DIAZ v. BULLOCK et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge John Michael Vazquez on 8/3/17. (cm, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT Of NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 13-5 192
POLICE OFFICER BULLOCK, et al,
John Michael Vazguez, U.S.D.J.
This matter concerns the arrest of the wrong person, Plaintiff, by New Jersey police officers
in response to an outstanding Maryland warrant. This Opinion addresses motions for summary
judgment filed by (1) South Plainfield Police Officer Mark Bullock and Lieutenant Peter Arancio
(the “Officer Defendants”) (D.E. 88); (2) the Borough of South Plainfield and the South Plainfield
Police Department (the “South Plainfield Defendants”) (D.E. 89); and (3) the County of Middlesex
and Middlesex County Office of Adult Corrections and Youth Services (the “Middlesex
Defendants”) (D.E. 91). Plaintiff Timothy Diaz opposed the motions (D.E. 93, 96, 101), and
Defendants filed briefs in reply (D.E. 97, 98, 102). The Court reviewed the submissions made in
support and opposition to the motions, and considered the motions without oral argument pursuant
to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b) and L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ motions
are GRANTED as to Plaintiffs Section 1983 claims. As a result, however, the Court no longer
has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter.
Therefore, the Court declines to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs remaining state law claims and this case is
REMANDED to the Superior Court of New Jersey.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
1. Factual History
Plaintiff Timothy Jarah Elijah Diaz, an African American male, was born in December
198$. At the time of the underlying incident, Plaintiff was approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall;
weighed 250 pounds; and lived in Plainfield, New Jersey. Plaintiffs Statement of Material F acts
¶J 1-3; see also Certification of Renee Biribin (“Biribin Cert.”) Ex. D. Plaintiff was mistakenly
arrested pursuant to an outstanding warrant for Timothy Joshua Diaz, which was issued in Prince
George’s County, Maryland. Plaintiff was arrested after a National Crime Information Center
(“NCIC”) report alerted the New Jersey officials as to the Maryland warrant.
“Timothy Diaz” was a Hispanic male who was born in 1993. The NCIC report, which was
generated by Prince George’s County employees, indicated that the wanted Timothy Diaz was
approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 140 pounds, was born in 1993, and lived in Maryland.
Id. Ex. F. The Prince George’s County employees, who have since been dismissed from this
matter on jurisdictional grounds, acknowledged that they incorrectly entered Plaintiffs driver
license number, FBI number, and social security number into the NCIC report instead of the correct
information for the wanted Timothy Diaz. Certification of John Gillick (“Gillick Cert.”) Ex I,
T17:18-l$:3; Ex. K, T27:21-32:7.
On Saturday, July 14, 2013, South Plainfield Police Officer Mark Bullock saw a car pull
into the parking lot, without signaling, of a Ramada Inn. Deposition Transcript of Mark Bullock
(“Bullock Dep.”) T9:16-10:15; T14:4-12. The hotel was an area known for criminal activity. Id.
As a result, Bullock “ran the plate” of the car. As Bullock was running the plate, three men got
out of the vehicle and entered the hotel. Id. 14:6-24. After the men entered the hotel, Bullock
noticed that there was a “hit” for Plaintiff, the registered owner of the vehicle, as indicated by an
NCIC report. The NCIC report showed an active arrest warrant for Plaintiff from Prince George’s
County. See Biribin Cert. Ex. E. Bullock called dispatch to confirm that he actually had a match
and also notified his Lieutenant, Defendant Peter Arancio. Bullock Dep. 115:4-13. Dispatch
informed Bullock that Plaintiff appeared to match the description of the wanted individual and that
dispatch was attempting to contact the Prince George’s County Sheriffs Department for additional
corroboration. Id. T3 1:20-23.
Bullock remained in his patrol car while waiting for confirmation.
During this time,
Arancio and one other South Plainfield police officer arrived. Id. T32:1-1 7. Eventually, Bullock
received the necessary confirmation from dispatch, including verification that Prince George’s
County would extradite the wanted Timothy Diaz if arrested. Id. 133:16-2.
Bullock, Arancio, and the other police officer then went to Plaintiffs room in the Ramada
Inn. When they arrived, one of the officers asked Plaintiff if he was Timothy J. Diaz, to which he
answered “yes.” The officers informed Plaintiff that there was a warrant for his arrest and asked
if he had ever been to Maryland. Plaintiff told the officers he had received a speeding ticket on I95 in Maryland, but that he had never been to Prince George’s County. Deposition of Timothy
Diaz (“Diaz Dep.”) at 111:14-24. Based on this information, Plaintiff was arrested at the Ramada
Inn and brought to the South Plainfield Police Station for booking. Bullock, however, noticed the
weight discrepancy between Plaintiff and the wanted Timothy Diaz before leaving the motel.
Bullock Dep. 140:4-14.
Once at the police station, Plaintiff learned through the booking process that the wanted
Timothy Diaz had a different address, middle name, and birthdate. Plaintiff tried explaining that
he was arrested by mistake and offered to show his birth certificate and social security card, which
Plaintiff carried at all times. Diaz Dep. 122:21-9; PSOMF ¶ 6. According to Plaintiff, the officers
refused to look at either document. Arancio, however, does not believe that Plaintiff ever offered
to show his birth certificate and does not recall discussing the birthdate difference with Plaintiff.
Deposition Transcript of Timothy Arancio (“Arancio Dep.”) T21:l1-22:2. Both Bullock and
Arancia, however, were aware of the birthdate discrepancy during the booking process. Bullock
Dep. T35:11-15; Arancia Dep. T20:19-23. Despite knowledge of these differences, Plaintiff was
not fingerprinted and neither officer asked the Prince George’s County Sheriffs Department for a
picture or other information to confirm that they had arrested the correct person.
Later that evening, Plaintiff was processed and admitted to the Middlesex County Adult
Correction Center in North Brunswick, New Jersey. Plaintiff was detained pursuant to a local
fugitive from justice warrant that was drafted by the South Plainfield Police Department and a
temporary commitment order signed by a municipal court judge.
Certification of Patrick I.
