HENDERSON v. UNION COUNTY N.J. et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Cox Arleo on 10/26/17. (cm, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 14-7708 (MCA)
UNION COUNTY, N.J., et al.,
ARLEO, United States District Judge:
This matter has been opened to the Court by Plaintiffs filing of a Complaint alleging
violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. The Court previously granted
Plaintiffs application to proceed informa pauperis. For the reasons explained below, the Court
will dismiss the Complaint as to all Defendants. To the extent Plaintiff can provide facts to cure
the deficiencies in the claims the Court has dismissed without prejudice, he may file an Amended
Complaint within 30 days of the date of the Order accompanying this Opinion.
Plaintiff alleges that a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) was entered against him on
May 4, 2013 in connection with a domestic violence incident that occurred on May 3, 2013. (See
ECF No. 1, Complaint at 7.) On May 16, 2013, ajudge in the New Jersey Chancery Court,
Family Part (“Family Part”), vacated the TRO and dismissed the domestic violence complaint.
(Id.) The gravamen of Plaintiffs Complaint appears to be that Defendants subsequently pursued
criminal charges and an indictment against him despite the fact that the judge in the Family Part
had vacated the TRO and dismissed the domestic violence complaint arising from the same
incident. (Id. at 7-8.) Plaintiff apparently sought dismissal of the criminal indictment, which
was denied by the Superior Court on May 4, 2014. (Id. at 7.) It is not clear whether Plaintiff
was convicted of any criminal charges arising out of the domestic violence incident.
Plaintiff provides no facts about the underlying domestic violence incident or the reasons
for the dismissal of the domestic violence complaint in the Family Part. He alleges, however,
that the Union County Prosecutor Jason Gareis failed to provide jurors with the “actual facts”
from the civil case that presumably would have undermined the criminal case. (Id. at 6-8.)
Plaintiff also alleges that Assistant Prosecutor Tracy E. Boyd “perist[ed in] prosecuting this civil
matter criminally with malice” and disregarded the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act
(PVDA”), court rules, and other statutes. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff further alleges that Detective
George Rivera coerced the Grand Jury with his statements and failed to mention the PDVA. (Id.
at 5.) Plaintiff further alleges that Officer Melissa A. Howell, who investigated the domestic
violence incident “did
file an immediate appeal of the [TRO] on Plaintiff’s behalf” and that
Officer Dariusz Tokarz “was derelict in his duties [and] used the [TRO] as a [b]ootstrap
mechanism[.]” (Id. at 4.) Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Judge Regina Caulfield, J.S.C., “did not
present to Plaintiff any documentation ofjurisdiction upon request[.]” (Id. at 5.)
Plaintiff seeks damages and a restraining order to prevent Defendants from retaliating
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under the PLRA, district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a
person is proceeding in formapauperis. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B). The PLRA directs
district courts to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune
from such relief. Id. “The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim
pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir.
2012) (citing A/lah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v, Beard, 492 F.
App’x 230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C.
1997e(c)(l)); Courteau v. United States,
287 F. App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C.
Here, Plaintiff’s Complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C.
When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), courts first separate the
factual and legal elements of the claims, and accept all of the well-pleaded facts as true. See
Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 2 10—1 1 (3d Cir. 2009). All reasonable inferences
must be made in the plaintiffs favor. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314
(3d Cir. 2010). The Complaint must also allege “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim
is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMSShadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation
omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
Courts are required to liberally construe pleadings drafted by pro se parties. Tucker v.
Hewlett Packard, Inc., No. 14-4699 (RBK/KMW), 2015 WL 6560645, at *2 (D.NJ. Oct. 29,
2015) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Such pleadings are “held to less
strict standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Id. Nevertheless, pro se litigants must
still allege facts, which if taken as true, will suggest the required elements of any claim that is
asserted. Id. (citing Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013)). To do
so, [a plaintiff] must plead enough facts, accepted as true, to plausibly suggest entitlement to
relief.” Gibney v. Fitzgibbon, 547 F. App 111, 113 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Bistrian v. Levi, 696
F.3d 352. 365 (3d Cir. 2012)). Furthermore, “[l]iberal construction does not, however, require
the Court to credit a pro se plaintiffs ‘bald assertions’ or ‘legal conclusions.’ Id. (citing Morse v.
Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). That is, “[e]ven apro se complaint
may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if the allegations set forth by the plaintiff cannot be
construed as supplying facts to support a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief. Id. (citing
Milhouse v. Carison. 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981)).
The Court construes Plaintiff to raise claims pursuant to
may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 42 U.S.C. §
1983. A plaintiff
1983 for certain violations of his constitutional
rights. 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....
Thus, “to state a claim for relief under
1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and must show that the alleged
deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law.” See West v.
Atkins. 487 U.S. 42,48(1988); Maileats v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
The Court will dismiss with prejudice the Complaint as to the Plainfield Police
Department. In New Jersey, a municipal police department is not an entity separate from the
The Court does not construe Plaintiff to raise any claims arising under state law.
municipality. See N.J. Stat. Ann.
