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Basile v. Walt Disney Co.

June 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Holwell, District Judge


While visiting Disney World with his daughter in late 2007, plaintiff Christopher Basile was arrested and charged with disorderly intoxication. He was subsequently acquitted in a jury trial. He now brings malicious arrest and prosecution claims pursuant to state law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the arresting officer, the sheriff's office at which he was booked, Orange County, Florida itself, Disney, and other Florida based entities and officials. He also brings claims under state law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging interference with parental custody rights. The parental custody rights claims arise out of the use of the fact of his arrest as evidence against him in New York custody proceedings. Certain Florida defendants have moved to dismiss or transfer for improper venue, some defendants also object to personal jurisdiction, and all have alternatively asserted that the complaint fails to state a claim. For the reasons that follow the Court severs the claims against the New York defendants and orders the remainder of the case transferred to the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division. The Court then dismisses the Complaint*fn1 as brought against the New York defendants for failure to state a claim.


A. Factual History

The following facts are drawn from plaintiff's complaint unless otherwise noted. The Court takes the well-pled factual allegations of the complaint as true and draws reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007).

In late December of 2007 plaintiff visited Disney World with his nine-year-old daughter. (Cl. ¶ 16.) By December 30, he had been walking the parks for five days, and the strain of that exertion had exacerbated pain plaintiff suffered in his surgically repaired knees and back, leading him to walk with a slight limp. (Id.) As plaintiff waited for the monorail to the Magic Kingdom the afternoon of the 30th, a Disney employee (apparently having mistaken this limp for a drunken stumble) questioned plaintiff about whether or not he had been drinking alcohol. (Cl. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff replied that he had not been drinking and that a water bottle that he was holding did not contain any alcohol.*fn2

(Id.) Shortly thereafter plaintiff boarded the monorail but a Disney security officer, defendant Melissa Morris, also apparently believing that plaintiff was excessively intoxicated, informed him that he would have to leave the monorail and would not be allowed to proceed to the Magic Kingdom. (Cl. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff again asserted that he had not been drinking, but after a brief discussion with Morris agreed to leave. (Id.) As plaintiff exited the monorail station he was arrested by Officer (and defendant) Massaro of the Orange County Police for disorderly intoxication. (Cl. ¶ 19.) Despite plaintiff's requests that he be given a breath or urine test to prove his sobriety, plaintiff was not given any such tests. (Cl. ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff's daughter watched this incident unfold. When plaintiff was taken into custody he asked that his sister, who was a Florida resident, be called to pick his daughter up. However Officer Massaro refused and had the child placed in the custody of Florida's Department of Children and Families. (Cl. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff's ex-wife, defendant Sherry Wiggs, apparently flew to Florida and picked her up shortly thereafter (the couple had divorced prior to this incident).

After his arrest plaintiff was initially detained "in solitary confinement." (Cl. ¶ 22.) He continued to assert his sobriety and request a test of his alcohol content, but was continually rebuffed in those requests. (Id.) He was formally charged with Disorderly Intoxication, and apparently released, that same day. (Cl. ¶ 23.) According to the Complaint the police pressured him to plead guilty to the charge by telling him that if he did so he would not face any penalties. (Cl. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff refused to so plead.

Shortly after plaintiff was arrested and charged, the fact of his arrest found its way into child custody proceedings in New York. On January 3, 2008 the appointed law guardian for the daughter, defendant Andrew Szczesniak, spoke on the phone with plaintiff regarding the incident and threatened to bring an action in family court based on the arrest. (Cl. ¶¶ 51, 53.) Plaintiff doubted the propriety of Szczesniak's interference, and requested that he "resign and stay away from his daughter." (Cl. ¶ 52.) Nevertheless on January 5, 2008 Szczesniak brought an Order to Show Cause in New York family Court seeking to block plaintiff's access to his daughter. (Cl. ¶ 54.) On January 7, 2008 Ms. Wiggs, plaintiff's ex-wife, brought a similar action in family court based on the arrest. (Cl. ¶ 55.) Both orders were signed, blocking plaintiff's access to his daughter pending a hearing. (Cl. ¶¶ 54-55.) The Complaint alleges that both Szczesniak and Wiggs were in contact with the Florida officials prosecuting plaintiff, and that they collectively conspired against him. Furthermore at some point Westchester County's Department of Children's Services conducted a negligence proceeding against plaintiff, and one of the defendants (the complaint does not specify who) allegedly instigated that investigation. However following plaintiff's eventual acquittal in the Florida action, both Szczesniak and Wiggs voluntarily withdrew their actions with prejudice. (Cl. ¶60.) The Complaint makes no mention of the outcome of the negligence proceeding.

The Complaint alleges that because plaintiff refused to plead guilty to the Disorderly Intoxication charge, on January 30, 2008 "[d]efendant Orange County sought to further improperly pressure [p]laintiff by adding an additional charge of Contributing to the Delinquency or Dependency of a Minor." (Cl. ¶ 24.) Although the sheriff's office still indicated that plaintiff would receive no penalty should he plead guilty, defendant continued to refuse to plea. (Id.) On March 26, 2008 the office upped the pressure further by adding "a third charge of Disorderly Intoxication," but plaintiff still refused to plead guilty to any charge. (Cl. ¶ 25.) Finally, on September 24-25, 2008, plaintiff took the charges to trial. (Cl. ¶ 27.) With the benefit of a victory on his suppression motion,*fn3 plaintiff won on all counts: the presiding judge dismissed some of the charges and the jury then found plaintiff not guilty. (Cl. ¶ 27.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this complaint in the Southern District of New York on August 12, 2009,*fn4 after which certain defendants filed motions to dismiss in lieu of answers. On November 12, 2009, plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [12] and the Court accepted that amendment, nunc pro tunc, on December 14, 2009. [31]. At that time the Court set out a consolidated briefing schedule for the various defendants' motions to dismiss. Those motions, [37] [38] [40] [42] [44] [48], raising issues of personal jurisdiction, venue, and failure to state a claim, are now before the Court.

The Amended Complaint asserts sixteen causes of action. Six of these are federal causes of action: counts one through four assert 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violations by the Florida defendants related to plaintiff's arrest and prosecution, and counts fifteen and sixteen assert 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violations based on various defendants' (including one New York defendant's) interference with plaintiff's parental rights. Ten state law causes of action assert malicious prosecution, abuse of process, false arrest, assault, battery, defamation, conspiracy, ...

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