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.    

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Photo of Frank M. Crivelli Frank M. Crivelli

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state…

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

Mr. Crivelli specializes his individual practice in collective negotiations.  Over the past twenty (20) years, Mr. Crivelli has negotiated well over one hundred (100) collective bargaining agreements for various state, county, municipal and private organizations and has resolved over thirty-five (35) labor agreements that have reached impasse through compulsory interest arbitration.  Mr. Crivelli routinely litigates matters in front of the New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, third party neutrals for mediation, grievance and interest arbitration, the Superior Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Crivelli founded and created the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog (www.njpublicsafetyofficers.com) approximately fifteen (15) years ago where he and members of his firm routinely publish blog posts regarding legal issues related to the employment of New Jersey Public Safety Officers.  The blog now contains over six hundred (600) articles and is reviewed and relied upon by thousands of public employees.  Mr. Crivelli has also published books and manuals pertaining to New Jersey Public Employee Disability Pension Appeals and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation System. Currently, he is drafting a publication on how to Prepare and Negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He lectures annually at the New Jersey State PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar, the National Association of Police Organization’s Legal Seminar, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Seminar on Public Employment Labor Law, the United States Marine Corps’ Commander’s Media Training Symposium and to Union Executive Boards and General Membership bodies on various labor related topics.

Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Crivelli joined the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Judge Advocate with the Legal Services Support Section of the First Force Services Support Group in Camp Pendleton, California.  While serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. Crivelli defended and prosecuted hundreds of Special and General Court Martial cases and administrative separation matters.  In addition to his trial duties, Mr. Crivelli was also charged with the responsibility of training various Marine and Naval combat command elements on the interpretation and implementation of the rules of engagement for various military conflicts that were ongoing throughout the world at that time. After leaving active duty, Mr. Crivelli remained in the Marine Corps Reserves where he was promoted to the rank of Major before leaving the service.

For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Crivelli has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court for the State of New Jersey, a certification which less than two percent (2%) of the attorneys in New Jersey have achieved.  He is a graduate of Washington College (B.A.), the City University of New York School of Law (J.D.), the United States Naval Justice School, and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.