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LABOUNTY v. COOMBE

April 13, 2004.

MARK LABOUNTY, Plaintiff; -v- PHILIP COOMBE, Jr., et al., Defendants


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENISE COTE, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Defendant Joseph Vuturo ("Vuturo"), a former employee of the New York State Department of Corrections who acted as a hearing officer during a 1995 disciplinary proceeding against the plaintiff, moves to dismiss the claims asserted against him as barred by the statute of limitations for failure to effect service within the required time. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

Background

  The plaintiff Mark Labounty ("LaBounty") brought this action on April 17, 1995, asserting violations of his constitutional rights arising out of events that occurred in January 1995, while he was an inmate in the New York State prison system. Vuturo was not named as a defendant in the original complaint, but was added as a defendant in a May 25, 1995 amended complaint. Twenty — six defendants in total were identified by name.

  On November 25, 1996, the defendants' motion to dismiss was granted in part. LaBounty v. Coombe, et al., No. 95 Civ. 2617 (DLC), 1996 WL 684168 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 25, 1996) ("November 1996 Opinion"). The procedural due process claim which implicated Vuturo was dismissed. Id. at *11. The November 1996 Opinion noted that Vuturo had never been served. Id. at *4 n.9.

  Following discovery, the claims that survived summary judgment were tried. On October 6, 1998, a jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor and awarded him nominal damages. The Second Circuit affirmed both the summary judgment decision and the judgment entered following trial, but in a February 5, 2001 summary order, partially reversed the dismissals contained in the November 1996 Opinion. See LaBounty v. Kinkhabwala, No. 99-0329, 2001 WL 99819 (2d Cir. Feb. 5, 2001) ("February 2001 Opinion"). The reversal resurrected the procedural due process claim against Vuturo.

  On February 13, 2001, this Court issued an Order (the "February 2001 Order") describing the remanded issues, specifically, procedural due process issues concerning a 1995 disciplinary hearing over which Vuturo presided and which resulted in LaBounty serving 30 days of segregated confinement in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU").*fn1 The parties were ordered to inform the Court if they had any other understanding of the Court of Appeals' Order of remand.

  By letter dated February 27, 2001, the defendants agreed that the February 2001 Order correctly described the remanded issues. By letter dated February 17, 2001, the plaintiff also agreed with the description of the issues, but indicated a wish to add three additional issues. By Order dated February 28, 2001, the Court found that the issues remanded for further development were those described in the February 2001 Order.

  On December 20, 2001, the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the remanded issues was denied. LaBounty v. Coombe, No. 95 Civ. 2617 (DLC), 2001 WL 1658245 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 26, 2001) ("December 2001 Opinion"). The defendants had argued in the 2001 summary judgment motion, inter alia, that the only defendant who had personal involvement in the remaining procedural due process claim was Vuturo, and that the claim could not proceed against him because he had never been served.*fn2 Id. at *7. Since the Court requested at the time that it issued the December 2001 Opinion that the Pro Se Office of this district find counsel to represent LaBounty, it did not reach the merits of that particular defense, but assured the parties that they would have an opportunity to address it further after counsel appeared on behalf of LaBounty. The Court also referred the parties to settlement discussions, which proved fruitless. Beginning with a conference held on October 1, 2002, and following both the failure of settlement discussions and of the efforts to find counsel for the plaintiff, the case resumed as an actively litigated pro se action.

  Following October 1, 2002, a series of orders were issued to assist LaBounty in obtaining the information necessary to serve Vuturo. Vuturo had retired and could no longer be served through the channels used to effect service on current employees of the Department of Corrections. The history of the efforts to get an address at which to serve Vuturo are described in various orders, including a June 2003 Order.*fn3 Vuturo was served on September 18, 2003.

  On January 4, 2003, LaBounty filed an amended pleading, which was treated as a supplement to the May 25, 1995 pleading, subject to Vuturo's right to object to that determination following his receipt of service. Vuturo answered the pleadings in this action in October 2003, and a motion pursuant to Rule 12(c) was served on his behalf on November 17, 2003, arguing that the claim against him is time — barred because he was not served in a timely manner. The plaintiff was required to submit his opposition to the motion by December 22. No opposition having been submitted, and having received no request for an extension of time to oppose the motion, it is deemed fully submitted.*fn4

  Vuturo asserts that LaBounty was given notice of his failure to effect service, and that LaBounty was not sufficiently diligent in pursuing service. During the period beginning no later than October 1, 2002, any delay in serving Vuturo was due to the failure of the defendant to give timely and clear instructions to LaBounty as to how service could be made. LaBounty was sufficiently diligent at least during the period following October 1, 2002, until Vuturo was served on September 18, 2003, with one possible exception.*fn5 The issue that remains, therefore, is whether LaBounty's failure to serve Vuturo at any time between May 1995 and either the issuance of the December 2001 Opinion or October 1, 2002, requires the dismissal of this action.*fn6

 Discussion

  The statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims for personal injuries in New York State is three years. Pearl v. City of Long Beach. 296 F.3d 76, 79 (2d Cir. 2002); Connolly v. McCall, 254 F.3d 36, 40-41 (2d Cir. 2001). The cause of action accrues "when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis ...


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