Bradshaw (“Bradshaw Cert.”) Exs. L, M. The record is not clear when Plaintiff first appeared
before a judge or when he first spoke with an attorney. Based on Plaintiffs deposition testimony,
however, it appears that Plaintiff appeared before a judge on Sunday, the day after his arrest, and
retained an attorney by Monday. Diaz Dep. T60:2-24. Plaintiff alleges that while he was detained
at the Correctional Center, the Middlesex Defendants ignored his claim of mistaken identity. See,
e.g., id. T61:6-17.
During a bail hearing on July 24, 2012, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
contacted the Prince George’s County authorities to confirm that Plaintiff was the wanted Timothy
Diaz. After about an hour of research, Prince George’s County learned that the wanted Timothy
Diaz had been arrested by Maryland authorities on July 16, 2012. Biribin Cert. Ex. H, T31:1333:15. Plaintiff was released that day, once the Middlesex County Department of Corrections
received a court order for Plaintiffs release. Certification of Robert Grover, Jr.
Cert. Ex. 0.
Plaintiff brought suit on June 12, 2013, in New Jersey state court against Defendants
alleging various tort claims and a claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Defendants removed the matter
to this Court on August 29,2013. D.E. 1. Plaintiff filed an Amended complaint on June 19,2014,
that included additional defendants who were affiliated with the Prince George’s County Sheriffs
Department. D.E. 32. These additional parties, however, were dismissed from the case due to
lack of personal jurisdiction. D.E. 55. After the close of discovery, Defendants filed the current
motions for summary judgment.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
A moving party is entitled to summary judgment where “the movant shows 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). A fact in dispute is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law” and is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return
a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude granting a motion for summary
judgment. Id. “In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make
credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the nonmoving
party’s evidence ‘is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”
Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at
255)). A court’s role in deciding a motion for summary judgment is not to evaluate the evidence
and decide the truth of the matter but rather “to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
A party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the basis for its
motion and must demonstrate that there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After the moving party adequately supports its motion,
the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits,
or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). To
withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify
specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
250. “[I]f the non-movant’s evidence is merely ‘colorable’ or is ‘not significantly probative,’ the
court may grant summary judgment.” Messa v. Omaha Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 122 F. $upp. 2d
523, 528 (D.N.J. 2000) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50)).
Ultimately, there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact” if a party “fails to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case.” Celotex
Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “If reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence,”
however, summary judgment is not appropriate. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-5 1.
1. Section 1983 Claims
Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, instead it provides a vehicle for
vindicating the violation of other federal rights. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989).
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[.]
§ 1983. Thus, to establish a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1)
there was a violation of a right under the constitution and (2) the violation was caused by a person
acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).’
The Officer Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
The Officer Defendants contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity for the Section
1983 claim. Qualified immunity “shields government agents from liability for civil damages
insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.” Thomas v. Independence Township, 463 F.3d
285, 291 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 305 (1996)). In determining
whether qualified immunity exists, a court must assess whether (1) the facts alleged by plaintiff
show the violation of a constitutional right; and (2) the plaintiffs constitutional right was clearly
established at the time of the violation. Saitcier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001), overruled in
part on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). See also Egolfv. Witmer,
526 F.3d 104, 109-11 (3d Cir. 2008) (reviewing the two-step inquiry that generally occurs in a
qualified immunity analysis).
Plaintiffs Section 1983 claim as to the Officer Defendants appears to be based on false
arrest and false imprisonment. Am. Compl.
¶J 46-47. The Fourth Amendment protects against
unreasonable seizures of the person. See U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Fourth Amendment, in turn,
is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137,
‘Here, Defendants do not dispute that they acted under color of state law. Thus, as to Plaintiffs
prima fade case, the analysis turns on whether there was a violation of Plaintiffs constitutional
rights. However, there are additional, pertinent issues that the Court must also resolve, such as
qualified immunity and whether certain Defendants had a policy, practice, or custom that would
expose them to liability.
142 (1979). The proper inquiry in a Section 1983 claim based on false arrest is whether the
arresting officer had probable cause to make the arrest. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47
F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995) (quotingDowlingv. City ofPhiladelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir.
1988)). In addition, a false imprisonment claim is based on “the Fourteenth Amendment protection
against deprivations of liberty without due process of law.” Id. at 636. A false imprisonment
claim that “is based on an arrest without probable cause is grounded in the Fourth Amendment’s
guarantee against unreasonable seizures.” Id. at 636. An unlawful detention outside this context
may still give rise to a false imprisonment claim but such a claim is premised solely on the
Fourteenth Amendment. Potts v. City ofPhiladelphia, 224 F. Supp. 2d 919, 937 (E.D. Pa. 2002).
As is discussed below, the Court concludes that after a person is initially arrested pursuant to
probable cause, it is the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Fourth
Amendment, that provides the appropriate avenue for redress whether the person is asserting a
claim for false arrest or false imprisonment.
“[A]n arrest warrant issued by a magistrate or judge does not, in itself, shelter an officer
from liability for false arrest.” Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 786 (3d Cir. 2000). At the same
time, “when the police have probable cause to arrest one party, and when they reasonably mistake
a second party for the first party, then the arrest of the second party is a valid arrest.” Hill v.
California, 401 U.S. 797, 802 (1971). Thus, in assessing whether probable cause existed in the
case of a mistaken-identity arrest, a court must consider (1) whether there was probable cause to
arrest the true target, and (2) whether the mistake was reasonable. Id.
For the reasons that follow, the Court determines that the Officer Defendants are entitled
to qualified immunity. This finding does not relieve the Officer Defendants from potential tort
liability. The basis for the Court’s finding as to qualified immunity is that to the extent there is a
constitutional right at issue, it is not clearly established. There is no Third Circuit precedent, cited
by the parties or found by the Court, which clearly establishes the right. The leading Supreme
Court case merely indicates that such a right might exist. Moreover, no persuasive authority from
other jurisdictions conclusively establishes that such a right is clearly established. In fact, courts
addressing the issue have taken divergent views. In doing so, courts appear to focus on, among
other things, an officer’s investigation establishing probable cause sufficient for an arrest as
opposed to the dissipation of probable cause following a lawful arrest. Case law also appears to
distinguish between officers who merely effectuate an arrest pttrsuant to a valid warrant and those
who are involved in the underlying investigation, sometimes referred to as the “prosecuting”
It is important to reiterate that arresting the wrong person does not automatically result in
a constitutional violation. Instead, such an arrest still complies with the Fourth Amendment if it
As noted, if police officers mistakenly alTest the wrong person, the arrest is
nevertheless constitutional if there is probable cause to arrest the correct person and the officers
reasonably believe that they have arrested the right person. United States v. Marshall, 79 F.3d 6$,
69 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 802 (1971)).
