A-0SUZANNE VENEZIA v. MANASQUAN POLICE DEPARTMENTAnnotate this Case
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-0
MANASQUAN POLICE DEPARTMENT,
October 22, 2014
Submitted October 8, 2014 Decided
Before Judges Fuentes, Kennedy and O'Connor.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-1761-12.
Suzanne Venezia, appellant pro se.
Chamlin, Rosen, Uliano & Witherington, attorneys for respondent (James J. Uliano, on the brief).
On July 11, 2010, Jennifer Hilling was in the Borough of Manasquan when she allegedly witnessed plaintiff Suzanne Venezia strike two parked cars while attempting to parallel park her own vehicle. Hilling reported what she saw to the Manasquan Police Department. Two Manasquan police officers responded to the location where Hilling indicated she saw plaintiff park her car. The officers were able to find plaintiff and informed her that a civilian witness reported that plaintiff had struck two cars while attempting to park. According to the police report, plaintiff "became very upset with both officer[s]" and "continued to interrupt and argue" as one of the officers attempted to explain the situation to her.
The officers issued plaintiff a motor vehicle summons for leaving the scene of an accident in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129. On July 13, 2010, just two days after the officers issued plaintiff the summons for leaving the scene of an accident, plaintiff filed a civil action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Manasquan Police Department, alleging she was "wrongly deprived . . . of [her] 14th Amendment right to liberty in that they commenced a criminal proceeding regardless of the fact that their investigation yielded no probable cause."
The Pennsylvania federal court initially transferred the case to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey located in Trenton. The New Jersey federal court dismissed the case, declining to exercise supplemental discretionary jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims. The court gave plaintiff thirty days to file her cause of action in the Superior Court. In the meantime, on August 25, 2010, the Manasquan Municipal Court dismissed the summons against plaintiff for leaving the scene of an accident.
On April 19, 2012, plaintiff filed this civil complaint against defendant, the Manasquan Police Department, alleging common law malicious prosecution and violations of her rights under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-2. Defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint as a matter of law, arguing that that the Manasquan Police Department cannot be held individually liable because it was a department of the Borough of Manasquan, not an independent entity or person. Plaintiff filed an opposition to defendant's motion and a cross-motion to amend her complaint to name or add the Borough of Manasquan as an additional party defendant. The Law Division denied the motion because any claims against the municipality were by then barred by the two-year statute of limitations.
Applying the standards established by the Supreme Court in Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995) and Rule 4:46-2(c), the Law Division granted defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration on June 21, 2013. Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal to this court on July 11, 2013, specifically identifying the Law Division's order denying her motion for reconsideration as the basis for appellate review. We now affirm.
As an appellate court, we review the denial of a motion for reconsideration to determine whether the trial court abused its discretionary authority. Cummings v. Bahr, 295 N.J. Super. 374, 389 (App. Div. 1996). Reconsideration should only be used "for those cases which fall into that narrow corridor in which either 1) the Court has expressed its decision based upon a palpably incorrect or irrational basis, or 2) it is obvious that the Court either did not consider, or failed to appreciate the significance of probative, competent evidence . . . . Id. at 384 (quoting D Atria v. D Atria, 242 N.J. Super. 392, 401-02 (Ch. Div. 1990)). Additionally, the decision to deny a motion for reconsideration falls 'within the sound discretion of the [trial court], to be exercised in the interest of justice.' Ibid. (quoting D Atria, supra, 242 N.J. Super. at 401).
The "abuse of discretion" standard "arises when a decision is 'made without a rational explanation, inexplicably departed from established policies, or rested on an impermissible basis.'" Flagg v. Essex Cnty. Prosecutor, 171 N.J. 561, 571 (2002) (quoting Achacoso-Sanchez v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv., 779 F.2d 1260, 1265 (7th Cir. 1985)). The standard analyzes "whether there are good reasons for an appellate court to defer to the particular decision at issue." Ibid. The appellate court should ask whether the trial court's decision was "'arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or manifestly unreasonable . . . .'" Ibid. (quoting Coletti v. Cudd Pressure Control, 165 F.3d 767, 777 (10th Cir. 1999)).
Against this standard of review, we discern no legal basis to interfere with the Law Division's decision denying plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Thomas F. Scully, as reflected in his oral opinion delivered from the bench on June 21, 2013. We also incorporate by reference the Law Division's earlier decision granting defendant's motion for summary judgment.