MORRIS v. CITY OF TRENTON et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Michael A. Shipp on 6/15/2016. (km)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 13-6142 (MAS) (TJB)
CITY OF TRENTON, et al.,
SHIPP, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants City of Trenton and Tony Mack's
("Defendants") motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. (ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff Michael Morris ("Plaintiff') filed opposition (ECF No. 24),
and Defendants replied (ECF No. 25). The Court has carefully considered the parties' submissions
and decides the matter without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 78.1. For the reasons
stated below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied.
Plaintiff brings this § 1983 1 action to recover non-economic damages. 2 (See generally
Notice of Removal, Ex. A ("Compl.")
if 51, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff began employment with the
Plaintiff also asserts a claim under the state analog to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the New Jersey Civil
In the Verified Complaint, Plaintiff sought economic losses. (Compl. if 51.) Plaintiff, however,
concedes that he has now recovered all economic damages, through back pay and attorney's fees,
in the Civil Service award, and is seeking only non-economic damages. (Pl.'s SUMF if 21, ECF
City of Trenton in 2003 as a Supervising Security Guard. (Defs.' Statement of Undisputed
Material Facts ("SUMF'') ~ 1, ECF No. 23-2; Pl.'s SUMF ~ 1, ECF No. 24-1. 3)
November 5, 2010, he was laid off following the election of Tony Mack ("Mack") as Mayor of
the City of Trenton and the appointment by Mack of another individual to Plaintiffs position.
2-4; Pl.'s SUMF
6, 11.) Plaintiff appealed his layoff to the Civil Service
Commission ("CSC") and was reinstated on May 24, 2011. (Defs.' SUMF ~ 6; Pl.'s SUMF ~ 12.)
Plaintiff was laid off again, effective September 16, 2011. (Defs.' SUMF ~ 7; Pl.'s SUMF ~ 17.)
Plaintiff subsequently appealed his layoff to the CSC, and was reinstated with an award of back
pay and attorney's fees. (Defs.' SUMF ~~ 10-11.) In his Verified Complaint, Plaintiff seeks with
respect to the layoffs: "non-economic losses in the form of emotional distress and humiliation in
the presence ofhis co-workers arising from the adverse employment measures imposed punitively
by the defendants as well as the emotional distress and humiliation at his inability to meet his
financial obligations and the uncertain future of his career with the City." (Compl. ~ 51.)
Summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter oflaw." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute
is genuine if there is sufficient evidentiary support such that "a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A
fact is material if it has the ability to "affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher
v. Cty. of Bucks, 455 F .3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006). Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts
will not preclude a court from granting summary judgment. The party moving for summary
The facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.
judgment has the initial burden of proving an absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986).
If the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may discharge its
burden by pointing to an absence of evidence necessary to support the non-movant's claim. Id. at
325. Alternatively, a moving party may submit affirmative evidence that negates a material
element of the non-moving party's claim. Id. at 325-31. If the movant brings such affirmative
evidence, or makes a showing that the non-movant lacks evidence essential to its claim, the burden
shifts to the non-moving party to set forth "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The burden of persuasion, however, rests
ultimately on the non-moving party to establish each element necessary to succeed on the claims
on which it bears the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322.
To decide whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court must consider all
facts, drawing all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Kaucher, 455 F.3d at 423. However, on a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is
not ... to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there
is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Absent a genuine dispute for trial,
summary judgment as a matter of law is proper.
Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff cannot put forth sufficient
evidence to support an award for non-economic "emotional distress" damages under his § 1983
claim or the state analog, New Jersey Civil Rights Act claim. 4 (Defs.' Moving Br. 4, ECF No. 23-
The New Jersey Civil Rights Act is interpreted analogous to§ 1983. See Rezem Family Assocs.,
LP v. Borough ofMillstone, 423 N.J. Super. 103, 115 (App. Div. 2011).
