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FIELDCAMP v. CITY OF NEW YORK

January 29, 2003

DIANA FIELDCAMP, PLAINTIFF,
V.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, THE NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT AND DETECTIVE ALFRED LORENZ, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, United States District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Diana Fieldcamp brings the instant action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985 and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States against defendants the City of New York, the New York City Police Department ("NYPD"), and Detective Alfred Lorenz. Plaintiff alleges that Detective Lorenz, acting under color of state law, intentionally and willfully deprived plaintiff of her civil rights. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted on the grounds that: (1) plaintiff has not alleged and cannot show that defendants deprived her of a constitutional right under § 1983; (2) failure to place plaintiff in a safety restraint while being transported at most sets forth a claim of negligence, which is not actionable under § 1983; (3) the NYPD is not a suable entity and as such any claims against it must be dismissed; and (4) Detective Lorenz is entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted as to the claims against the NYPD but is otherwise denied.

BACKGROUND

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the issue is "whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236. A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Padavan v. United States, 82 F.3d 23, 26 (2d Cir. 1996) (quoting Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 10 (1980)).

Generally, "[c]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." 2 JAMES WM. MOORE ET AL., MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE § 12.34[1][b] (3d ed. 1997); see also Hirsch v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 72 F.3d 1085, 1088 (2d Cir. 1995). Allegations that are so conclusory that they fail to give notice of the basic events and circumstances of which the plaintiff complains are insufficient as a matter of law. See Martin v. New York State Dep't of Mental Hygiene, 588 F.2d 371, 372 (2d Cir. 1978). Under the relaxed federal pleading requirements, it is enough that the pleading "contain `a short and plain statement of the claim' sufficient to put the [adverse party] on notice of the grounds for which the [claimant] seeks relief." Reuben H. Donnelley Corp. v. Mark I Mktg. Corp., 893 F. Supp. 285, 291 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (Conner, J.) (quoting FED. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). "[T]he principal function of pleadings under the Federal Rules is to give the adverse party fair notice. . . so as to enable [that party] to answer and prepare for trial." Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988) (dismissal under Rule 8 "is usually reserved for those cases in which the complaint is so confused, ambiguous, vague or otherwise unintelligible that its true substance, if any, is well disguised"). Although the pleading requirements are construed liberally, "[l]iberal construction has its limits, for the pleading must at least set forth sufficient information for the court to determine whether some recognized legal theory exists upon which relief could be accorded the pleader. If it fails to do so, a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) will be granted." 2 MOORE's FEDERAL PRACTICE § 12.34[1][b] at 12-60 (3d ed.).

II. Section 1983 Claims

To state a cognizable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that such violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." Kern v. City of Rochester, 93 F.3d 38, 43 (2d Cir. 1996). It is undisputed that defendant Lorenz clearly acted under color of state law because the actions about which plaintiff complains were committed, in part, by defendant Lorenz as a detective in the course of duty. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49-50 (1988). Defendants argue however, that plaintiff cannot maintain a claim under § 1983 because she has failed to demonstrate that she was deprived of any constitutional right. (Defs. Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 3.) Plaintiff maintains that she has properly asserted a § 1983 claim for a violation of her rights under the Fourth Amendment. (Pl. Mem. Opp. Mot. Dismiss at 4.) The Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. CONST. amend. IV.

Our first inquiry, whether Detective Lorenz's actions constituted a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, requires the Court to determine whether a reasonable person in plaintiff's position would not have felt free to leave the officers' custody. Tankleff v. Senkowski, 135 F.3d 235, 244 (2d Cir. 1998). According to the Complaint, plaintiff was rear-handcuffed and held in the back of a police car for several hours. (Complt. ¶ 9.) The officers' action in this case would certainly convey to a reasonable person that he or she was not free to go about their business. See California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 628 (1991); see also United States v. Moreno, 897 F.2d 26, 30 (2d Cir. 1990) ("When. . , an officer even briefly detains an individual and restrains that person's right to walk away, he has effected a seizure and the limitations of the fourth amendment become applicable."). Having established that plaintiff's detention constituted a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, our inquiry proceeds to the question of whether that seizure was reasonable under the circumstances. See Whren v. United States,517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996).

The "Fourth Amendment shields arrestees from police conduct that unreasonably aggravates the intrusion on privacy properly occasioned by the initial seizure." Lauro v. Charles, 219 F.3d 202, 212 (2d Cir. 2000). The courts have recognized that the constitutional right to privacy also includes a right to bodily privacy. See, e.g., Hayes v. Marriott, 70 F.3d 1144, 1146 (10th Cir. 1995); Fortner v. Thomas, 983 F.2d 1024, 1030 (11th Cir. 1993); Covino v. Patrissi, 967 F.2d 73, 78 (2d Cir. 1992). Plaintiff contends that the conditions of the seizure were unreasonable in that the police officers, through their intentional inaction after handcuffing and incapacitating plaintiff, violated her right to privacy with respect to her unclothed body. (Pl. Mem. Opp. Mot. Dismiss at 5.) Specifically, plaintiff alleges that Detective Lorenz and other officers were aware that because she was rear-handcuffed, plaintiff could not cover her exposed breast, but deliberately failed and refused to assist her. (Complt. ¶ 9.) In Franklin v. Foxworth, 31 F.3d 873, 876 (9th Cir. 1994), the court stated that "[a] detention conducted in connection with a search may be unreasonable if it is unnecessarily painful, degrading, or prolonged, or if it involves an undue invasion of privacy." The fact that the police in Franklin did not initially clothe or cover the plaintiff was one of the factors relied upon by the court that led it to conclude that the officers' actions were unreasonable. In the instant case, not only did the officers ...


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