In Baker v. McColtan, 443 U.S. 137, 141 (1979), Linnie McCollan’s brother, Leonard, got
a duplicate copy of Linnie’s driver’s license, which contained Linnie’s identifying information
except for the picture. Leonard was subsequently arrested in Potter County, Texas, but gave
Linnie’s name and identifying information. Id. at 141. An arrest warrant was thereafter issued for
Linnie (but in reality meant for Leonard), and Linnie was arrested ptirsuant to the walTant later
that year in Dallas. Id. Linnie informed the officers that they had the wrong man, but it was not
until Linnie was transferred to the jail in Potter County that he was released (eight days after being
arrested) when officials compared a photograph of Leonard (posing as Linnie) with Linnie. Id.
Linnie then sued, asserting a Section 1983 claim for false imprisonment.
The Supreme Court indicated that the threshold question was whether Linnie’s detention
was unconstitutional, while at the same time acknowledging that it may have been wrongful
pursuant tort law. Id. at 142. The Baker Court further assumed that Linnie relied on the Fourteenth
Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which incorporated Fourth Amendment protections to state
142-43. The Fourth Amendment, in turn, required “States to provide a fair and
reliable determination of probable cause as a condition for any significant pretrial restraint of
liberty.” Id. at 143 (citation omitted). The Court in Baker further noted that the probable cause
standard for detention is the same as that for arrest; defendants are not entitled to separate probable
cause determinations for both arrest and detention. Id.
The Supreme Court then concluded that Linnie’s case did not raise a claim under the
Constitution because, although he was deprived of his liberty for a number of days, the detention
was pursuant to a warrant that met the Fourth Amendment’s requirements. Id. at 144. The Court
further noted that after his valid arrest and detention, Linnie had other constitutional protections to
secure his release, such as his right to a speedy trial. Id. The Baker Court also assumed for the
sake of argument that “mere detention pursuant to a valid warrant but in the face of repeated
protests of innocence will after the lapse of a certain amount of time deprive the accused of ‘liberty
without due process of law[,]” but concluded that Linnie’s situation had not amounted to such
a deprivation. Id. at 145.
In support of its holding, the Supreme Court made the following observation:
Given the requirements that arrest be made only on probable cause
and that one detained be accorded a speedy trial, we do not think a
sheriff executing an alTest warrant is required by the Constitution to
investigate independently every claim of innocence, whether the
claim is based on mistaken identity or a defense such as lack of
id. at 145-46. In closing, the Court in Baker again reiterated that “Section 1983 imposes liability
for violations of rights protected by the Constitution, not for violations of duties of care arising out
of tort law.” Id. at 146.
In Wilson v. Rttsso, 212 F.3d 781 (3d Cir. 2000), the Third Circttit had the opportunity to
address the constitutionality of continued detention in the face of exculpatory evidence, but
ultimately determined that the facts presented did not require a determination of the applicable
constitutional contours. In Wilson, the plaintiff filed a Section 1983 claim for false arrest and
imprisonment. The suit stemmed from a robbery of florist shop. Two employees from the shop
indicated that the assailant was between 6 ‘2” and 6’S”, while Plaintiff was either S’lO” or 5’ 11 “;
one of the employees also picked Plaintiff out of photographic array while the other indicated that
he could not be sure that the robber’s picture was among the photographs. Id. at 783-85. In
addition, an employee from a nearby business informed police that Plaintiff was in the area around
time of the robbery, but 30 minutes after the actual robber had first entered the florist’s store. Id.
at 784. The police secured an arrest warrant but also omitted several pertinent facts and made a
misstatement as to how the photographic array was compiled. Id. at 785. The plaintiff was
thereafter incarcerated for a month, but the grand jury did not indict him. Id.
The first issue addressed by the court in Wilson concerned the officer’s omissions and
misstatement in securing the arrest warrant. Id. at 786-92. The Third Circuit concluded that while
the officer omitted information that should have been presented to the judge issuing the arrest
warrant, there was nevertheless sufficient probable cause to sustain the plaintiffs arrest. Id. at
Turning to the issue of continued incarceration, the plaintiff argued that he was improperly
kept in jail after the police learned of exculpatory facts following the arrest.
Id. at 792.
Specifically, the plaintiff pointed to an alibi witness, a friend of the plaintiff’s, who said that he
was with the plaintiff during the time of the robbery. Id. The Third Circuit first observed that
“[t]he law in this area is
entirely settled.” Id. at 793 (citing Brady v. Diii, 187 F.3d 104, 112
(1st Cir. 1999) & Id. at 117-25 (Pollak, J., concurring); Sanders v. English, 950 f.2d 1152, 1162
(5th Cir. 1992); BeVier v. Hucctt, $06 f.2d 123, 128 (7th Cir. 1986)). As to the cited cases, the
Wilson court noted that certain circuits had found that police officers have no duty to release
individuals when the officers learn of exculpatory information after the initial arrest while others
had determined that that a continuation of an otherwise lawful arrest is unconstitutional when the
police discover additional information which erodes the original probable cause. Id.
