United States District Court, S.D. New York
April 12, 2004.
WILLIAM WASHINGTON, Plaintiff, -against- COMMISSIONER RAYMOND KELLY, P.O. MBLUTINOVIC, in his official and individual capacities, NEW YORK CITY PORT AUTHORITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, and DISTRICT ATTORNEY ROBERT MORGENTHAU, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, District Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
William Washington, proceeding pro se, brings this action under
section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code ("section 1983")
seeking damages for false arrest, wrongful imprisonment and malicious
prosecution. Plaintiff alleges that on April 16, 2002, Police Officer
Milutinovic arrested him at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York
City and charged him with two felonies: robbery in the third degree and
criminal possession of stolen property. After trial, plaintiff was
acquitted of the more serious robbery charge but was found guilty of the
stolen property charge. District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau ("D. A.
Morgenthau") moves to dismiss on the basis that plaintiff's allegations
fail to state a claim against him upon which relief can be granted. For
the following reasons, D. A. Morgenthau's motion is granted and he is
dismissed from this lawsuit. I. BACKGROUND
Plaintiff claims that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when
P.O. Milutinovic arrested him at the Port Authority bus terminal and
charged him with robbery in the third degree and criminal possession of
stolen property. Plaintiff admits that he stole a wallet containing $90
in cash but claims that he should only have been charged with petit
larceny, a misdemeanor. See Complaint, Statement of Claim at
1-2. Plaintiff asserts that P.O. Milutinovic, working under the direct
supervision of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, knew that the felony
arrest was a "fraud" but nonetheless detained plaintiff and initiated a
criminal proceeding. See id., Second Cause of Action at I. In
addition, plaintiff claims that the State lacked probable cause to
prosecute him for third-degree robbery and that the prosecution for that
charge was motivated by "malice." See id., First Cause of
Action. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages from all defendants.
II. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Motion to Dismiss
Under Rules 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a
complaint should be dismissed if "it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Caiola v. Citibank, N.A., New York,
295 F.3d 312, 321 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted); see also Sweet v. Sheahan, 235 F.3d 80, 83 (2d Cir.
2000). At the motion to dismiss stage, the issue "`is not whether a
plaintiff is likely to prevail ultimately, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.
Indeed it may appear on the face of the pleading that a recovery is very
remote and unlikely but that is not the test.'" Phelps v.
Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 184-85 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam)
(quoting Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir. 1998)).
Therefore, the task of the court in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is
"`merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay
the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof"
Pierce v. Marano, No. 01 Civ. 3410, 2002 WL 1858772, at
*3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 13, 2002) (quoting Saunders v.
Coughlin, No. 92 Civ. 4289, 1994 WL 98108, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar.
When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court
must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all
reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. See Chambers v.
Time Warner. Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002). Courts may
not consider matters outside the pleadings but may consider documents
attached to the pleadings, documents referenced in the pleadings, or
documents that are integral to the pleadings. See id. at 152-53.
Of course, the allegations of a pro se plaintiff should be liberally
construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972);
Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 20 (2d Cir. 2000). However,
if a liberally construed pro se complaint fails to meet these minimal
standards, it must be dismissed like any other deficient complaint.
See Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 65 (2d Cir. 1997)
("Although less stringent standards apply where, as here, a litigant is
pro se, dismissal is nevertheless appropriate where it appears beyond
doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
B. False Arrest/Malicious Prosecution
Under New York law, false arrest is synonymous with false imprisonment.
See Posr v. Doherty, 944 F.2d 91, 96 (2d Cir. 1991). To
establish a cause of action for false arrest or false imprisonment, a
plaintiff must show that "(1) the defendant intended to confine him, (2)
the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not
consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise
privileged." Id. at 97.
In order to state a claim for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must
establish the following elements: (1) the defendant either commenced or
continued a criminal proceeding against him; (2) that the proceeding
terminated in plaintiff's favor; (3) that there was no probable cause for
the criminal proceeding; and (4) that the criminal proceeding was
instituted with actual malice. See DiBlasio v. City of New
York, 102 F.3d 654, 657 (2d Cir. 1996) (applying state tort law
elements to a section 1983 malicious prosecution claim).
