DIXON v. BONILLA et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 12/27/16. (DD, ) N/M
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 16-3 146 (KM) (MAll)
DET. JUAN BONILLA, et aL,
KEVIN MCNULTY. U.S.D.J.
The plaintiff, Dashawn Dixon, is a pretrial detainee at the Middlesex County Jail. He is
proceedingpro se with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
At this time, this Court must screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
and 1915A 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 suit. For the following reasons, the complaint will be dismissed
in part, but permitted to proceed in part.
The allegations of the complaint are construed as true for purposes of this screening
Opinion. The complaint names three defendants: (1) Detective Juan Bonilla; (2) Woodbridge
Police Department; and (3) the State of New Jersey.
Mr. Dixon alleges that Bonilla arrested him on warrants that was never signed by any
court official. Copies of the warrants are attached to the complaint. The warrants indicate that
Mr. Dixon was arrested in February 2016 on charges relating to weapons and receipt of stolen
property. Bonilla was the officer who certified that the statements in the warrant were true. Mr.
Dixon also alleges that Bonilla seized his celiphone and his girlfriend’s automobile.
Mr. Dixon seeks the return of the property seized, a dismissal of the criminal charges
against him, and his immediate release. In a document filed after he submitted his complaint, Mr.
Dixon also states that he is seeking monetary damages from the defendants.
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C.
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 or the
District of columbia, 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, except that in any action brought against a
judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s
judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was
Thus, to state a claim for relief under
1983, a plaintiff must allege first, the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and second, that the alleged deprivation
was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See Harvey v. Plains Twp.
Police Dep’t, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. 104-134,
801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66
to 1321-77 (Apr. 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil
actions in which a prisoner is proceeding informa pauperis, see 28 U .S.C.
seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C.
1915A(b), or brings a
claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C.
1997e. 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. See 28 U.S.C.
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28
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 42 U.S.C.
1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v. United States, 287 F.
App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C.
1915A(b)). That standard is set forth in
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twonthly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
as explicated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. To survive the court’s
screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege ‘sufficient factual matter’ to
show that the claim is facially plausible. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 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. Dempsler, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “[Al pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’ “Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
Pro se pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519 (1972). Nevertheless, ‘pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to
support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation
A. Deprivation of Property
Mr. Dixon argues in part that the defendants are liable to him under
§ 1983 for depriving
him of his celiphone and his girlfriend’s automobile. Issues of standing with respect to the
deprivation of his girlfriend’s automobile aside, Mr. Dixon fails to state a constitutional claim
with respect to this deprivation of property. Indeed:
An unauthorized deprivation of property by a state actor, whether
intentional or negligent, does not constitute a violation of the
procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful post-deprivation remedy
for the loss is available. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 530—36
(1984); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 543—44 (1981), overruled
in part on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328
(1986). In Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 435—36
(1982), the Supreme Court explained, however, that postdeprivation remedies do not satisfy the Due Process Clause if the
deprivation of property is accomplished pursuant to established
state procedure rather than through random, unauthorized action.
Stokes v. Lanigan, No. 12—1478, 2012 WL 4662487, at *4 (D.N.J. Oct. 2, 2012). New Jersey
provides a post-deprivation remedy for unauthorized deprivation of property by public
employees through the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J. STAT. ANN.
§ 59:1—1, et seq. Because a
meaningful post-deprivation remedy is available, Mr. Dixon has failed to state a due process
claim against the defendants with respect to the purported taking of his cell phone and
girlfriend’s automobile. Therefore, this claim will be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state
a claim upon which relief may be granted.
B. Dismissal of Criminal Charges/Release from Custody
Mr. Dixon also requests the dismissal of the criminal charges against him and/or his
immediate release from custody. A person may not obtain equitable relief under
release from confinement. See Preiser v. Rodriguez 411 U.S. 475 (1973); Wo(ffv. McDonnell,
418 U.S. 539, 554 (1974). When a person in custody is “challenging the very fact or duration of
his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to
immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ
of habeas corpus.” Preiser, 411 U.S. at 500. If an equitable remedy were available under
for a person challenging the fact or duration of his confinement, then that person could evade the
requirements contained in the federal habeas statutes, such as exhaustion of available state court
remedies, a one year statute of limitations, and severe restrictions on second or successive
petitions. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2244, 2254(b)(1), (c).
Therefore, to the extent that Mr. Dixon
requests the dismissal of his criminal charges and/or his immediate release, such a claim is
dismissed with prejudice.
