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Amaker v. Clinton County

December 8, 2008

GRACE AMAKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CLINTON COUNTY, ANDREW J. WYLIE, TIMOTHY G. BLATCHLEY, DAVID HARDIN AND RANDALL J. CUMM, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Currently before the Court is a Motion (Dkt. No. 22), filed by Defendants Andrew J. Wylie ("D.A. Wylie"), Timothy G. Blatchley ("A.D.A. Blatchley"), and Clinton County, to dismiss the Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 20) filed against them by Plaintiff Grace Amaker ("Amaker" or "Plaintiff").For the reasons described below, the Motion to dismiss is granted with regards to all claims against D.A. Wylie, A.D.A. Blatchley and Clinton County.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 68 year-old female resident of New Jersey. See Am. Compl. ¶ 4. On April 16, 2006, her son, Anthony, was serving a prison sentence at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. Id. ¶ 11. Anthony was seen by the prison staff as a vocal inmate, having made several complaints and filed lawsuits against various corrections officers and arms of the government. Id. ¶ 14. On that day, Plaintiff made the journey from her home in New Jersey to the correctional facility in Clinton County to visit her son. Id. ¶ 13. During her visit, corrections officer David Hardin alleged that Amaker attempted to bring a "handcuff key" to Anthony, and Amaker was then arrested and charged with Promoting Prison Contraband in the Second Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 205.20).*fn2 Id. ¶¶ 14-15. Plaintiff claimed to have had no such handcuff key with her when she visited Anthony; however, the Clinton County District Attorney, Andrew Wylie, and Assistant District Attorney, Timothy Blatchley, decided to prosecute Amaker following her arrest. Id. ¶¶ 5-6, 17, 22.

As a result of the arrest, Amaker was informed by the Department of Correctional Services that she would no longer be able to visit her son, as her visiting privileges had been suspended. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff's arraignment was scheduled for August 8, 2006. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff intended to plead "Not Guilty," and Defendants were aware of this. Id. On that day, before being arraigned, Amaker was, "without warning," arrested again, and charged with Promoting Prison Contraband in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law § 205.25). Id. ¶ 24. Wylie reduced the charge against Amaker back to the Second Degree on September 14, 2006, after she declined to accept a plea offer. Id. ¶ 25. At her jury trial on April 18, 2007, "the jury found Plaintiff 'Not Guilty' after approximately 20 minutes of deliberation." Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiff now alleges violation of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and brings her claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. ¶ 33.

Amaker filed her initial Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) on January 16, 2008, and subsequently filed her Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 20) on June 5, 2008. Plaintiff asserts that she was falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned and subjected to malicious prosecution, and that the named Defendants were acting in their individual and official capacities and under color of state law when these alleged violations of Plaintiff's rights occurred. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-42. Plaintiff contends that D.A. Wylie and A.D.A. Blatchley, "despite lacking probable cause to believe that the proceedings could succeed," prosecuted her for attempting to deliver a handcuff key to her imprisoned son, and that the Defendants followed through with the prosecution for the purpose of preventing her from seeing her son and helping him with his various legal efforts. See id. ¶¶ 14, 21, 38, 41. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges municipal liability on the part of Clinton County, arguing that the individual Defendants' conduct constituted deliberate indifference to her rights and an unconstitutional "custom, usage, practice, procedure or rule" of the municipality. See id. ¶¶ 43-48.

Defendants*fn3 subsequently filed a Motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Mot., July 14, 2008 (Dkt. No. 22). In support of their Motion, Defendants argue that (1) Plaintiff's claims against D.A. Wylie and A.D.A. Blatchley in their official capacities are technically ones against the state, and as such, are barred by the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; (2) D.A. Wylie and A.D.A. Blatchley are entitled to absolute immunity insofar as the claim is lodged against them in their individual capacities; and (3) Clinton County cannot be held liable under a theory of municipal liability based upon respondeat superior, nor can the presence of municipal policies or customs be established by inference from evidence related to the issue before the court alone.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court must accept the allegations made by a plaintiff in her complaint as true, and "draw all inferences in the light most favorable" to her. In re NYSE Specialists Securities Litigation, 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007). "A plaintiff must demonstrate 'reasonably founded hope that the discovery process will reveal relevant evidence to support the claim.'" Ruggles v. Wellpoint, Inc., 253 F.R.D. 61, 65, 2008 WL 4346812, *2 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2008) (Kahn, J.) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 n.4 (2007). However, the court "need not accord '[l]egal conclusions, deductions or opinions couched in factual allegations'" this same presumption of truth. In re NYSE Specialists Securities Litigation, 503 F.3d at 95 (quoting United States v. Bonanno Organized Crime Family of La Cosa Nostra, 879 F.2d 20, 27 (2d Cir. 1989)). Therefore, the facts upon which the court relies are those alleged in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 20) as outlined in Section I, supra.

III. DISCUSSION

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code provides that: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected . . . [any] person within the jurisdiction [of the U.S.] to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law . . . or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. "Section 1983 'is not itself a source of substantive rights[;]' [i]t merely provides 'a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred . . . .'" Patterson v. County of Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 225 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)).

In order to prevail on a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff "must allege (1) 'that some person has deprived him of a federal right,' and (2) 'that the person who has deprived [the plaintiff] 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 (1980)). As an initial matter, Plaintiff has plainly cleared this hurdle. Amaker alleges that the Defendants have deprived her of her due process rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment by arresting and prosecuting her "with malice and reckless indifference," and without probable cause. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-41. Plaintiff further alleges that these deprivations were carried out by Defendants who were acting under color of state law as District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney. Id. at ¶ 36. Nonetheless, Plaintiff's claims against D.A. Wylie, A.D.A. Blatchley and Clinton County are subject to dismissal, for the reasons described below.

A. Plaintiff's "Official Capacity" Claims against D.A. Wylie and A.D.A. Blatchley

The claims lodged by the Plaintiff against D.A. Wylie and A.D.A. Blatchley in their official capacities must be dismissed as a matter of law. Such claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits brought by private parties seeking damages in federal court against a state or agency thereof unless there is a waiver of this immunity or the state consents to suit. See Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996). While prosecuting criminal matters, a district attorney in the state of New York is "acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, [and thus] represents the State[,] not the county." Baez v. Hennessy, 853 F.2d 73, 77 (2d Cir. 1988). To the extent that state officials are sued in their official capacity, "the suit is deemed to be a suit against the state," and the officials may "invoke the Eleventh Amendment immunity belonging to the ...


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