FERRARA v. UNION COUNTY PROBATION DEPARTMENT et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Jose L. Linares on 03/22/2017. (ek)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No.: 16-9250 (JLL)
UNION COUNTY PROBATION, et al.,
LINARES, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendants State of New Jersey Judiciary,
Union Vicinage Probation Division (i/p/a “Union County Probation Department” and “Union
County Criminal Case Management”) (hereinafter referred to as “State Defendant”), Raymond
Reynolds, Christine Shalayda, James Mudrak, and Wendi Campbell’s (collectively referred to as
“Individual Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECf No. 4). Plaintiff has submitted Opposition to the
Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8), which Defendants have replied to. (ECF No. 9). The Court
decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Rule 7$ of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants State Defendants’ portion of the
Motion to Dismiss and denies Individual Defendants’ portion of the Motion to Dismiss.
Plaintiff is a New Jersey Resident with a 2014 criminal conviction relating to drug charges.
(ECF No. 1-1 (“Compl.”) at “General Allegations”
¶J 2, 7-8). Part of his sentence was to
participate in New Jersey’s Drug Court Program and be subject to probation for five years.
(Compi. at “General Allegations”
¶ 8). In February 2016, and while still subject to probation,
Defendant was arrested for allegedly violating the terms of his probation. (Compl. at “General
Allegations” ¶ 18). This violation allegedly occurred in September 2015. (Id.).
On February 8, 2016, Plaintiffs request to be released on his own recognizance was denied
and he was detained in Somerset County from February 8, 2016 through February 9, 2016. (Id. at
¶ 19). Thereafter, Plaintiff was transferred from Somerset County to Union County where he
remained in custody until February 19, 2016. (Id. at
¶J 20-21). On February 19, 2016, Plaintiff
appeared before Judge Regina Caulfield in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Union County,
Criminal Part. (Id. at
¶ 22). Plaintiff claims that prior to the February 19, 2016 hearing date
Individual Defendants attempted to coerce him into testifying that he did in fact violate the terms
of his probation, but he refused to. (Id. at ¶J 23-24). During the February 19, 2016 hearing, Judge
Caulfield found that Plaintiff did not violate the terms of his probation. (Id.
¶ 26). Plaintiff alleges
that he was supposed to be released immediately thereafter. (Id.). However, Plaintiff was not
released until February 22, 2016 due to an alleged “paperwork/computer error.” (Id. at ¶J 27-28).
Plaintiff further alleges that, during his period of incarceration, Defendants refused to review his
medical records to ascertain his need for his prescription medication and refused to inquire about
said need. (Id. atJ3l-32).
This background is derived from Plaintiffs Complaint, which the Court must accept as true at this stage of the
proceedings. SeeAlston v. Coitntiyvide fin. Corp., 585 f.3d 753, 758 (3d Cir. 2009).
On or about October 28, 2016, Plaintiff brought the instant action in the Superior Court of
New Jersey, Union County, Law Division. (See generally Compi.). Plaintiffs Complaint asserts
the following causes of actions: Count I
Abuse of Process; Count II
Civil Conspiracy; Count IV False Imprisonment/Violation 0f4th Amendment Rights;
Defamation; Count VI
False Light; Count VII— Violation of 42 U.S.C.
Violation of Rights Under New Jersey’s Constitution; Count IX
§ 1983; Count
Negligence; and Count
Violation of Plaintiffs Civil Rights. (Id.). On December 15, 2016, Defendants timely
removed the action to this Court. (ECF No. 1). Collectively, State Defendant and Individual
Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (ECF No.
To withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim of relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Ad. Corp.
Th’ornbly, 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.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to
a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
To determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal in the Third
Circuit, the court must take three steps: first, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff
must plead to state a claim; second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no
more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; finally, where there are wellpleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they
plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief. See Connelty v. Lane Const. Coip., $09 f.3d 780,
787 (3d Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must
consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of the public record, as
well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant’s claims are based upon these
documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010).
Section 1983 provides, in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation,
subjects, or causes to be
custom, or usage, of any State or Territory
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
§ 1983. Therefore, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two
elements: (1) a person deprived him or caused him to be deprived of a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) the deprivation was done under color of state
law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 125556 (3d Cir. 1994).