§ 40A: 14-118 (municipal police department is ‘an executive
and enforcement function of municipal government”). As such, the Plainfield Police Department
is not a proper defendants in this action. See Padilla v. Twp. ofCherry Hill, 110 F. Appx. 272,
278 (3d Cir. 2004) (“In Section 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued in conjunction
with municipalities, because the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local
municipality, and is not a separate judicial entity.”) (quoting DeBellis v. Kulp, 166 F. Supp. 2d
255, 264 (E.D. Pa. 2001)).
The Court will also dismiss the Complaint without prejudice as to Union County. “[A]
local government may not be sued under
§ 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or
agents.” Andrews v. City ofPhiladelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990). 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. (citations omitted). “A government
policy or custom can be established in two ways. Policy is made when a ‘decisionmaker
possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action’ issues an
official proclamation, policy, or edict.” Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480 (quoting Pembaur v. City of
Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481. (1986)). “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.” Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480. Here. Plaintiff has not alleged
that a policy or custom caused his alleged injuries and his claims against Union County appear to
be premised on the County’s employment of alleged wrongdoers. which is not a basis for
§ 1983. As such, the Court will dismiss without prejudice the claims as to Union
The Court will dismiss the Complaint as to Judge Caulfield for failure to state a claim for
relief. It well settled that judges are absolutely immunized from a civil rights suit for money
damages arising from their judicial acts. Mire/es v. Waco. 502 U.S. 9, 9(1991) (per curiam);
Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356—57 (1978). A judge will not be deprived of immunity
because the action [s]he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his
authority; rather, [sjhe will be subject to liability only when [s]he has acted in the ‘clear absence
of all jurisdiction.” Stump, 435 U.S. at 357 (citations omitted). Here, Plaintiff has vaguely
asserts that Judge Caulfield “did not present to Plaintiff any documentation ofjurisdiction upon
To the extent Plaintiff is alleging that Defendant Caulfield acted in the clear absence of
all jurisdiction, this allegation is conclusory and not entitled to the presumption of truth under
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (permitting courts to identify “pleadings that, because they are no more
than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth”). Defendant has provided no
additional facts to support his allegation that Defendant Caulfield lacked jurisdiction over his
criminal case. As such, the Complaint is dismissed without prejudice as to this Defendant.
The Court will also dismiss the Complaint as to Prosecutor Defendants Gareis and Boyd
on the basis of prosecutorial immunity. “[Al state prosecuting attorney who act[s] within the
scope of his duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution” is not amenable to suit
§ 1983. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 410 (1976); see also Kulwicki v. Dawson, 969
F.2d 1454, 1465 (3d Cir. 1992); Schrob v. Catterson. 948 F.2d 1402, 1417 (3d Cir. 1991); Rose
v. Bartie, 871 F.2d 331, 345 and n.12 (3d Cir. 1989). Since 1mb/er, the Supreme Court has held
that “absolute immunity applies when a prosecutor prepares to initiate a judicial proceeding, or
appears in court to present evidence in support of a search warrant application.” Van de Kamp v.
Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 343 (2009) (citations omitted); see also LeBlanc v. Stedman, 483
Appx 666 (3d Cir. 2012). “[A]cts undertaken by a prosecutor in preparing for the initiation of
judicial proceedings or for trial, and which occur in the course of his role as an advocate for
[government], are entitled to the protections of absolute immunity.” Buckley v. Fitzsimmons,
509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993).
The immunity afforded to prosecutors is very broad and extends to any acts the
prosecutor undertakes “as the state’s ‘advocate,” Yarns v. County ofDelaware, 465 F.3d 129,
136 (3d Cir. 2006), and is not defeated by allegations that the prosecutor acted in bad faith, see
Ernst v. Child & Youth Servs., 108 F.3d 486, 502 (3d Cir. 1997), or “commit[ted] perjury or
falsifie[d] evidence,” Davis v. Grusemeyer, 996 F.2d 617, 630 n. 27 (3d Cir. 1993), overruled on
other grounds by Rob v. City Investing Co. Liquidating Trust, 155 F.3d 644 (3d Cir. 1998).
Prosecutors are also absolutely immune from a civil suit for damages under
1983 for: (1)
instituting grand jury proceedings without proper investigation and without a good faith belief
that any wrongdoing occurred, Schrob, 948 F.2d at 1411; (2) soliciting false testimony from
witnesses in grand jury proceedings, probable cause hearings, and trials, Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S.
