Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 94-5200

Citation47 F.3d 628
Decision Date16 February 1995
Docket NumberNo. 94-5200,94-5200
PartiesAlphonse W. GROMAN; Jane M. Groman, Appellants, v. TOWNSHIP OF MANALAPAN; Chief Jimmie R. Potts; Helen K. Kirkland; Thomas White; Matthew Trembow; Peter Vanderweil; John Doe, Richard Roe, Police Officers of the Township of Manalapan, the identity and number of whom is presently unknown to the plaintiffs; Englishtown-Manalapan First Aid Squad; Edward T. Moriarty; Tracie Zachary; Jane A. Doe, John A. Doe, John B. Doe, John C. Doe, Jane B. Doe, and Jane C. Doe, fictitious defendants (representing unlimited fictitious defendants); ABC Co., and XYZ Company, a fictitious entity (representing unlimited fictitious defendants).
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)

Charles F. Wetherell (argued), Meinders & Wetherell, Lakewood, NJ, for appellants.

David F. Luvara (argued), Slimm & Goldberg, Westmont, NJ, for appellees Township of Manalapan, Chief Jimmie R. Potts, Helen K. Kirkland, Thomas White, Matthew Trembow, Peter Vanderweil, Thomas Wallace, Evelyn Schade, Mary Caccamo, Officer Ascough, Officer Visconi, Officer Bruno, Officer McCormick, Officer Rumolo and Officer Cochran.

Mark T. Stopa, Lushan, McCarthy, Goonan & Stopa, Brookline, MA, for appellee Chief Jimmie R. Potts.

Steven B. Portnoff, Law Office of Steven B. Portnoff, Manalapan, NJ, for appellee Thomas White.

George Wilgus, III (argued), Lenox, Socey, Wilgus, Formidoni & Casey, Trenton, NJ, for appellees Englishtown-Manalapan First Aid Squad, Edward T. Moriarty, Tracie Zachary, James Paulser and Joseph Bokenko.

Before: SCIRICA, NYGAARD and McKEE, Circuit Judges.


SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs Alphonse W. Groman and Jane M. Groman appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment on their civil rights claims to defendants Township of Manalapan, the Englishtown-Manalapan First Aid Squad, members of the first aid squad and Manalapan Police Department, and several unknown defendants.

The dispute arises out of the arrest of Mr. Groman at his residence on February 17, 1990. Plaintiffs brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (1988), alleging certain constitutional violations based on: use of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, failure to provide necessary medical treatment, unlawful search and seizure, conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, and denial of right to counsel. 1

The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants on all constitutional claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction on the state law claims. We will affirm on all counts except the claim of excessive force against police officers Helen K. Kirkland, Matthew Trembow, and Peter Vanderweil, and the claims of false arrest and false imprisonment against police officer Kirkland.


On February 17, 1990, Alphonse W. Groman and his wife, Jane M. Groman, were in their home in Manalapan, New Jersey, when Mr. Groman, age seventy-five, allegedly suffered a minor stroke. Mrs. Groman telephoned her neighbor, James W. Thomson, who came over with his son, James E. Thomson, and then called the police for first aid. Officer Helen K. Kirkland of the Township of Manalapan Police Department was the first to respond.

When Kirkland arrived at the Groman residence, James W. Thomson and Mrs. Groman were attempting to place Mr. Groman into a chair. Kirkland entered the room and proceeded toward Mr. Groman, who resisted her contact and demanded to go outside. Mr. Groman admitted to consuming one alcoholic drink sometime earlier.

Exactly what happened next is hotly contested. Plaintiffs contend Mr. Groman was standing still, arms to his side, when Kirkland struck him in the mouth. This blow, plaintiffs maintain, was an unprovoked assault against a small elderly man, who, while uncooperative, did not deserve to be struck. 2 Defendants assert Kirkland put a hand on Groman's shoulder in an effort to get him to sit down. Immediately thereafter Groman punched Kirkland in the face, cutting and bruising her cheek, and began using abusive language. As he prepared to hit her again, Kirkland responded out of fear for her own safety and hit Groman. She observed that Groman was combative and that he smelled of alcohol. 3 According to plaintiffs, Groman was a stroke victim, disoriented and a bit aggressive, who was assaulted by a police officer dispatched to assist him. Defendants portray Groman as a violent drunk and claim Kirkland's response was the appropriate reaction to a dangerous situation.

