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Missel v. County of Monroe

June 4, 2008

JAMES MISSEL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF MONROE, MONROE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, PATRICK O'FLYNN, SHERIFF OF THE MONROE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY & DEPUTY R. MICHAEL HILDRETH, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY & INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff James Missel ("plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that his civil rights were violated by the defendants County of Monroe ("Monroe County"), Monroe County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department"),*fn1 Patrick O'Flynn, Sheriff of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff O'Flynn") (collectively "Monroe County defendants") and Deputy R. Michael Hildreth ("Hildreth"). Specifically, plaintiff alleges that Hildreth engaged in harassing behavior toward plaintiff by informing others that plaintiff is a pedophile and using computer spyware to surreptitiously monitor plaintiff's computer. Plaintiff alleges that he reported Hildreth's conduct to the Sheriff's Department and as a result of the internal affairs investigation Hildreth was criminally convicted for eavesdropping and official misconduct. Hildreth was terminated from the Sheriff's Department.

Monroe County defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's complaint against them as well as all claims asserted against Hildreth in his official capacity pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on grounds that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Specifically, defendants contend that plaintiff has failed to allege any specific policy or custom of Sheriff O'Flynn or Monroe County or that they were directly and personally involved in the events giving rise to plaintiff's claims and that Hildreth's actions or inactions do not permit an inference of such a policy or custom. In addition, Monroe County defendants contend that not only were Hildreth's actions not premised on a custom or policy, but that his conduct was neither known nor authorized in any way by Monroe County or Sheriff O'Flynn. Monroe County defendants argue that because of their lack of personal involvement in the alleged acts giving rise to plaintiff's claims, they may not be held liable for any violations of plaintiff's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Further, Monroe County defendants claim that because all claims against Hildreth in his official capacity are to be treated as claims against the Sheriff, all such claims should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Finally, Monroe County defendants contend that plaintiff's punitive damages claims against them should be dismissed.

For the reasons set forth below, the Monroe County defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

BACKGROUND

According to the allegations set forth in his Complaint, prior to June 2005, Hildreth*fn2 moved next door to plaintiff's*fn3 home. It is during this time that Hildreth began to harass plaintiff by making false complaints to the Sheriff's Department regarding plaintiff, making threats to arrest and imprison plaintiff, stalking plaintiff and taping a large rotting fish head on plaintiff's car. Further, plaintiff claims that while acting under color of state law, Hildreth visited each organization for which plaintiff was hired to assist children, including the Mom & Me (MOPS) program at the Browncroft Community Church, the Rochester Christian School, and the Penfield and Webster Recreation Departments, and informed them that plaintiff is a pedophile. As a result of Hildreth's actions, plaintiff was asked not to return at the MOPS program, the Rochester Christian School and the Penfield and Webster Recreation Departments and thus ruining his reputation in the community.

In addition, plaintiff alleges that Hildreth initiated an investigation into plaintiff by the Sheriff's Department, which produced no leads. According to the Complaint, frustrated with the lack of leads and while acting under the color of state law, Hildreth devised a plan to install the spyware program called "eBlaster" on plaintiff's computer so that he could monitor plaintiff's every keystroke entered and website visited on plaintiff's computer. On May 11, 2005, plaintiff received an e-mail from a "Robin Mattox" from BOCES concerning a BlueBird Field Trip. The next day, on May 12, 2005, plaintiff received a follow up e-mail, which included an attachment for plaintiff to open on his computer to fill out for the alleged field trip. The Complaint states that plaintiff attempted to open the attachment but what he did not realize was that "Robin Mattox" was not a person hired by BOCES but was actually Hildreth posing as "Robin Mattox." According to plaintiff, Hildreth was acting in an investigatory capacity and under the color of state law attempted to install the "eBlaster" spyware program on plaintiff's computer allowing Hildreth to monitor each and every keystroke entered by plaintiff and every website visited by plaintiff on his computer presumably to catch plaintiff downloading illegal activity and have him arrested.

On May 20, 2005, plaintiff informed "Robin Mattox" via e-mail that he could not open the attachment she sent on May 12, 2005. Plaintiff then received an e-mail from "Robin Mattox" informing him that he is not to contact her or any of her students since she found out that he is on the "County Educational No Contact List." In fact, plaintiff is not listed on the "County Educational No Contact List." On June 15, 2005, Hildreth, while dressed in his uniform as Investigator for the Sheriff's Department informed plaintiff that he knew all about "Robin Mattox" and told plaintiff that he had been researching his past. Plaintiff immediately contacted the Sheriff's Department. On June 16, 2005, plaintiff met with investigators from Internal Affairs and they took plaintiff's documents. A month later, on August 12, 2005, the same investigators informed plaintiff that Hildreth had spoken to them about plaintiff and that they had planned to interview Hildreth further. In September 2005, Lt. Paul Sienna from the Major Crimes Division met with plaintiff to discuss the referral of a criminal investigation of Hildreth from Internal Affairs, which included taking plaintiff's computer for investigation. The investigation took a year to be concluded during which time nothing was located on the computer to implicate plaintiff of any illegal activity. On June 21, 2006, Hildreth was charged with computer tampering, eavesdropping and official misconduct by a Grand Jury. He was convicted of eavesdropping and official misconduct in April 2007.

DISCUSSION

I. Monroe County Defendants' Motions to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Specific facts are not necessary and the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint. See Bell Atl. Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n. 1 (2002)). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court is "not to weigh the evidence that might be presented at a trial but merely to determine whether the complaint itself is legally sufficient." See Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059, 1067 (2d Cir.1985) (citing Ryder Energy Distrib. Corp. v. Merrill Lynch Commodities Inc., 748 F.2d 774, 779 (2d Cir.1984)). Therefore, after interpreting the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, if it is determined that the plaintiff has failed to allege a set of facts which, if proven to be true, would entitle him to relief, the complaint will be dismissed. See Ferran v. Town of Nassau, 11 F.3d 21, 22 (2d. Cir.1993), cert. denied, 513 ...


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