Ultimately. the Third Circuit concluded that “[w]e do not, today, need to decide these
difficult issues.” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 792. The Wilson court determined that regardless of the
scope of law enforcement’s duty to act on exculpatory information following a valid arrest, the
plaintiff’s information “did not dispel the earlier probable cause.” Id. Among other things, the
court pointed to the fact that the stated alibi nevertheless put the plaintiff in the vicinity of the
crime when it occurred. Id. at
As noted, courts have drawn a distinction between a failure to conduct an adequate
investigation to establish probable cause in the first instance as opposed to an arrest pursuant to a
valid warrant in which the officer later learns of exculpatory information that impacts the original
probable cause finding. In Clipper v. Takoma Park, 876 F.2d 17 (4th Cir. 1989), the Fourth Circuit
The Court also notes that the alibi witness in Wilson was an admitted friend of the plaintiff; a
relationship that other courts have considered in determining the strength of an alibi. See, e.g.,
Kelly v. Jones, 148 F. Supp. 3d 395. 403 (E.D. Pa. 2015) (“[This] is not a case where the validity
of the alibi depended upon the veracity of witnesses who might have an incentive to lie[.]”).
upheld a jury verdict finding a false arrest in violation of Section 1983. Although the officers in
Clipper had obtained an arrest warrant for the plaintiff in a bank robbery, the court found that
ample evidence supported the jury’s finding as to the lack of probable cause because the officers
failed to follow-up with alibi witnesses, failed to review available fingerprint evidence, and failed
to obtain and review surveillance videos which demonstrated that the plaintiff was not the culprit.
Id. at 19-20.
Similarly, the Seventh Circuit in BeVier v. Hucat, $06 f.2d 123 (7th Cir. 1986), affirmed
a verdict finding that a police officer had falsely arrested and imprisoned the plaintiffs in violation
of Section 1983. In Be Vier, the officer arrested the plaintiff parents for child neglect upon seeing
their minor children, with unsanitary conditions nearby, in the sun and somewhat listless. Id. at
125. The court in BeVier determined that the officer’s mistaken determination of probable cause
was unreasonable because the officer failed to interview the children’s babysitter or the parents
(who were not present when the officer came upon the children). Id. at 127. If the officer had
interviewed the parents. he would have learned that they had instructed the babysitter to keep the
children out of the sun, had bathed the children daily, and had been properly treating one child’s
diaper rash. Id. If the officer had taken these additional steps, he would have learned that he did
not have probable cause to establish the necessary mens rca, that is, the parents intentionally or
willfully neglected their children.
In Be Vier, the Seventh Circuit also noted that afier the arrest, the officer failed to heed the
advice of an experienced child abuse investigator, who indicated that there did not appear be a
child neglect violation. Id. at 12$. To this end, the court stated that “[t]he continuation of even a
lawful arrest violates the Fourth Amendment when the police discover additional facts dissipating
their earlier probable cause.” Id. (citation omitted). Yet, the BeVier court also noted that there is
“no general duty to investigate further after acquiring information sufficient to establish probable
cause.” Id. at 127 n.1 (citing Gramenos v. Jewel Cos., Inc., 797 F.2d 432,437-42(7th Cir. 1986)).
Thus, post-arrest, it appears that the Seventh Circuit will find a constitutional violation if an officer
becomes aware of information that ameliorates an earlier probable cause determination but, at the
same time, the officer is under no obligation to actively look for such exculpatory information.
Also, as noted, certain courts have made a distinction between the duty of an officer who
merely affects an arrest and one who is actively involved in the investigation or in obtaining the
warrant. See, e.g., Brady v. Dill, 187 F.3d 104, 112 n.8 (1st Cir. 1999). This distinction was
critical in Kelly v. Jones, 148 F. Supp. 3d 395 (E.D. Pa. 2015), in which a motion to dismiss was
filed. In that case, the plaintiff was arrested in 2012 pursuant to a 2006 warrant. Id. at 399. Only
the wanted person’s name appeared on the arrest warrant. Id. The name on the warrant matched
the plaintiffs name, but the plaintiff made it clear that he was not the right person because he had
been incarcerated at the time of the earlier offense. Id. The plaintiff was jailed for over a month
before being released. Id. He then stLed, alleging a violation of Section l9$3, among other things.
The court in Kelly first found that the arresting officers were entitled to dismissal. Id. at
402. The judge reasoned that the constitutional standard for a valid arrest warrant only requires
the name of the defendant and that the arrest warrant contained the plaintiffs name, even though
the warrant actually pertained to a different person with the same name. Id. at 401.
But the Kelly court reached a different conclusion as to the officer who brought the original
The Section 1983 violation was one of malicious prosecution because the plaintiffs false arrest
and imprisonment claims were admittedly time barred. Id. at 400. However, an element of
malicious prosecution required the underlying proceeding to be “initiated without probable cause.”
Id. Lack of probable cause is also an element of false arrest and imprisonment, the claims at issue
charges leading to the warrant, who the court referred to as the “prosecuting officer[.]” Id. at 40204. The court noted that the prosecuting officer decides whether a suspect “continues to be held”
after first being taken into custody. Id. at 402 (emphasis in original). The judge noted that the
plaintiff was in custody in the same jurisdiction from which the arrest warrant emanated, so a mug
shot comparison was no burden on the officer. Id. The court in Kelly viewed the issue as how far
to extend the protection announced in Baker. Id. The judge further noted that the only matching
information on the warrant was the plaintiffs name, which was also not an unusual name, so that
there was greater room for error.
Id. at 403.
As to exculpatory evidence, the Kelly court
distinguished between “fundamental” evidence, “which an officer must consider, and evidence
that could be subject to a variety of interpretations.” Id. (citing Romero v. fay, 45 F.3d 1472, 1477
(10th Cir 1995)). The court observed that the prosecuting officer had access to “objectively
verifiable information from official sources that [the officer] could have consulted with minimal
effort: a mug shot of the suspect and criminal records that would have definitively established that
the wrong person had been arrested.” Id. at 403. As a result, the court denied the motion to dismiss
as to the prosecuting officer. Id. at 400. The court in Kelly also declined to find that the prosecuting
officer had qualified immunity in light of the plaintiffs allegations. Ic!.
The First Circuit addressed the issue of continued detention of the wrong person following
a valid arrest in Brady v. Dill, 187 F.3d 104 (1st Cir. 1999). In Brady, a suspect was stopped for
driving while intoxicated, and he gave the plaintiffs identifying information to law enforcement.
