JOHNSON v. ATLANTIC CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT et al
OPINION & ORDER Dismissing Plaintiff's claims against the Atlantic City Police Department, the remainder of the Complaint may proceed; Directing the Clerk send 285 forms and USM serve a copy of the Complaint etc. Signed by Judge Christine P. O'Hearn on 1/6/2022. (pr,n.m)
Case 1:21-cv-05064-CPO-MJS Document 4 Filed 01/07/22 Page 1 of 4 PageID: 33
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
LANDRY J. JOHNSON,
ATLANTIC CITY POLICE
DEPARTMENT, et al.,
No. 21-5064 (CPO) (MJS)
OPINION & ORDER
O’HEARN, United States District Judge:
This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff’s Complaint raising claims pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has screened 1 the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)
and § 1915A(a), to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from suit. The Court concludes, with the following caveats, that
dismissal of the entire Complaint is not warranted at this time and will allow the majority of the
Complaint to proceed.
This case arises from Plaintiff’s arrest in an underlying criminal case. Plaintiff names
Officer Scott M. Sendrick and the Atlantic City Police Department as Defendants in this matter.
On May 5, 2019, numerous officers with guns drawn apprehended Plaintiff in response to an
alleged assault. (ECF No. 1, at 7.) The officers surrounded Plaintiff and ordered him to place his
hands in the air, and Plaintiff complied with those orders. (Id.) Despite Plaintiff’s surrender,
Defendant Sendrick “ran up from behind . . . and applied a chokehold around [Plaintiff’s] neck”
The Court will accept as true the factual allegations in the Complaint for the purposes of this
screening only. The Court has made no findings as to the veracity of Plaintiff’s allegations.
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and flipped him over, causing Plaintiff’s right hand to hit a street light pole. (Id.) These actions
broke Plaintiff’s hand, injured his neck, and bruised his ribs and knee. (Id. at 4, 7.) Plaintiff also
suffered a cervical disc herniation and fracture. (Id. at 5.) Ultimately, officers transported Plaintiff
to a hospital the next day. (Id. at 8.)
According to Plaintiff, the officers attempted to cover up the incident by stating in their
reports that Plaintiff “was placed into handcuffs without incident or injury or stating [he] was
noncompliant.” (Id.) Plaintiff, however, has video footage to show otherwise. (Id.)
Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in March of 2021, raising § 1983 claims against
Defendant Sendrick and the Atlantic City Police Department. To succeed on a § 1983 claim, a
plaintiff must allege two things: first, a violation of a right under the Constitution, and second, that
a “person” acting under color of state law committed the violation. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42,
48 (1988); Piecknick v. Com. of Pa., 36 F.3d 1250, 1255–56 (3d. Cir. 1994). The Supreme Court
has established that § 1983’s definition of “person” includes municipalities and other local
government entities. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978).
A plaintiff may not, however, hold a local government entity “liable for the
unconstitutional acts of its employees on a theory of respondeat superior.” Thomas v. Cumberland
Cty., 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014). To hold such an entity liable under § 1983, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that a local government unit adopted a policy or custom and that such policy or custom
had been “the moving force” behind the constitutional deprivation. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.
Municipal policy generally requires that the local government unit’s officers adopt and
promulgate a “statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision.” Id. at 690. A municipal custom,
although lacking the formal approval of a policy, refers to those official practices which are “so
permanent and well settled as to constitute . . . the force of law.” Id. at 691.
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Under certain circumstances, a municipality’s failure to properly train its officers can
amount to a “custom” under § 1983. See City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989). When
a plaintiff alleges that a policy “concerns a failure to train or supervise municipal employees,
liability under section 1983 requires a showing that the failure amounts to ‘deliberate indifference’
to the rights of persons with whom those employees will come into contact.” Thomas, 749 F.3d at
222 (quoting Carter v. City of Phila., 181 F.3d 339, 357 (3d Cir. 1999)). “A pattern of similar
constitutional violations by untrained employees is ‘ordinarily necessary’ to demonstrate
deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 62
(2011) (quoting Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cty., Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 409 (1997)).
In the present case, Plaintiff alleges that the Atlantic City Police Department failed to train
its officers, in particular, Defendant Sendrick, “on the [purposeful] use of excessive force . . .
during arrest[s].” (ECF No. 1, at 4.) Plaintiff claims to have evidence of past excessive force
incidents involving Defendant Sendrick, but Plaintiff did not attach that evidence to the Complaint.
Plaintiff cannot rely on bare conclusions, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676–78 (2009), he must
either attach evidence of those incidents or describe the circumstances of those incidents in his
Without more, the Court cannot determine whether there was “[a] pattern of similar
constitutional violations by untrained employees,” at the Atlantic City Police Department.
Connick, 563 U.S. at 62. Nor is the police department liable solely for employing Defendant
Sendrick. Once again, a local government entity is not “liable for the unconstitutional acts of its
employees on a theory of respondeat superior.” Thomas, 749 F.3d at 222.
Consequently, the Court will disregard the Complaint’s “naked assertions devoid of further
factual enhancement” and “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported
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merely by conclusory statements,” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676–78, and dismiss Plaintiff’s claims
against the Atlantic City Police Department, without prejudice, for failure to state a claim. The
remainder of the Complaint, i.e., Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Sendrick, may proceed. 2
IT IS, on this 5th day of January 2022,
ORDERED that Plaintiff’s claims against the Atlantic City Police Department are
DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; and it is further
ORDERED that the remainder of the Complaint may PROCEED; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court shall mail to Plaintiff a transmittal letter explaining
the procedure for completing United States Marshal 285 Forms; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff shall complete the form for the remaining Defendant and return
it to the Clerk of the Court, Mitchell H. Cohen Building & U.S. Courthouse, 4th & Cooper Streets,
Camden, NJ 08101; and it is further
ORDERED that after Plaintiff sends the completed form to the Clerk of the Court, the
Clerk shall issue summons, and the United States Marshal shall serve a copy of the Complaint
(ECF No. 1), summons, and this Order upon the Defendant pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d), with
all costs of service advanced by the United States; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court shall serve Plaintiff with a copy of this Opinion
and Order via regular U.S. mail.
/s Christine P. O’Hearn___
CHRISTINE P. O’HEARN
United States District Judge
The Court is not expressly or implicitly limiting Defendant’s right to assert any potential defenses
as he sees fit. Nor is the Court ruling that Plaintiff has established a violation. Instead, the Court
is permitting these claims to go forward beyond screening.
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