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WALLIKAS v. HARDER

October 25, 1999

RICHARD C. WALLIKAS AND RAYMOND D. SCHAFFER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DAVID HARDER, BROOME COUNTY SHERIFF, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; COUNTY OF BROOME; AND GERALD W. KELLAR, BROOME COUNTY UNDERSHERIFF, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McAVOY, Chief Judge.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION & ORDER

I. Background

Plaintiffs Richard Wallikas ("Wallikas") and Raymond Schaffer ("Schaffer") (collectively "Plaintiffs") commenced the instant litigation against Defendants David Harder ("Harder"), Broome County Sheriff, in his individual and official capacities, the County of Broome (the "County"), and Gerald W. Kellar ("Kellar"), Broome County Undersheriff, in his individual and official capacities (collectively "Defendants"), asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and pendant state law claims under the New York Constitution and N.Y. CIV. SERV. LAW § 75-b. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants retaliated against them, by affecting the terms and conditions of their employment, in connection with Plaintiffs' participation in the recent election for the Broome County Sheriff's position. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss certain claims pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(2) and (6). Because Defendants' motion raises various procedural issues that do not address the facts or merits underlying Plaintiffs' claims, the Court declines to elaborate on the specific facts and events alleged in the Complaint.

II. Discussion

A. Official Capacity Claims Against Harder and Kellar

Defendants first argue that the official capacity claims against Harder and Kellar should be dismissed because Plaintiffs also name the County as a defendant in the action.

In general, claims against municipal officials in their official capacities are really claims against the municipality and, thus, are redundant when the municipality is also named as a defendant. See, e.g., Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 766 (11th Cir. 1991) ("Because suits against a municipal officer sued in his official capacity and direct suits against municipalities are functionally equivalent, there no longer exists a need to bring official-capacity actions against local government officials, because local government units can be sued directly (provided, of course, that the public entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond)"); Harford v. County of Broome, 1999 WL 615190, at *5-6 (N.D.N.Y. July 15, 1999); Jeffes v. Barnes, 20 F. Supp.2d 404, 410-11 (N.D.N.Y. 1998); Union Pacific R.R. v. Village of S. Barrington, 958 F. Supp. 1285, 1291 (N.D.Ill. 1997); Orange v. County of Suffolk, 830 F. Supp. 701, 706-07 (E.D.N.Y. 1993). As the Supreme Court noted in Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985):

473 U.S. at 165-66, 105 S.Ct. 3099 (quotations omitted).

In the present action, Plaintiffs bring both official-capacity claims against the individual defendants and a Monell-type claim against the County. In addressing the issue of whether a sheriff is an agent or officer of the county such that the county may be liable for the unlawful actions of the sheriff, this Court recently held that it:

  [N]eed not delve into this [issue] . . . to decide
  the instant motion[] because the former provision of
  N.Y. State Const. Art. XIII, § 13 and the cases
  interpreting it "do not stand for the proposition
  that a county cannot be held liable for unlawful acts
  that the county itself commits when it establishes or
  implements unlawful policies; rather, they hold that
  a county is not vicariously liable for the tortious
  acts of a sheriff." Weber v. Dell, 804 F.2d 796,
  802 (2d Cir. 1986), [cert. denied sub nom., County
  of Monroe v. Weber, 483 U.S. 1020, 107 S.Ct. 3263,
  97 L.Ed.2d 762 (1987)]. . . . Thus, when the sheriff
  or his deputies are acting as final policymakers or
  pursuant to County policy or custom, the County may
  be held liable for their actions [that result in
  violations of a plaintiff's constitutional rights].

Harford, 1999 WL 615190, at *5.

Accordingly, based upon the distinction between personal capacity and official capacity suits, and because Plaintiffs commenced the instant litigation against both Defendants Harder and Kellar in their official capacities and against the County, ...


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