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Tricoles v. Bumpus

March 23, 2006

CAROL A. TRICOLES, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS PARENT AND LEGAL GUARDIAN OF STEVEN TRICOLES, A MINOR CHILD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LINDA BUMPUS, ASSISTANT FACILITY DIRECTOR OF THE TRYON RESIDENTIAL CENTER; JOHN A. JOHNSON, COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; JOHN DOE 1, AS A FICTITIOUS NAME AND THE REAL IDENTITY OF THIS INDIVIDUAL WHO, UPON INFORMATION AND BELIEF, IS THE DULY APPOINTED FACILITY DIRECTOR OF THE TRYON RESIDENTIAL CENTER, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; JOHN DOE 2, AS FICTITIOUS NAMES AND THE REAL IDENTITY OF THIS INDIVIDUAL WHO, UPON INFORMATION AND BELIEF, IS AN OFFICER AND/OR EMPLOYEE OF THE NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES EMPLOYED AT THE TRYON RESIDENTIAL CENTER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; JOHN DOE 3, AS FICTITIOUS NAMES AND THE REAL IDENTITY OF THIS INDIVIDUAL WHO, UPON INFORMATION AND BELIEF, IS THE SUPERVISOR OF JOHN DOE 2, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; JANE DOE 1, AS FICTITIOUS NAME AND THE REAL IDENTITY OF THIS INDIVIDUAL WHO, UPON INFORMATION AND BELIEF, IS A DENTAL ASSISTANT/NURSE EMPLOYED BY THE NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, IN HER INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The plaintiff has filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a number of defendants, regarding injuries that were allegedly assumed by Steven Tricoles when he was assaulted at a New York state facility for juvenile offenders. Defendant John A. Johnson, the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, moves to dismiss the complaint as to him for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, this Court grants Commissioner Johnson's motion, and dismisses him as a party from the instant lawsuit.

I. BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, Steven Tricoles is a minor who was adjudicated a juvenile delinquent and placed in the custody of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. (Compl. ¶ 8.) From November 7, 2003, through March 7, 2004, Tricoles was placed in the Tryon Residential Center, a minimum-security facility that is designed to treat, educate and rehabilitate juvenile offenders. (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 23-24.) The complaint alleges that staff employees, called Youth Division Aides, are tasked to "protect, supervise, and direct youth offenders at all times during all aspects of the facility's program and recreation." (Compl. ¶ 24.) A Youth Division Aide is assigned to each classroom to monitor the juveniles, and assist each teacher. (Compl. ¶ 26.)

Starting in February 20, 2004, Rondell Blackman, another juvenile at Tryon, began to tease and taunt Tricoles on a daily basis. (Compl. ¶¶ 27-28.) On March 5, 2004, Blackman attempted to physically assault Tricoles, but the teacher intervened. (Compl. ¶¶ 32-33.) After Blackman and Tricoles complied with the teacher's order to sit down, Blackman yelled "This ain't over." (Compl. ¶¶ 34-35.) During that time, a Youth Division Aide was in the classroom, approximately three feet from Tricoles. (Compl. ¶ 31.)*fn1 A couple of minutes later, the Youth Division Aide left the classroom. (Compl. ¶ 37.) In the Youth Division Aide's absence, Blackman left his seat and punched Tricoles. (Compl. ¶ 38.) Although Tricoles lost consciousness after the first punch, Blackman continued to punch him in the face and slam his head against the floor. (Compl. ¶¶ 40-41.) Another Youth Division Aide responded to the teacher's screams for help to stop the assault. (Compl. ¶¶ 43-44.)

Tricoles was taken to the emergency room on the same day, but did not receive treatment until March 7, 2004. (Compl. ¶¶ 46-47.) The complaint alleges that, as a result of his injuries, he could not close his mouth nor could he ingest food for three days. (Compl. ¶¶ 48-49.)

As a result of this incident, Carol, Steven Tricoles' mother, filed suit on behalf of herself and Steven under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a number of defendants, including Commissioner Johnson. The first cause of action under § 1983 merely states that the defendants violated unspecified constitutional rights of the defendant, which proximately resulted in his physical injuries. (Compl. ¶¶ 54-60.) The second cause of action specifically alleges a violation of the Eighth Amendment based on the defendants' failure to protect Tricoles from Blackman's unlawful actions, and the rendering of insufficient medical care. (Compl. ¶¶ 61-74.) This cause of action specifically alleges that the defendant failed to adequately train and supervise subordinates, and that their policies or customs were behind some of the constitutional violations. (Compl. ¶¶ 69-74.) The third cause of action alleges a violation of the plaintiff's Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment based on the delay in providing medical treatment after the assault. (Compl. ¶¶ 75-79.) Finally, the plaintiff alleges prima facie tort, negligence and gross negligence claims under New York state law. (Compl. ¶¶ 80-88.)

II. DISCUSSION

Defendant Johnson moves to dismiss the complaint as against him for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Nechis v. Oxford Health Plans, Inc., 421 F.3d 96, 100 (2d Cir. 2005). Dismissal is warranted only 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. See Weixel v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of N.Y., 287 F.3d 138, 145 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The appropriate inquiry is "not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Twombly v. Bell Atlantic Corp., 425 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2005). Although all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff, "conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Smith v. Local 819 I.B.T. Pension Plan, 291 F.3d 236, 240 (2d Cir. 2002).

The complaint in the instant case was filed against Commissioner Johnson in both his official and individual capacities. (Compl. ¶ 11). This Court proceeds to consider whether the complaint stated a claim as against Johnson in each capacity, in turn.

A. Official Capacity Claims

The plaintiff is plainly barred under the Eleventh Amendment from filing suit against Commissioner Johnson in his official capacity.*fn2 Official capacity suits are just another way of pleading a cause of action against the entity of which the officer is an agent. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991). "Suits against state officials in their official capacity therefore should be treated as suits against the State." Id. (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985)). Consequently, in interpreting § 1983 to take into account state sovereign immunity provided by the Eleventh Amendment, the Supreme Court has plainly held that neither states nor its officers (when sued in their official capacities) are "persons" that are subject to suit under the statute. See Hafer, 502 U.S. at 26; see also Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 529 (2d Cir.1993) ("The immunity to which a state's official may be entitled in a § 1983 action depends initially on the capacity in which he is sued. To the extent that a state official is sued for damages in his official capacity, such a suit is deemed to be a suit against the state, and the official is entitled to invoke the Eleventh Amendment immunity belonging to the state."). Accordingly, the official capacity claims against Commissioner Johnson must be dismissed.

B. Individual Capacity Claims

Commissioner Johnson argues that the individual capacity claims alleged against him should also be dismissed because the complaint fails to allege sufficient personal involvement by him in the alleged constitutional ...


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