COLEMAN v. SNOWDEN et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Freda L. Wolfson on 8/31/2017. (mps)
**NOT FOR PUBLICATION**
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 15-4270(FLW)
GEORGE H. SNOWDEN, et al.,
Before the Court is the motion of Defendants Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and
Detective George Snowden (the “Prosecutor Defendants”) for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56, on the Complaint of pro se Plaintiff William Coleman (“Plaintiff”). 1 (ECF No. 11).
Plaintiff’s Complaint raises a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Long Branch Police
Department (the “Police Department”), Detective George H. Snowden, and the Monmouth County
Prosecutor’s Office, alleging violations of his constitutional rights under the Fourteenth, Fifth, and
Sixth Amendments when he was not brought for a first appearance before a judge within 72 hours
of the filing of narcotics charges against him by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office on
On April 26, 2016, the Court converted the Prosecutor Defendants’ motion to dismiss, pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), into a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.
56, because Defendants had submitted documents outside of the pleadings in support of their
motion. (ECF No. 14.)
October 20, 2014. 2 (ECF No. 1-2, Complaint appended to Notice of Removal). For the reasons
explained below, Defendants’ motion is granted. The Court finds that no claim has been raised
against the City of Long Branch, and no further leave to amend to bring claims against the City of
Long Branch shall be granted. The Prosecutor Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is
granted because the Prosecutor’s Office is not a “person” subject to suit under § 1983, and
Detective Snowden is entitled to qualified immunity.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This case arises out of Plaintiff’s arrest pursuant to a valid warrant and subsequent
detention in October 2014. On October 20, 2014, while Plaintiff was incarcerated, in lieu of bail,
at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution (“MCCI”), “as a result of an arrest for narcotics
violations by the Long Branch Police Department,” Detective Snowden of the Monmouth County
Prosecutor’s Office served Plaintiff with complaint-warrants in relation to narcotics charges
brought against Plaintiff (hereinafter the “October 20 Charges”). (EFC No. 11-2, Ex. B). It is
unclear whether Plaintiff’s arrest by the Long Branch Police Department was related to the October
Plaintiff initially filed this action in December 2014, in the Superior Court of New Jersey,
against the City of Long Branch Police Department, George H. Snowden, and the Monmouth
County Prosecutor’s Office. (EFC No. 1-2, Complaint appended to Notice of Removal). In his
Complaint, Plaintiff alleges violations of his due process rights, and seeks compensatory and
punitive damages. (See id.) The sum total of Plaintiff’s allegations are:
On October 20, 2014 I was rearrested by Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Officers on
charges 2C:35 [illegible], 2C:35-5B(3), 2C:35-5B(3). I was not brought to my first
The Court has granted Defendant City of Long Branch Police Department’s motion to dismiss
on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) in its April 25, 2016 Order, but allowed Plaintiff
to amend his complaint against the City of Long Branch, the person subject to suit under § 1983.
appearance after (29 Charges) these complaints was filed after 72 hours for the 29 charges
of indictable offense; which is violation of my Constitution of the United States Right
(Civil Rights) Due Process Right. 14th Amendments, 5th Amendments, 6th Amendment
Rights’ on this date of October 28, 2014 I would like to seek fairness and justice to be
served in the court of law, to be understood.
1. City of Long Branch Police Department
344 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07746
2. George H. Snowden
Monmouth County Courthouse
71 Monument Park
Freehold, New Jersey 07725
3. Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office
132 Jerseyville Avenue
Freehold, New Jersey 07728
(ECF No. 1-2). 3 The Complaint then seeks $1,000,000.00 in punitive damages and $1,000,000.00
in compensatory damages. Ibid.
On June 24, 2015, the Long Branch Police Department removed the case to this Court,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1443. (ECF No. 1). After removal, the Police Department filed
a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint against it, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). (ECF No.
10). Plaintiff did not respond to the motion. When analyzing the Police Department’s motion, the
Court noted the gravamen of Plaintiff’s Complaint to be that he was not brought before a judge
within 72 hours after “arrest,” as required by N.J.C.R. 3:4-2, and thus the Court construed his
complaint as a § 1983 claim. (EFC No. 12). On April 25, 2016, the Court granted the Police
Department’s motion to dismiss with prejudice because a Police Department is not a “person”
subject to suit for the purposes of § 1983. (See ECF Nos. 12-13). The Court, however, provided
The Complaint is handwritten and not clearly legible in parts. The Court’s reading of the
Complaint, upon closer scrutiny, therefore diverges somewhat in immaterial aspects from its
initial reading in Coleman v. Snowden, No. CV 15-4270 (FLW), 2016 WL 1628880, at *1
(D.N.J. Apr. 25, 2016).