478, 490 (1991); Kulwicki, 969 F.2d at 1467; and (4) the knowing use of perjured testimony in a
judicial proceeding, Imbler, 424 U.S. at 424-27; Schrob, 948 F.2d at 1417; Brawer v. Horowitz,
535 F.2d 830 (3d Cir. 1976). “[A]bsolute immunity applies when a prosecutor prepares to
initiate a judicial proceeding, or appears in court to present evidence in support of a search
warrant application.” T”an de Kan’zp, 555 U.S. at 343 (citations omitted) (further holding that a
supervisory prosecutor is absolutely immune for failing to adequately train and supervise district
attorneys on the duty not to withhold impeachment evidence and the failure to create any system
for accessing information pertaining to the benefits provided to jailhouse informants). A falsely
charged defendant may be “remedied by safeguards built into the judicial system,” such as
dismissal of the charges. Kuln’icki, 969 F.2d at 1464.
Here, Plaintiff’s allegations against Defendants Gareis and Boyd center on their decision
to continue his prosecution and Gareis’s failure to present exculpatory evidence to the Grand
Jury. Because Defendants Gareis and Boyd are entitled to prosecutorial immunity for their
actions in initiating and continuing Plaintiffs prosecution, the Court will dismiss with prejudice
the Complaint as to these Defendants on the basis of prosecutorial immunity.
With respect to the remaining Defendants
Court construes Plaintiff to allege a
Defendants Rivera, Howell, and Tokarz
§ 1983 claim for malicious prosecution. To plead a claim
for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must show that (1) the defendants initiated a criminal
proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiff’s favor; (3) the proceeding was
initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than
bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent
with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding. See Kossler v. Criscinti, 564
F.3d 181, 186 (3d Cir. 2009); Ma/comb v. McKean, 535 F. App’x 184, 186 (3d Cir. 2013).
The Court construes Plaintiff claim that Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights by
bringing criminal charges against him after the TRO and domestic violence complaint was
dismissed by Family Part judge as a malicious prosecution claim. To the extent Plaintiff also
alleges that any of the Defendants violated principles of collateral estoppel as embodied in the
Double Jeopardy Clause or state constitutional equivalent when they prosecuted him after the
dismissal of the domestic violence complaint in the Family Part, that very argument has been
considered and rejected by the New Jersey courts. See State v. Brown, 394 N.J. Super. 492, 50607 (App. Div. 2007) (Neither the collateral estoppel component of the Double Jeopardy Clause
nor the doctrine of fundamental fairness precludes the State from prosecuting a defendant
indicted for a charge that formed the basis of an unsuccessful domestic violence complaint.)
The remaining Defendants are Detective Rivera, Officer Howell, and Officer Tokarz. Although
prosecutors typically initiate proceedings against criminal defendants, liability for malicious
prosecution can also attach when ‘[a] defendant influences a third party to initiate the
proceedings.” Bristow v. Clevenger, 80 F.Supp.2d 421, 432 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (citing Gilbert v.
Feld, 788 F. Supp. 854, 861 (E.D. Pa.1992)). Notably, a law enforcement officer may be liable
The Court will dismiss without prejudice the malicious prosecution claim against the
remaining Defendants because Plaintiff has not alleged that the criminal proceeding arising out
of the domestic violence incident terminated in his favor. The favorable termination requirement
exists ‘ito avoid ‘the possibility of the claimant [sic] succeeding in the tort action after having
been convicted in the underlying criminal prosecution, in contravention of a strong judicial
policy against the creation of two conflicting resolutions arising out of the same or identical
transaction.” Kossler, 564 F.3d at 187 (alteration in original) (quoting Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.s. 477, 484 (1994)). To avoid such a conflicting outcome, the prior disposition of the criminal
case must show “the innocence of the accused.” Malcomb, 535 F. App’x at 186 (citing Kossler,
564 F.3d at 186). Here, Plaintiff provides no facts suggesting that the criminal proceeding at
issue ultimately terminated in his favor. Indeed, the only facts Plaintiff provides about the
outcome of the criminal proceeding acknowledges that his motion to dismiss the indictment was
denied. Plaintiff may file an Amended Complaint within 30 days to the extent the criminal
proceeding terminated in his favor and he is able to meet the other elements of a malicious
for malicious prosecution where he “influenced or participated in the decision to institute
criminal proceedings.” Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 297 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Sykes v.
Anderson, 625 F.3d 294, 308—09, 317 (6th Cir.20l0)); accord Henderson v. City of
Philadelphia, 853 F.Supp.2d 514, 518 (E.D. Pa. 2012) (“Although prosecutors rather than police
officers are generally responsible for initiating criminal proceedings, an officer may be
considered to have initiated a criminal proceeding if he or she knowingly provided false
information to the prosecutor or otherwise interfered with the prosecutor’s informed discretion.”)
(citing Brockinglon v. City ofPhiladelphia, 354 F.Supp.2d 563, 569 (E.D. Pa. 2005)). Because
Plaintiff has not pleaded favorable termination, the Court need not address whether he provided
sufficient facts to meet the other elements of a malicious prosecution claim.
For the reasons explained in this Opinion, the Complaint is dismissed in its entirety. To
the extent Plaintiff can cure the deficiencies in those claims the Court has dismissed without
prejudice, he may file an Amended Complaint within 30 days. An appropriate Order follows.
Madeline Cox Arleo, U.S.D.J.
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