GUTIERREZ v. PASSAIC COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Jose L. Linares on 3/2/17. (cm )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No.: 16-05392 (JLL)
PASSAIC COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEP’T, et
LINARES, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court by way of two motions to dismiss Plaintiff’s
(ECF Nos. 19, 36).’
Defendants City of Paterson and City of Paterson Police
Department (collectively, “Paterson”) moved for dismissal on December 22, 2016. (ECF No. 19).
Defendant City of Newark (“Newark”) moved for dismissal on January 10, 2017. (ECF No. 36).
Plaintiff has opposed these motions, (ECF Nos. 41, 42) and Defendants have replied to Plaintiff’s
opposition (ECF Nos. 44, 48). The Court decides these motions without oral argument pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7$. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the Moving
Defendants’ motions to dismiss the Complaint as against the Moving Defendants.
Currently pending on the Court’s docket is a motion to dismiss filed on behalf of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security (“ICE”) on January 13, 2017. (ECF
No. 37). Since the filing of said motion to dismiss, ICE has been dismissed from this action. (See
ECF Nos. 52, 53). Accordingly, the Court administratively terminates the motion to dismiss filed
Plaintiff Victor Gutierrez is a New Jersey resident, residing in Jersey City. (ECF No. 1,
Compi. ¶4). This action arises out of two separate incidents, the first occurring on March 1,2014
and the second occurring on february 14, 2015, during which Plaintiff was arrested and detained
by various law enforcement agencies after having been mistaken for another individual with the
same name. (Id.
14, 43). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges the following.
On or about February 14, 2015, Plaintiff was preparing to board a flight at Newark Airport.
14-15). However, prior to boarding said flight, Plaintiff alleges that he was “unlawfully
detained, without probable cause, by various law enforcement agencies, including, but not limited
to, Defendants [ICE], City of Newark Police Department, and/or Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey.” (Id.
16). Plaintiff alleges that the aforesaid Defendants mistakenly believed
Plaintiff to be another individual by the same name (hereinafter “VG”) who was the subject of an
arrest warrant. (Id.
18). At the time of his arrest, Plaintiff provided proof to law enforcement,
by way of official court documents, that he was not, in fact, VZ. (Id.
Plaintiff alleges that
law enforcement “knowingly ignored the documentation and continued to arrest, detain, and
remove Plaintiff’ in front of numerous bystanders. (Id.
22). Plaintiff was initially taken
into custody and handcuffed to a bench in the Newark Terminal. (Id.
Plaintiff alleges that thereafter, he was “turned over to the Defendants Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey and/or the City of Newark Police Department” and that he was then
escorted to Port Authority headquarters. (Id.
hours at the Port Authority Police Department. (Id.
27). Plaintiff was initially detained for two
According to Plaintiff, “Defendants
Passaic County Sheriffs Department and/or the City of Paterson Police Department” were notified
of his arrest. (Id.
Thereafter, the Passaic County Defendants “in concert with Defendants
City of Paterson and City of Paterson Police Officers John and Jane Does Police Officers 11-15
took custody of Plaintiff,” who was then booked by a Passaic County Sheriffs Officer. (Id.
Plaintiff remained at the Passaic County Jail for four and a half days. (Id. ¶ 34). During this period
of incarceration, the Passaic Defendants allegedly advised Plaintiffs counsel that they knew that
Plaintiff was not VG. (Id.
¶ 35). According to Plaintiff, “despite knowing that [he] was not subject
to any arrest warrant, Defendants would not release [him] from the Passaic County Jail.” (Id.
36). Further, Plaintiff alleges that the Passaic County Sheriffs Department has admitted that
Plaintiffs arrest and detention was “in error.” (Id.
According to Plaintiff, this was not the first time he was mistaken for VG by law
That is, Plaintiff alleges that on or about March 1, 2014, he was detained by
Defendant Passaic County Sheriffs Department “as a result of identical facts.” (Id. ¶ 43). Plaintiff
was incarcerated for one and a half days before he was released in conjunction with the March
¶ 44). At court proceedings before the Honorable Randal C. Chiocca, J.S.C. on or
about July 14, 2014, a Passaic County Assistant Prosecutor confirmed that Plaintiffs fingerprints
did not match those of VG, who was indicted in 2003. (Id.
