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Njie v. Livingston

February 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

(Judge Caputo)


I. Introduction

The pro se plaintiff, Momodou Dodou Njie, an inmate formerly incarcerated at the York County Prison, in York, Pennsylvania,*fn1 filed this civil rights action alleging he was illegally detained, searched, arrested and interrogated by members of the Pennsylvania State Police*fn2 (PSP) without probable cause after a racially motivated traffic stop. Ten pounds of marijuana was discovered in the trunk of Mr. Njie's rental car. Magisterial District Judge Robert Jennings III, who arraigned Mr. Njie, is named as a defendant, as are the following members of the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office who prosecuted him for the drug charge: Edward Marsico, Jr.; Fran Chardo; and Jenni Allen,*fn3

We are currently considering the PSP defendants' motion to dismiss, Judge Jennings' motion to dismiss, and the Dauphin County defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. For the following reasons, the defendants' motions will be granted and the case dismissed as frivolous based on claim preclusion, otherwise known as res judicata, and prosecutorial immunity.

II. Background and Procedural History

A. The Amended Complaint

According to the Amended Complaint, on February 2, 2008, at approximately 10:20 a.m., Mr. Njie was traveling northbound on Interstate 81 in Dauphin County in a rented vehicle when he was stopped by Trooper Livingston for speeding. (Doc. 36, Am. Compl.)*fn4 Mr. Njie believes Trooper Livingston chose to stop him, and not others that day, based on his race. (Id. at ¶ 12.) After learning he was stopped for traveling 70 in a 65 mile per hour zone, Mr. Njie provided Trooper Livingston with his drivers license and a copy of the car rental agreement. (Id. at ¶ 13; and R. 27.)*fn5 Mr. Njie was not listed as the renter of the car. (Id.) At some point during the video taped stop, Trooper Chad Ronk appeared at the scene. (Id. at ¶ 13 and R. 37.) Trooper Livingston issued Mr. Njie a written warning for speeding. (Id. at ¶ 13.) However, after Trooper Livingston smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from the car and saw several cell phones on the front seat, he asked Momodou Njie a few questions about where he was going. (Id. at R. 39.) Mr. Njie told Trooper Livingston that he was headed to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. to visit a sick aunt, who he knew only as "ma'am," at a hospital he could not name. (Id. at RR. 28 - 29.) Trooper Livingston then asked to search the vehicle to which Mr. Njie responded "absolutely not you need a search warrant." (Id. at ¶ 18.) Trooper Livingston then advised Mr. Njie that a new Supreme Court case allowed him to search the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Mr. Njie then popped the trunk. (Id. at ¶ 20 and R. 29.) "Plaintiff then stepped out of the vehicle and proceeded to the rear after second taught (sic) to close the trunk". (Id. at ¶ 20.)*fn6 Trooper Ronk then ordered him "to step away restraining [Mr. Njie's] movement". (Id.) A search of the trunk revealed approximately 10 pounds of marijuana. (Id. at R. 44.) Mr. Njie was then arrested and transported to the PSP barracks for interrogation by Trooper Rudy. (Id. at ¶ 29.)

At the barracks, Mr. Njie's request for a telephone call and an attorney were ignored by the PSP defendants. (Id. at ¶ 32.) After approximately 10 hours of detention, Trooper Hunt handcuffed and transported Mr. Njie for arraignment before Magisterial District Judge Jennings. (Id. at ¶ 32.) Mr. Njie asserts Trooper Hunt placed the handcuffs on him excessively tight causing him permanent nerve damage. (Id.) At his arraignment, where Mr. Njie was represented by counsel, Magistrate Judge Jennings set bail at $150,000, which Mr. Njie believes was inordinately high. (Id. at ¶ 33.) Mr. Njie believes that the Dauphin County defendants conspired with the other defendants to violate his constitutional rights when they prosecuted him for the drugs found in his rental car. (Id. at R. 13.)

Mr. Njie alleges his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated due to his illegal search and seizure, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and illegal arrest. He also makes claims of negligence and conspiracy. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

B. Procedural History

Before filing the action at issue here, Mr. Njie filed another complaint against many of the same defendants. See Njie v. Commonwealth of Pa., Civ. No. 3:08-CV-1960, 2008 WL 4948828 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 19, 2008)(Njie I).*fn7 The following were named as defendants in Njie I: the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Trooper Livingston; Trooper Ronk; Trooper Rudy; Trooper Hunt; Dauphin County Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Allen; and Magistrate Judges Jennings and Bridges. (Id.) The claims asserted in Njie I, arose out of the February 2, 2008, search of the rental vehicle Mr. Njie was driving that resulted in the discovery of 10 pounds of marijuana and ensuing drug charges. See Njie I. As Mr. Njie requested in forma pauperis standing, this Court screened the complaint in Njie I pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and dismissed all claims lodged against the Commonwealth defendants in their official capacities as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. (Id.) Claims against ADA Allen were dismissed on the basis of prosecutorial immunity, and the claims against Magistrate Judges Jennings and Bridges were dismissed based on lack of personal involvement and judicial immunity. (Id.) The entire complaint was dismissed on November 19, 2008, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Momodou Njie did not appeal the Order.

Less than thirty days later, Mr. Njie filed the original complaint in the present matter. Njie v. Livingston, 3:08-CV-2263 (M.D. Pa.)(Njie II)(Doc. 1, Compl.) The PSP defendants and Judge Jennings filed separate motions to dismiss. (See Docs. 18 and Doc. 26).*fn8 After filing his opposition materials to both motions, Mr. Njie, filed an Amended Complaint (doc. 36), which was identical to the original complaint except that it included various exhibits related to his criminal proceedings. The Court dismissed defendants' motions as moot in light of Mr. Njie's Amended Complaint. The Commonwealth defendants then filed a second motion to dismiss raising the affirmative defense of res judicata, among others, as well as state law immunity. (See Doc. 41, Commonwealth Def.'s Br.) Although Mr. Njie filed an opposition brief, he did not address the Commonwealth defendants' argument that his Amended Complaint is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. (See Doc. 54, Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to the Commonwealth Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss.) Magistrate Judge Jennings filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the basis of, inter alia, res judicata and judicial immunity. (See Doc. 43, Def. Jennings' Br.) Mr. Njie asserts that Magistrate Jennings waived his right to assert the doctrine of res judicata as he failed to raise it as an affirmative defense. (Doc. 52, Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n Def. Jennings' Mot. to Dismiss at RR. 13 - 16.) Alternatively, he says he "did not have a fair opportunity to litigate his last suit" ...

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