It has long been established that “neither a State nor its officials acting in their official
capacities are ‘persons’ under
§ 1983.” Wilt v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71
(1989); Grabow v. Southern State Correctional facility, 726 F. Supp. 537, 538-39 (D.N.J. 1989);
see Marsden v. federalBOP, 856 F. Supp. 832, 836 (S.D.N.Y. 1994); see also liitchellv. Chester
County farms Prison, 426 F. Supp. 271, 274 (E.D. Pa. 1976). Accordingly, Defendant State of
New Jersey Judiciary, Union Vicinage Probation Division is not a “person” within the meaning of
§ 1983 suit and Counts I, III, VII, and X against it must be dismissed.
See e.g. Salerno v.
Corzine, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92353, 2006 WL 3780587, at *3 (D.N.J. Dec. 20, 2006).
In addition to bringing claims under
§ 1983, Count VIII and X assert claims against State
Defendant under New Jersey’s Civil Rights Act (“NJCRA”). A person may bring a civil action
under the NJCRA in two circumstances: “(1) when he?s deprived of a right, or (2) when his rights
are interfered with by threats, intimidation, coercion or force.” felicioni v. Admin. Office ofCottrts,
404 N.J. Super. 382, 400 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 200$). The NJCRA was modeled after Section
1983, and thus courts in New Jersey have generally looked at claims under the NJCRA “through
the lens of § 1983.” Trafton v. City of Woodbwy, 799 F.Supp.2d 417, 443-44 (D.N.J. 2011); see
also Chapman v. New Jersey, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75720, 2009 WL 2634888, *3 (D.N.J. Aug.
25, 2009)(”Courts have repeatedly construed the NJCRA in terms nearly identical to its federal
Armstrong v. Sherman, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55616, 2010 WL 2483911, *5
(D.N.J. June 4, 2010)(”[T]he New Jersey Civil Rights Act is a kind of analog to section 1983
see generally Hedges v. Mttsco, 204 F.3d 109, 120 n.12 (3d Cir. 2000)(concluding that New
Jersey’s constitutional provisions concerning search and seizures are interpreted analogously to the
Fourth Amendment); Pitman v. Ottehberg, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 181906, 2013 WL 6909905,
*$ (D.N.J. Dec. 31, 2013)(collecting cases).
Consistent with the above
§ 1983 analysis, New Jersey Courts, as well as the Third Circuit,
have held that New Jersey is not a person for purposes of the NJCRA. See Brown v. State, 442
N.J. Super. 406, 426 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2015)(finding that the State is not a “person” under
the NJCRA); see Didiano v. Balicki, 488 F. App’x 634, 638-39 (3d Cir. 2012)(holding that the
State is not a “person” under the NJCRA because although the NJCRA does not define “person,”
the definition of “person” in N.J. $ .A.
§ 1:1-2 “explicitly states that the word ‘person’ shall include
the State of New Jersey only in the limited circumstance of certain property disputes
New Jersey has provided its own definition of the word ‘person,’ and that definition does not
include the State
Hence, State Defendant is not a person for purposes of the NJCRA and
is not subject to liability under same. Plaintiff seemingly concedes this point as he does not address
the issue in his opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 8). Thus, Counts I, III VIII and X
against State Defendant must be dismissed with prejudice.
Additionally, all the remaining Counts against State Defendant must also be dismissed.
Counts II (malicious prosecution), III (civil conspiracy), V (defamation) and VI (false light) are
all claims for intentional torts. However, the State of New Jersey may not be held liable for
intentional torts allegedly committed by its employees. See Panarello v. City of Vineland, 160 F.
$upp. 3d 734, 767 (D.N.J. 2016); see also Soto v. City ofNewark, 72 F. Supp. 2d 489, 497 (D.N.J.
1999) (citing McDonough v. Jorda, 214 N.J. Super. 338, 350 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div.
1 9$6)(holding that a public entity may not beheld liable for intentional torts of a public employee).
Accordingly, since the State Defendant cannot be held liable for intentional torts, these counts
must be dismissed as to State Defendant with prejudice.
Individual Defendants assert that Plaintiff may not recover damages from them because
they are entitled to qualified immunity. (ECF No. 4-1 (Def. Mov. Br.) at 19). Qualified immunity
shields government officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not
violate clearly established
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Harlow v. fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). “For qualified immunity to attach, an
official must demonstrate his conduct was objectively reasonable.” Id. at $1 8- 19. Qualified
immunity is unavailable to a defendant government official if plaintiffs complaint meets two
prongs: (1) the facts alleged by plaintiff show the violation of a constitutional right; and (2) the
plaintiffs constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the violation. Saucier v. Katz,
533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Pearson
Callahan, 555 U.S.
223 (2009) (“If no constitutional right would have been violated were the allegations established,
there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity.”); George v. Rehiel, 738
F.3d 562, 572 (3d Cir. 2013).