¶ 48). The Assistant Prosecutor
therefore confirnied that Plaintiff was not, in fact, VG. (Id. ¶ 49). The Assistant Prosecutor “asked
the Court to reinstate the bench warrant but did so with the correct SBI number for the 2003 arrest”
of VG. (Id.
In response to concerns that Plaintiff was likely to again be mistaken for VG and re
arrested, the Court provided Plaintiff with documentation which he could provide to law
The State of New Jersey, New Jersey State Police define “SB1 Number” as a “State Bureau of
Identification number” that “is a unique number assigned by the NJ State Bureau of Identification
for use in identifying all criminal and non-criminal fingerprints kept on file within the bureau.”
https ://www.njportal. corn/nj sp/criminalrecords/Support/Help aspx
enforcement to prove that he is not the individual against whom a bench warrant had been issued.
¶ 53). This documentation is the same documentation that Plaintiff attempted to provide to
law enforcement at the time of his February 14, 2015 arrest.
Against this backdrop, on September 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit against a
number of law enforcement agents and agencies and public entities. Generally, Plaintiff alleges
that “there is no system in place that checks, mitigates or eliminates the risk that incorrectly,
illegally, or falsely issued warrants will result in arrest despite knowledge of illegality or falsity of
the warrants themselves.” (Id.
pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
¶ 54). Plaintiff asserts claims for violation of his civil rights
§ 1983 (Counts One through Four, Seven and Eight), intentional infliction
of emotional distress (Count Five), negligence (Count Six) and respondeat superior (Count Nine).
The Paterson Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on December 22, 2016 (ECF No.
19, “Paterson Mov. Br.”), Plaintiff opposed that motion on January 18, 2017 (ECF No. 41, “Pl.’s
Paterson Opp.”), and the Paterson Defendants replied to Plaintiffs opposition on January 30, 2017
(ECF No. 48, “Paterson Reply Br.”).3 The City of Newark moved to dismiss the complaint on
January 10, 2017 (ECF No. 36, “Newark Mov. Br.”), and that motion is likewise fully briefed.
Plaintiff has named the City of Paterson and the Paterson Police Department as Defendants in
this action. Plaintiff has also named the Newark Police Department as a Defendant; however,
Plaintiff has not named the City of Newark as a Defendant. The Paterson Defendants argue, and
Plaintiff concedes, that dismissal of the Paterson Police Department is appropriate, as the Paterson
Police Department is not a separate entity from the City of Paterson. (ECF No. 41, “P1.’s Paterson
Opp. Br.” at 5, citing N.J.$.A. 40A:14-l 18); see, e.g., Padila v. Township of Cheriy Hill, 110 Fed
App’x 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004) (finding that dismissal of § 1983 claims against defendant Police
Department was warranted “[b]ecause the Police Department is merely an arm of the Township”);
Adams v. City of camden, 461 F. Supp. 2d 263, 265 (D.N.J. 2006) (granting judgment as a matter
of law in favor of a New Jersey municipal police department because “[i]n New Jersey a municipal
police department is not an entity separate from the municipality.”). Accordingly, the Paterson
Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Paterson Police Department from this action is granted, and the
Paterson Police Department is dismissed with prejudice.
(See ECF Nos. 44, “P1.’s Newark
Opp.”;45, “Newark Reply Br.”).4
These motions are now ripe
for the Court’s adjudication.
For a complaint to survive dismissal, it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 62, 678
(2009) (citing Bell Ati. Corp. v. Twomblv, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
In determining the
sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the
complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Phillips
v. Cnty. ofAllegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). Additionally, in evaluating a plaintiffs
claims, generally “a court looks only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments
without reference to other parts of the record.” Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O’Brien & Frankel, 20
F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).