Plaintiff with 30 days in which to submit an Amended Complaint stating a claim for relief against
the City of Long Branch, rather than the improperly named Police Department. (See id.)
On October 13, 2015, the Prosecutor Defendants also moved to dismiss. (ECF No. 11).
On April 26, 2016, because Plaintiff had failed to respond to the Prosecutor Defendants’ motion,
the Court issued an Order directing Plaintiff to notify the Court whether he intended to proceed
with his case and to file a response to the Prosecutor Defendants’ motion if he intended to proceed.
(See ECF No. 14). In the same Order, the Court converted the Prosecutor Defendants’ motion to
dismiss into a motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. (See id.)
By letter dated May 2, 2016, Plaintiff notified the Court that he wished to proceed with this
action, but failed to add the City of Long Branch as a Defendant or otherwise to amend his
Complaint. (See EFC No. 15). Based on the May 2 Letter, the Court granted Plaintiff a 30-day
extension of time to file his response to the Prosecutor Defendants’ converted motion for summary
judgment, and also provided Plaintiff with an additional 30 days to submit an amended complaint.
(See ECF No. 16). On July 12, 2016, the Court received a letter from Plaintiff dated June 5, 2016,
entitled “Certification in Support of Motion in Opposition to Defendant’s/Court’s Pretrial
Memorandum and Order and Amended Complaint.” (See ECF No. 18-1). In that letter, Plaintiff
restated that his federal constitutional rights were violated when he was not brought before a
magistrate judge within 72 hours after his “arrest” by “members of the Monmouth County
Prosecutor’s Office on October 20, 2014.” 4 (EFC No. 18-1). Plaintiff also expressed his opposition
Plaintiff did not clarify which member from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office “arrested”
him on October 20, 2014. Relying on exhibits submitted by the Prosecutor Defendants, warrants,
and a supplemental report, dated October 21, 2014, it appears to the Court that Plaintiff was
originally arrested by the City of Long Branch Police Department and was detained in the MCCI
on an unknown date prior to October 20, 2014, and that Defendant Snowden, along with another
officer from the Prosecutor’s Office, went to the MCCI to serve Plaintiff with the warrants and to
notify him of the narcotics charges against him.
to the Prosecutor Defendants’ motion for summary judgment in this letter, but failed to state any
material facts in dispute. (See EFC No. 18).
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
As noted above, the Court has converted the Prosecutor Defendants’ motion to dismiss into
a motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied
that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment
as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A
factual dispute is genuine only if there is “a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury
could find for the non-moving party,” and it is material only if it has the ability to “affect the
outcome of the suit under governing law.” Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir.
2006); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Disputes over irrelevant
or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
“In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility
determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party’s
evidence ‘is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.’” Marino v.
Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004).
The burden of establishing that no “genuine issue” exists is on the party moving for
summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330. “A nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of
material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial.”
Gleason v. Norwest Mortg. Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001). The non-moving party must
present “more than a scintilla of evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Woloszyn
v. County of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 319 (3d Cir. 2005). Under Anderson, Plaintiffs’ proffered
evidence must be sufficient to meet the substantive evidentiary standard the jury would have to
use at trial. 477 U.S. at 255. To do so, the non-moving party must “go beyond the pleadings and
by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file,
designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324
(quotation omitted); see also Ridgewood Bd. Of ed. V. Stokley, 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).
