Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Monmouth Judge grants Sea Bright's summary judgment motion in police excessive force case because plaintiff's lawyers were too "occupied and distracted" to properly oppose it.

In his August 19, 2015 lawsuit, a Lincroft man claimed that Sea Bright Borough (Monmouth County) police officers severely beat him after taking him into custody following his August 13, 2013 arrest for assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.  In a May 25, 2018 Order, Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Dennis R. O'Brien dismissed the man's lawsuit because his lawyers did not properly respond to the Borough's summary judgment motion.

According to his lawsuit, Brian Beyer offered no resistance to the Sea Bright officers who responded after Beyer and another man were "engaged in a verbal altercation" at the Driftwood Cabana Club.  Beyer claimed that after being placed in a holding cell, Officers Chad Murphy and Brian T. Conover stuck a "billy club" into his abdomen and used it "in a careful, methodical way" to cause "serious injury."  According to Beyer's complaint, the officers placed the club "below his stardom [sic - probably intended "sternum"] and struck it at the other end with an open fist with such force and for such an extended period" to cause serious injury.

The Sea Bright Police Department had a different recollection of the incident as reflected in a Statement of Facts that accompanied the Borough's April 13, 2018 Motion for Summary Judgment.  According to police, Beyer instigated the altercation with a club patron and the shouted obscenities at police and physically resisted when the officers were attempting to handcuff him.  At the holding cell, Beyer reportedly "continued to act extremely belligerent by kicking the cell door and screaming profanities."  Sea Bright Police also claimed that they "do not carry 'billy clubs' or any similar mechanical weapons."

In this case--like most others--there are stark differences between the arrestee's and the officers' versions of events.  Courts use summary judgment motions to identify which facts are genuinely in dispute and need to be resolved by a jury.  In this case, Sea Bright's lawyer, Charles J. Uliano of West Long Branch, claimed in his summary judgment motion that Sea Bright's version of events was unassailable and should lead the court to conclude that Beyer's lawsuit should be dismissed.

Sea Bright's motion, which was filed on April 13, 2018, was supposed to be heard by Judge O'Brien on May 11, 2018.  Beyer's lawyer, Michael T. Warshaw of Redbank, requested and was granted an adjournment of the hearing until May 25, 2018.  Then, at 4:06 p.m. on May 24, 2018--the day before the hearing--Warshaw electronically submitted a single-page letter to Judge O'Brien that stated: "Please accept this letter an an opposition to [Sea Bright's] motion for Summary Judgment.  Between myself and co-counsel, we were very occupied and distracted and the opposition got away from us.  There are too many disputed issues of material facts and we would like the opportunity to oppose the motion."

In a Statement of Reasons that accompanied his May 25, 2018 Order, Judge O'Brien ruled that Warshaw's May 24, 2018 letter was too little too late.  Judge O'Brien noted that procedural rules require parties who oppose summary judgment motions to provide detailed responses that admit or deny each statement of fact as set forth by the movant.  Judge O'Brien wrote that Warshaw's letter was "insufficient" and "falls far short of" the court's procedural rules.  While he was "sympathetic to the demands of the modern day practice of law," Judge O'Brien wrote that Warshaw's failure to properly oppose Sea Bright's motion was "inexplicable, especially when the offending party requested and was granted an adjournment." Judge O'Brien considered Sea Bright's motion as unopposed and granted its motion to dismiss Beyer's lawsuit.