In Frohner v. City of Wildwood, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey addressed a very unusual and interesting factual scenario. The lawsuit asserted numerous claims arising out of the arrest and handcuffing of plaintiff, an undercover FBI agent, by defendants, local police officers. Defendants suspected plaintiff was a motorcyclist impersonating an FBI agent.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on a variety of plaintiff’s claims. First, the Court denied defendants’ motions as to the false-arrest claims because defendants failed to show as a matter of law that they had probable cause or arguable probable cause to believe plaintiff was impersonating an FBI agent. Next, the Court denied defendants’ motion as to the claim that defendants’ conducted an unlawful search and seizure of plaintiff’s car. The Court indicated that it could not be concluded that the search was incident to a lawful arrest.

The Court also denied defendants’ motion as to plaintiff’s excessive-force and punitive damages claims. The Court held that such a claim will lie for the use of excessively tight handcuffs and that expert testimony is not required. With regard to plaintiff’s punitive damages claim, the Court noted that the issue as to whether any defendant was recklessly indifferent to plaintiff’s rights was a jury question. 

Although the vast majority of plaintiff’s claims were upheld, the Court did grant defendants summary judgment on one of the claims. The Court determined that since plaintiff has not shown a pattern of constitutional violations indicating defendants were deliberately indifferent to the likelihood that constitutional violations such as those alleged in this case would occur, defendants were entitled to summary judgment on that claim.

This case shows that arrests of undercover agents by local police departments, much like arrests of everyday citizens, can give rise to various claims being brought against the departments. Even with the unusual nature of the facts of this case, this case also illustrates that Courts are typically reluctant to dismiss certain claims as long as some evidence in support thereof has been offered.