In deciding the merits of a party’s motion for summary judgment, the court’s role is not to evaluate
the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue
for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
A. The City of Long Branch
The Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against the City of Long Branch Police Department
on April 25, 2016, on the basis that a police department is not a person for the purposes of 42
U.S.C. § 1983. 5 (See ECF Nos. 12-13). However, in the same Order, the Court allowed Plaintiff
to submit an amended complaint against the City of Long Branch. Following that Order, the Court
received a letter from Plaintiff, on May 11, 2016, which expressed Plaintiff’s intention to proceed
with this action but failed to state a claim against the City of Long Branch. The Court granted
Plaintiff an additional thirty days in which to file an amended complaint. On July 12, 2016, the
Court received a second letter from Plaintiff, in which Mr. Coleman restated that his federal
constitutional rights were violated by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and its employees
but, once again, failed to state any claim against the City of Long Branch. Up to the date of this
Opinion, no Amended Complaint against the City of Long Branch has been filed. Therefore, the
On July 20, 2016, the Court received a letter from the attorney for the Police Department
requesting that the Court dismiss the Complaint against the Long Branch Police Department.
Because Plaintiff’s Complaint against the Police Department was dismissed, with prejudice, by
this Court on April 25, 2016, the Court need not again address the matter here. It suffices to observe
that the Police Department has been terminated as a party to this action.
Court now finds that no claims have been raised against the City of Long Branch, and clarifies that
the City is not a party to this action. To the extent Plaintiff intended the City to be a Defendant,
given the numerous opportunities to amend that this Court has afforded Plaintiff, no further leave
to amend shall be granted.
B. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office
A county prosecutor’s office is not a person amenable to suit under § 1983, because it is a
state agency, not a local governmental body. See Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's
Office, 769 F.3d 850, 854–55 (3d Cir. 2014) (holding that New Jersey county prosecutor’s offices
are considered state agencies for § 1983 purposes when fulfilling their law enforcement and
investigative—as opposed to administrative—roles); see also Gordon v. Berkeley Twp. Police, No.
10–5061, 2011 WL 2580473, at *4 (D.N.J. June 27, 2011) (holding that a “Prosecutor's Office” is
not a “person” within the meaning of a § 1983 suit). As such, the Court now grants the Monmouth
Prosecutor’s Office’s motion for summary judgment.
C. Detective George Snowden
The Court liberally construes Plaintiff’s Complaint to assert a § 1983 claim against
Defendant Snowden in his personal capacity. 6 Defendant Snowden moves for summary judgment
on the grounds of qualified immunity. 7 In assessing whether a defendant is entitled to qualified
Plaintiff’s complaint would be dismissed if the Court construed his § 1983 claim against
Defendant Snowden in his official capacity. It is well settled that county prosecutor’s office
detectives, when performing law enforcement functions, are agents of State and are entitled to
sovereign immunity for all claims brought against them in their official capacities under both
Section 1983 and the NJCRA. See Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 769 F.3d
850, 857 (3d Cir. 2014); Beightler v. Office of Essex County Prosecutor, 342 F. Appx. 829, 832
(3d Cir. 2009); Woodyard v. Cty. of Essex, 514 F. Appx. 177, 182 (3d Cir. 2013). Thus, had
Plaintiff raised such a claim against Det. Snowden, it would be subject to dismissal.
In the April 26, 2016 Order, the Court converted Defendant Snowden’s motion to dismiss into a
motion for summary judgment because Defendant had presented evidence outside of the
Complaint in support of his motion to dismiss.
immunity, courts undertake a two-step inquiry: (i) whether the facts alleged, when viewed in the
light most favorable to the party asserting injury, show that the officer’s conduct violated a
constitutional right; and (ii) whether the right that was allegedly violated was clearly established,
i.e., whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation
he confronted. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001).
“‘The first step in evaluating a section 1983 claim is to identify the exact contours of the
underlying right said to have been violated’ and to determine whether the plaintiff has alleged a
deprivation of a constitutional right at all.’” Chavarriaga v. New Jersey Dep't of Corr., 806 F.3d
210, 222 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000)). “Next, a
plaintiff must demonstrate a defendant’s ‘personal involvement in the alleged wrongs.’” Id.
(quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). “A plaintiff makes sufficient
allegations of a defendant’s personal involvement by describing the defendant’s participation in or
actual knowledge of and acquiescence in the wrongful conduct.” Id. “Although a court can infer
that a defendant had contemporaneous knowledge of wrongful conduct from the circumstances
surrounding a case, the knowledge must be actual, not constructive.” Id. (citing Baker v. Monroe
Twp., 50 F.3d 1186, 1194 (3d Cir. 1995)). “A plaintiff ‘must portray specific conduct by state
officials which violates some constitutional right.’” Id. (quoting Gittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d
1, 3 (3d Cir. 1970)).