Counts One through Four, Seven and Eight
In Counts One through Four and Counts Seven and Eight of the Complaint, Plaintiff
purports to allege claims against all Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for violations of his
civil rights. (Compi. at 10-18, 22-30). Both Moving Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs
claims under Section 1983.
Although the City of Newark is not named as a Defendant, Corporation Counsel for the City of
Newark has noted that Defendant City of Newark was improperly pled as the Newark Police
Department. Plaintiff does not appear to dispute this statement. Accordingly, and for the reasons
discussed, infra in footnote 1, hereinafter, the Court construes all allegations against the Newark
Police Department as having been asserted against the City of Newark.
A plaintiff may assert a claim under Section 1983 against a municipality only upon alleging
that the municipality has a policy or custom which causes a particular constitutional violation. See
Monet! v. Dept. ofSoc. Servs. of City ofNew York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). “A policy or custom
may also exist where ‘the policymaker has failed to act affirmatively at all, [though] the need to
take some action to control the agents of the government ‘is so obvious, and the inadequacy of
existing practice so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymaker
can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.” Natale v. Camden
County Correctional facility, 318 f.3d 575, 584 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Board of County Com ‘rs
ofBiyan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 417-418 (1997)).
At the outset, the Court notes that separate and apart from Plaintiffs pleadings with respect
to Monet! liability, Plaintiffs claims under Section 1983 fail to meet the threshold pleading
requirements outlined in federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under that Rule, a pleading must
contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Here, although Plaintiff purports to bring claims under Section 1983
against both Moving Defendants, among others, Plaintiff has failed to plead particular facts as
against these Defendants. That is, Plaintiffs Complaint fails to differentiate between the conduct
of the dozen or so Defendants named in this action. (See Newark Mov. Br. at 9). In the absence
of more particularized allegations, the Court, and presumably the Defendants, have great difficulty
in analyzing Plaintifrs claims under Monet! vis a vis these Moving Defendants.
for his part, Plaintiff maintains that he has sufficiently pled a municipal policy or custom
because: (1) he pled that the february 2015 arrest was “not the first time Plaintiff has been held
captive without probable cause,” and; (2) that Plaintiff pled “that Defendants failed to have a
system in place that checks against second or subsequent unconstitutional seizures despite
knowledge of the falsity of the warrants themselves.” (Pl.’s Paterson Opp. at 13-15). Stated
differently, Plaintiff argues that Defendants were deliberately indifferent in failing to prevent his
second arrest. (Pl.’s Newark
Op. at 12).
Plaintiff’s claim for Monell liability presupposes that the Moving Defendants had
knowledge of Defendant’s first arrest. As Paterson points out, however, Plaintiff has not pled that
the City of Paterson was in any way involved in Plaintiff’s first arrest in March 2014. (Paterson
Reply Br. at 3). Rather, in a section of his Complaint entitled “F actual Basis Common to All
Claims,” Plaintiff alleges that with respect to the March 2014 arrest, he was detained by Defendant
Passaic County Sheriffs Department. (Cornpl.
¶ 43). Plaintiff does not allege any specific actions
taken by Paterson or Newark with respect to the March 2014 arrest. That is, Plaintiff has not pled
that he was detained in or by the Cities of Paterson or Newark or their respective Police
Departments on March 1, 2014. In fact, Plaintiff provides limited information with respect to the
circumstances surrounding his first arrest, other than to say that the 2014 arrest was “as a result of
identical facts,” presumably to his second arrest.5
Plaintiff has failed to provide any factual allegations to support an inference that the Cities
of Newark or Paterson were or should have been aware of his March 2014 erroneous arrest—an
arrest which was effectuated by the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department. (Id.
¶ 43). Plaintiff
cannot reasonably argue that the Moving Defendants had a policy or custom in place in which they
failed to prevent repeated arrests where Plaintiff has not even sufficiently pled that the
municipalities had knowledge of the first wrongful arrest.6
The Court declines to make any assumptions or inferences as to what the “identical facts” were
that resulted in Plaintiff’s 2014 arrest.