1.) Specifically, Defendants argue that because Plaintiff has failed to provide any evidence that
he suffered emotional distress injuries, such as evidence showing that he went to the doctor and
received medication, and because Plaintiff testified during his deposition that he can handle his
emotions and was not at the point of breaking, summary judgment must be granted for
Defendants. 5 (Id. at 11-12.) In opposition, Plaintiff argues that Defendants' reference to small
portions of his deposition transcript does not show the whole picture, and when the evidence is
viewed on the whole, the evidence puts forth sufficient facts for a jury to find that Plaintiff suffered
non-economic injury. 6 (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. 1-4, ECF No. 24.) Specifically, Plaintiff directs this Court
to his interrogatory answers, deposition testimony, and Rule 26 disclosures as evidence sufficient
to support his claims for non-economic damages. (Id. at 7-15.)
The Supreme Court, in Carey v. Piphus, held that "in an action under § 1983 for the
deprivation of procedural due process, a plaintiff must prove that he actually was injured by the
deprivation before he may recover substantial 'nonpunitive' damages." 435 U.S. 247, 253 (1978).
This is because "the basic purpose" of§ 1983 damages is "to compensate persons for injuries that
[are] caused by the deprivation of constitutional rights." Id. at 254. In Memphis Community
School District v. Stachura, the Supreme Court extended its analysis from Carey to apply to
For the first time on reply, Defendants argue that they are also entitled to summary judgment
with regard to Plaintiffs claim for punitive damages. As Defendants included this argument for
the first time in their reply brief, the Court will not address this argument. Instead, the Court will
allow this issue to be raised in the final pretrial order and, if appropriate, briefed with any pre-trial
Plaintiff additionally argues that Defendants' motion is precluded by the law of the case doctrine
due to the Magistrate Judge's previous denial of Defendants' first motion for summary judgment.
(Pl. 's Opp'n Br. 4-6.) The Court, however, does not find this argument persuasive because the
Magistrate Judge did not hold that Plaintiff had sufficient evidence to present to the jury to prove
non-economic damages; instead, the Magistrate Judge found that even though Plaintiffs economic
injuries were compensated before the Civil Service Commission, he was not barred from pursuing
non-economic relief before this Court. (See generally Mem. Op., Sept. 26, 2014, ECF No. 15.)
substantive due process claims, holding that Carey "does not establish a two-tiered system of
constitutional rights, with substantive rights afforded greater protection than 'mere' procedural
safeguards." 477 U.S. 299, 309 (1986). The Third Circuit has not addressed the issue of whether
an award for non-economic damages may be "supported solely by a plaintiff's own testimony."
Spence v. Bd. ofEduc. ofChristina Sch. Dist., 806 F.2d 1198, 1201 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing Chalmers
v. City ofLos Angeles, 762 F.2d 753, 761 (9th Cir. 1985); Williams v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.,
660 F.2d 1267, 1272-73 (8th Cir. 1981). But see Cohen v. Bd. of Educ., 728 F.2d 160 (2d Cir.
1984); Nekolny v. Painter, 653 F.2d 1164 (7th Cir. 1981)). The Third Circuit, however, following
the other circuits that have addressed the issue, has held that "medical evidence or testimony is not
required to recover for emotional distress in a section 1983 case." Bolden v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth.,
21 F.3d 29, 34, n.3 (3d Cir. 1994) (citing cases from other circuits).
Here, in opposition to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff points to his interrogatory answers that
detail the humiliation he felt following his layoffs and then reinstatements to demeaning work
Specifically, Plaintiff recounts being humiliated by his
supervisor's orders to perform meaningless tasks and being ostracized by the employees he once
supervised. (Id.) Furthermore, through his deposition testimony, Plaintiff explained that he was
unable to maintain a relationship, he would get so upset his blood pressure would rise, and he was
depressed from his loss of income and not knowing ifhe would get his job back.
Additionally, the cases cited by Defendants in support of their motion for summary judgment were
all decided after the case was presented to a jury. See Rodgers v. Fisher Body Div., Gen. Motors
Corp., 739 F.2d 1102 (6th Cir. 1984); Erebia v. Chrysler Plastic Prods. Corp., 772 F.2d 1250 (6th
Cir. 1985); Spence, 806 F.2d at 1198. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants' motion for
summary judgment and will allow this case to proceed to trial. Defendants, however, may make
any appropriate motions following the close of Plaintiff's case to the jury.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied. An
order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will be entered.
s/ Michael A. Shipp
MICHAEL A. SHIPP
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: June 15, 2016
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?