Mom Loses Suit Over Mass Grave Turmoil
(CN) - New Jersey cites are not liable after waiting more than four years to tell a woman that they found her missing son's body and buried him in a mass grave, a federal judge ruled.
Michael Simko was 27 and living in Queens, N.Y., when his mother, Zdenka Simkova, expected him to visit her in Garfield, N.J., for Thanksgiving 2007, according to the complaint.
When Michael never arrived, Simkova allegedly filed a missing person's report with the 113th Precinct in Jamaica, Queens, on Nov. 22, and with the Garfield Police Department days later.
Garfield police refused to process Simkova's request, however, telling her to file a report in New York instead, the complaint states.
In Newark, officers allegedly told Simkova on Dec. 1 that they had seen Michael the day before and that he had asked to stay overnight in the precinct.
The next week, Newark officers again told Simkova that Michael had recently been seen in the area, and refused to process a missing person's report, according to the complaint.
Newark police also refused to let Simkova post flyers around Penn Station, she said.
More than four years later, in January 2012, the NYPD told Simkova that her son had died in November 2007 and was buried in a mass grave in Hackensack, N.J., according to the complaint.
Medical examiner Zhongxue Hua had allegedly identified Michael by his fingerprints on Nov. 27 and found that he had died from heroin and alcohol.
Hua did not notify Simkova or "the appropriate officials," however, so Michael's body lay unclaimed for almost a year, until it was given to Eternity Funeral Services in August 2008, according to the complaint.
Eventually Monica Calderon, an employee with the State Medical Examiner's office, showed Simkova pictures so that she positively identified her son.
Simkova filed her complaint just over a year ago in Newark, suing Calderon, her office, Hua, Newark, Garfield, the police departments in both communities, and the funeral home.
She claimed that their failure to try to properly identify missing persons deprived her of her right to bury her son according to her religion.
Though acknowledging that Simkova's allegations are "disturbing and painful," U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden fully dismissed the federal claims on March 31.
"While it may be said that the municipal defendants' combined actions or inactions resulted in Michael's burial years before his mother knew about his death, Simkova's due process claims must demonstrate a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation," the unpublished ruling states.
"Even construing the facts in the light most favorable to Simkova, the link between policies in Newark and Garfield about how police reports on missing persons were taken and the events alleged is simply 'too tenuous' to support a claim of liability," Hayden added.
In tossing Simkova's allegations about an alleged policy or failure to train, Hayden said "the complaint does not actually identify any unconstitutional policy implemented by the municipalities that led to the actions of the individual officers in the case."
The medical examiner's office should not face claims meanwhile because it is an alter ego of the state, immune from suit under the 11th Amendment.
Though Hua, Calderon and the funeral home had not moved to dismiss, Hayden nixed the federal claims against them and declined to exercise jurisdiction on the state-law claims.