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Dupont v. New Jersey State Police

August 14, 2009

MONTUERAY DUPONT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Montueray Dupont, a former employee of the New York Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), brings this action challenging the termination of his employment with DOCS after a series of events that began with his November 24, 2006 arrest and concluded with an arbitrator's October 1, 2007 ruling. He has accused members of the New Jersey State Police ("NJSP"), who arrested and testified against him, and DOCS of infringing his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") and committing state-law torts. Dupont has agreed to voluntarily discontinue his case against two of the defendants, and the remaining defendants seek dismissal of the complaint. For the following reasons, their motions are granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts, taken from the complaint in this action and documents it incorporates by reference, are presumed to be true for the purposes of this motion. Dupont, a New York resident, was a DOCS corrections officer from 1997 until his suspension on November 25, 2006.

1. The Prosecution

On November 24, 2006, defendant Ross Petruska, an NJSP Trooper, pulled over a vehicle driven by Dupont because it was traveling without its tail lights illuminated. Dupont was traveling with a friend and two other passengers; all four men are African-Americans. After Petruska stopped the car, Dupont informed him that he was a peace officer carrying a registered weapon. Petruska ordered all of the men out of the car and proceeded to search the vehicle. He confiscated plaintiff's firearm, and, assisted by defendant NJSP Trooper Daniel Oliveira, arrested Dupont and detained him in the Newark police station. On November 24, Dupont was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon in violation of New Jersey Criminal Law § 2C:39-5b. Plaintiff was also charged with marijuana possession in violation of New Jersey Criminal Law § 2C:35-10(a)(4). Following criminal proceedings in New Jersey, the weapons possession charge was dismissed on April 27, 2007 for lack of probable cause, and the marijuana possession charge was dismissed for lack of probable cause on July 5, 2007.

2. The Termination of Plaintiff's Employment Following

Dupont's arrest, Petruska contacted DOCS and informed Dupont's supervisor of his arrest. Defendant Peter Brown, DOCS' Director of Labor Relations, suspended Dupont without pay on or about November 25, 2006. Brown sent a notice of discipline to Dupont on December 20, 2006 that charged him with 1) associating with persons possessing marijuana while driving in New Jersey on November 24; 2) traveling with two members of the "Bloods" gang on November 24, and thereby affiliating with persons whose interests conflicted with Dupont's effective performance of his duties; 3) appearing on a Bloods-related website in a music video for rapper Jim Jones; 4) being arrested for possession of marijuana on November 24; and 5) being arrested for possession of a loaded semi-automatic handgun on November 30.

On December 21, plaintiff filed a grievance protesting the charges contained in the notice of discipline. Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between plaintiff's union and DOCS, an arbitration was held on September 17, 2007. At the arbitration, which occurred in New York, Petruska and defendant NJSP Detective William Humphries testified against Dupont. They accused Dupont of being a member of the "Bloods" gang because 1) he was en route to a concert by rapper Jim Jones when he was arrested, 2) one of the passengers in the car was wearing red and white, the colors of the Bloods, and 3) plaintiff had appeared in a music video for Jones. On October 1, the arbitrator found Dupont guilty of the charges in the notice of discipline and upheld the termination of his employment.

3. The Lawsuit

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on November 24, 2008, naming as defendants the NJSP, Troopers Petruska and Oliveira, Detective Humphries, Brown, and Lucien LeClaire, Jr., the Acting Commissioner of DOCS from October 2006 to April 2007. Each individual defendant is sued in his personal and official capacities.

Plaintiff's first four causes of action, addressed to the NJSP and its officers who are named as defendants, challenge his arrest and criminal prosecution. Dupont's first cause of action is a claim under Section 1983 against Humphries and Petruska for false arrest, illegal search, abuse of process, and malicious prosecution, primarily based on allegations that defendants lacked probable cause to arrest Dupont. Plaintiff alleges that Petruska and Humphries conspired to fabricate an account of Dupont's arrest and make false statements regarding the events at issue.

Dupont's final two causes of action attack defendants' roles in the disciplinary process that culminated in the termination of his employment, arguing that defendants conspired to discipline Dupont based on demonstrably false accusations. Dupont's fifth cause of action claims that Petruska, Humphries, Oliveira, Brown and LeClaire violated his rights to free speech, free association and equal protection.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that Humphries and Petruska falsely testified at the arbitration hearing about his alleged Bloods affiliation and the connection between rapper Jim Jones and the Bloods, despite knowing that the criminal charges against Dupont had been dismissed for lack of probable cause. He also alleges that Brown presented misleading testimony from a New York government official that falsely accused Dupont of making a gang hand signal in the music video. Dupont's sixth and final cause of action, arising under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, charges that Brown and LeClaire treated Brown differently from similarly situated DOCS employees in retaliation for his exercise of his constitutional rights.

On April 3, 2009, Brown and LeClaire (the "DOCS Defendants"), the NJSP, Humphries, Oliveira, and Petruska each moved to dismiss the complaint. Plaintiff has agreed to voluntarily discontinue his claims against the NJSP and Trooper Oliveira, and to discontinue his claims against LeClaire in his official capacity.*fn2

The motions filed by the DOCS Defendants and the two members of the NJSP remaining in the lawsuit will be considered in turn. In brief, all claims against LeClaire are dismissed for his lack of personal involvement, and Brown is entitled to qualify immunity on any claim adequately pleaded against him. There is no personal jurisdiction over the two NJSP defendants.

DISCUSSION

1. The DOCS Defendants

The DOCS Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, including immunity (absolute and qualified) and failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A court considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must "accept as true all factual statements alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party." Vietnam Ass'n for Victims of Agent Orange v. Dow Chemical Co., 517 F.3d 104, 115 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). To survive such a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 555 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also South Cherry Street, LLC v. Hennessee Group LLC, --- F.3d ---, No. 07-3658-cv, 2009 WL 2032133, at *5 (2d Cir. July 14, 2009) (courts are to "assum[e] all 'well-pleaded factual allegations' to be true, and 'determin[e] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief'" (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950)). This "plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1949 (citation omitted). Applying the plausibility standard is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950. "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 1949. (citation ...


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