Plaintiff does summarily allege that the Moving Defendants, among others, “knew or should have
known that [Plaintiffi was detained and taken into custody erroneously.” (Id. ¶ 57). However, it
As Plaintiffs claims under Section 1983 fail to comply with Rule 8(a) as to the Moving
Defendants, and because Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently plead Moneti liability, Counts One
through Four and Counts Seven and Eight of the Complaint are hereby dismissed as against
Paterson and Newark.
The Moving Defendants seeks dismissal of Count five of Plaintiffs Complaint, which
asserts a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“lIED”). (Paterson Mov. Br. at 8;
Newark Mov. Br. at 4-5). Among other arguments that the Court need not address, Paterson
maintains that municipalities “cannot be held liable for [their] employees’ intentional conduct.”
(Paterson Mov. Br. at 11).
“Under New Jersey law, to prevail on a common law cause of action for intentional
infliction of emotional distress, ‘[t]he plaintiff must establish intentional [or reckless] and
outrageous conduct by the defendant, proximate cause, and distress that is severe.’” Fidanzato v.
Somerset, 1 1-cv-5 132 (FLW), 2012 WL 450800$, at *11 (D.N.J. Sept. 2$, 2012) (quoting Bttckley
v. Trenton Saving Fund Socy, 111 N.J. 355, 366 (N.J. 198$)). A “defendant must intend both to
do the act and to produce emotional distress.” Buckley, 111 N.J. at 366. Additionally, “the
defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous,” and “the emotional distress suffered by the
plaintiff must be so severe that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.” Id. at 366-67
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
Under N.J.S.A.59:2-10, a public entity cannot be held liable for the willful misconduct of
its employees. N.J.S.A. 59:2-10 states: “A public entity is not liable for the acts or omissions of a
is unclear whether this allegation is in reference to the first or second arrest, and, in any event, the
allegations is not supported by any facts.
public employee constituting a crime, actual fraud, actual malice, or willful misconduct.”
McGovern v. City ofJersey City, 98-cv-5186 (JLL), 2006 WL 42236, *15 (D.N.J. Jan. 6, 2006)
(granting summary judgment in defendant municipality’s favor on intentional infliction of
emotional distress claim pursuant to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act).
Plaintiff contends that he can prove his TIED claim pursuant to either intentional or reckless
conduct, and that therefore, his claim does not fall within the purview of the New Jersey Tort
Claims Act’s proscriptions. (Pl.’s Paterson app, at 8). Plaintiff is correct that a Plaintiff may
succeed on his TIED claim by proving recklessness. See, e.g., Buckley, 111 N.J. at 361. That is,
“liability [for TIED] will also attach when the defendant acts recklessly in deliberate disregard of
a high degree of probability that emotional distress will follow.” Id. However, Plaintiff has not
cited to any case law to support his position that a public entity may be liable for TIED premised
upon reckless, as opposed to intentional conduct. Nor is the Court aware of any such cases. To
the contrary, Courts within this District have routinely held that municipalities cannot be held
liable for claims of TIED based upon the conduct of their employees. See Habaveb v. Btttler, No.
15-5 107, 2016 WL 1242763, at *7 (D.N.J. Mar. 29, 2016) (Rodriguez, J.) (collecting cases); see
also Kee v. Camden, 4-cv-0$42, 2006 WL 2827733, *6 (D.N.J. Sept. 28, 2006) (Sirnandle, J.)
(“Courts in this District have interpreted Section 59:2-10 of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act to bar
public entities from liability for claims of intentional torts, including claims for intentional
infliction of emotional distress.”).
For the above reasons, the Moving Defendants’ motion to dismiss Count Six of Plaintiffs
Complaint is hereby granted and Plaintiffs claim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
against Defendants Paterson and Newark is hereby dismissed with prejudice.
In Count Six, Plaintiff purports to assert claims against all Defendants for negligence.
¶J 81-84). Therein, Plaintiff summarily alleges that the Defendants, which include the
Moving Defendants, “were negligent in their performance and/or failure to perform duties
undertaken in the course of their employment, including, but not limited to failure to use due care
at or about the times of the aforementioned incident.” (Id.
