Alfano v. Schaud, A-1379-11T2; Appellate Division; opinion by Parrillo, P.J.A.D.; decided and approved for publication February 14, 2013. Before Judges Parrillo, Sabatino and Maven. On appeal from the Law Division, Atlantic County, L-2046-09. DDS No. 07-2-9010 [12 pp.]
Plaintiff, Frank Alfano Jr., appeals from the summary judgment dismissal of his complaint against defendant Pierce Schaud, alleging violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, arising from a traffic stop.
Defendant is a patrolman for the borough of Longport. On May 15, 2009, he responded to a motorist’s report of a traffic hazard caused by a parked car. Plaintiff, a county employee who was delivering paper products to the municipal building at the time, was parked illegally outside the Longport library. At 9:33 a.m., from his patrol vehicle, defendant radioed to police dispatch that he was responding to the complaint and requested the dispatcher to contact the library to locate the driver of the vehicle. The librarian informed plaintiff that Longport police were waiting for him outside.
Plaintiff exited the building and defendant advised him that he was parked illegally. Plaintiff responded that the two one-hour parking spots were being occupied by the mayor and another official and if they did not park there all day, then plaintiff would have a parking space.
According to plaintiff, defendant became very upset, asked for plaintiff’s driver’s license, threatened to have him fired, and accused him of being a political enemy. He stated the entire encounter lasted approximately 40 minutes. When plaintiff asked to be ticketed so he could leave, defendant supposedly responded that they were being "watched" and that the officer had to make it appear as if he were giving plaintiff a hard time.
Defendant denies the confrontation was politically motivated and states that he asked for plaintiff’s driving credentials only after plaintiff started cursing at him. According to defendant, the entire incident lasted 10 to 15 minutes and ended with a verbal warning and a suggestion that plaintiff park in the nearby police parking lot in the future. During the encounter, when plaintiff said he felt he was being "targeted" because of his position on certain municipal issues, defendant assured him that he was simply doing his job and that while he was completely apolitical, he would not tolerate plaintiff’s attitude.
Defendant’s account of the duration of the traffic stop is supported by a real-time audio recording and transcript of the police dispatch radio traffic on the date and time in question, with verbal time markers, which demonstrate that the encounter lasted only nine minutes. Further, Police Chief Pacentrilli certified that he authorized an order for a power control switch for defendant’s patrol vehicle; the installation of the power switch occurred within minutes; and defendant left the Margate Public Works garage at 10:06 a.m.
In granting summary judgment in favor of defendant, the motion judge reasoned that although plaintiff indicates the encounter lasted 40 minutes, in light of the overwhelming amount of proofs introduced by defendants, this bald-faced assertion cannot be considered a "genuine or material" factual argument.
On appeal, plaintiff challenges the grant of summary judgment relief, arguing that there are genuine issues of material fact concerning the circumstances and length of his detention by defendants, on which his Civil Rights Act complaint is predicated.
Held: For purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment, when opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted and discredited by conclusive physical evidence so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts.
At the summary judgment stage, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a "genuine" dispute as to those facts. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial.
When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff’s story of a 40-minute detention instigated by bad-faith political retribution is utterly discredited by the audiotape, which is time-stamped and showed at most a nine-minute encounter that ended simply with a verbal warning and offer of another parking spot on future trips to the Longport library. Significantly, there is no indication, much less evidence, that the audiotape was doctored or altered in any way. Nor is there any credible proof that what it depicted differs from what actually happened.
Plaintiff’s account is further contradicted not only by the indisputable fact that he was parked illegally, but as well by the certification of the chief of police, which corroborates the time sequences memorialized on the audiotape. Plaintiff’s version of events is so clearly refuted by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him and, therefore, no "genuine" issue of fact existed.
As to whether defendant was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, the appellate panel finds that defendant’s nine-minute encounter with plaintiff was reasonably related in duration, scope and content to the reason for the brief, limited detention, which indisputably occurred because plaintiff’s vehicle was parked illegally. As such, the so-called "detention" endured no longer and was no greater in scope than reasonably necessary to effectuate its purpose. Under the circumstances, the only sound conclusion is that the police action was objectively reasonable. There being no "genuine" issue of fact in dispute, defendant was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
For appellant — Jacobs & Barbone (Louis M. Barbone and Yoo Nieh Ahn on the brief). For respondent Patrolman Pierce Schaud — Reynolds & Drake (Steven M. Horn on the brief).