A. Plaintiff's Claims Must Be Dismissed for Lack of Personal
"It is well settled in this Circuit that `personal involvement of
defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an
award of damages under § 1983.'" Wright v. Smith,
21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d 880, 885 (2d Cir. 1991)). Because the
general doctrine of responded superior does not apply in section
1983 actions, the defendant must be responsible for the alleged
constitutional deprivation. See Al-Jundi v. Estate of
Rockefeller, 885 F.2d 1060, 1065 (2d Cir. 1989); see also Ying
Jing Can v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 536 (2d Cir. 1993) ("[A]
supervisory official cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a theory
of respondeat superior.").
A supervisory official may be personally involved in a section 1983
violation in several ways: (1) the official may have directly
participated in the violation; (2) the official, after learning of the
violation, may have failed to remedy the wrong; (3) the official may have
created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices
occurred; (4) the official may have been grossly negligent in managing
subordinates who caused the unlawful condition or event; or (5) the
official may have exhibited deliberate indifference by failing to act on
information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring. See
Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995); see also
Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323-24 (2d Cir. 1986).
Plaintiff has failed to plead any facts which would support the
imposition of liability as to D.A. Morgenthau on any of the foregoing
theories. With regard to his malicious prosecution and wrongful
imprisonment claims, plaintiff does not assert that D.A. Morgenthau
personally prosecuted the case against him. Rather, plaintiff seeks to
hold D.A. Morgenthau liable on a respondeat superior theory for
the actions of his employees. Given that the doctrine of respondeat
superior is inapplicable to section 1983 claims, personal involvement is necessary for the imposition of
liability. See Black v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 72, 74 (2d Cir. 1996)
("[A] defendant in a § 1983 action may not be held liable for damages
for constitutional violations merely because he held a high position of
authority."); Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d at 873. Because there
are no allegations that D.A. Morgenthau was personally involved in
plaintiff's prosecution, the malicious prosecution and wrongful
imprisonment claims against D.A. Morgenthau must be dismissed.*fn1
Plaintiff also claims that he was falsely arrested on felony charges in
violation of his constitutional rights. While plaintiff asserts that P.O.
Milutinovic detained him without probable cause to charge him with a
felony, plaintiff does not allege that D.A. Morgenthau was personally
involved in his arrest. Therefore, the false arrest claim must be
dismissed as to D.A. Morgenthau. See Black, 76 F.3d at 74;
Colon, 58 F.3d at 873. Even if plaintiff had alleged that D.A.
Morgenthau participated in his arrest, he still would have failed to
state a claim for false arrest. Plaintiff states that he could have been
arrested for petit larceny but that he should not have been charged with
a felony. However, as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned, an arrest
is valid if an officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has
committed any crime, including a misdemeanor. See Atwater v. City of
Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 354 (2001) ("If an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has
committed even a very minor criminal offense in his presence, he may,
without violating the Fourth Amendment, arrest the offender.")
Similarly, under New York law, a police officer may make a warrantless
arrest if he has reasonable cause to believe that the suspect has
committed a "crime." N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 140.10(1)(b). New York
law defines a "crime" as either "a misdemeanor or a felony." N.Y. Penal
Law § 10.00(6). Because plaintiff acknowledges that P.O. Milutinovic
had probable cause to arrest him for a misdemeanor, i.e., petit
larceny, plaintiff's arrest on the other charges was valid. Plaintiff's
false arrest claim must therefore be dismissed as to D.A. Morgenthau.
