MELEIKA v. JERSEY CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 10/2/2017. (JB, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 17-959 (KM-JBC)
CITY OF JERSEY CITY, et al.,
KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.:
This matter comes before the Court on the defendants’ motion 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. 8). The plaintiff,
Steven Meleika, pro se, sues the Jersey Ciw Police Department, the City of
Jersey City, and the State of New Jersey’ for constitutional torts in connection
with his arrest and prosecution. I hold that, whatever their surface merits, the
majority of these causes of action are barred by the applicable two-year
statutes of limitations. What remains is a Section 1983 malicious prosecution
claim against the City of Jersey City only. This partial dismissal, however, is
without prejudice to the submission, within 30 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 5-1-20 14 I was arrested by Jersey City Police in Jersey
City.’ I was criminally charged with multiple serious charges
Another portion of the Complaint states that the events giving rise to the claims
occurred at “Bostwick Ave and MLK (Martin Luther King),” as well as “Rose Ave &
Claremont Ave.” (Cplt. § III.A)
(felonies). After going to court once every month for two years, the
charges were dismissed during trial. All charges were dismissed
without pleading guilty.
§ III.C) Attached to the complaint are medical records of a cat scan,
showing no serious injury, plus a prescription for thirty 500 mg tablets of
Naproxen, a pain reliever. All are dated May 2, 2014. The Complaint states that
the date of dismissal of the criminal case was 10-7-2015. (Id.
The complaint cites “false arrest, false imprisonment, malic[ious]
prosecution, excessive force, civil rights violations 14 Amendment & 4
Amendment.” (Cplt., ECF no. 1,
§ 5)1 interpret these as claims under 42
§ 1983 for violations of Mr. Meleika’s Fourth Amendment rights in
connection with his arrest and prosecution. The Complaint seeks $1 million in
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 Tnzstees Thereof u. 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 Ati. 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 u. 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 “[tjhe 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 layers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). Nevertheless, “pro se litigants still must allege sufficient
facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mdc 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 Twomhly and the federal pleading requirements
merely because s/he proceeds pro se.” Thakar v. Tan, 372 F. App’x 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.2
The defendants did not cite the Eleventh Amendment in their papers. The
Court, however, is required to examine its own subject matter jurisdiction:
[Bjecause 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. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274,
278, 97 S. Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977). A necessan’ corollary is that
the court can raise sua sponte subject-matter jurisdiction concerns.
Nesbit v. Gears Unlimited, Inc., 347 F.3d 72, 76—77 (3d Cir. 2003).
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, 100-0 1
(1984); Kefley v. Edison Twp., No. 03-48 17, 2006 WL 1084217, at *6 (D.N.J.
Apr. 25, 2006) (citing Bennett u. City of AtL 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 v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662—63 (1974); Hans v. 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 v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 342 (1979).3
§ 1983 claims for damages, then, cannot be maintained against
The Jersey City Police Department
The Complaint must also be dismissed as against the Jersey City Police
The Jersey City 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—118 (municipal police department
is “an executive and enforcement function of municipal government”). See
Mitchell v. City of Jersey City, No. 15-CV-6907 (KM), 2016 WL 1381379, at *1
n.1 (D.N.J. Apr. 7, 2016); Adams v. City of Camden, 461 F. Supp. 2d 263, 266
(D.N.J. 2006); McGovern v. Jersey City, No. 98-CV-5186 2006 WL 42236, at
Closely related is the principle that the State, its entities, and its officials are
not “persons” subject to liability’ under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989). 1 do not discuss it separately.
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); see also Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry
Hill, 110 F. App’x 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004) (same).
For claims against the Police Department, then, then, the proper
defendant is the City of Jersey City itself. The correction is technical; the
substance of the action is not affected. The Complaint is dismissed as against
the Jersey City Police Department.
The remainder of the discussion applies to the Complaint as asserted
against the sole appropriate defendant, the City of Jersey City.
Statute of Limitations
Jersey City argues that all of the claims under 42 U.S.C.
1983 must be
dismissed because they are untimely under the applicable two-year statute of
limitations. The City is correct, but not entirely so; the malicious prosecution
component of the plaintiffs
1983 claim remains timely.