Here, Plaintiff alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated because he “was not
brought to [his] first appearance . . . after 72 hours.” (ECF No. 1-2). The Complaint does not allege
that Detective Snowden participated in, had knowledge of, or acquiesced in Plaintiff’s holding
without initial appearance within 72 hours, nor does it allege that Detective Snowden was the
person responsible for producing Plaintiff for his initial appearance within the required period. 8
The record on summary judgment similarly provides no evidence of the participation, knowledge,
or acquiescence of Detective Snowden in Plaintiff’s detention without initial appearance for some
amount of time exceeding 72 hours. The only conduct of Detective Snowden attested to in the
record is that Snowden served Plaintiff with complaint-warrants in relation to narcotics charges
brought against Plaintiff, on October 20, 2014, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Monmouth
County Correctional Institution (“MCCI”), “as a result of an arrest for narcotics violations by the
Long Branch Police Department.” (EFC No. 11-2, Ex. B). Plaintiff does not challenge the manner
in which the complaint-warrants were served, but rather, challenges only his subsequent detention
without initial hearing within 72 hours. There are neither allegations nor evidence to support
Detective Snowden’s personal involvement in the latter, and so Plaintiff has failed to allege a
violation of a constitutional right arising from Defendant Snowden’s conduct. Plaintiff’s personal
capacity, § 1983 claim against Defendant Snowden thus fails at the first step of the Court’s
qualified immunity analysis, and the Court finds that Defendant Snowden is entitled to qualified
immunity in this case. Chavarriaga, 806 F.3d at 222 (“The District Court correctly granted
[defendants] summary judgment on [plaintiff’s] § 1983 complaint because [plaintiff’s] allegations
The state procedural protection upon which Plaintiff bases his § 1983 claim, N.J.C.R. 3:4-2(a),
which, at the time of Plaintiff’s arrest, provided for any criminal defendant to be brought for a
first appearance before a magistrate within 72 hours of the defendant’s commitment to jail, does
not itself specify which state official bears the responsibility for producing the defendant at the
initial appearance. The remainder of Rule 3:4-2, however, clearly imposes obligations upon the
presiding judge and the prosecutor only, with no mention of a detective in the position of
Defendant Snowden. See 3:4-2(c) (imposing obligations on the presiding judge at the initial
hearing); (c)(1)(A)-(B) (referencing the prosecutor’s obligation to provide the state’s position on
pretrial detention). In the absence of any allegations by, or factual support from, Plaintiff
demonstrating that Defendant Snowden bore responsibility for complying with the 72-hour
mandate, the Court cannot find such a responsibility on Snowden’s part from the text of the Rule
did not describe their conduct in sufficient detail to support [plaintiff’s] conclusory allegations that
they had either actual contemporaneous knowledge of or any personal involvement in any violation
of her constitutional rights.” (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)).
See also Roberson v. Cty. of Essex, No. 02-5532 (WHW), 2006 WL 2844425, at *10 (D.N.J. Oct.
2, 2006) (granting summary judgment to Sheriff, Director of Division of Correctional Services,
and jail Warden, on Plaintiff’s individual capacity § 1983 claims for failure to provide plaintiff
with an initial appearance within 72 hours because “plaintiff has presented no evidence that any
individually-named defendant in this case was personally involved with or had knowledge of
plaintiff's detention.”). 9
For the reasons stated above, the Court’s previous ruling that Plaintiff's § 1983 claim
against the City of Long Branch Police Department is dismissed with prejudice because it is not a
“person” amenable to suit under § 1983 is affirmed. The Court observes that the City of Long
Branch is not a party to this action, as no claims have been raised against it, and Plaintiff will be
given no further leave to amend to bring such claims. The Prosecutor Defendants’ converted
motion for summary judgment is granted because the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is
not a “person” amenable to suit under § 1983, and Detective Snowden is entitled to qualified
immunity. An appropriate Order to follow.
/s/ Freda L. Wolfson
The Honorable Freda L. Wolfson
United States District Judge
Even liberally construed, Plaintiff’s Complaint cannot be read to bring supervisory liability
claims against Defendant Snowden individually, so the Court need only address Plaintiff’s
claims as based directly on Snowden’s own conduct.
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