Muench, Parks and Ruiz filed an action on January 25, 1995, alleging the same violations. At the request of the parties, this Court consolidated the cases on August 2, 1996. All plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief and monetary damages.
Summary judgment may not be granted unless the submissions of the parties taken together "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), Fed. R. Civ. P. In making this judgment, the burden is on the moving party, and all facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). When the moving party has asserted facts which demonstrate that the non-moving party's claim cannot be sustained, the opposing party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," and cannot rest on "mere allegations or denials" of the facts asserted by the movant. Rule 56(e), Fed. R. Civ. P.; accord Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 525-26 (2d Cir. 1994).
The Court may dismiss an action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., only when a plaintiff "can prove no set of facts in support of [his] claim that would entitle [him] to relief." Christ Gatzonis Elec. Contractor, Inc. v. New York City Sch. Constr. Auth., 23 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 1994). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all allegations in the Complaint. Annis v. County of Westchester, 36 F.3d 251, 253 (2d Cir. 1994). Only if, assuming all facts as true, plaintiff still fails to plead the basic elements of a cause of action can the Court dismiss the claim.
A. Individual Versus Official Capacity
As an initial matter, this Court must determine whether the Complaints are filed against the named individuals in their official or individual capacity, or both. The caption in the Muench Complaint clearly indicates that the individuals have been sued in their official capacity. It is unclear from the caption in the Soto Complaint under which capacity plaintiffs are suing the named individuals.
The body of the Complaint filed by Soto and Acosta, however, refers to the individual defendants "acting in their official capacities as employees" of the City and DOC. The Supreme Court has held that such language is an indicator of an intent to sue an individual in his or her official capacity. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 26, 116 L. Ed. 2d 301, 112 S. Ct. 358 (1991).
The course of proceedings in this case does not alter the conclusion that the plaintiffs have sued each of the individual defendants in their official capacity. Frank v. Relin, 1 F.3d 1317, 1326 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1012, 126 L. Ed. 2d 569, 114 S. Ct. 604 (1993). In the instant case, the parties' papers do not discuss defendants' liability in their individual capacity. Since this is a suit against a municipality and not a state, the Eleventh Amendment is not triggered. Monell v. Department of Soc. Serv. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.54, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978). Therefore, whether the parties are seeking monetary versus injunctive relief is not a guide to whether they are suing the individual defendants in their official or individual capacities because under Section 1983 local governments can be sued directly for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief.
Id. at 690. Moreover, the parties' discussion throughout their motion papers centers on defendants' liability as officials. For these reasons, I find that both actions were brought against the individual defendants only in their official capacity.
B. Section 1983 Claim
Section 1983 provides that
every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.
42 U.S.C. § 1983. There are two distinct parts to a Section 1983 claim: first, whether plaintiffs have alleged that a person acting under color of state law has deprived the plaintiffs of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, see Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d 94, 98 (2d Cir. 1993); and second, whether the various defendants may be held liable for that action based on the requirements of Monell, 436 U.S. 658, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, 98 S. Ct. 2018. Additionally, to recover compensatory damages, plaintiffs must demonstrate actual injury. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 112, 121 L. Ed. 2d 494, 113 S. Ct. 566 (1992) (citing Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 264, 55 L. Ed. 2d 252, 98 S. Ct. 1042 (1978)).
This Court must first determine whether the actions by the defendants amounted to a constitutional deprivation. Indeed, "Section 1983 is only a grant of a right of action; the substantive right giving rise to the action must come from another source." Singer v. Fulton County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 1995).
As a second matter, this Court must determine whether each of the defendants -- a municipality, a municipal agency, and municipal officials sued in their official capacity -- can be held liable for these actions. This inquiry really focuses on the liability of the municipality and its agency because a suit against individual defendants in their official capacity is construed as a suit against the municipality. Frank, 1 F.3d at 1326 ("the real party in interest in an official capacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official") (quoting Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25). If plaintiffs had sued the individual defendants in their personal capacities, then this Court would discuss their liability separate from municipal liability, Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25 -- a liability that turns on personal involvement.
To find New York City and the Department of Corrections liable under Section 1983, plaintiffs must demonstrate that a governmental policy of discrimination injured plaintiffs. A municipality and its agencies may not be held liable under a respondeat superior theory, but may be held liable only "when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury." Monell, 436 U.S. at 694; Walker v. City of New York, 974 F.2d 293, 294 (2d Cir. 1992). In this regard, the Supreme Court has set forth a number of guiding principles:
First, . . . municipalities may be held liable under § 1983 only for acts for which the municipality itself is actually responsible, "that is, acts which the municipality has officially sanctioned or ordered." Id. at 480. Second, only those municipal officials who have "final policymaking authority" may by their actions subject the government to § 1983 liability. Id. at 483 (plurality opinion). Third, whether a particular official has "final policymaking authority" is a question of state law. Id. (plurality opinion). Fourth, the challenged action must have been taken pursuant to a policy adopted by the official or officials responsible under state law for making policy in that area of the city's business. Id. at 482-483, and n.12 (plurality opinion).