MCNAMARA v. BUEHLER et al
OPINION fld. Signed by Judge Madeline C. Arleo on 7/13/16. (sr, ) (N/M)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 16-0841 (MCA)
LT. SCOTT BUEHLER, et al.,
ARLEO, United States District Judge:
This matter having been opened to the Court by Plaintiff’s filing of a Complaint pursuant
to 42 U.S.C.
1983 and an application to proceed informapauperis (“IFP”). The Court grants
Plaintiff’s IFP application. Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that the Defendants violated his civil
rights in connection with his arrest and subsequent prosecution for Burglary. At this time, the
Court must review the Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
191 5(e)(2) and l9l5A, to determine
whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief. For the reasons expressed in this Opinion, the Complaint shall proceed in part and be
dismissed in part at this time.
Plaintiff’s pro se Complaint, which is dated February 3, 2016, is not a model of clarity but
appears to allege that on April 21, 2010, Lt. Scott Buehler, Det. Joseph Anderson, and Det. C.
Cunningham planted a pair of gloves in the backyard of a burglarized residence in Montclair in
an attempt to frame Plaintiff. He further alleges that on the same date, “Lt. Buehler led Det.
Anderson to believe that the planted gloves contained.. Plaintiff’s DNA.” Id. at page 5.) On
the same date, Defendant Anderson allegedly committed perjury to obtain a warrant to arrest
According to the Complaint and attached exhibits, a lab report performed in August 2010
determined that no conclusion could be reached as to whether Plaintiff was a possible contributor
to the DNA found on the gloves. (Id at 5, 9; see also ECF No. 1-1, at 3.) Plaintiff appears to
allege that this lab report was not provided to him until years later. (Id.) The Complaint further
alleges that in January or February of 2013, Assistant Prosecutor Kenneth Strait withheld the
allegedly exculpatory lab report from Plaintiff in an effort to get Plaintiff to accept a guilty plea.
(Id at 8.) The Complaint states that the report was not included until Plaintiff “voiced a strong
objection at a video conference in Feb[ruaryj of 2013.” (Id.) Plaintiff’s lawyers were
subsequently provided with the lab report. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that in March 2015, he “was
vindicated” of the charges, but provides no other details.
Plaintiff has also attached to his Complaint a document entitled “Case Data Sheet,” which
contains several entries related to the gloves, including the following entry: “On 8/23/20 10, I
received a DNA lab report letter from the Hamilton, N.J. Lab, stating, “No conclusion could be
reached concerning a possible contributor to the DNA profile(s) obtained from the specimen(s)
examined.” (ECF No. 1-I, at page 1.) The report is signed by Detective William V. Coad, who
is named as a Defendant in this action.
(Id.) The Complaint alleges that Defendant Coad,
“knowing [Plaintiff] was vindicated of the false charges in March 2015[,J filed the case as solved
and a match to [Plaintiff] in the N.J.S.P. Codis Casework DNA Data Exchange.” (ECF No. 1,
Compi. at 7.)
The Complaint also states that “[t]he Township of Montclair, N.J. employed the
Defendants. As such, Montclair failed to screen, train, and properly supervise them.” (ECF No.
1, Compi. at page 8.) Plaintiff seeks damages from each Defendant for the alleged violations of
his constitutional rights. (idatgç6.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under the PLRA, district courts must review complaints in those civil actions in which a
person is proceeding informa pauperis, 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 Allah 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)(1)); 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.
191 5A. When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 2(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 Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678).
Hewlett Packard Inc., No. 14-4699 (RBK!KMW), 2015 WL 6560645, at *2 (D.N.J. 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 Ma/a 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’x 111, 113 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Bistrian v. Levi, 696
F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012)). Furthermore, “[ljiberal 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, “[ejven 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
Mi/house v. Car/son, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981)).
ANALYSIS OF PLAINTIFF’S
The Court construes Plaintiff to raise several claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
state a claim under
1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant, through conduct sanctioned
under the color of state law, deprived [him or] her of a federal constitutional or statutory right.”
Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir. 2000). Plaintifrs Amended Complaint alleges
claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, conspiracy, and malicious prosecution against the
individual Defendants in connection with his arrest and prosecution for the 2010 burglary.
Petitioner also attempts to allege a Monell claim against the Township of Montclair. The Court
addresses each of these claims in turn.