B. The Suit Against D.A. Morgenthau in His Official Capacity is
Barred by the Eleventh Amendment
Moreover, regardless of D.A. Morgenthau's level of personal
involvement, the action against him must be dismissed on other grounds,
namely Eleventh Amendment immunity and prosecutorial immunity. To the
extent that plaintiff is suing D.A. Morgenthau in his official capacity,
plaintiff's suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. "` When prosecuting
a criminal matter, a district attorney in New York State, acting in a
quasi-judicial capacity, represents the State not the county.'" Ying
Jing Gan 996 F.2d at 536 (quoting Baez v. Hennessey,
853 F.2d 73, 77 (2d Cir. 1988)). It is well established that an action
against a State actor in his official capacity is tantamount to a suit
against the State itself. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21,
25 (1991) ("[T]he real party in interest in an official-capacity suit
is the governmental entity and not the named official."). Therefore, all immunities possessed by the State, including Eleventh
Amendment immunity, are applicable in an official capacity action against
a governmental official. See id. Accordingly, official capacity
actions against county prosecutors arising from their prosecution of
criminal cases are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See
Rodriguez, 116 F.3d at 66 (holding that an official capacity suit
against a Brooklyn District Attorney was barred by the Eleventh
Amendment); Carbajal v. County of Nassau, 271 F. Supp.2d 415,
420 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) ("Where, as here, the plaintiff seeks damages
against the District Attorney's Office and assistant district attorneys
in their official capacity for specific actions related to the
plaintiff's prosecution, the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution shields them from liability."). Therefore, plaintiff's
official capacity action against D.A. Morgenthau is precluded by the
C. The Suit Against D.A. Morgenthau in His Individual Capacity Is
Barred by Absolute Prosecutorial Immunity
"Personal-capacity suits . . . seek to impose individual liability
upon a government officer for actions taken under color of state law."
Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25. "[O]fficials sued in their personal
capacities, unlike those sued in their official capacities, may assert
personal immunity defenses such as [absolute prosecutorial immunity]."
Id. To the extent that plaintiff is suing D.A. Morgenthau in his
individual capacity, his malicious prosecution and unlawful imprisonment
claims are barred by the doctrine of absolute prosecutorial immunity. A prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity for the "initiation and pursuit
of a criminal prosecution, including presentation of the state's case at
trial." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269 (1993);
see also Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409,431 (1976) ("[I]n
initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case, the
prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under section 1983.").
Prosecutors are absolutely immune from civil suits for acts committed
within the scope of their official duties where the challenged activities
are not administrative or investigative in nature, but instead are
"intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process."
Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430; see also Day v.
Morgenthau, 909 F.2d 75, 77 (2d Cir. 1990). The purpose of the
immunity doctrine is to "preserve the integrity of the judicial process"
and enable zealous performance of prosecutorial functions without the
"constant threat of legal reprisals." Pinaud v. County of
Suffolk, 52 F.3d 1139, 1147 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Hill v. City
of New York, 45 F.3d 653, 656 (2d Cir. 1995)) (internal quotation
Plaintiff seeks money damages from D.A. Morgenthau for maliciously
prosecuting him on felony charges which resulted in his alleged wrongful
imprisonment. In prosecuting plaintiff, D.A. Morgenthau acted in the
quasi-judicial capacity of a public prosecutor. D.A. Morgenthau's
prosecution of plaintiff clearly involved the "initiation and pursuit of
a criminal prosecution," Buckley, 509 U.S. at 269, and was
"intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process,"
Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430. Nor does it matter whether D.A.
Morgenthau allegedly conspired with the New York City Police Department
to falsely prosecute him. Claims of conspiracy do not remove allegations from the scope of absolute prosecutorial immunity.
See Pinaud, 52 F.3d at 1148 ("[S]ince absolute immunity covers
Virtually all acts, regardless of motivation, associated with [the
prosecutor's] function as an advocate,' when the underlying activity at
issue is covered by absolute immunity, the `plaintiff derives no benefit
from alleging a conspiracy.'" (quoting Hill, 45 F.3d at 659
n.2). In fact, "absolute immunity protects a prosecutor from § 1983
liability for virtually all acts, regardless of motivation, associated
with his function as an advocate. This would even include . . .
allegedly conspiring to present false evidence at a criminal trial."
Dory v. Ryan, 25 F.3d 81, 83 (2d Cir. 1994).
For the reasons stated above, plaintiff's Complaint, including his
false arrest, wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution claims, is
hereby dismissed as to D.A. Morgenthau for lack of personal involvement,
Eleventh Amendment immunity, and prosecutorial immunity. A conference
with the remaining defendants has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 4,
2004, at 4:30 p.m. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this
motion (Document # 8).