D.N.J.: Violations of State Law Not Actionable Under § 1983

The district court for New Jersey dismissed damages claims against Newark police officers who enforced a Newark anti-loitering ordinance which had been invalidated in 1982 by the New Jersey Supreme Court as preempted by the state criminal code.

The federal court held that the officers were protected by qualified immunity.  The claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Newark was also dismissed on the grounds that § 1983 applies only to violations of federal law and not to violations of state law.  Kreimer v. City of Newark, 2011 WL 1322265 (D.N.J. Mar. 30, 2011).  The Judge was nominated by Bush II.

Richard Kreimer is a homeless resident of New Jersey. On two occasions, New Jersey Transit officers prevented him from boarding a train operated by New Jersey Transit. On the first occasion, the officer claimed to be enforcing the Newark ordinance that the New Jersey Supreme Court had ruled to be preempted by state law more than twenty years earlier. On the second occasion the plaintiff alleged the officer “identified him as ‘the guy who was suing New Jersey Transit;’ accused him of never having a ticket; and ‘gave Plaintiff the finger’ as the train pulled away.”

The plaintiff filed a complaint against several defendants. The court dismissed all of the claims against the individual officers on the grounds that qualified immunity shielded their conduct.  The court observed that the officer who prevented the plaintiff from boarding the train did not know that the Newark anti-ordinance “was unlawful,” since it remained in the ordinance book given to officers. The court stated: “Under these facts, this Court cannot find that it was clear to [that officer] that his conduct was unlawful, or that he enforced an invalid ordinance.” Similarly granting qualified immunity to that officer’s supervisor, the court stated that there was insufficient evidence of deliberate indifference in failing to inform the subordinate officer of invalidated ordinances.

The judge also dismissed the plaintiff’s § 1983 claim against the City of Newark. The plaintiff claimed that the City violated his rights by continuing to enforce an anti-loitering statute that the New Jersey Supreme Court had held to be invalid. However the court explained that the New Jersey Supreme Court found the anti-loitering statute to be invalid because it was preempted by other state law. Therefore the City of Newark violated state law by continuing to enforce the statute. Under controlling Third Circuit precedent, § 1983 only provides remedies for violations of federal law or the United States Constitution. Because Newark only violated state law, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s §1983 claim against the city.

The court also summarily dismissed the plaintiff’s federal constitutional claims as containing bare legal conclusions not supported by any facts.

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