WRIGHT v. CITY OF JERSEY CITY et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Esther Salas on 2/7/17. (cm )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
CITY OF JERSEY CITY, JERSEY
CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, and
JOHN DOES 1 AND 2,
Civil Action No. 14-0208 (ES) (MAH)
SALAS, DISTRICT JUDGE
Before the Court is Defendants City of Jersey City (“Jersey City”) and Jersey City Police
Department’s (together, “Defendants”) motion for summary judgment. (D.E. No. 23). The Court
has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court has considered the
parties’ submissions and decides the motion without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 78(b). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for
This action arises out of an alleged incident of police brutality. Plaintiff alleges that on
May 11, 2011, he was approached and tackled by two Jersey City police officers1 who had
The Complaint names the two unidentified officers as defendants (John Does 1 and 2). New Jersey Court
Rule 4:26-4 allows a plaintiff to bring an action against a defendant whose name is unknown under a fictitious name
and requires a plaintiff to amend the complaint to contain the defendant’s true name once the plaintiff discovers the
defendant’s identity. Here, as Plaintiff has neither obtained the true names of the unidentified defendants through
discovery nor sought to amend the Complaint to state the defendants’ true names, the Court dismisses Plaintiff’s
Complaint against the John Doe defendants. Nonetheless, as “[t]here is . . . nothing to prevent a plaintiff from
misidentified Plaintiff as a criminal suspect. (See D.E. No. 1-1, Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 7-8).
Plaintiff further alleges that he suffered physical, emotional, and psychological injuries as a result
of the incident. (Id. ¶ 9). While Plaintiff acknowledges that he did not see the faces of the
individuals who tackled him, he surmised that they were police officers because he heard police
radios. (D.E. No. 26, Condensed Transcript of Deposition of Tyrone Wright (“Wright Dep.”) at
37:9-20). Plaintiff additionally testified that two individuals witnessed the incident,2 with one
witness stating that the individuals who approached Plaintiff were driving a gray Nissan. (Id. at
In early September 2014, approximately one month before Plaintiff’s
deposition, Plaintiff observed a gray Nissan operated by two police officers in Jersey City and
recorded the license plate number suspecting that it was the same vehicle involved in his incident.
(Id. at 58:8-60:19). The gray Nissan that Plaintiff observed on this occasion is owned by Jersey
City. (Id. at 58:8-13).
On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff initiated this action in New Jersey Superior Court,
alleging that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981,
1983, 1985(3) and 1988. (See Compl.). Specifically, Plaintiff brings two causes of action: (i)
unlawful use of excessive force (see id. ¶¶ 11-15) and (ii) municipal and supervisory liability for
Jersey City’s failure to train, supervise, and monitor the conduct of its employees and to prevent
the unlawful use of excessive force (see id. ¶¶ 16-29).
On January 13, 2011, Defendants removed this action to the District Court for the District
of New Jersey. (D.E. No. 1). After the parties completed discovery, Defendants moved for
foregoing the naming of an individual officer as a defendant and proceeding directly to trial against the municipality,”
the Court must still address Plaintiff’s claims against Jersey City and the Jersey City Police Department. See White
v. City of Trenton, 848 F. Supp. 2d 497, 502 (D.N.J. 2012) (quoting Wilson v. Town of Mendon, 294 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir.
Plaintiff stated in his deposition that one witness was unwilling to testify in Plaintiff’s case unless Plaintiff
paid the witness. (See Wright Dep. at 40:5-41:18).
summary judgment. (D.E. No. 23-1, Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment on Behalf
of Defendants, City of Jersey City and Jersey City Police Department Returnable September 6,
2016 (“Def. Mov. Br”)). Defendants also submitted a statement of undisputed material facts per
Local Civil Rule 56.1. (D.E. No. 23-3, Statement of Undisputed Facts in Support of the City of
Jersey City and the Jersey City Police Department’s Motion for Summary Judgment (“SOF”)).
Plaintiff opposed Defendants’ motion and submitted a supplemental statement of material
facts not in dispute.3 (D.E. No. 24-1 at 1-8, Plaintiff’s Reply Brief in Opposition to Summary
Judgment, Filed by the Defendants, the City of Jersey City and the Jersey City Police Department
and John Does 1 and 2 (“Pl. Opp. Br.”); D.E. No. 24 at 9-11). Plaintiff did not submit a responsive
statement of material facts as required by Local Civil Rule 56.1, despite being advised to do so by
this Court (see D.E. No. 27). Consequently, Defendants’ SOF is deemed undisputed for purposes
of resolving Defendants’ motion. (See id.; see also McCann v. Unum Provident, 921 F. Supp. 2d
353, 359 (D.N.J. 2013) (deeming defendant’s statement of material facts undisputed where
plaintiff failed to cite any record evidence in responding to defendant’s statement)). The matter is
now ripe for adjudication.
B. Legal Standard
Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R.
Local Civil Rule 56.1 allows an opponent of summary judgment to furnish a supplemental statement of
disputed material facts, but does not allow the opponent of summary judgment to submit additional undisputed facts.
See L. Civ. R. 56.1. Here, Plaintiff’s supplemental statement of material facts largely comports with Defendants’ SOF.
To the extent Plaintiff’s supplemental statement of material facts asserts factual content not contained in Defendant’s
SOF (e.g., that the individuals who allegedly assaulted and injured Plaintiff were police officers), the Court considers
such factual content disputed.
