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Spearman v. Dutchess County

July 25, 2008

ROBERT SPEARMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DUTCHESS COUNTY AND DAWN JOHNSON, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

In Plaintiff's February 3, 2005 complaint, he asserts four claims against Defendant Dawn Johnson, a social welfare worker employed by the Dutchess County Department of Social Services ("DSS"), in her individual capacity: (1) false arrest pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (3) false arrest pursuant to New York State law, and (4) malicious prosecution pursuant to New York State law.*fn1 See Complaint at ¶¶ 29-48. Against Defendant Dutchess County ("County"), Plaintiff asserts two claims under the doctrine of respondeat superior: (1) false arrest pursuant to New York State law, and (2) malicious prosecution pursuant to New York State law. See id. at ¶¶ 49-53.

Defendants move for summary judgment with respect to all of Plaintiff's claims on the grounds that Defendant Johnson is entitled to qualified immunity; the Court should decline jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims once it dismisses Plaintiff's federal-law claims; and, even if the Court does not decline jurisdiction over the state-law claims, it should dismiss them as a matter of law.

II. BACKGROUND

DSS filed a petition in the Dutchess County Family Court on or about October 4, 1993, seeking child support from Plaintiff on behalf of Alicia Baggett, who alleged that Plaintiff was the father of her son, L.B. See Affidavit of Robert B. Allers ("Allers Aff."), sworn to February 16, 2006, at Exhibit "B." After the family court dismissed that petition without prejudice because Ms. Baggett failed to appear at a hearing, DSS filed a second petition for support on or about March 18, 1994. See id. at Exhibits "C" & "D." At a hearing on September 7, 1994, the hearing examiner ordered the parties to take a genetic marker test to determine paternity. See id. at Exhibit "E." The laboratory that conducted the tests*fn2 issued a report, concluding that, "[t]he alleged father, ROBERT SPEARMAN, lacks the following genetic marker(s) which are present in the child, LB, and absent in the mother: HLA A1. Therefore, the alleged father cannot be the biological father of the child. The alleged father is also excluded by the MNSs and Kidd systems." See id. at Exhibit "F."

The parties appeared before a hearing examiner on January 18, 1995, who then referred the case to a family-court judge for further proceedings on the issue of paternity. See id. at Exhibit "A." It is unclear exactly why the hearing examiner referred the case; however, Defendants submit DSS notes suggesting that the reason was that Ms. Baggett continued to assert that she had not had sexual relations with anyone but Plaintiff during the period in which the child was conceived. See id. Pursuant to DSS' motion, the family court ordered a second round of blood tests on March 13, 1995. See id. at Exhibit "G." The family court's order did not discuss or refer to the first round of blood tests.*fn3 See id.

Plaintiff failed to appear for at least four scheduled blood tests on March 13, 1995, March 27, 1995, April 24, 1995, and May 8, 1995. See id. at Exhibits "H," "I," "J"; Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 6. On May 24, 1995, the family court entered an order of filiation by default, declaring Plaintiff to be L.B.'s father. See Allers Aff. at Exhibit "K." After Plaintiff failed to appear for a subsequent family-court proceeding on June 29, 1995, the hearing examiner entered an order of support by default pursuant to which Plaintiff was ordered to pay $108.21 each week. See id. at Exhibit "L."

On or about September 19, 1997, DSS filed a petition in the family court, alleging that Plaintiff failed to pay support in violation of the court's order. See id. at Exhibit "M." Plaintiff did not appear at the subsequent hearing. The parties disagree about whether the hearing examiner issued a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest, see Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 10; however, they agree that Plaintiff was later arrested on July 13, 1998, see id. at ¶ 11. Plaintiff claims he was detained for a period of thirty days.*fn4 See id.

The facts are unclear regarding what happened next. The parties agree that, on October 6, 1998, DSS withdrew its violation petition based on the first round of blood tests excluding Plaintiff as the father. See id. at ¶ 12. Defendants assert that DSS withdrew its petition with the understanding that Plaintiff's court-appointed counsel would move to vacate the order of filiation.*fn5 See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 12. On March 24, 2000, DSS re-filed its violation petition. See Allers Aff. at Exhibit "O." According to Defendants, DSS re-filed the petition because Plaintiff failed to move for vacatur.*fn6 See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 13. On September 21, 2000, a family-court hearing examiner conducted an inquest and found that Plaintiff violated the family court's support order and ordered him to pay $36,001.07, the amount of outstanding support payments that he owed. See Allers Aff. at Exhibit "P." DSS filed at least two more violation petitions on February 9, 2001, and August 10, 2001, alleging that Plaintiff continued to default on his support payments. See id. at Exhibits "Q" & "R." The family-court hearing examiner conducted an inquest in connection with both petitions and found that Plaintiff again violated the family court's support order. See id. at Exhibits "Q" & "U." In addition, the hearing examiner recommended that Plaintiff be committed to the county jail for a period of three months. See id. at Exhibit "U." On August 2, 2002, the family-court judge confirmed the hearing examiner's recommendation for Plaintiff's commitment; however, the judge stayed Plaintiff's commitment as long as he paid the sum of $25 each month. See id. at Exhibit "V."

Defendant Johnson, who first became involved with Plaintiff's support action in August 2003, see Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 24, filed a petition on behalf of DSS on or about September 22, 2003, requesting that the family court lift the stay on its order of commitment because Plaintiff had not made the required payments. See Allers Aff. at Exhibit "W." Consequently, on September 25, 2003, the family court ordered Plaintiff to be committed for a period of three months. See id. at Exhibit "X." Plaintiff was arrested on October 28, 2003, and confined until February 3, 2004. See Defendants' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 30.

While in detention, Plaintiff filed a motion in the family court to vacate the order of filiation. See Affidavit of Kenneth G. Varley, sworn to April 25, 2006, at Exhibit "A" at 25-27. In connection with this motion, the family-court judge ordered Plaintiff to undergo another round of blood tests. See id. at Exhibit "A" at 28. Plaintiff submitted to these tests; and, after the laboratory reported that Plaintiff was excluded as L.B.'s father, see Allers Aff. at Exhibit "Z," the court vacated its prior orders of filiation and support on February 3, 2004. See id. at Exhibit "AA."

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's false-arrest claims against ...


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