At this juncture, the allegations in Plaintiffs claims under
§ 1923 and the
sufficient, and overcome Individual Defendants’ assertion that they are entitled to qualified
immunity. As discussed, to bring a
§ 1983 claim, and/or a parallel claim under the NJCRA, a
plaintiff must allege: (1) a person deprived him or caused him to be deprived of a right secured by
the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) the deprivation was done under color of state
law. See West, 487 U.S. at 48; Piecknick, 36 F.3d at 1255-56; Trafton, 799 F.Supp.2d at 443-44.
In this matter, Plaintiff has done just that as to Individual Defendants.
Plaintiff alleges that, without justification, he was wrongly arrested by Individual
Defendants for a purported violation of probation. According to Plaintiff, the arrest was improper
because Individual Defendants knew Plaintiff did not in fact violate probation in September 2015,
or at any other time. Thereafier, Individuals Defendants, while still aware that Plaintiff did not
violate probation, held Plaintiff in custody for approximately 11 days pending a hearing before the
Superior Court of New Jersey. Moreover, Plaintiff claims that he was subject to an additional
three days of incarceration due to some form of computer and/or administrative error. Again,
Plaintiff asserts Individual Defendants deprived him of his rights and liberties by keeping him in
custody for this period because Individual Defendants were aware that Plaintiff did not violate
probation, but chose to hold him anyway. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Individual Defendants all
were acting under color of law as they presented themselves as officers of the State who were
authorized to take such actions. These actions, Plaintiff asserts, deprived him of various civil rights
including loss of liberty. Accordingly, this Court finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently pled all the
requisite elements to assert causes of action for violations of § 1983 and the NJCRA.
However, in this case, simply pleading the requisite elements for the constitutional claims
is only a part of the analysis. The Court must also conclude that, at this point in the litigation,
Individual Defendants are not entitled to enjoy qualified immunity. Here, Plaintiffs complaint
contains sufficient factual allegations that would allow a reasonable fact finder to possibly
conclude that Individual Defendants acted in an unreasonable maimer toward Plaintiff and beyond
the scope of each person’s role as a probation officer and/or official. Plaintiffs complaint contains
allegations that Plaintiffs constitutional rights were knowingly violated by Individual Defendants
and his right to liberty was established far before the alleged violation occurred.
For example, as discussed, Plaintiff has alleged that Individual Defendants knew that he
did not violate probation, or that the assertion that he violated his probation was frivolous, but
chose to arrest and detain him, as well as deprive him of access to purportedly necessary
medication and/or treatment, in violation of his civil rights and liberties. (Compl. at Count II
3-5). Plaintiff further alleges that these actions were done maliciously and with an intent to hann
Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 5). Hence, it is Plaintiffs assertion that Individual Defendants knowingly chose
to exceed the scope of their duties, by acting in a manner that no reasonable probation officer
would act, and falsely and maliciously caused his arrest and detention. (Compl. at Count I ¶ 3-4).
The Court must accept these allegations as true at this point in the litigation. Should a jury find
these allegations credible, and find that Individual Defendants acted in a manner than is
inconsistent with how a reasonable probation officer and/or official would act, Individual
Defendants would not be entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the Court finds that such
allegations are sufficient to withstand a Motion to Dismiss based on qualified immunity.
Therefore, at this juncture, Individual Defendants cannot advance a qualified immunity defense,
and the Court denies Individual Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint based on
Furthermore, Plaintiff has successfully pled common law claims for civil conspiracy,
defamation, false light and negligence against Individual Defendants. In New Jersey, a civil
conspiracy is “a combination of two or more persons acting in concert to commit an unlawful act,
or to commit a lawful act by unlawful means,” the primary element of which “is an agreement
between the parties to inflict a wrong against or injury upon another, and an overt act that results
in damage.” Banco Popular N. Am v. Gandi, 184 N.J. 161, 177 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 2005) (quoting
Morgan v. Union Cnty. 3d. of Chosen Freeholders, 268 N.J. Super. 337, 364 (N.J. Super. Ct. App.
Div. 1993)). Due to the circumstantial nature of evidence in a conspiracy action, the “question of
whether an agreement exists should not be taken from the jury” if there is a possibility that the
jury can “infer from the circumstances that the alleged conspirators had a meeting of the minds
and thus reached an understanding’ to achieve the conspiracy’s objectives.” Morgan, 26$ N.J. at
365 (citation omitted). Here, Plaintiff has alleged that at least two of Individual Defendants agreed
to act in concert and deprive Plaintiff of his rights.