The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(c)(1). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint may nevertheless be dismissed
on statute of limitations grounds, but “only when the statute of limitations
defense is apparent on the face of the complaint.” Wisniewski v. Fisher,
_,2017 WL2112308 at*4 (3d Cir. May 16, 2017)
1983 case, citing Schmidt
v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 24 (3d Cir. 2014)); see also Fried v. JPMorgan Chase
& Cc., 850 F.3d 590, 604 (3d Cir. 2017).
Section 1983 claims are subject to New Jersey’s two-year statute of
limitations for personal injury’ claims, N.J. Stat. Ann.
2A: 14-2. Patyrak u.
Apgar, 511 F. App’x 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (citing Dique u. N.J
State Police, 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010)); see also Wallace v. Kato, 549
U.S. 384 (2007)
1983 claims borrow the relevant state’s statute of limitations
for personal injury claims).
The date when a cause of action under
1983 accrues is a matter of
federal law. See Kach v, Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Gentry
Resolution Trust Corp., 937 F.2d 899, 919 (3d Cir. 1991)). “Under federal law,
a cause of action accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run when the
plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury upon which its action is
based.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “As a general
1983] cause of action accrues at the time of the last event
necessary to complete the tort, usually at the time the plaintiff suffers an
injury.” Id. (citing United States v, Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 120 (1979)). Accrual
occurs, then, “when a plaintiff has ‘a complete and present cause of action,’
that is, when ‘the plaintiff can file suit and obtain relief.”’ Wallace, 549 U.S. at
388 (quoting Bay Area Laundry and Dry Cleaning Pension Trust Fund u. Ferbar
Corp. of CaL, 522 U.S. 192, 201 (1997).
Accrual may be delayed by a plaintiffs lack of knowledge of the facts. The
threshold of knowledge, however, is not a high one. Accrual does not require
that plaintiff be aware of all of the facts. New Castle County v. Halliburton Nus
Corp., 111 F.3d 1116, 1125 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Zeleznik v. United States, 770
F.2d 20, 24 (3d Cir. 1985)). Nor need the plaintiff contemporaneously
appreciate the legal ramifications of the facts. See Keystone Ins. Co. a
Houghton, 863 F.2d 1125, 1127 (3d Cir. 1988) (the required awareness is
awareness of injury, not appreciation that the injury constitutes a legal wrong).
Rather, the tort accrues when the “plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the
injury which is the basis of the section 1983 action.” Fullman v. Pa. Dep’t of
Con-., 265 F. App’x. 44, 46 (3d Cir. 2008); accord Kach, 589 F.3d at 634.
Although it is possible to conjure unusual scenarios, it is the rare
plaintiff who would not be contemporaneously aware of a tortious arrest or the
fact of injury from excessive force. Thus a Fourth Amendment claim will accrue
at the time of an allegedly wrongful search or seizure. See Jackson a City of
Erie Police Dep’t, 570 F. App’x 112, 114 (3d Cir. 2014); Voneida v. Stoehr, 512
F. App’x 219, 221 (3d Cir. 2013); Woodson a Payton, 503 F. App’x 110, 112 (3d
*3 n. 1
Cir. 2012); Castro v. Perth Amboy Police Dep’t, 2014 WL 229301, at
(D.N.J. Jan. 21, 2014). Likewise, a
1983 false arrest claim accrues at the time
of the arrest. See Torres v. McLaughlin, 163 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 1998); Love
v. Shockley, 2015 WL 71162, at *2 (D.N.J. Jan. 6, 2015). False imprisonment
may continue to accrue until legal process is invoked. Assuming a warrantless
arrest, that would generally occur no later than arraignment. See Alexander v.
Fletcher, 367 F. App’x at 290 n.2 (citing Wallace, 549 U.S. at 389—90).
Mr. Meleika’s section 1983 Complaint alleges false arrest, excessive force
in connection with the arrest, and false imprisonment. (I set aside malicious
prosecution for a moment.) Mr. Meleika was surely aware of these torts at the
time they occurred, on or about May 1, 2014. The physical injuries, of course,
are alleged in the form of medical records dating from the day after the arrest.
This action, however, was not filed until March 22, 2017. That is over ten
months too late under the applicable two-year statute of limitations.