Id. at 106. Thereafter, a warrant was issued for the suspect and plaintiff was arrested by state
troopers in a different jurisdiction. Id. Plaintiff immediately stated his innocence, and the troopers
began investigating. Id. at 106-07. The troopers got the underlying police reports and noted some
minor discrepancies concerning the actual suspect’s description and then the troopers contacted
the officer who issued the drunk driving citation. This furthered the troopers’ suspicions that the
plaintiff may have been the wrong person. Id at 107. The troopers then asked the plaintiff who
may have obtained his identification information, arranged to have the plaintiff released on bail
(which the plaintiff declined, fearing his signature on the release papers may constitute an
admission of guilt), and attempted to get an attorney for the plaintiff. Id. Since the plaintiff was
arrested on a Saturday, the troopers took him to the first available court session on Monday, and
the plaintiff was released. Id. In total, the plaintiff spent a day and a half in custody. Id. The
plaintiff then sued for false arrest and imprisonment pursuant Section 1983.
In reviewing qualified immunity under Section 1983, the Brady court stated that the
threshold issue is whether “the Constitution recognizes the right asserted by the plaintiff.” Id.
(citing Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286 (1999)). In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Baker,
the first Circuit concluded that once police arrest a suspect pttrsuant to a valid “matched”4 warrant,
the suspect does not have a Fourth Amendment right to be released by law enforcement if the
police later conclude, unilaterally, that the person is innocent. Id. at 108. (citing Baker, 443 U.S.
at 143-44). The plaintift the court continued, was arrested pursuant to a valid warrant. Id. The
First Circuit opined that with the possible exception of excessive force, the Fourth Amendment no
longer provides the appropriate constitutional recourse for a suspect once the person has been
arrested pursuant to a valid warrant. Id. at 110 (citations omitted). After a valid arrest, the court
explained, the Due Process Clause was the appropriate avenue for a detainee seeking redress. Id.
The court in Brad’s; determined that once detained, a person asserting mistaken identity is
“in effect pressing a claim of innocence in fact
a claim not analytically distinct from any other
The First Circuit defined a “matched” warrant as one in which the arrested person’s “identity
matches the stated identity of the person denominated in the warrant[.]” Brady, 187 F.3d at 10$.
factual defense” such as alibi or lack of specific intent. Id. at 111-12. The court found that at that
stage, “the prosecutor, the judge. and the jury are institutionally better equipped to make such
deterrninations[,]” such as mistaken identity. Id. at 112. The first Circuit decided that a police
officer has a fundamentally different role in our justice system: the officer’s role is to lawfully
execute a valid, judicially-ordered warrant. Id. The court explained that “[t]o place on police
officers the additional burden of determining, afier a legitimate arrest pursuant to a facially valid
warrant, whether the person detained is or is not the guilty party would blur the usual separation
of fttnctions.” Id. If it were to adopt the plaintiffs position, the First Circuit feared that it would
potentially turn “police stations into tribunals for making preliminary determinations of guilt or
an eventuality that Baker explicitly disavows.” Id. at 114. The court in Braclv
indicated that instead of police making determinations as to guilt or innocence, “a prompt hearing
before a magistrate” should normally be the appropriate vehicle to decide whether the right person
has been arrested pursuant to a valid warrant. Id.
The Brady court cautioned, however, that police still retain the duty to inform the
prosecutor or judge of “known exculpatory information.” Id. at 114 (citation omitted). The court,
moreover, indicated that while making a prosecutor or judge aware of such information would be
“ordinarily sufficient” for an officer to discharge his duty, such action may nevertheless fall short
in “extreme circumstances[.j” Id. at 115. Recognizing that Baker did not foreclose the possibility
of a constitutional violation, the first Circuit noted that
[d]epending upon factors such as the length of the detention, the
behavior of the police, the source and quality of the information
available to them, and the nature of the pretrial procedures afforded
by local law, there may be circumstances so egregious as to ground
a substantive due process claim.
Id. (citing Gray v. Cuyahoga Ciy. SherJj”s Dep ‘t., 150 f.3d 579, 582-84 (6th Cir. I 99$); Rodriguez
v. Roth, 516 F. Supp. 410, 412 (E.D. Pa. 1981)). Turning to the case before it, the Brady court
concluded that the plaintiffs arrest pursuant to a valid “matched” warrant was lawful pursuant to
the fourth Amendment. Id. The court similarly found that the plaintiffs circumstances fell within
the due process strictures of Baker so that there was no constitutional violation. Id.
The court in Brady noted that even if it had found a constitutional violation, the officers
would nevertheless be entitled to qualified immunity. Id. To be a clearly established right, the
court stated that “the law must have defined the right in quite a specific maimer, and that the
announcement of the rule establishing the right must have been unambiguous and widespread,
such that the unlawfulness of particular conduct will be apparent cx ante to reasonable public
officials.” Id. at 116. Relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Wilson v. Layne, 119 S. Ct.
1692 (1999), the first Circuit noted that a right could be clearly established either through cases
of controlling authority in the jurisdiction where the action took place or through a “consensus of
cases of persuasive authority such that a reasonable officer could not have believed that his actions
were lawful.” Id. at 116 (quoting Wilson, 119 S. Ct. at 1700). finding that there were no
precedential opinions within the circuit and that there was no consensus of persuasive authority,
the First Circuit found that the asserted tight was in any case not clearly established so that the
troopers were entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 116-17.
Turning to the present matter, Plaintiff does not dispute that there was probable cause to
arrest the wanted Timothy Diaz, that there was a valid warrant for his arrest from Prince George’s
County, and that the NCIC Report indicated that Prince George’s County would extradite
“Timothy Diaz” upon his arrest.
Biribin Cert. Ex. D. Moreover, when the Officer Defendants
first approached Plaintiff in the Ramada Inn, Defendants’ mistake of identity was reasonable.
Plaintiff and the wanted Timothy Diaz were both males, had the same first and last names, had the
same middle initial, and were approximately the same height and age. Compare Biribin Cert. Ex.
D, with Ex. C. In addition, when asked, Plaintiff confirmed that he was Timothy J. Diaz and had
been in Maryland and was issued a ticket while in the state. Diaz Dep. Ti 1:3-8; Ti 1:14-24. Thus,
there were enough initial similarities to make the mistaken identity reasonable when Plaintiff was
first piaced in custody at the Ramada Inn. See, e.g., Cannon v. City of Wilmington Police Dep ‘t,
No. li-136, 2012 WL 4482767, at *4 n.2 (D. Del. Sept. 27, 2012) (concluding that mistaken
identity was not unreasonable where innocent plaintiff had same first, last and middle initial as
subject in arrest warrant and birth years differed by one digit); Creveling v. Columbia Cotmty, No.
