MELEIKA v. BAYONNE POLICE DEPARTMENT et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 10/05/2017. (ek)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 17-1958 (KM-JBC)
BAYONNE POLICE DEPARTMENT,
CITY OF BAYONNE,
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
KEVIN MCNULTY. U.S.D.J.:
This matter comes before the Court on the motion of the Bayonne Police
Department and the City of Bayonne under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted. (ECF no. 12) The plaintiff, Steven Meleika, pro se, sues the
Bayonne Police Department, the City of Bayonne, and the State of New Jersey
for constitutional torts in connection with his arrest and prosecution. The
claims against the State are dismissed on Eleventh Amendment/sovereign
immunity grounds, and the claims against the Bayonne Police Department are
dismissed because it is not an independent entity, but merely a department of
City government. As to the remaining defendant, the City of Bayonne, the
motion to dismiss the Complaint is granted without prejudice to the
submission, within 45 days, of a proposed amended complaint that remedies
the defects of the original.
The Allegations of the Complaint
The Complaint is brief, consisting of filled-in blanks on a standard pro se
complaint form. The underlying factual allegations, in their entirety, are as
On 4-23-15 I was arrested and charged with a criminal
offense. The case was dismissed entirely on 9-27-16.
The fullest statement of the claims asserted reads as follows:
Violation of civil rights
I interpret these as federal claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for violations
of Mr. Meleika’s Fourth Amendment rights in connection with his arrest and
prosecution. The complaint seeks $200,000 in damages.
The Applicable Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a
complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. The defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden of showing
that no claim has been stated. Animal Science Products, Inc. v. China Minmetals
Corp., 654 F.3d 462, 469 n. 9 (3d Cir. 2011). For the purposes of a motion to
dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all
reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. New Jersey Carpenters
& the Trustees Thereof v. Tishman Const. Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297,
302 (3d Cir. 2014).
Federal Rule of Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain
detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, “a plaintiffs obligation to provide the
‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will
not do.” Bell AU. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the
complaint’s factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to
relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is “plausible on its face.” Id. at
570; see also West Run Student Housing Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat. Bank,
712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). That facial-plausibility standard is met
“when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft a Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
While “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement’.
it asks for more than a sheer possibility.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Where the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the complaint is “to be liberally
construed,” and, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent
standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson a Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). 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). “While a litigant’s pro se status requires a
court to construe the allegations in the complaint liberally, a litigant is not
absolved from complying with Twombly and the federal pleading requirements
merely because s/he proceeds pro se.” Thakar u. Tan, 372 F. App5c 325, 328
(3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
Initially, the Complaint must be dismissed against the State of New
Jersey. The Complaint alleges no factual basis for an inference that the State
had any involvement in the acts of which Mr. Meleika complains. More
fundamentally, however, it would not matter if it did, because the Eleventh
Amendment bars the Court from asserting jurisdiction over such a claim.’
The defendants did not cite the Eleventh Amendment in their papers. The
Court, however, is required to examine its own subject matter jurisdiction:
IBjecause subject matter jurisdiction is non-waivable, courts have an
independent obligation to satisfy themselves of jurisdiction if it is in
doubt. See Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Rd. of Educ. t.’. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274,
278, 97 S. Ct. 368, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977). A necessary corollan’ is that
the court can raise sua sponte subject-matter jurisdiction concerns.
The Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is of
jurisdictional stature, renders the states immune from certain claims: “The
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.
Const. Amend. XI. For more than a century, the Eleventh Amendment has been
held to incorporate a more general principle of sovereign immunity. In general,
it bars citizens from bringing suits for damages against any state in federal
court. Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01
(1984); Kelley v. Edison Twp., No. 03-4817, 2006 WL 1084217, at *5 (D.N.J.
Apr. 25, 2006) (citing Bennett u. City of AtI. City, 288 F. Supp. 2d 675, 679
(D.N.J. 2003)); see also Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54
(1996); Edelman u. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662—63 (1974); Hans a Louisiana,
134 U.S. 1 (1890). Although Congress may, under some circumstances,
abrogate the States’ Eleventh Amendment immunity, it did not do so when it
enacted Section 1983. Quem u. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 342 (1979).2
1983 claims for damages, then, cannot be maintained against
The Jersey City Police Department
The Complaint must also be dismissed as against the Bayonne Police
The Police Department, as such, is not a proper defendant. A New Jersey
police department is not a separate legal entity, but a department of the
municipality. N.J. Stat. Ann.