Kirkland called the Manalapan Police Department for backup. Officer Matthew Trembow soon arrived to aid Kirkland and the local first aid squad arrived shortly thereafter, followed by Lieutenant Peter Vanderweil. Members of the first aid squad attempted to provide medical assistance to Groman but he rebuffed them. Groman continued to be belligerent and to curse at the police and first aid squad. The first aid squad members left without treating him.

The police officers proceeded to arrest Groman, but he was not cooperative. After a brief struggle which plaintiffs attribute to Groman's limited mobility in his right arm and defendants to Groman's attempt to resist arrest, the officers placed Groman in handcuffs. As the police took Groman out to the police car, he allegedly sustained an injury to his face and lost his dentures.

Upon arrival at the police station, the officers removed Groman from the car. Here again the parties vigorously dispute what occurred. Plaintiffs maintain, based on Groman's hazy recollection, that the police officers dragged Groman out of the car feet first causing his head to hit the pavement. After picking him up, the officers stomped on his toe, allowed him to fall again, and then one of the officers jumped on him. Defendant police officers say that as they moved Groman from the police car to the station he fell, knocking his head against the ground, and that Kirkland lost her balance trying to hold Groman up and fell with him. Once inside the police station, plaintiffs contend the officers left Groman handcuffed for some time. The first aid squad was called again, but Groman again refused treatment. Groman's daughter asserts his pants were doused in alcohol when she picked him up from the police station. Plaintiffs maintain that during the course of these events Groman sustained black eyes and minor cuts and bruises to the face and hands. The police charged Groman with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. He was acquitted on all counts after a bench trial in the Manalapan Township Municipal Court.


We exercise plenary review over the grant of a motion for summary judgment. Oritani Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 989 F.2d 635, 637 (3d Cir.1993). We apply the same test required of the district court, viewing the facts from the evidence submitted in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and taking the non-movant's allegations as true. Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir.1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1038, 97 S.Ct. 732, 50 L.Ed.2d 748 (1977). We have jurisdiction over this appeal under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291 (1988).

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). After one party has filed a properly supported summary judgment motion, the party opposing it must present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511-12, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The party contesting the motion must demonstrate a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. Plaintiffs contend they have presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment.


Section 1983 of 42 U.S.C. 4 does not create substantive rights, but provides a remedy for the violation of rights created by federal law. Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816, 105 S.Ct. 2427, 2432, 85 L.Ed.2d 791 (1985). A prima facie case under Sec. 1983 requires a plaintiff to demonstrate: (1) a person deprived him of a federal right; and (2) the person who deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640, 100 S.Ct. 1920, 1923, 64 L.Ed.2d 572 (1980).

A. Claims Against the Police

An excessive force claim under Sec. 1983 arising out of law enforcement conduct is based on the Fourth Amendment's protection from unreasonable seizures of the person. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394-95, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1870-71, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). A cause of action exists under Sec. 1983 when a law enforcement officer uses force so excessive that it violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Brown v. Borough of Chambersburg, 903 F.2d 274, 277 (3d Cir.1990). Police officers are privileged to commit a battery pursuant to a lawful arrest, but the privilege is negated by the use of excessive force. Edwards v. City of Phila., 860 F.2d 568, 572 (3d Cir.1988).

When a police officer uses force to effectuate an arrest that force must be reasonable. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396, 109 S.Ct. at 1871. The reasonableness of the officer's use of force is measured by "careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight." Id. The reasonableness inquiry is objective, but should give appropriate scope to the circumstances of the police action, which are often "tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving." Id. at 397, 109 S.Ct. at 1872.


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