CROSBY v. GOINES et al
OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson on 10/30/15. (cm )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 15-2472 (JLL) (JAD)
DETECTIVE BOBBY GOINES; JOHN
DOES 1-5 AND ABC PUBLIC ENTITIES
1-5 (being fictitious names of as yet
JOSEPH A. DICKSON, U.S.M.J.
This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Leonard Crosby's ("Plaintiff') Motion
for Leave to file an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 11). Pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, the Court did not hear oral argument on Plaintiffs application. Upon careful
consideration of the parties' submissions, and for the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs Motion to
Amend, (ECF No. 11), is DENIED without prejudice.
Defendant Bobby Goines ("Defendant"), a detective in the township of Irvington, New
Jersey, was assigned as the lead detective for a string of gas station robberies in May 2011.
(Proposed Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 11-1,
4, 11). Over the following months, the gas
The facts from this section are gleaned from Plaintiffs proposed Second Amended Complaint.
(ECF No. 11-1).
station robberies persisted and spread to other municipalities. (Id. ii 15). After investigating the
crimes, Defendant concluded that Plaintiff was the suspect and arrested him on June 30, 2011. (Id.
ilil 29, 30). Plaintiff remained incarcerated until December 9, 2011. (Id. ii 32).
On March 9, 2012, an Essex County Grand Jury indicted Plaintiff for various counts
relating to the robberies. (Id. ii 33). On April 12, 2013, on a motion by the State, the indictment
was subsequently dismissed with prejudice after the State "concluded it lacked any substantial
proof that the Plaintiff committed these crimes due to the numerous misidentifications and varying
descriptions of the alleged suspect as well as a DNA test proving Plaintiffs innocence." (Id.
Plaintiff initiated this suit on April 7, 2015 against Defendant and several fictitious
Defendants alleging malicious prosecution under 24 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his Fourth,
Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Compl., ECF No. 1).
Defendant responded on June 6, 2015, filing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), (ECF No. 3), which the Honorable Jose L. Linares, U.S.D.J. denied
as moot after Plaintiff amended his Complaint within the twenty-one (21) day period allowed by
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(l). (ECF No. 5). Defendant revived his motion to dismiss
on July 9, 2015. (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff then requested leave to amend his pleading in lieu of filing
a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 7). Judge Linares granted
Plaintiffs request, (ECF No. 9), and, accordingly, terminated Defendant's motion to dismiss
without prejudice to the refiling thereof, pending the adjudication of Plaintiffs Motion to Amend.
(ECF No. 13). Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Amend on August 3, 2015, (ECF No. 11),
which Defendant opposed on August 13, 2015. (ECF No. 14-1).
STAND ARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) governs requests for leave to amend, allowing a party
to amend its pleadings after obtaining the Court's leave or the written consent of its adversary.
Under this liberal rule, the Court must "freely give leave when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ.
P. 15(a)(2); see also Wright & Miller section 1484, at 676 ("Subdivision (a)(2) encourages the
court to look favorably on requests to amend."). This lenient standard ensures that "a particular
claim will be decided on the merits rather than on technicalities." Dole v. Arco Chem. Co., 921
F.2d 484, 487 (3d Cir. 1990) (internal citation omitted); see also Sabatino v. Union Township, No.,
2013 WL 1622306, at *6 (D.N.J. April 15, 2013) (internal citations omitted) (discussing that "if
the underlying facts relied upon by a party might be a proper subject of relief, that party should
have the opportunity to test its claims on the merits.").
The decision to grant or deny leave to amend under Rule 15(a) is "committed to the sound
discretion of the district court." Arab African Int'l Bank v. Epstein, 10 F.3d 168, 174 (3d Cir.
1993). While courts have broad discretion to decide motions to amend, they must "heed Rule
15(a)'s mandate that amendments are to be granted freely in the interests of justice." Voilas et al.
v. General Motors Coro .. et al, 173 F.R.D. 389, 396 (D.N.J. 1997) (internal citations and quotations
omitted). In the absence of unfair prejudice, futility of amendment, undue delay, bad faith, or
dilatory motive, the court must grant a request for leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayyiew State
Hosp., 292 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); see also Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d
Cir. 2006) (stating that generally, leave to amend should be granted ''unless equitable
considerations render it otherwise unjust.").
Here, Defendant challenges Plaintiffs proposed amendments on futility grounds.
proposed amendment "'is futile if the amended complaint would not survive a motion to dismiss."'
County of Hudson v. Janiszewski, 351 F. App'x 662, 666 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Alvin v. Suzuki,
227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir.2000)); In re NAHC, Inc. Sec. Litig., 306 F.3d 1314, 1332 (3d Cir.
2002) ("An amendment would be futile when 'the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted.'") (internal citation omitted). Therefore, "[t]he futility
analysis on a motion to amend is essentially the same as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Marjam Supply
Co. v. Firestone Bldg. Prods. Co., LLC, No. 11-7119 (WJM), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46572, at
*9-10 (D.N.J. Apr. 4, 2014). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."' Ashcroft
v. Igbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Com. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
"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." Id.
The Court notes that Defendant bears the burden of establishing that Plaintiffs proposed
amendments are futile, and that, "given the liberal standard applied to the amendment of
pleadings," that burden is a "heavy" one. Pharmaceutical Sales & Consulting Corp. v. J.W.S.
Delavau Co., 106 F. Supp. 2d 761, 764 (D.N.J. 2000); accord Marjam, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
46572, at *10. "Therefore, '[i]f a proposed amendment is not clearly futile, then denial ofleave
to amend is improper."' Schiano v. MBNA, 05-1771, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81440, at *45
(D.N.J. Feb. 11, 2013) (internal citations omitted).
