of “Head of State-Aboriginal Republic of
North America Xi-Amaru Indigenous Government.”
plaintiff is reminded that he must properly serve his amended
complaint in compliance with Federal Civil Procedure Rule 4,
particularly Rule 4(e) and Rule 4(j). 5
For the reasons expressed above, Defendants’ motion will be
denied in part and granted in part.
Plaintiff will be granted
leave to file and properly serve any amended complaint within 30
days of the filing of this Opinion.
An appropriate Order will
January 22, 2016
At Camden, New Jersey
s/ Noel L. Hillman
NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint because
he failed to properly serve them. If plaintiff files and
properly serves an amended complaint this issue becomes moot.
If Plaintiff elects to stand on his initial pleading, any
remaining defendants may renew their motion to dismiss on these
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