C. Monetary Damages
As indicated above, Mr. Dixon filed a document after he submitted his complaint that
indicates that he is also seeking monetary damages from each of the defendants named in his
complaint. This Court will treat those claims as if they had been raised in the original complaint.
Each defendant will be analyzed separately.
State of New Jersey
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[t]he Judicial
power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity,
commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State, or by
Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. C0NsT. amend. XI. Accordingly, “[tjhe rule has
evolved that a suit by private parties seeking to impose liability which must be paid from public
finds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.” Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S.
651, 663 (1974). The Eleventh Amendment protects states and their agencies and departments
from suit in federal court regardless of the type of relief sought. See Shahin v. Delaware, 345
Fed.Appx. 815, 817 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Pennhurst Stale Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S.
89, 100 (1984)). Section 1983 does not override a state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity. See
Gromek v. Maenza, 614 F. App’x 42, 44 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Quern v Jordan, 440 U.S. 332,
The State of New Jersey is immune from a
1983 suit for monetary damages. Mr.
Dixon’s monetary damages claim will be dismissed with prejudice as against the STate.
Woodbridge Police Department
Mr. Dixon is also attempting to bring suit against the Woodbridge Police Department. In
a Section 1983 action, a municipality cannot be held vicariously liable for the acts of its officers
via respondeat superior. See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988).
Furthermore, the complaint fails to make any allegations of an unconstitutional policy or custom
that would create municipal liability under Monell v. Dep’t ofSocial Servs. New York City, 436
U.S. 658 (1978). See Hildebrand v. Allegheny Cnty., 757 F.3d 99, 110-11 (3d Cir. 2014)
(complaint must plead facts to support Monell liability); McTernan v. City of York, Pa., 564 F.3d
636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009) (stating to satisfy pleading standard for Monell claim, complaint ‘must
identify a custom or policy, and specify what exactly that custom or policy was’); Karmo v.
Borough ofDarby, No. 14-2797, 2014 WL 4763831, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 25, 2014) (same).
Accordingly, Mr. Dixon’s claim for monetary damages against the Woodbridge Police
Department will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted.
Detective Juan Bonilla
Mr. Dixon is brings an unlawful/false arrest claim against Det. Bonilla. “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) (citing Groman v. Twp. ofManalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d
Cir. 1995); Dowling v. City ofPhila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)). “Probable cause to
arrest exists when the facts and the circumstances within the arresting officer’s knowledge are
sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been or is
being committed by the person to be arrested.” Merkie v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d
782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir.
1995)); see also Minatee v. Phila. Police Dep’t, 502 F. App’x 225, 228 (3d Cir. 2012) (citation
omitted). The arresting officer must only reasonably believe at the time of the arrest that an
offense is being committed, a significantly lower burden than proving guilt at trial. See Wright v.
City ofPhila., 409 F.3d 595, 602 (3d Cir. 2005); see also Minatee, 502 F. App’x at 228 (citation
omitted). Immunity is generally extended to “an officer who makes an arrest based on an
objectively reasonable belief that there is a valid warrant.” Adams v. OffIcer Eric Selhorst, 449 F.
App’x 198, 202 (3d Cir. 201 1) (citing Bergv. Cnty. ofAllegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 273 (3d Cir.
2000)). However, “an apparently valid warrant does not render an officer immune from suit if his
reliance on it is unreasonable in light of the relevant circumstances.” Id (citing Berg, 219 F.3d at
Mr. Dixon states that he was arrested based on warrants that were not signed by any
judicial officer. He attaches copies of the warrants to his complaint, and these copies do not
include a signature from a judicial officer. Once originals are obtained, the matter will probably
be cleared up one way or the other. An arrest based on a warrant that did not in fact issue from,
and was not signed by, a judicial officer, could be found unreasonable. Under these
circumstances, and in light of the early stage of this litigation, I will permit the Mr. Dixon’s
unlawful/false arrest claim, as against Det. Bonilla only, to proceed past screening.
For the foregoing reasons, Mr. Dixon’s claims for relief for return of property as well as
the dismissal of his criminal charges and/or immediate release are dismissed with prejudice for
failure to state a claim. Mr. Dixon’s claim for monetary damages against the State of New Jersey
is dismissed because the State is immune and is not a “person” for purposes of § 1983. Mr.
Dixon’s monetary damage claim against the Woodbridge Police Department is dismissed
without prejudice for failure to state a claim of vicarious liability upon which relief may be
granted. Mr. Dixon’s unlawful/false arrest claim for monetary damages against Bonilla will be
permitted to proceed past screening. An appropriate order will be entered.
DATED: December 27, 2016
United States District J d
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