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Lenhard v. Dinallo

March 31, 2009

PATRICK LENHARD AND ANN LENHARD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ERIC R. DINALLO, PHILIP J. D'ANGELO, AND SEAN M. RALPH, DEFENDANTS.



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

Memorandum, Decision and Order

I. Introduction

Presently before the court is a motion by all defendants to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state claims upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs, Patrick Lenhard and Ann Lenhard ("Plaintiffs"), commenced this civil rights action against defendants, Eric R. Dinallo, Philip J. D'Angelo, and Sean M. Ralph ("Defendants"), seeking relief for, among other things, the alleged violation of Plaintiffs' right to be free from unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution stemming from Plaintiffs' arrest for insurance fraud in March 2007. Defendants are employees of the New York State Insurance Department, which is not a party to this action.

II. Background

For purposes of deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court will, as it must, accept the following allegations of fact in the amended complaint as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. See World Religious Relief, Inc. v. Sirius Satellite Radio, Inc., No. 05-CV-8257, 2007 WL 2261549, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 7, 2007) (quoting Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir.1994)).

Plaintiffs, who are currently residents of the Province of British Columbia, Canada, previously owned a home in Clinton County within the State of New York. When that home was destroyed by fire, Plaintiffs filed a claim, including a sworn statement and proof of loss ("the proof of loss"), with their insurance carrier, Genesee Patrons Cooperative Insurance Company ("the insurance company").*fn1 Subsequently, Plaintiffs were notified by the insurance company of an apparent discrepancy in the proof of loss. Shortly thereafter, an employee of the insurance company took a statement from a third party, Jody N. Speer, regarding tools he purchased from Ann Lenhard at the home she owned in Clinton County, prior to its destruction by fire ("the Speer Affidavit"). Eventually, Plaintiffs' claim was denied, and Plaintiffs thereafter filed a civil action against the insurance company in state court.

Representatives of the insurance company provided the Fraud Unit of the New York State Insurance Department ("NYSID") with copies of the Speer Affidavit as well as the proof of loss executed by Plaintiffs. Defendant, Philip J. D'Angelo ("D'Angelo"), a law enforcement official employed by the NYSID, informed Ann Lenhard's attorney that he was considering filing insurance fraud charges against her and inquired whether she would surrender herself and plead to a misdemeanor in full satisfaction of the charges.*fn2 Ann Lenhard's attorney thereafter declined a plea of guilty on behalf of his client, but informed D'Angelo that she would be willing to face any charges, and further informed D'Angelo that he was retained to represent Ann Lenhard, and all future communication regarding the criminal matter should be directed to him. The District Attorney's Office for the County of Clinton was also notified that both Ann and Patrick Lenhard were represented by counsel, and that Ann Lenhard would surrender herself for arrest regarding any charges which may be brought against her.

Approximately four months later, D'Angelo filed sworn informations with the Altoona Town Court charging Plaintiffs with insurance fraud. The bases for the informations were the Speer Affidavit and the proof of loss. D'Angelo did not notify Plaintiffs or their attorney that the informations had been filed. Almost three months after the informations were filed, at the request of D'Angelo, the Altoona Town Justice issued warrants for Plaintiffs' arrests. Plaintiffs' attorney was not informed that arrest warrants had been issued for his clients, despite his repeated calls to the Clinton County District Attorney, Andrew J. Wylie, wherein Plaintiffs' attorney left unanswered messages identifying himself as counsel for Ann Lenhard.

Attached to Plaintiffs' opposition memorandum of law is the arrest warrant, which includes the informations filed by D'Angelo, charging Plaintiffs with several felonies, including insurance fraud and falsifying business records. Also attached to the warrant are the proof of loss and Speer Affidavit. According to the Speer Affidavit, Mr. Speer purchased some tools from Ann Lenhard on February 2, 2001. The proof of loss indicates that the Plaintiffs claimed a loss of property valued at approximately $57,000 stemming from a fire at their residence, which occurred on February 10, 2001.

After more than four additional months passed, Plaintiffs were notified by authorities in Canada that charges were pending against them in the United States. Plaintiffs contacted their attorney, who contacted the District Attorney and learned that an arrest warrant was pending in the Town of Altoona. Plaintiffs thereafter made arrangements for a voluntary surrender to the Altoona Town Court, which was communicated to D'Angelo as well as to the District Attorney's office.

On March 27, 2007, Plaintiffs arrived, via a commercial airline, at the Albany International Airport. Before arriving at the gate, the airplane, which was occupied by Plaintiffs and their fifteen-year-old daughter, was delayed on the tarmac. Representatives of the New York State Police Department boarded the airplane and escorted Plaintiffs therefrom with loaded firearms, parading them across the tarmac to a holding area within the airport. These members of the State Police were acting in concert with, and under the supervision of, defendant Sean M. Ralph, Deputy Chief Investigator of the NYSID Fraud Unit ("Ralph"). In fact, Ralph specifically directed that the Plaintiffs were to be separated from their fifteen-year-old daughter, who was to be held under armed guard in a separate area of the airport for an extended period of time.*fn3 Ralph was also D'Angelo's supervisor, and was intimately aware of D'Angelo's activities regarding the investigation of Plaintiffs as well as the inadequacies of said investigation.

Ralph threatened Patrick Lenhard that if he did not fully cooperate, an armed SWAT team would be brought in, and Mr. Lenhard would be thrown face down, handcuffed, and guns would be placed to his head. Ralph further advised Plaintiffs that their attorney was responsible for their arrest at the airport, that they should not speak to their attorney, and that they should speak only to D'Angelo so that everything could be worked out amicably.

D'Angelo continued to press questions to Plaintiffs, despite being told by Plaintiffs that they were represented by counsel, and that they wished to speak to their attorney before speaking to law enforcement.

Neither the Clinton County District Attorney's Office nor the Altoona Town Justice were advised that Plaintiffs would be arrested upon arrival at the airport. After the Town Justice directed that Plaintiffs be released and allowed to travel to Altoona on their own to surrender themselves to the Court, Plaintiffs were released from custody of the State Police. Despite his awareness of the ...


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