§ 1983 claim, to the extent it is based on the wrongfulness
of the arrest, is barred.4
The analysis is different as to the
§ 1983 claim insofar as it is based on
malicious prosecution. Mr. Meleika’s response to the motion to dismiss is
succinct but correct. He cites Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), for the
proposition that a malicious prosecution claim does not accrue until the
underlying criminal prosecution terminates in favor of the accused—generally
by acquittal or dismissal. See Desposito v. New Jersey, 2015 WL 2131073, at
*12 (D.N.J. May 5, 2015) (collecting cases).
The Complaint alleges that the criminal case against Mr. Maleika was
dismissed on October 7, 2015. The filing of this federal court Complaint on
It is theoretically possible for false imprisonment (i.e., imprisonment without
legal process) to continue past the date of arrest. To fall within the two-year limitations
period here, however, imprisonment without arraignment would need to have extended
past March 22, 2015, a period of over ten months. There is no factual allegation that
Mr. Meleika was imprisoned at all, let alone imprisoned without process. Indeed, the
Complaint alleges that he had regular monthly court appearances from the time of
arrest through the time that charges were dismissed, so there is no plausible factual
basis to infer that, assuming he was imprisoned, he was imprisoned without
arraignment or other legal process.
Public records attached by defendants confirm the date. (ECF no. 8-4 at 12).
March 22, 2017, was well within the two-year limitations period for a
malicious prosecution claim.
This Section 1983 Complaint, then, is dismissed except insofar as it
asserts a malicious prosecution theory.
State common law torts
The Complaint cites the Constitution and civil rights only. It does not
assert parallel state law torts such as false arrest or malicious prosecution. Out
of caution, however—and in the event the plaintiff should seek to file an
amended complaint—I point out the following, for guidance.
The New Jersey Tort Claims Act (“NJTCA”) governs tort claims against
public entities, including municipalities such as Jersey City. See N.J. Stat.
§ 59:1-3, 8-2, & 8-3. Its most pertinent requirements have been
Prior to filing a complaint, a plaintiff must submit a notice of claim
to the public entity within ninety days of the claim’s accrual,
N.J.S.A. 59:8—8a, and must file suit within two years after the
claim’s accrual, N.J.S.A. 59:8—8b.
Velez a City of Jersey City, 180 N.J. 284, 290, 850 A.2d 1238, 1242 (2004).
The NJTCA 2-year statute of limitations
I first consider the NJTCA’s outside, two-year statute of limitations. N.J.
§ 59:8-Sb. Section 8b provides that “[a] claimant shall be forever
barred from recovering against a public entity or public employee under this
[t]wo years have elapsed since the accrual of the claim.”
Under the NJTCA, as under federal law, a tort generally accrues as of
“the date of the incident on which the tortious conduct took place.” Bayer v.
Twp. of Union, 414 N.J. Super. 238, 258, 997 A.2d 1118, 1129 (App. Div. 2010)
(citing Beauchamp v. Amedio, 164 N.J. 111, 117, 751 A.2d 1047 (2000)); accord
Marenbach v. City of Margate, 942 F. Supp. 2d 488, 491 (D.N.J. 2013); Cliett v.
*3 (D.N.J. Aug. 24,
City of Ocean City, No. 06—4368, 2007 WL 2459446, at
2007) (Simandle, C.J.) (“[Tjhe accrual date of a claim is the date on which the
alleged tort is committed or the negligent action or omission occurred.”).
Under State law, as under federal law, accrual of a claim may be delayed
until the plaintiff knew or should have known the facts underlying the claim.
The limitations period begins running when the plaintiff becomes aware of
“material facts relating to the existence and origin of an injury”; the plaintiff
need not, however, comprehend the full scope and legal significance of such
facts. Strauss v. Twp. of Holmdel, 312 N.J. Super. 610, 624, 711 A.2d 1385,
1392 (Law Div. 1997) (citing, inter alia, Grunwald v. Bronkesh, 131 N.J. 483,
493 (1993), and collecting cases). As discussed above, a plaintiffs knowledge
will not usually be an issue in a case involving allegations of an illegal arrest.
Thus, under the NJTCA, it has been held squarely that “Lt]he basis for a
claim of false arrest arises at the time the incident occurs, i.e., the time of
arrest.” Bayer, 414 N.J. Super. at 258, 997 A.2d at 1129 (quoting Bauer v.