Specifically, Plaintiff has alleged that
Individual Defendants knew that Plaintiff did not violate probation, or that the assertion that he
violated his probation was frivolous, but acted in concert to harass him and deprive him of his
freedom and civil liberties. (Compi. at Count III
3-5). Thus, Plaintiffs complaint contains
allegations that at least two Individual Defendants jointly decided to deprive Plaintiff of his rights
and took overt actions to accomplish their goal. These allegations are sufficient and the Court
finds that Plaintiff has pled a prima facie cause of action for civil conspiracy against Individual
A Plaintiff asserting a claim for defamation under New Jersey law must allege: (1) a
defamatory statement; (2) concerning the plaintiff; (3) which was false; (4) that was communicated
to someone other than the plaintiff; (5) with fault at least amounting to negligence; and (6)
damages. Cristelli v. Filomena II, Inc., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18761at *2 (D.N.J. Dec.1, 1999)
(citing Monroe v. Host Marriot $ervs. Corp., 999 F. Supp. 599, 603 (D.N.J.l998)); DeAngelis v.
Hill, 180 N.J. 1 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 2004) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts,
complaint meets the above criteria. The complaint clearly states that Individual Defendants made
various false statements about Plaintiff, including that the knowingly wrong assertion that he
violated his probation. (Compi. at Count V ¶J 2-3). Those statements, Plaintiff asserts, were false
and Individual Defendants were aware of their falsehood. (Id. at
3-6). However, Plaintiff
alleges that, despite knowing the statements regarding Plaintiffs violations of probation were
false, Individual Defendants maliciously made those statements to third-parties, as well as in open
court, causing his reputation to be tarnished. (Id. at
4-5). Therefore, the Court finds that
Plaintiff has pled aprima fade cause of action for defamation.
Similarly, Plaintiff has also sufficiently pled a claim for false light. To state a claim for
false light, New Jersey law requires a plaintiff allege that: (1) “the false light in which the other
was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person;” and (2) “the actor had knowledge
of or acted in reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter and the false light in
which the other would be placed.” Leang v. Jersey City Bd. ofEduc., 198 N.J. 557, 589 (N.J. Sup.
Ct. 2009) (quoting Romaine v. Kallinger, 109 N.J. 282, 293 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 1988)). The falsely
publicized matter must be a “major misrepresentation of [the plaintiffs] character, history,
activities or beliefs,” and, at the very least, create a false public impression of the plaintiff.
Romaine, 109 N.J. at 295; G.D. v. Kenny, 411 N.J. Super. 176, 194 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div.
2009). Plaintiffs claim for false light meets this criterion. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that
Individual Defendants knowingly made false statements about his non-existent violation of
probation. (Compl. at Count VI ¶J 2-3). Those allegedly false statements were made in open court
and publicly, and resulted in his incarceration for approximately 14 days. (Id. at ¶J 3-5). Plaintiff
further alleges that those false statements were major representations of his character that conveyed
to the public he was once again engaged in criminal activity. (Id.). These allegations are sufficient
to sustain a claim for false light. Thus, the Court denies Individual Defendants’ motion to dismiss
Finally, Plaintiff has successfully state a claim for negligence. A plaintiff bringing a claim
for negligence under New Jersey law must allege that: (I) that the defendant had a duty of care;
(2) that the defendant breached the duty of care; and (3) that the breach proximately caused actual
damages. Piscitelli v. Classic Residence by Hyatt, 408 N.J. Super. 83, 111 (N.J. Super. Ct. App.
Div. 2009). Plaintiffs claim for negligence contains sufficient allegations to meet the above
standard. Indeed, Plaintiff alleges Individual Defendants had a duty to act reasonably under the
circumstances and when discharging their duties as probation officers and/or officials. (Compi. at
Plaintiff further alleges that Individual Defendants breached that duty when
they knowingly made misrepresentations to the Court which caused him to be arrested and
incarcerated for approximately 14 days. (Id. at
Plaintiff asserts, caused him to suffer damages. (Id. at
The wrongful arrest and incarceration,
8). Hence, Plaintiff has successfully
asserted a prima facie cause of action for negligence against Individual Defendants and their
motion to dismiss Count IX is denied.
For the aforementioned reasons, State Defendants’ portion of the Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiffs Complaint is hereby granted and Individual Defendants’ portion of the Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint is hereby denied in its entiety. An appropriate Order accompanies
DATED: March-, 2017
JOSE L. LINARES
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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