It appears from the face of the Complaint that Plaintiff’s false arrest and false
imprisonment claims arising from his arrest on Burglary charges in 2010 are time barred. The
state statute of limitations for personal injury actions applies to all Section 1983 claims. Wilson
v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 280 (1985). In New Jersey, the applicable statute of limitations period
is two years. Cito v. Bridgewater Twp. Police Dept., 892 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1989); see
N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2 (New Jersey statute of limitations of 2 years for “actions for injury to persons
by wrongful action,”). Although the statute of limitations period is borrowed from the law of the
forum state, federal law governs the accrual of such an action. Wiltz v. Middlesex County Office
ofProsecutor, 2006 WL 1966654, at *4 (D.N.J. Jul. 12, 2006) (citations omitted).
“To state a claim for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must establish:
(1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was made without probable cause.” James v.
City of Wilkes—Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 680 (3d Cir. 2012). The Supreme Court has determined that
for claims of unlawful arrest, the “statute begins to run at the time the claimant becomes detained
pursuant to legal process.” Wallace v. Kato 549 U.S. 384, 397 (2007); Dique v. New Jersey State
Police, 603 F.3d 181, 188 (3d Cir. 2010). A claim of false arrest, and the accompanying claim
for false imprisonment, begins to accrue immediately upon the arrest at issue. Wallace, 549 U.S.
at 389—90 & n. 3; Singleton v. DA Philadelphia, 411 F. App’x 470, 472 (3d Cir. 2011) (ruling
that accrual of a claim for false arrest occurred on the date that the plaintiff “was arrested and
charges were filed against him”); Alexander v. Fletcher, 367 F. App’x 289, 290—91 (3d Cir.
2010) (affirming the district court’s conclusion that a
1983 false arrest claim began to accrue on
the date of arrest). Nevertheless, while the claim accrues upon arrest, the statute of limitations
does not begin to run at the same time. Instead, the statute of limitations for a false
pursuant to legal process,” i.e., is arraigned. Alexander v. Fletcher, 367 F. App’x at 290 n. 2
(citing Wallace, 549 U.S. at 3 89-90). Here, Plaintiff’s
1983 claims premised on his false arrest
and/or false imprisonment in 2010 are time barred because they accrued, at the latest, at the time
he was arraigned on the robbery charges, which was more than two years before he brought the
instant Complaint, dated February 3, 2016. As such, the Court will dismiss without prejudice the
claims for false arrest and false imprisonment as time barred.
Plaintiff claims that the Defendants conspired to falsely arrest and imprison him by
planting the gloves are likewise time barred. “To demonstrate a conspiracy under
plaintiff must show that two or more conspirators reached an agreement to deprive him or her of
a constitutional right ‘under color of law.” Parkway Garage, Inc. v. City ofPhila., 5 F.3d 685,
700 (3d Cir. 1993), abrogated on other grounds by UnitedArtists Theatre Circuit, Inc. v. Twp. of
Warrington, 316 F.3d 392 (3d Cir. 2003). Plaintiff’s allegations of conspiracy, however, do not
preserve claims that are otherwise time barred, because a civil conspiracy cause of action accrues
at the time of each overt act challenged. See Wells v. Rockefeller, 728 F.2d 209, 217 (3d Cir.
Sandutch v. Muroski, 684 F.2d 252, 254 (3d Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (with regard to a
claim alleging a conspiracy to secure false testimony, contemporaneous knowledge of false
testimony led to accrual of cause of action, even if the plaintiff “may not have known all the
facts necessary” to establish a conspiracy). Thus, to the extent that the Plaintiff wishes to “revive
time-barred injuries” through allegations of conspiracy, he may not do so. Wells, 728 F.2d at
217; see also Graffv. Kohiman, 28 F. App’x 151, 154 (3d Cir. 2002) (rejecting the contention
that later conduct “establishe[dJ a ‘continuing conspiracy’ against [the plaintiff] that makes his
April 4, 1999 filing timely” for harms dating from 1992 and 1993). As such, conspiracy claims
b. Malicious Prosecution
Plaintiff also appears to allege that he was maliciously prosecuted. Unlike false arrest
and false imprisonment, the statute of limitations for a malicious prosecution claim under Section
1983 accrues on the day that the criminal proceedings against a plaintiff are terminated in his or
her favor. Torres v. McLaughlin, 163 F.3d 169, 177 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Kossler v. Crisanti,