Borough of Cliffside Park, 225 N.J. Super. 38, 47, 541 A.2d 719 (App. Div.),
certif denied, 113 N.J. 330, 550 A.2d 447 (1988).
As under federal law, a malicious prosecution tort would accrue later. Id.
(quoting Pisano v. City of Union City, 198 N.J. Super. 588, 593, 487 A.2d 1296 (Law
Div. 1984)). Termination of the case in the accused’s favor, however, is not a
precondition to the accrual of other state-law tort claims:
Only plaintiffs malicious prosecution claim includes the element of a
termination in favor of the accused. Her other claims, therefore, accrued
at the very latest, when plaintiff had reason to know that the elements of
the claims existed. This occurred at or about the time of plaintiff’s arrest
on July 12, 1985. See, e.g., Rose u. Banle, 871 F.2d 331, 350—5 1 (3d Cir.
1989) (discussing the distinction between malicious prosecution and
abuse of process, and holding that an abuse of process claim accrues on
the date of arrest); Deary a Three Un—Named Police Officers, 746 F.2d
185, 193—94 (3d Cir. 1984) (holding that only malicious prosecution
requires a favorable termination of the criminal proceedings, and that
claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of
process accrue on the date of arrest); Earl a Winne, 14 N.J. 119, 128—29,
101 A.2d 535 (1953) (quoting Ash t.c Cohn, 119 N.J.L. 54, 58, 194 A. 174
(E. & A. 1937)) (discussing the distinction between a malicious
prosecution claim, which requires a favorable termination of the criminal
proceedings, and abuse of process, which does not); Pisano v. City of
Union City, 198 N.J. Super. 588, 593, 487 A.2d 1296 (Law Div. 1984)
(holding that, unlike malicious prosecution claim, false arrest claim
accrues on the date of the arrest).
Michaels u. New Jersey, 955 F. Supp. 315, 326—27 (D.N.J. 1996). See also Desposito,
2015 WL 2131073 at *10*13
So state-law tort claims arising from the arrest, like the parallel
claims, would be subject to a two-year statute of limitations, running from the
date of the arrest. And a tort claim of malicious prosecution, like the parallel
§ 1983 claim, would be subject to a two-year statute of limitations, running
from the date of the dismissal of the criminal case.
The NJPCA requirement of a notice of claim
The defendants raise another bar under the NJTCA, one that would
apply to both malicious prosecution and the arrest-related torts. The NJTCA
requires, as a prerequisite to suit, that the plaintiff file with the City a notice of
claim. See N.J. Stat. Ann. 59:8-Ba (“The claimant shall be forever barred from
recovering against a public entity or public employee if: a. The claimant failed
to file the claim with the public entity within 90 days of accrual of the claim
except as othenvise provided in N.J.S. 59:8-9”) The cited exception, N.J. Stat.
§ 59:8-9, permits the court to extend the 90-day deadline and excuse a
late notice of claim upon a proper showing, but once a year has elapsed, a
court is powerless to excuse the failure to file the notice. See Noble v. City of
Camden, 112 F. Supp. 3d 208, 233—34 (D.N.J. 2015). That one-year grace
period came and went long ago.
The City has filed a certification of a custodian of records to the effect
that no notice of claim has been filed. (ECF no. 8-3) Strictly speaking, this may
be extrinsic evidence beyond the proper bounds of a motion to dismiss. Still,
the plaintiff should be aware that it poses a potential bar to assertion of statelaw tort claims in any subsequent pleading.
I have today received a letter request from the City that it be permitted to
supplement its motion with evidence that the plaintiff stipulated to probable
cause during the municipal court proceedings. (ECF no. 12) Because that
information should have been readily available, the request is denied, without
prejudice to assertion of that argument in response to any amended complaint
or on summary judgment.
For the foregoing reasons, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the
Complaint for failure to state a claim is GRANTED IN PART AND DENTED IN
PART, as follows:
All claims are dismissed against defendants the State of New
Jersey and the Jersey City Police Department.
As against the remaining defendant, the City of Jersey City, all
claims are dismissed except the claim of malicious prosecution under 42
Because this is an initial dismissal, it is without prejudice to the
submission, within 30 days, of a proposed amended complaint that remedies
the deficiencies identified here.
Dated: October 2, 2017
HON. KEVIN MCNULTY
United States District Judg
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