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Berry v. Village of Millbrook

September 29, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge


Pro Se Plaintiff, Robert Berry, seeks leave to file an Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 ("Rule 15"), asserting claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") against proposed Defendants Detective Charles Locke ("Locke") and Senior Investigator Stanley Marchinkowski ("Marchinkowski"). Plaintiff also seeks to add state-law claims of defamation against these two individuals. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed a Summons with Notice on April 2, 2009 in New York State Supreme Court, Dutchess County, against the Village of Millbrook ("Millbrook"). Defendant Millbrook timely removed the matter to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441(b). (Dkt. No. 1.) On June 8, 2009, Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint in this Court, alleging, pursuant to § 1983, that Defendants Millbrook, the Dutchess County District Attorney's Office ("Dutchess DAO"), and the New York State Insurance Fund ("NYSIF") violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 18-26.)*fn1 Plaintiff also brought a libel claim against Defendant The Daily Freeman and unspecified claims against John or Jane Doe. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.)

According to the original Complaint, Plaintiff was arrested on December 13, 2006 without a warrant by proposed Defendant Locke, of the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 25.)*fn2 That same day, a criminal complaint was "brought forth" against Plaintiff by proposed Defendant Marchinkowski, an employee of the NYSIF, for grand larceny, offering a false instrument, and committing a fraudulent practice. (Id.) Plaintiff asserted that the charges against him were false and that NYSIF filed the criminal complaint in a "wanton, careless and malicious manner." (Id. ¶ 25.) Although Plaintiff asserted a cause of action against NYSIF based on these allegations, Plaintiff did not name Locke or Marchinkowski as Defendants. (Id. ¶ 26.)

The original Complaint also alleged that Plaintiff was arraigned in Millbrook Village Court on December 13, 2006, and that the Honorable Judge Louis Prisco was the presiding judge. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff signed a Grand Jury waiver and a "Divestiture to Superior Court" was "filled out" but "never signed." (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Plaintiff, at times acting pro se and at times represented by counsel, argued to Judge Prisco that the Village Court no longer had jurisdiction because of the Grand Jury waiver, but Judge Prisco disagreed and continued to request Plaintiff's monthly appearance in court. (Id. ¶¶ 11-14.) On September 30, 2008, the Assistant District Attorney moved to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanors, and Judge Prisco asked whether the charges had been presented to the Grand Jury. (Id. ¶ 15.) When the parties explained that the Grand Jury had been waived, Judge Prisco granted the motion. (Id.) On January 8, 2009, the prosecution was terminated pursuant to N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 180.85.*fn3 (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff also alleged that on December 24, 2006, Defendant The Daily Freeman published a libelous article about him based on false information allegedly provided by proposed Defendants Locke and Marchinkowski. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) Specifically, the article stated that Plaintiff was arraigned on the three felony charges and had pled not guilty. (Id. ¶ 28.)

On July 6, 2009, NYSIF wrote the Court a letter, which the Court construed as a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims against it because of the State's Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, and because neither the State nor any of its agencies is considered a "person" for purposes of § 1983. (Letter from Elizabeth Cohen to the Ct., dated July 6, 2009 (Dkt. No. 18).) On August 10, 2009, the Court held a conference, at which it noted that Plaintiff could not sue NYSIF, but could sue individuals he had a good faith basis to believe were responsible for the claimed constitutional violations. (Order dated Aug. 10, 2009 (Dkt. No. 19).) In September 2009, Defendants Millbrook and Dutchess DAO filed Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. Nos. 20, 22.) On October 16, 2009, Plaintiff filed a response to NYSIF's motion, stating that "[i]n further understanding of the State[']s 11th Amendment . . . Sovereign Immunity," Plaintiff intended to "file and serve an amended complaint to . . . [the] individuals directly involved with the incident, therefore terminating the action against the agency . . . and substitut[ing] individual defendants." (Letter from Pl. to the Ct., dated Oct. 15, 2009.) After NYSIF wrote another letter, noting that it "d[id] not, at this time, represent any individual SIF employees," because no employees were named as Defendants (Letter from Elizabeth Cohen to the Ct., dated Oct. 28, 2009 (Dkt. No. 26)), Plaintiff confirmed, by letter, that he was voluntarily dismissing the NYSIF from the case and that he intended to serve an Amended Complaint on, "the individuals [] not exempt from [] liability." (Letter from Pl. to the Ct., dated Nov. 7, 2009 (Dkt. No. 27).)

On January 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 30.) Construing Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint liberally, as the Court must, Plaintiff wishes to assert false arrest and malicious prosecution claims against proposed Defendants Marchinkowski and Locke pursuant to § 1983, as well as a state-law claim for defamation against these two new Defendants. (Proposed Am. Compl. ¶¶ 26-31.)*fn4 Plaintiff's motion asserts that he may amend pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 25, which concerns substitution of parties, but the Court construes the motion as one also brought pursuant to Rule 15, which pertains to amendment of pleadings.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

Leave to amend a complaint shall be "freely" given "when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a); see also Pangburn v. Culbertson, 200 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir. 1999) (same). In particular, "a pro se litigant should be given 'every reasonable opportunity to demonstrate that he has a valid claim.'" Mosley v. Jablonsky, 209 F.R.D. 48, 51 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) (quoting Satchell v. Dilworth, 745 F.2d 781, 785 (2d Cir. 1984)). However, Rule 15 does not permit amendments that are futile, such as amendments asserting claims that are barred by the relevant statute of limitations. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); DC Comics v. Kryptonite Corp., 00-CV-5562, 2002 WL 1303110, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. June 13, 2002) ("'A motion to amend is futile if the claims sought to be added are barred by the relevant statute of limitations.'" (quoting Northbrook Nat'l Ins. Co. v. J & R Vending Corp., 167 F.R.D. 643, 647 (E.D.N.Y. 1996))).

B. Section 1983 Claims Against Proposed Defendant Locke

Proposed Defendant Locke opposes Plaintiff's motion, arguing that Plaintiff's proposed false arrest claim is futile because it is time-barred. (Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File an Am. Compl. ("Locke Mem.") 2-5.) Proposed Defendant Locke also argues that Plaintiff's claim is not saved by the relation-back principles of Rule 15, because Plaintiff identified him in the Complaint, but chose not to name him as a defendant. (Id. 3-4.) Proposed Defendant Marchinkowski does not oppose ...

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