564 F.3d 181, 186—87 (3d Cir. 2009); see also Ginter v. Skahill, 298 F. App’x. 161, 163 (3d Cir.
2008) (“When false arrest is the basis of the
1983 action, the statute of limitations normally
begins to run at the time of arrest. Claims alleging malicious prosecution do not accrue until
charges are dismissed.”)(citing Montgomery v. DeSimone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir. 1998) and
Smith v. Holtz, 87 F.3d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1996)) (internal quotations omitted). As such,
Plaintiff’s claim for malicious prosecution did not accrue until he the charges were dismissed,
which, according to his Amended Complaint, occurred in March 2015. (See ECF No. 1, Compi.
at page 9.)
A claim for malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment has the
following elements: “(1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal
proceeding ended in the plaintiffs 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 a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a
consequence of a legal proceeding.” DiBella v. Borough ofBeachwood, 407 F.3d 599, 601 (3d
Cir. 2005) (citing Estate ofSmith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 521 (3d Cir. 2003)). The Court has
reviewed the allegations in the Complaint and finds that Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to
permit the malicious pecution claim
Inst Li. ScottBiiebkr,J)etioseph Andersnn, nd
Det. C. Cunningham to proceed at this time.
The Court, however, will dismiss with prejudice the malicious prosecution claim against
Assistant Prosecutor Kenneth Strait. A state prosecuting attorney who acts within the scope of
his or her duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution is not amenable to suit for
1983. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 410, 430-31 (1976) (“[Ijn
initiating a prosecution and presenting the State’s case, the prosecutor is immune from a civil suit
for damages under
1983” and actions relating to the initiation and prosecution of a criminal
matter); see also Arsadv. Means. 365 F. App’x 327, 329 (3d Cir. 2010) (per curiam); Clarkv.
Capaldi-Corsi, Civ. No. 14-2 142 RBK, 2015 WL 1541919, at *4 (D.N.J. Mar. 31, 2015).
Here, Plaintiff alleges that Assistant Prosecutor Kenneth Strait committed a Brady
violation in an effort to induce Plaintiff to plead guilty. (See ECF No. 1, Compl. at page 8.) It is
well established, however, that a prosecutor’s failure to comply with Brady is a prosecutorial act
entitled to absolute immunity. See e.g. Gibson v. Superintendent ofNJ Dep’t ofLaw & Pub.
Safety-Division ofState Police, 411 F.3d 427, 444 (3d Cir. 2005) (finding that the prosecutors
would have been immune from suit for Brady violation had they been so named); Gibbs v.
Deckers, 234 F.Supp.2d 458, 462-63 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (holding that concealment of exculpatory
evidence is protected by prosecutorial immunity); Roberts v. Toal, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1492,
at *8..*9 (E.D. Pa. 1995) (holding that absolute immunity protects prosecutor from decision not
to release rape kit for DNA testing). The “handling of evidence is clearly within the sweep of
‘initiating and presenting the State’s case’, and the prosecutor is immune from section 1983
liability for such decisions.” Henderson v. Fisher, 631 F.2d 1115, 1120 (3d Cir. 1980) (quoting
Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431). It is when prosecutors are performing their administrative or
yçtiajve dutiesthcot that ualifidinamunity pplies. Donahue v. Gavin, 280 F.3d
371, 377 (3d Cir.2002). As such, the Court will dismiss with prejudice the malicious prosecution
claims against Defendant Strait on the basis of prosecutorial immunity.
Claims Against Defendant Coad
The Court will also dismiss without prejudice the
1983 claims against Defendant Coad
because the facts alleged in the Complaint as to this Defendant do not suggest that his conduct
violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Coad “knowing [that
Plaintiff] was vindicated of the false charges in March 2015 [nevertheless] filed the case as
solved and a match to [Plaintiff] in the N,J.S.P. Codis Casework DNA Data Exchange.” (ECF
No. 1, Compi. at 7.) It appears from the exhibits attached to Plaintiff’s Complaint that Defendant
Coad electronically signed the document entitled “Case Data Sheet” and indicated in an entry on
August 23, 2010, that he had received a DNA lab report that stated that no conclusion could be
reached regarding whether Plaintiff was a possible contributor to the DNA profiles obtained
from the gloves. (ECF No. 1-1, at page 1.) Plaintiff has also attached to his Complaint a form
entitled “NJSP Codis Casework DNA Match Data Exchange,” which appears to have been sent
from Joseph Mignone to Monica Ghammam on October 28, 2015. (Id. at 2.) The bottom of the
document lists Defendant Coad’s name and contact information. (Id.) Even assuming that
Defendant Coad “filed the case as solved and a match to [Plaintiff] in the N.J.S.P. Codis
Casework DNA Data Exchange,” the Court cannot discern how that conduct violated Plaintiff’s
rights under 42 U.S.C.