07-661, 2008 WL 1826907, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 22, 2008) (finding that officers possessed a
reasonable belief to arrest the rooimnate of an individual with a valid arrest warrant “[b]ased on
the similarity of the descriptions
the fact that they both resided at the same address, and
plaintiffs failure to identify himself or provide identification”).
Moreover, given that the Fourth Amendment merely requires the specific name of the
suspect to appear on an arrest warrant, and the name on the warrant was the same as Plaintiffs,
the initial arrest at the Ramada Jim was constittitional. Williams v. City ofNorthfleld, No. 09-6 192,
2011 WL 6149733, at *10 (D.N.J. Dec. 9, 2011) (“An arrest wan-ant that correctly names the
person to be arrested generally satisfies the fourth amendment’s particularity requirement[.]”).
Plaintiff does not make any strenLtous argument that his arrest at the motel was improper. Instead,
Plaintiff focuses on what occurred soon thereafier, specifically, when he was taken to the station
and realized that law enforcement were looking for a different Timothy J. Diaz. It was at this point
that Plaintiff made his innocence clear and offered his birth certificate and social security card as
As noted, the threshold question facing the Court is whether Plaintiff has established that
his constitutional right or rights were violated when the Officer Defendants failed to investigate
and confirm that Plaintiff was not the right person? The short answer is that, at best, it is not clear.5
As a result, even if Plaintiff s rights were violated, such rights were not clearly established and the
Officer Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. To be clear, the Court is sympathetic to
Plaintiffs plight. There is no dispute that Plaintiff was not the same Timothy Diaz listed in the
Maryland warrant. Assuming Plaintiffs facts as true,6 the Court certainly believes that the Officer
Defendants should have taken some reasonable, and relatively easy steps, to confirm that they had
the right person once back at the station. The Officer Defendants could have taken a picture of
Plaintiff and sent it to Maryland for confirmation, or they could have asked Maryland authorities
for a photograph of the wanted Timothy Diaz. Assuming Plaintiffs version of events, the Officer
Defendants took no action despite Plaintiffs immediate indication (and offer of proof) that New
Jersey had the wrong man.
The Court’s inquiry is limited to, however, whether the Officer Defendants violated
Plaintiffs constitutional rights. At the outset, the Officer Defendants were not the “prosecuting
officers,” so this matter is different than that of the investigating officer in Kelly. To the contrary,
this case presents an analogous situation to the arresting officers in Kelly, who were dismissed
The Court is not addressing the scenario in which the arresting officer was involved in, or has
personal knowledge of, the underlying investigation. Nor is the Court addressing the situation in
which law enforcement makes material omission or misstatements in securing an arrest warrant.
As discussed in Wilson, such a situation is subject to a different analysis.
6As noted, Plaintiff claims that he offered his birth certificate and social security card to the Officer
Defendants in an effort to prove that he was a different Timothy Diaz than the one listed in the
warrant. The Court credits these assertions at the summary judgment stage, although the Court
observes that the social security card was likely unhelpful to Plaintiffs claims of mistaken identity.
The Maryland authorities had entered Plaintiffs social security number by mistake. Thus, instead
of proving his imocence, Plaintiffs social security number may have had the opposite effect
because it would have been a match. Also, of note, is regardless of Plaintiffs contentions, the
Officer Defendants acknowledge that they were aware of the weight and date of birth
from the case. Nor is this a case in which the Officer Defendants had actual knowledge that
Plaintiff was the wrong person; instead, Plaintiff claims that the Officer Defendants failed to
reasonably follow-up on his claim of mistaken identity. If they had, Plaintiff continues, then the
Officer Defendants would have learned from law enforcement in Maryland that Plaintiff was not
the correct Timothy Diaz.
The United States Supreme Court, in Baker, did not find that Plaintiff has the constitutional
right which he is claiming. Instead, the Baker Court merely assumed, arguendo, that such a right
existed following “the lapse of a certain amount of time[.]” Baker, 443 U.S. at 145. Moreover,
there is no precedential opinion from the Third Circuit finding such a right. Instead, the court in
Wilson expressly ruled that it was not deciding “these difficult issues.” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 792.
Finally, there is no consensus of persuasive authority from other jurisdictions that clearly establish
the right asserted by Plaintiff. The Third Circuit in Wilson recognized the opposite: circuits had
reached contrary conclusions in determining the issue. Id. The Court finds the analysis by the
First Circuit in Brady to be persuasive. The Brady court appeared to fairly balance the various
roles and considerations of those involved in the criminal justice system when it determined that,
as a general rule, if police become aware of exculpatory information, they should bring it to the
attention of the prosecutor or judge. Yet, even in that case, the court did not indicate that police
had a duty to investigate pleas of innocence. More importantly, the First Circuit’s decision does
not represent a consensus of persuasive authority. In fact, it does not appear that the circuits are
in agreement as to whether such a duty vis-à-vis exculpatory information arises, if at all, pursuant
to the Fourth Amendment (BeVier)7 or the Due Process Clause (Brady).
See also Clipper v. Takoma Park, 876 F.2d 17, 20 (4th Cir. 1989) (conducting an Fourth
In the Court’s view, in light of the dicta in Baker, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment is the appropriate avenue for redress in situations akin to the present scenario, that is
when a person is initially and lawfully arrested pursuant to a valid warrant while at the same time
(or thereafter) claiming that he or she is not the person who is wanted. Baker, 443 U.S. at 145.
