As a primary matter, § 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but instead provides a vehicle for vindicating the violation of other federal rights. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989).
Section 1983 provides in relevant part: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . . 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Therefore, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).
Plaintiffs allege that defendants used “excessive force,” but they do not specify what “right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States” defendants allegedly violated.
The Court will construe their “excessive force” claim to allege a violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989) (explaining that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of excessive force during the course of an arrest).
To the extent Plaintiffs plead Fourth Amendment violations by defendants, their claims do not survive, for several reasons.
First, plaintiffs cannot maintain § 1983 claims against the New Jersey State Police or the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office because they are not “persons” who can act under the color of law. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (explaining that a state or an arm of the state is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983); Smith v. New Jersey, 908 F. Supp. 2d 560, 563 (D.N.J. 2012) (dismissing a § 1983 claim against the State of New Jersey and the New Jersey State Police because the state and arms of the state may not be sued under § 1983); Wright v. State, 778 A.2d 443, 462 (N.J. 2001)
(“The legislative delegation, in combination with the Attorney General’s supervisory authority and power to supersede, demonstrates that at its essence the county prosecutors’ law enforcement function is clearly a State function.”); Briggs v. Moore, 251 F. App’x 77, 79 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Reitz v. County of Bucks, 125 F.3d 139, 148 (3d Cir. 1997)) (finding that a county prosecutor’s office is not a separate entity that can be sued under § 1983).
Second, with regard to plaintiffs’ excessive force claims against CCPO Detective Webb and New Jersey State Trooper Boland, those claims must be dismissed for insufficient pleading. “A[n individual government] defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing . . . . Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.” Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005).
In their amended complaint, other than generally stating that Webb and Boland searched the wrong house and used excessive force, plaintiffs do not ascribe any specific wrongdoing to Webb or Boland.2
The fundamental “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” required by Rule 8(a)(2) is completely lacking, and everyone is left to guess as to Webb’s and Boland’s role in the execution of the search warrant at plaintiffs’ home.
In contrast to what Twombly and Iqbal instruct, plaintiffs’ deficient pleading does not provide enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence to support their excessive force claims. Thus, all of plaintiffs’ claims brought pursuant to § 1983 for excessive force must be dismissed as to all defendants.