40A:14—1 18 (municipal police department is “an
executive and enforcement function of municipal government”). See Padilla u.
Twp. Of Cherry Hill, 110 F. App5c 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004); Mitchell v. City of
Jersey City, No. 15-CV-6907 (KM), 2016 WL 1381379, at *1 n.1 (D.N.J. Apr. 7,
Gears Unlimited, Inc., 347 F.3d 72, 76—77 (3d Cir. 2003).
Closely related is the principle that the State, its entities, and its officials are
“persons” subject to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-7 1 (1989). I do not discuss it separately.
2016); Adams v. City of Camden, 461 F. Supp. 2d 263, 266 (D.N.J. 2006);
McGovern u. Jersey City, No. 98-C V-S 186 2006 WL 42236, at *7 n.4 (D.N.J.
Jan. 6, 2006) (police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with
municipalities because police departments are administrative arms of local
municipalities, not separate entities).
For claims against the Police Department, then, then, the proper
defendant is the City of Bayonne itself. The Complaint is dismissed as against
the Bayonne Police Department. The correction, however, is technical; the
substance of the action is not affected.
The remainder of the discussion applies to the Complaint as asserted
against the remaining defendant, the City of Bayonne.
Failure to plead federal claim against Bayonne
The complaint alleges that Mr. Meleika was arrested and charged with an
unspecified offense on April 23, 2015, and that the case was dismissed on
September 23, 2015. Factually, that is all it alleges. The standard form permits
and encourages a factual recitation that is brief. These allegations, however,
are clearly inadequate to establish any claim; it is not wrongful to arrest a
person, even for a charge on which he was ultimately acquitted. This complaint
will therefore be dismissed without prejudice to the submission, within 45
days, of a proposed amended complaint that alleges the facts of the case in a
manner that states a claim.
Miscellaneous matters regarding amended complaint
Elements of two sample claims
I state the legal elements of two of the claims listed in the complaint. I do
not in any way mean to limit the claims or defendants that can be
contained in an amended complaint. I do not suggest that these claims
are appropriate, or that others would not be. These are merely examples,
for the plaintiffs guidance.
False arrest: “To state a
1983] claim for false arrest or improper
seizure under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must establish: (1) that there
was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was made without probable cause.”
Brown v. Mount Laurel Twp., No. CV 13-6455, 2016 WL 5334657, at *6 (D.N.J.
Sept. 21, 2016) (citing Groman u. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir.
1995); Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)). At a
minimum, then, any amended complaint should state what the charge was and
the facts on which the arrest was based. Information identifying the State
criminal case, such as a docket number, would be helpful, if known.
Malicious prosecution: Malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C.
requires that “(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal
proceeding ended in [the plaintiffs] 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.” Halsey v. Pfezffer, 750 F.3d 273, 296—97 (3d Cir. 2014)
(citing Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 82 (3d Cir. 2007)). Once again, the
plaintiff must allege facts as to each element.
Misfiling of Documents
Mr. Meleika seemingly has misified documents in the several actions he
has filed. The Court has attempted to refile them in the proper action, but the
plaintiff is cautioned that he cannot count on the court to do so.
For ease of reference, the actions filed by Mr. Meleika are:
17-cv-0 1958 MELEIKA v. BAYONNE POLICE DEPARTMENT
17-cv-0 1959 MELEIKA v. JERSEY CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT
17-cv-0 1960 MELEIKA v. HUDSON COUNTY CORRECTIONAL CENTER
(all filed 03/22/17)
17-cv-05759 MELEIKA v. JERSEY CITY MEDICAL CENTER filed 08/04/17
The plaintiff is cautioned that he must in the future file papers under the
correct docket number.
For the foregoing reasons, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the
Complaint for failure to state a claim is GRANTED, without prejudice to the
submission, within 45 days, of a proposed amended complaint.
Dated: October 5, 2017
H N. KEVIN MCNULTY
United States District Judge
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