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MEISELMAN v. RICHARDSON

August 20, 1990

ANNETTE D. MEISELMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LT. RICHARDSON, SHIELD NO. 18, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A CORRECTIONS LIEUTENANT OF SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK; C/O CROSBY, SHIELD NO. 363, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A CORRECTIONS OFFICER OF SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK; APRIL LASPISA, SHIELD NO. 492, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A CORRECTIONS OFFICER OF SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK; COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, NEW YORK; AND TOWN OF SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is plaintiff's motion to strike certain affirmative defenses, raising the issues of whether the notice of claim and statute of limitations provisions of New York's General Municipal Law apply in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that, as a matter of law, the provisions of New York General Municipal Law §§ 50-e and 50-i are inapplicable to section 1983 actions.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On May 15, 1988, based on an arrest warrant, plaintiff Annette D. Meiselman ("Meiselman") was arrested at her home at 11 Buttercup Lane, Westhampton, New York for alleged violations of the Town of Southampton, New York ("Southampton") zoning regulations. She was then taken to the Southampton courthouse where she was arraigned and bail was set, which she was unable to post. Thereafter, she was transported to the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead, New York ("the Facility").

Meiselman claims that upon her arrival at the Facility, her property was seized. She also alleges that she was maliciously pinched and kicked by the defendant Richardson, a corrections lieutenant of Suffolk County, and strip-searched by the defendants Crosby and Laspisa, also Suffolk County corrections officers. Plaintiff further alleges that she was unjustly questioned as to the sale and use of illegal drugs and involvement in prostitution and was denied her request to contact her attorney. Finally, Meiselman asserts that Southampton and its employees displayed gross negligence amounting to "deliberate indifference to [her] constitutional rights" by failing to notify her of her obligation to appear in court on January 22, 1988 and of the warrant issued for her arrest on that date due to her nonappearance (see Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum in Support at p. 1).

Meiselman thereafter commenced this civil rights action on January 25, 1990 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages against all of the defendants, and $900,000 in punitive damages against the individual defendants.

In its amended answer dated June 11, 1990, Southampton asserts as its second affirmative defense, "that the Court has no jurisdiction over the defendant, Town of Southampton, since jurisdictional prerequisites to the cause of action as prescribed by statute have not been met" (see Amended Answer of Town of Southampton ¶ 14). In its fourth affirmative defense, Southampton alleges "that the claims of the plaintiff in this action are barred by reason of the Statute of Limitations of the State of New York General Municipal Law Section 50 which are [sic] applicable to the said claim by operation of law" (see Amended Answer of Town of Southampton ¶ 16). Meiselman now moves, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f), for dismissal of these two affirmative defenses on the grounds that they are sham and without merit.

The issue presented is whether the provisions of New York's General Municipal Law governing tort actions against municipalities is applicable to section 1983 actions. The defendant argues that the claim is subject to the ninety day notice of claim requirement set forth in section 50-e, and the one year and ninety day statute of limitations set forth in section 50-i. In opposition, plaintiff contends that as a matter of law, no notice of claim is required and the applicable statute of limitations is three years under New York's general personal injury statute.

DISCUSSION

a) Applicable Standard on a Motion to Strike a Defense

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f), a court may strike "any insufficient defense" from a pleading. Some courts are reluctant to grant a motion to strike a defense absent a showing that the movant would be prejudiced if the defense were allowed to stand (see, e.g., Bennett v. Spoor Behrins Campbell & Young, Inc., 124 F.R.D. 562, 563-64 (S.D.N.Y. 1989); Ciminelli v. Cablevision, 583 F. Supp. 158,162 (E.D.N.Y. 1984). However, where an affirmative defense is clearly insufficient as a matter of law, in this Court's view, it is best to eliminate such a defense at the earliest possible stage. Allowing these defenses to stand might lead to unnecessary and protracted litigation, needlessly complicating this case. Postponing such a determination until trial serves no useful purpose since there is nothing more that could possibly be introduced in support of the defendant's argument which would alter the inevitable result.

With these basic principles in mind, and for the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the defendant's second and fourth affirmative defenses are insufficient as a matter of law. In making such a determination, however, the Court makes no ruling at this time as to whether this action is in fact timely pursuant to New York's three-year general personal injury statute of limitations; only that as a matter of law section 50-i is inapplicable.

b) Second Affirmative Defense: Notice of Claim Requirement

New York General Municipal Law ยง 50-e requires that a notice of claim be served within ninety days after the claim arises, as a condition precedent to the commencement of a tort action against a municipality. As a second affirmative defense, Southampton asserts that Meiselman's failure ...


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