¶ 82). Plaintiff further alleges that he
suffered physical, psychological, and emotional distress as a result of the Defendants’ “breach”
of the “duty to use due care.” (Id.
Newark argues, inter alia, that because Plaintiffs negligence claim is premised upon the
Defendants’ alleged negligence “in the course of their employment,” and because the City of
Newark, as an entity, cannot be said to be an “employee,” Plaintiffs negligence claim is
inapplicable as to Newark.
(Newark Mov. Br. at 11-12). In response, Plaintiff states that “[a]t
this stage, this Court must accept as true that Defendant itself as well as John and Jane Doe Police
Officers, as agent of Defendant, Complaint
¶ 10, were, at a minimum, negligent in breaching a
duty of care owned to Plaintiff.” (P1.’s Newark
Opp. at 7).
As explained above, Rule 8(a) requires that a complaint must be sufficiently pled so as to
place Defendants on notice of the allegations asserted them. Specifically, a pleading must contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R.
Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Here, because Plaintiffs negligence claim, as pled, is nonsensical as to Paterson
and Newark, the Court will grant both Moving Defendants’ motions to dismiss Count Six.
Moreover, Plaintiffs negligence claim does not survive dismissal merely because he has named
as Defendants “John and Jane Does Police Officers 1-20.” With respect to Plaintiffs negligence
claim, Plaintiff has not specified by which of the numerous law enforcement agencies implicated
in the complaint the unknown police officers are employed. Nor, for that matter, has Plaintiff
made any specific allegations of wrongdoing as against these unknown officers.
The Court notes that earlier in his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that in concert with
numerous other Defendants, and in the context of the february 2015 arrest, the Passaic Defendants
“and City of Paterson Police Officers John and Jane Does Police Officers 11-15 took custody of
and Plaintiff was booked by [a] Passaic County Sheriffs Officer.” (Compl.
Plaintiff also summarily alleges that “City of Paterson and City of Paterson Police Officers John
and Jane Doe Police Officers 11-15 had acknowledge knowledge that Plaintiff.
was not the
subject of the warrant, rendering the arrest and continued detention illegal and without probable
cause.” To the extent Plaintiff learns, through the course of discovery, the identity of these as yet
unknown Paterson Police Officers, and to the extent that Plaintiff is able to assert allegations
supported by fact as against same, Plaintiff may, of course, file the appropriate motion to amend
his Complaint. See fed. R. Civ. P. 15.
In Count Nine of the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks to hold numerous Defendants, including
the Moving Defendants, liable under a theory of respondeat superior. (Compl.
¶ 98-10 1). The
Moving Defendants correctly note that “[g]overnmental entities cannot be held liable under
Section 1983 for acts of their employees on a respondeat superior theory.” (Paterson Mov. Br. at
13; see also Newark Mov. Br. at 6). Because the law is clear that “a municipality cannot be held
§ 1983 on a respondeat superior theory,” Monelt, 436 U.S. at 691, the Court will
dismiss Count Nine of the Complaint as against the Moving Defendants.
In opposition, Plaintiff states that dismissal of Count Nine is “not the appropriate remedy
given that Count five (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress) and Count Six (Negligence)
are not rooted in the federal framework, but are common law torts.” (Pl.’s Paterson Op. at 9; Pl.’s
Newark Op. at 8). To the extent Plaintiff is arguing that Count Nine of his Complaint is not, in
fact, premised upon Section 1983 liability, that argument is belied by his second argument that
Count Nine should survive because he has properly pled a municipal policy or custom (i.e., Monelt
liability). (Pl.’s Paterson Opp. at 9). However, even if the Court were to construe Count Nine as
asserting respondeat superior claims against the municipality based upon claims of lIED and
negligence, dismissal would nevertheless be warranted because, as discussed above, the Court has
dismissed these claims as against the Moving Defendants.
For the reasons stated above, the Court grants the motions to dismiss filed on behalf of the
Cities of Newark and Paterson. An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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