Plaintiffs proposed Second Amended Complaint does not seek to add any new claims or
new parties. It merely adds facts to bolster Plaintiffs claim for malicious prosecution, a claim that
existed in Plaintiffs original Complaint. Specifically, the additional facts appear to strengthen
Plaintiffs argument that Defendant lacked probable cause. For instance, five out of the nine added
paragraphs allege that one of the robbery victims initially stated he would not be able to identify
the suspect of the robbery, but almost two months later, the same victim identified Plaintiff as the
suspect. (Proposed Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 11-1, iii! 12-14, 27-28). Similarly, other facts
that Plaintiff seeks to add exemplify the discrepancies between Defendant's perceived physical
appearance of the suspect and Plaintiffs actual appearance. (Id. iMf 19, 36). The proposed Second
Amended Complaint further adds that a different victim of a robbery was unable to identify
Plaintiff in a photo array of the suspects. (Id. if 25). Stated simply, the proposed Second Amended
Complaint only adds facts to support Plaintiffs preexisting claim for malicious prosecution.
In opposition, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs Motion should be dismissed on futility
grounds "because even the new pleading would not make out a claim upon which relief could be
granted." (Def. Opp., ECF No. 16, at 1). As a point of reference, a malicious prosecution claim
under§ 24 U.S.C. § 1983 requires each of the following elements:
( 1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding;
(2) the criminal proceeding ended in his favor;
(3) the defendant initiated the proceeding without probable cause;
(4) the defendant 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.
Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 82 (3d Cir. 2007). Particularly, Defendant argues that Plaintiff
"failed to demonstrate a lack of probable cause for his arrest" and that "dismissal of the case was
based upon his innocence." (Def. Opp., ECF No. 16, at 1-2). This Court shall address each of
these arguments in tum.
a. Defendant Plausibly Initiated Prosecution Without Probable Cause
When Arresting Plaintiff
Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate a lack of probable cause because
"the victim identified plaintiff as the robber," (Def. Opp., ECF No. 16, at 1), and "the victim's
identification of plaintiff was corroborated by plaintiff's having been near the scene of the most
recent robbery, while sporting a beard, an identifying feature of the robber," fuh, at 2), or "the fact
[that] an indictment 'constitutes prima facie evidence of probable cause to prosecute.'" (Id.) (citing
Rose v. Bartle, 871F.2d331, 353 (3d Cir. 1989).
Contrary to Defendant's argument, Plaintiff need not, at this stage, demonstrate any of the
elements of malicious prosecution in order to amend his Complaint. As stated above, "a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its fact."' Igbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 554). "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." Id. Therefore, Plaintiff only
needs to provide enough factual content in the proposed Second Amended Complaint to allow this
Court to draw the reasonable inference that Defendant is liable for malicious prosecution. The
facts advanced by Plaintiff are more than sufficient to satisfy the plausibility requirement.
Indeed, the facts added in the proposed Second Amended Complaint primarily bolster this
argument. Specifically, the facts raise questions regarding the reliance of the Defendant on
descriptions and conflicting identifications. While perhaps defensible, the claim Plaintiff makes
is plausible, subject to the following.
In reviewing this Motion, the Court notes that Plaintiffs Amended Complaint contained
the following allegation in paragraph 32: "[t]he exculpatory evidence includes, but is not limited
to, descriptions, sketches, and video footage of a suspect that clearly does not resemble the Plaintiff
aside from race." (Am. Compl., ECF No. 4,
32). The Proposed Second Amended Complaint,
however, omits this paragraph. The information contained therein, taken as true, lends plausibility
to Plaintiffs claims regarding a lack of probable cause.
The omission of this paragraph,
inadvertent or otherwise, raises questions regarding the plausibility of Plaintiffs claims. The
answers may be simple, or perhaps the omission of paragraph 32 was unintentional. In any event,
the Court should not have to speculate. Accordingly, this Court is constrained to deny Plaintiffs
b. The Criminal Proceeding was Dismissed in Plaintiff's Favor
Defendant also argues that "plaintiff fails to show that the dismissal of his case was based
upon his innocence." (Def. Opp., ECF No. 11, at 2). To begin, the standard is not one of
innocence, but rather "the criminal proceeding ended in [Plaintiffs] favor[.]" Johnson, 477 F.3d
at 82. Also, contrary to Defendant's argument, Plaintiff, at this stage, need not show that dismissal
was based upon his innocence. As stated above, Plaintiffs proposed Second Amended Complaint
need only contain enough facts to allow this Court to draw a reasonable inference for a claim for
Plaintiff includes enough facts to allow this Court to plausibly infer that the criminal
proceeding ended in his favor. Plaintiff alleges that the "indictment was dismissed with prejudice
on a motion by the State" given the lack of "substantial proof'. (Proposed Second Am. Compl.,
ECF No. 11-1, ~ 35). Accepting these facts as true, this Court finds that Plaintiff has pied enough
facts to satisfy the plausibility requirement on this issue.
Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint, (ECF
No. 11), is DENIED without prejudice to the refiling thereof to account for the omission of
paragraph 32. 2 An appropriate form of Order accompanies this Opinion.
Hon. Jose L. Linares, U.S.D.J.
This Court has considered allowing supplemental briefing on this issue. Such procedure,
however, runs the risk of allowing a defective Complaint to go forward. Controlling precedent
requires the Complaint itself to be plausible, not the briefing on the Complaint.
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