Moreover, the Court views the appropriate constitutional standard as requiring an officer to make
a reasonable inquiry to confirm that he or she has arrested the correct person when the suspect
claims that it is a matter of mistaken identity. The reasonableness of the inquiry will depend upon
the circumstances (including the technology available to the officers), but the Officer Defendants
could have satisfied it here by contacting Maryland authorities for confirmation. Depending upon
the results of the reasonable inquiry, an officer’s duty may or may not end. If the officer does not
receive a response to a reasonable inquiry or if the officer does not receive exculpatory information
in response, the officer’s duty ends. If the officer receives exculpatory information of any type,
then the officer must provide it to the prosecutor or judge in due course. However, if the officer
receives exculpatory information whose validity cannot reasonably be questioned, then the officer
had a duty to disclose it to either a prosecutor or the appropriate judicial officer as soon thereafter
as is reasonably possible.8 Such type of exculpatory information would include photographs,
The Court generally agrees with the First Circuit in Brady that such decisions, to release a person
after a valid arrest due to exculpatory evidence, should be made by a prosecutor or judge. The
Court would not view it as the duty of the arresting officers (who were not involved in the
underlying case). However, the Court does not believe that if the arresting officers are convinced
that they have the wrong person, the officers are without discretion to immediately release the
person. F or example, in this case, if the Officer Defendants had taken a picture of Plaintiff and
electronically sent it to the Maryland authorities (such as by way of an attachment to an email or
text message), and the Maryland authorities had responded that Plaintiff was not the same Timothy
I. Diaz they were seeking, the Officer Defendants would have been free to release Plaintiff without
first seeking approval from a prosecutor or judge. However, in this Court’s view, the Officer
Defendants would only have had to convey such information to a prosecutor or judge and first
received approval before releasing Plaintiff.
fingerprints, or surveillance footage showing that the person in custody is not the person named in
the warrant. The Kelly court referred to such exculpatory information as “fundamental” evidence.
Such information is to be contrasted to evidence which is open to interpretation and evaluation,
such as an alibi provided by a close friend or family member of the person arrested.9
There are two important caveats to the foregoing analysis. First, the Constitution does not
require the officers to take such action, if at all, until there has been “the lapse of a certain amount
of time” as stated by the Supreme Court in Baker. Second, if Plaintiff here was in fact brought
before a judge the day after his arrest (again the record is not clear on this point) and Plaintiff had
the opportunity to convey his mistaken identity arguments to the court, then the Officer Defendants
would not have had to take any further action.
In sum, as the law currently stands pursuant to Supreme Court precedent, Third Circuit
law, and the case law of other jurisdictions, it is not clear whether any constitutional right of
Plaintiff was in fact violated, accepting all of Plaintiffs facts in a light most favorable to him. As
a result, and at a minimum, the Officer Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the
constitutional right is not clearly established. This finding, however, does not absolve the Officer
Defendants from potential tort liability, as recognized by the Supreme Court in Baker. But because
the Officer Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, the Officer Defendants’ motion for
judgment is granted on Plaintiffs Section 1983 claim as to the Officer Defendants.
Again, police must still provide such information to the prosecutor, but a prosecutor may very
well (and reasonably) review such information and determine that it is not credible.
The South Plainfield Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment’°
The South Plainfield Defendants argue that the Court should grant them summary
judgment on the Section 1983 claim because Plaintiff provides no evidence establishing a policy
or custom that led to a deprivation of his Constitutional rights.1’ A municipality cannot be liable
under Section 1983 for the acts of its employees on the basis of respondeat superior. Thomas v.
Ctunbertand Coitntv, 749 f.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Monelt v. Dep’t o/Soc. Servs. of
P’LYC., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978)). Rather. to hold a municipality liable, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that the violation of rights was caused by a municipal policy, practice, or custom. Id.
To that end, a plaintiff must identify a policy or custom that “violates the Constitution or.
not unconstitutional itself, is the moving force behind the constitutional tort of one of its
employees.” Id. (quoting Cothztrn v. LipperDarbv Township, 946 f.2d 1017, 1027 (3d Cir. 1991)).
The South Plainfield Defendants maintain that summary judgment must be granted because
Plaintiff fails to point to any policy or custom that led to the Constitutional violation at issue. S.
Plainfield Br. at 8. The South Plainfield Defendants are correct in that Plaintiff fails to point to
any formal policy or custom.
Plaintiff, however, alleges that the violation was caused by the South Plainfield
Defendants’ failure to train officers as to the execution of fugitive warrants. S. Plainfield Opp. Br.
As noted in the discussion concerning the Officer Defendants, it is not clear that Plaintiff has
established a violation of his constitutional rights. Without showing such a violation, there is no
liability for either the South Plainfield Defendants or the Middlesex County Defendants. The
Court nevertheless analyzes the Section 1983 claims as to the remaining Defendants because, as
is discussed, the claims fail for additional reasons.
While not raised by the South Plainfield Defendants, the Court notes that a city police
department is not a proper party for a Section 1983. See Godtey v. Newark Police Dep ‘t, No. 05806, 2007 WL 269815, at *3 (D.N.J. Jan. 26, 2007) (dismissing Section 1983 claim against the
Newark Police Department because it was not an entity that was subject to suit). Instead, the
municipal entity is the appropriate defendant.
at 3. “In limited circumstances, a local government’s decision not to train certain employees about
their legal duty to avoid violating citizens’ rights may rise to the level of an official government
policy for purposes of [Section] 1983.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61(2011). When
asserting a Monell claim based on a failure to train, “liability.
requires a showing that the failure
amounts to ‘deliberate indifference’ to the rights of persons with whom those employees will come
Thomas, 749 F.3d at 222.
Deliberate indifference “require[es] proof that a
municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.” Id. (quoting Rd. qf
Cty. Commr’s of Bryctn Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 410 (1997)). Deliberate indifference is
normally established through facts demonstrating a “pattrn of similar constitutional violations by
untrained employees” because “[a] pattern of violations puts municipal decisionmakers on notice
that a new program is necessary.” Id.
In support of his argument, Plaintiff points to South Plainfield’s policy regarding fugitives,
which states that individuals may be taken into custody when there is a written warrant
confirmation from an out-of-state authority that will extradite the individual. Biribin Cert. Ex. F.
Despite the existence of this policy, Officer Bullock testified that he was required to arrest Plaintiff.
Bullock Dep. T57:8-16. This fact alone, however, is insufficient to create a genuine issue of
material fact as to the existence of South Plaintiffs deliberate indifference. 12 First, Plaintiff
provides no evidence establishing whether South Plainfield trained officers as to fugitive arrests,
what the training entailed, or what was deficient in the training. See, e.g., Nob/ce. City ofcamden,
Plaintiff does not appear to argue that the fugitive policy itself is unconstitutional and also cannot
rely on Officer Bullock’s purported failure to adhere to this policy to establish liability for South
Plainfield. An officer’s failure to adhere to a facially constitutional policy is an issue for individual
liability as to the officer, not liability as to the municipality. See Thomas, 749 F.3d at 222. To be
clear, Plaintiff does not argue that Officer Bullock did not adhere to the policy; the policy permitted
Officer Bullock to make the arrest. Instead, Plaintiff’ asserts that Officer Bullock misunderstand
the permissive nature of the policy, believing it to be mandatory.
