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Woodrow v. Village of Ballston Spa Police Dep't

April 18, 2008

JASON WOODROW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF BALLSTON SPA POLICE DEPARTMENT, VILLAGE OF BALLSTON SPA, AND PATRICIA ALFIERI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCurn, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM, DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Jason Woodrow ("Woodrow" or "Plaintiff") brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants, Village of Ballston Spa Police Department ("the Police Department"), Village of Ballston Spa ("the Village"), and officer Patricia Alfieri ("Alfieri"), violated rights guaranteed him by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Unites States Constitution. Plaintiff alleges an additional corresponding state common law tort claim. Presently before the court is a motion by defendants Police Department and Village (collectively, "Moving Defendants") to dismiss the entire complaint for failure to state claims against them upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).*fn1 Plaintiff opposes, and Moving Defendants do not reply. A determination on the motion has been made on the papers submitted and no oral argument was heard.

II. Factual Background

The court will, as it must, accept the following allegations of fact in the complaint as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. See McCloud v. Cutler, No. 06-CV-5443, 2008 WL 906701, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 3, 2008) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. ----, ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n. 1, 122 S.Ct. 992 (2002)); Koppel v. 4987 Corp., 167 F.3d 125, 130 (2d Cir.1999)).

The events underlying this action took place at a Dunkin Donuts establishment in Saratoga Springs, New York on January 28, 2007*fn2 at approximately 11:15 in the evening. Compl. ¶ 11. At that time, Plaintiff "was using his cell phone while standing in line when defendant . . . Alfieri accused [P]laintiff of taking a photograph of her and thereafter forcefully took [P]laintiff's cell phone away from him and proceeded to look through all photographs on . . . [P]laintiff's cell phone and then forcefully threw [P]laintiff's cell phone at him." Id. ¶ 13. Alfieri was dressed in her Village of Ballston Spa Police Department uniform, and arrived at the establishment in a Village of Ballston Spa Police Department vehicle. Id. ¶ 14. Alfieri never asked permission to view the photographs on Plaintiff's cell phone, and Plaintiff did not consent to the taking of his cell phone or the viewing of the photographs. Id. ¶ 15. Further, Alfieri never warned Plaintiff that she was going to take his cell phone or that she was going to view the photographs stored therein. Id. ¶ 16.

Based upon the foregoing allegations, Plaintiff purports to set forth four causes of action. First, Plaintiff alleges, as a predicate for a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that defendant Alfieri violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of his person and property under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. Id. ¶¶ 17-19. Plaintiff further alleges he is entitled to an award of punitive damages on this claim. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff's third cause of action is a corresponding state common law "assault and battery" claim, for which he seeks compensatory damages in the amount of one million dollars. Id. ¶¶ 30-36. Because the first and third causes of action are clearly set forth solely against defendant Alfieri, they will not be discussed in detail here.

Plaintiff alleges, under Counts II and IV of his complaint, as predicates to a section 1983 claim, that Moving Defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of his person and property. Specifically, under Count II, Plaintiff alleges Moving Defendants are liable because they failed to train Alfieri and because they knew the acts underlying this action were likely to occur but approved of same, either directly or indirectly. Id.

¶¶ 23-27. Under Count IV, Plaintiff alleges Moving Defendants are liable because said failure to train or establish policies to prevent the underlying acts amounted to deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of his person and property. Id. ¶¶ 37-48. While Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the amount of one million dollars on his fourth claim, id. ¶ 48, he is seeking punitive damages against the Moving Defendants on his second claim, id. ¶ 29.

III. Discussion

As previously mentioned, when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations of fact in the complaint as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. See supra, at 2. A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) may not be granted so long as the complaint includes "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007).*fn3 The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has recently interpreted the foregoing language to require that lower courts apply "a flexible 'plausibility standard,' which obliges a pleader to amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification is needed to render the claim plausible[,]" but does not require a heightened pleading standard for civil rights claims. Iqbal v. Hasty, 490.3d 143, 157-58 (2d Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original).

Initially, the court dismisses all claims against the Police Department. As the Moving Defendants argue and the Plaintiff agrees, because the Police Department is an administrative arm of the Village, which is a municipality, the Police Department "cannot sue or be sued because it does not exist separate and apart from the municipality and does not have its own legal identity." Leland v. Moran, 100 F.Supp.2d 140, 145 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (internal quotation omitted). See also Clayton v. City of Kingston, 44 F.Supp.2d 177, 183 (N.D.N.Y. 1999). Moreover, the claim for punitive damages alleged against the Village, the now remaining moving defendant, is also dismissed. As the Village argues, and Plaintiff agrees, "[the Supreme] Court has ruled that § 1983 plaintiffs may not recover punitive damages against a municipality[.]" Jefferson v. City of Tarrant, Ala., 522 U.S. 75, 118 S.Ct. 481, 482 (1997) (citing Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 101 S.Ct. 2748 (1981)).

With respect to the claim as it remains against the Village, alleged in Counts II and IV of Plaintiff's complaint, it is well settled that in order to state a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 , a plaintiff must allege "(1) that some person has deprived him of a federal right, and (2) that the person who has deprived him of that right acted under color of state ... law." Velez v. Levy, 401 F.3d 75, 84 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640, 100 S.Ct. 1920 (1980) (internal quotations omitted)). "Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights[,] but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred[.]" Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 225 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3, 99 S.Ct. 2689 (1979)).

A municipal entity, such as the Village here, may not liable pursuant to § 1983 under the theory of respondeat superior, but may be liable where its employee acted pursuant to an official policy, custom, or practice of said entity. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694-95, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037-38 (1978); Rojas v. Alexander's Dep't Store, Inc., 924 F.2d 406, 408 (2d Cir. 1990). Such a policy, custom or practice may "be inferred where the municipality so failed to train its employees as to display a deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of those ...


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