Civ. P. 56(c); see also Azur v. Chase Bank, USA, Nat’l Ass’n, 601 F.3d 212, 216 (3d Cir. 2010).4
A genuine issue of material fact exists for trial when—in viewing the record and all reasonable
inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the non-movant—a reasonable fact-finder
could return a verdict for the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). “To be material, a fact must have the potential to alter the outcome of the case.” DeShields
v. Int’l Resort Props., 463 F. App’x. 117, 119 (3d Cir. 2012).
The movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the nonmovant must set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Azur, 601 F.3d at 216. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a party “who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. A scintilla of evidence in
support of the non-movant’s position is insufficient to oppose a summary judgment motion
successfully; instead, “there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find” for the
non-movant. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Moreover, the non-moving party may not rest upon the
mere allegations or denials in its pleadings. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.
Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to present a prima facie cause of action and that
discovery has failed to reveal an actionable claim. (Def. Mov. Br. at 1). Specifically, Defendants
argue that “Plaintiff’s proofs consist of him observing a similar colored car two years after the
incident, owned by Jersey City and operated by plain clothes officers, and surmising that it was
Unless otherwise indicated, all internal citations and quotation marks are omitted, and all emphasis is added.
the same car used by the alleged assaulting officers.” (Id.). Defendants contend they are entitled
to summary judgment because (i) the Jersey City Police Department is not a separate entity from
Jersey City and thus not subject to suit; and (ii) Jersey City cannot be liable as a matter of law
because Plaintiff has not alleged a constitutional violation arising out of a policy, regulation or
decision officially adopted by Jersey City or informally adopted by custom, as required by Monell
v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). (See id. at 2).
Plaintiff responds that “[a] jury could conclude from the identification of the assailants that
they were Jersey Cit [sic] Police Officers and that the incident therein resulted from a failure of
policy procedures and instructions attributable to their employees.” (Pl. Opp. Br. at 7). To that
end, Plaintiff argues that “a fact issue persists in that the officers, while not identified by name,
were acting under color of law within the City of Jersey City . . . .” (Id.).
The Court finds that even when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to
Plaintiff, Plaintiff has submitted insufficient evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could
conclude that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1981 and 1983. As an initial matter, “the express cause of action for damages created by §
1983 constitutes the exclusive federal remedy for violation of the rights guaranteed in § 1981 by
state governmental units.” McGovern v. City of Philadelphia, 554 F.3d 114, 121 (3d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 733 (1989)). Furthermore, under § 1983,
a municipality may not be held vicariously liable for constitutional violations caused by its
employees or agents. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. “Instead, it is when execution of a government’s
policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be
said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible
under § 1983.” Id.
“Policy is made when a decisionmaker possessing final authority to establish municipal
policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.” Andrews v. City
of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990) (alterations omitted). A course of conduct is
considered to be a custom when, though not authorized by law, such practices of state officials are
so permanent and well settled as to virtually constitute law. Id. (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 690)
(alterations omitted). “Custom . . . may also be established by evidence of knowledge and
acquiescence.” Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir. 1996). Importantly, to sustain
a Monell claim, a plaintiff must establish “a direct causal link between a municipal policy or
custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to provide sufficient
evidence from which a rational trier of fact could conclude that Plaintiff’s alleged constitutional
violations arose out of a municipal policy or custom. First, the Court finds that the Jersey City
Police Department is entitled to summary judgment with respect to the § 1983 claims because, as
Defendants correctly note, “courts treat a municipality and its police department as a single entity
for purposes of section 1983 liability.” Bonenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d
Cir. 1997). Second, although Plaintiff alleges that Jersey City failed to properly train, supervise,
and monitor its employees (see Compl. ¶¶ 20-29), Plaintiff does not present any evidence of an
official municipal policy or municipal custom that caused Plaintiff’s alleged constitutional
violations.5 Even assuming that the individuals who tackled Plaintiff were Jersey City police
In his opposition, Plaintiff rehashes the standard for a municipal custom, citing largely to Fifth Circuit case
law. (See Pl. Opp. Br. at 7). But Plaintiff does not present any evidence, expert or otherwise, that instances of Jersey
City police officers using unlawful excessive force against criminal suspects are so persistent and widespread to
constitute a municipal custom.
officers and that these officers violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, Plaintiff fails to provide
any evidence from which a jury could find a direct causal link between Plaintiff’s injuries and a
municipal policy or custom. And Plaintiff may not rest upon his allegations that Jersey City failed
to properly train and supervise its employees. El v. Se. Penn. Transp. Auth., 479 F.3d 232, 238
(3d Cir. 2007) (“The non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings or allegations; rather it must
point to actual evidence in the record on which a jury could decide an issue of fact its way.”).
Accordingly, the Court grants Defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to the 42
U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 claims.
Similarly, the Court finds that even when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable
to Plaintiff, Plaintiff has submitted insufficient evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could
conclude that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1985(3). To state a claim under § 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege:
(1) a conspiracy; (2) for the purpose of depriving, either directly or
indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of
the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; and
(3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; (4) whereby a person is
injured in his person or property or deprived of any right or privilege
of a citizen of the United States.
Farber v. City of Paterson, 440 F.3d 131, 134 (3d Cir. 2006). Here, Plaintiff does not come close
to producing evidence in support of these elements. See Berckeley Inv. Grp., Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455
F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006) (“[S]ummary judgment is essentially ‘put up or shut up’ time for the
non-moving party: the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot
rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.”). Thus, the
Court finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment with respect to any claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1985(3).
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for summary
judgment.6 An appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
Esther Salas, U.S.D.J.
As Plaintiff does not prevail in this action, Plaintiff is not entitled to attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
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