112 F. Supp. 3d 208, 225 (D.N.J. 2015) (granting summary judgment to Camden where plaintiff
failed to provide any evidence regarding what training was provided, the substance of the training,
or the frequency of the training). Second, Plaintiff fails to point to any facts demonstrating that
similar constitutional violations regularly occur, such that South Plainfield should have been on
notice of the need for training. See, e.g., Brooks v. Codispoti, No. 12-5884, 2015 WL 9462086, at
*12 (D.N.J. Dec. 28, 2015) (granting summary judgment to municipality because “[p]laintiff does
not offer evidence on the current training or lack of training on excessive force, nor does Plaintiff
allege a pattern of constitutional violations sufficient to put the city on notice that the training is
inadequate”). Consequently, Plaintiff fails to provide evidence creating a material issue of fact as
to South Plainfield’s allegedly insufficient training. Summary judgment, therefore, is granted to
the South Plainfield Defendants for the Section 1983 claim.
The Middlesex County Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
The Middlesex Defendants13 also argue that the Section 1983 claim should be dismissed
as to them because Plaintiff fails to set forth facts demonstrating that a policy or custom led to a
constitutional violation. Middlesex Br. at 15-16. Plaintiff argues that there are also material issues
of fact as to whether the Middlesex Defendants were properly trained in the execution of fugitive
warrants and the identification of fugitives. Middlesex
Op. Br. at 7.
But like the South Plainfield
Defendants, Plaintiff fails to provide any evidence regarding the Middlesex Defendants’ training
or lack thereof of or facts regarding similar constitutional violations such that the Middlesex
Defendants should have been on notice of the need for training. See, e.g., Brooks, 2015 WL
While not raised by the Middlesex Defendants, the Court notes that the Middlesex County
Department of Corrections is not a state actor for Section 1983 purposes. See Majette V. Turner,
No. 15-5960, 2017 WL 3055509, at *3 n.3 (D.N.J. July 18,2017). Instead, the municipality is the
9462086, at *12. Consequently, for the same reasons that the Section 1983 claim fails as to South
Plainfield, summary judgment is granted to the Middlesex County Defendants for the Section 1983
2. PLAINTIFF’S TORT CLAIMS
Plaintiff originally filed this case in New Jersey state court asserting tort claims and a
Section 1983 claim against all Defendants. Defendants subsequently removed this matter on the
basis of the federal question jurisdiction that arose from Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claim. See Notice
of Removal. Now, as a result this Court’s decision to grant summary judgment for the Section
1983 claims asserted against all the Defendant, only Plaintiff’s state tort law claims remain.
“Federal courts are not courts of general jurisdiction.” Bender v. Williamsport Area Scli.
Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541-42 (1986). In order to adjudicate a case, a federal court must have subject
matter jurisdiction. Id. While neither party raised the issue of remand here, a federal court is
obliged to notice any jurisdictional defects. Kaplan v. Garrison, No. 15-1915, 2015 WL 2159827,
at *2 (D.N.J. May 6, 2015). As discussed, Defendants removed this matter on the basis of federal
question jurisdiction (due to the Section 1983 allegations), pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331, and the
Court had supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs other state tort claims. 2$ U.S.C.
Because the Court has granted Defendants summary judgment on the federal claims, the Court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s remaining tort law claims.
§ 1367(c) gives district courts discretion to decline to hear state law claims they
would otherwise have supplemental jurisdiction over through Section 1367(a).
Section 1 367(c)(3) provides that a “district court may decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over a claim” if “the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original
jurisdiction.” Thus, retaining supplemental jurisdiction is a matter of discretion. Borough of West
Mfflin v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 788 (3d Cir. 1995). However, the Third Circuit has determined
that “where the claim over which the district court has original jurisdiction is dismissed before
trial, the district court mttst decline to decide the pendent state claims unless considerations of
judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the parties provide an affirmative justification for
doing so.” Id. (emphasis added). Additionally, while the determination is discretionary, “[t]he
general approach is for a district court to
hold that supplemental jurisdiction should not be
exercised where there is no longer any basis for original jurisdiction.” Shaffer v. Township of
Franklin, No. 09-347, 2010 WL 715349, at *1 (D.N.J. Mar. 1, 2010); see also United Mine
Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966) (encouraging federal courts to avoid
“[n]eedless decisions of state law”); Markowitz v. Ne. Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 106 (3d Cir. 1990)
(“[T]he rule within this Circuit is that once all claims with an independent basis of federal
jurisdiction have been dismissed the case no longer belongs in federal court.”). If a district court
decides it will not hear the remaining state law claims, and the case has been removed from a state
court, the Court must remand the matter back to state court. Bromwell V. Micit. Mitt. Ins. Co., 115
f.3d 208, 213 (3d Cir. 1997) (concluding that “the plain language of 28 U.S.C.
§ 1447(c) mandates
that the matter be remanded to the state court from which it was removed”).
Under the present circumstances, the Court finds that remand is appropriate because no
federal cause of action remains. While remand will certainly delay decision on the remaining
summary judgment issues, the parties’ central facts and substantive arguments should remain the
same. In addition, remand serves the goals of judicial economy and comity by allowing the New
Jersey courts to apply New Jersey law. Therefore, the Court declines to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs remaining state law claims pursuant to Section 1367(c)(3) and will
remand the action to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County. See Schaffer, 2010
WL 715349, at * I (declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ remaining state
law claims afler plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed sole federal claim against defendant with
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants’ motions for summary judgment (D.E. 8$, 89,
91) as to Plaintiffs Section 1983 claim are GRANTED. Because the Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over the remaining tort claims as a result of this decision, the Court administratively
terminates the remainder of Defendants’ motions and remands this action to the Superior Court of
New Jersey, Middlesex County. An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
August 3, 2017
John Michael Vazque U.SD.J.
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