1983, which requires a plaintiff to show that the defendant, through
conduct sanctioned under the color of state law, deprived [him or] her of a federal constitutional
or statutory right.” Gruenke, 225 F.3d at 298. As such, the Court will dismiss the claims against
Defendant Coad without prejudice.
d. Monel! Claim against the City of Montclair
The Court will also dismiss without prejudice the Monell claim against the City of
Montclair, which is based on an impermissible theory of respondeat superior.’ It is well
established that “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 municipality’s failure to adequately train its employees may give rise to a cause of action
1983 if the deficient training reflects a deliberate indifference to an individual’s civil
rights, and is “closely related to the ultimate injury.” Kline ex rel. Arndt v. Mansfield, 255 F.
App’x. 624, 629 (3d Cir, 2007) (citing City of Canion v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). The
Third Circuit Court of Appeals has noted that establishing municipal liability on a Monell claim
for inadequate training is difficult. Reitz v. County ofBucks, 125 F.3d 139, 145 (3d Cir. 1997).
Generally, deficient training can only amount to the requisite deliberate indifference “where the
failure to train has caused a pattern of violations.” Berg v. County ofAllegheny, 219 F.3d 261,
276 (3d Cir. 2000). A “failure to train” Monell claim may proceed absent a pattern of violations
if (1) a violation of federal rights may be a highly predictable consequence of a failure train
officials to handle recurrent situations; and (2) the likelihood of recurrence and predictability of
See Monell v. Department ofSocial Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
the violation of a citizen rights “could justify a finding that [the) policymakers decision not to
train an officer reflected ‘deliberate indifference’ to the obvious consequence of the
policymakers’ choice—namely, a violation of a specific constitutional or statutory right.” Kline,
255 F. pp’x. at
CjrnmissJrniersofRryan County v Brown, 520
U.S. 397, 409 (1997)). Here, Plaintiff simply states that “[tjhe Township of Montclair, N.J.
employed the Defendants. As such, Montclair failed to screen, train, and properly supervise
them.” (ECF No. 1, Compi. at page 8.) Plaintiff’s allegations fail to make out a cognizable
Moneil claim, and this claim and Defendant City of Montclair is dismissed without prejudice.
For the reasons explained in this Opinion, Plaintiff’s false arrest and false imprisonment
claims are dismissed without prejudice as time barred. His conspiracy claim in connection with
his false arrest and false imprisonment claim is likewise dismissed without prejudice as time
barred. The malicious prosecution claim shall proceed at this time against Defendants Lt. Scott
Buehler. Det. Joseph Anderson, and Det. C. Cunningham. The malicious prosecution claim is
dismissed with prejudice as to Defendant Assistant Prosecutor Kenneth Strait on the basis of
prosecutorial immunity. The Complaint is dismissed without prejudice as to Defendant Coad
and the City of Montclair for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B). With
respect to the claims dismissed without prejudice, Plaintiff may seek to amend his Complaint in
compliance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 15.2 An appropriate Order follows.
After submitting his Complaint, Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at Union County
Jail, also submitted a letter that appears to be directed to the Warden at the Union County Jail. In
that letter, Plaintiff appears to state that he is being held on new Burglary charges and that the
State contends that it has Plaintiff’s DNA at the Burglary scene and that the DNA is also a match
to the DNA in the Codis Casework DNA Data Exchange for the 2010 Burglary in Montclair.
Plaintiffs letter also references the instant lawsuit and appears to raise additional claims related
to his incarceration at Union County Jail, including a request for “access to the courts.” (ECF
Madeline Cox Arleo, U.S.D.J.
No. 3.) The Court does not construe this letter as an amended and/or supplemental complaint.
To the extent Plaintiff seeks to amend his Complaint, he must submit an Amended Complaint
that complies with the Federal and Local Civil Rules.
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