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Sharp v. Town of Greece

May 3, 2010

ROBIN SHARP, AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, FOR A.G., AN INFANT PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWN OF GREECE, TOWN OF GREECE AND POLICE DEPARTMENT, MERRITT RAHN, WILLIAM MACKIN, BRIAN BALL, STEPHEN WISE, ROBERT TROWBRIDGE, ANDREW ELMORE, BRIAN WHITE, THOMAS SCHAMERHORN, GARY PIGNATO, NICHOLAS JOSEPH AND DAVID JOSEPH, DEFENDANTS.



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

ORDER

DECISION

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Robin Sharp, the maternal grandmother and Guardian Ad Litem for A.G., an infant brings this action for damages against 13 separate defendants alleging conspiracy, various violations of constitutionally protected rights, and state law causes of action as the result of an automobile accident on Interstate 390 in the Town of Greece, New York on June 7, 2008. According to the Complaint, Alexis J. Sharp, A.G.'s mother, was driving her automobile when it became disabled and she brought it to a stop on the shoulder of Interstate 390. Her vehicle was struck from behind by an automobile being driven by Nicholas Joseph, an off-duty Town of Greece police officer, who was under the influence of alcohol and drugs and left the scene of the accident. The plaintiff alleges various causes of action for damages under federal and state law claiming that the defendants deliberately failed to investigate the accident and engaged in a cover-up to protect Nicholas Joseph.

The defendants now move pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 12(b)(6)") to dismiss all Federal claims, and also request that this Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

THE COMPLAINT

Plaintiff alleges four federal causes of action against various defendants. For ease of reference, I have categorized the defendants in the following manner. The Town of Greece, as a municipal body, is separately identified throughout this Decision and Order as the "Town." The Town of Greece Police Department is simply referred to by name. Merritt Rahn, William Mackin, Brian Ball, Stephen Wise, Robert Trowbridge, Andrew Elmore, Brian White, Thomas Schamerhorn, and Gary Pignato, all members of the Town of Greece Police Department, are collectively referred to as the "Police defendants," or individually by last name. Finally, Nicholas Joseph and David Joseph are referred to as the "Joseph Brothers" or by name.

First, plaintiff alleges that actions of the Town, the Town of Greece Police Department, and the Police defendants facilitated Nicholas Joseph's dangerous conduct, thus constituting a "state- created danger" in violation of plaintiff's right to substantive due process. Second, plaintiff claims that the Town of Greece Police Department and the Police defendants denied her access to the courts by hindering important aspects of the accident investigation concerning Nicholas Joseph's conduct, thereby materially undermining plaintiff's state law claims. Third, the Complaint alleges that the Town of Greece Police Department, the Police defendants, and Nicholas Joseph conspired to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights and her entitlement to equal protection of the laws in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. Fourth, plaintiff alleges that the same defendants, by their actions, neglected to prevent the § 1985 conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1986.

Plaintiff alleges three separate state law causes of action against certain defendants. First, plaintiff brings a negligence claim against Nicholas Joseph, the driver of the truck which struck Alexis J. Sharp's vehicle on June 7, 2008. Second, plaintiff alleges a negligence claim against David Joseph, the owner of the truck driven by Nicholas Joseph on June 7, 2008. Third, plaintiff alleges a negligent hiring/retention/supervision claim against the Town, the Town of Greece Police Department, and the Police defendants for employing Nicholas Joseph, when they knew or should have known about his dangerous propensities.

Before the Court are defendants' motions pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss all federal claims, and to dismiss plaintiff's state law claims for lack of jurisdiction.*fn1

BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges the following facts, which are assumed to be true for purposes of motions brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Bell Atlantic Co. v. Twombley, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). On June 7, 2008, Alexis J. Sharp, driving northbound on Interstate 390 within the Town of Greece, experienced car trouble and pulled her automobile off to the side of the road. Nicholas Joseph, driving alone in an automobile owned by his brother David Joseph, while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, struck the rear of Ms. Sharp's stopped vehicle. Ms. Sharp was then 25 weeks pregnant and, according to the Complaint, the accident caused the premature birth of and injuries to her child, A.G. Nicholas Joseph, an off-duty police officer for the Town of Greece Police Department at the time of the accident, fled the scene without making his identity known.

The Complaint alleges that prior to this accident, "Sergeant Nicholas Joseph had a record of reckless behavior." In December 2003, he had been arrested for trespassing. Although he was a police officer on probationary status with the Town of Greece Police Department at that time, he was not disciplined for that incident. Also, one month before the automobile accident identified in this Complaint, Nicholas Joseph's truck reportedly was seen being operated recklessly, but again the Town and Police defendants took no action against him. Also, when Nicholas Joseph was a member of the Rochester Police Department, he allegedly provided false information in support of an application for a search warrant, which the Town and Police defendants knew or should have known and failed to consider in deciding whether to hire him. According to the Complaint, additional incidents of misbehavior by Nicholas Joseph were contained in the Town of Greece Police Department's records, which the Police defendants allegedly destroyed after his accident with Ms. Sharp's vehicle.

After the accident, defendant Police Chief Merritt Rahn allegedly ordered that no internal investigation be conducted of Nicholas Joseph. Rahn did not require Nicholas Joseph to report to the Police Department headquarters, but told him to provide a statement when he remembered where and how the accident occurred. Police defendants also allegedly provided incorrect information concerning the accident to the Monroe County District Attorney's Office in an attempt to influence the decision of whether to charge Nicholas Joseph. Defendants Rahn and Elmore agreed not to inform the Criminal Investigation Division of the accident, which would ordinarily require taking a statement from Nicholas Joseph.

The Town of Greece Police Department, Rahn, and Schamerhorn allegedly agreed to change the accident report to favor Nicholas Joseph's conduct and avoid legal sanction. The Town of Greece Police Department and the Police defendants allegedly shredded documents related to the accident and Nicholas Joseph's reckless background. Further alleged obstruction included failure by the Town of Greece Police Department and Police defendants to gather critical evidence of the vehicles at the accident scene, failure to take photographs of the scene and the vehicles, and failure to impound the vehicle driven by Nicholas Joseph.

Despite the alleged cover-up of the events surrounding the accident, Nicholas Joseph was criminally charged, and convicted of Aggravated Vehicular Assault; Assault in the Second Degree; Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury Accident; Driving While Ability Impaired by the Combined Influence of Drugs and/or Alcohol; Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance; and Perjury in the First Degree.

FEDERAL CAUSES OF ACTION

Plaintiff alleges four federal claims and three state law claims against certain defendants. First, plaintiff alleges under the "State-Created Danger Doctrine" that the Town, the Town of Greece Police Department, and Police defendants, through their actual and constructive knowledge of Nicholas Joseph's reckless past, their refusal to discipline him, and their actions to aid him in avoiding legal sanction, permitted him to continue his dangerous propensities which caused harm to the plaintiff. Second, the plaintiff claims that through their illegal cover-up of Nicholas Joseph's background and his behavior at the accident, the Town of Greece Police Department and the Police defendants deprived plaintiff of access to the courts in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment thus preventing her from proving the full extent of her damages and her entitlement to punitive damages. Third, plaintiff contends that the Town, the Town of Greece Police Department, Police defendants, and Nicholas Joseph violated 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1985 by conspiring to deny plaintiff her right of access to the courts and also ...


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