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Williams v. Fischer

September 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry United States District Judge


DORA L. IRIZARRY, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Amanda Williams brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), claiming that Defendants violated her constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (See generally Docket Entry No. 1 ("Compl.").) Defendants move to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (See generally Docket Entry No. 9 ("Mot. to Dismiss").) For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted in its entirety as to Defendants LeClaire and Goord, and also granted as to the claims against the remaining defendants in their official capacities. As to the claims against Fischer, Annucci, and the unnamed defendants, in their respective individual capacities, the motion to dismiss is denied.


On October 21, 2002, Plaintiff pled guilty to one count of attempted assault in the first degree in New York Supreme Court, Kings County. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Pursuant to this plea, Plaintiff was sentenced to a determinate prison term of three years on April 30, 2003, and turned over to the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"). (Id. ¶ 9.) Prior to her release from prison on November 14, 2005, Plaintiff was also given a five-year term of post-release supervision ("PRS"). (Id. ¶13.) This sentence was administratively imposed by DOCS pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law § 70.45, as it existed at that time.*fn1 (Id.; see also Mot. to Dismiss 2.)

On June 9, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in Earley v. Murray that it is unconstitutional for DOCS to administratively impose PRS. See 451 F.3d 71, 75 (2d Cir. 2006) ("Only the judgment of a court, as expressed through the sentence imposed by a judge, has the power to constrain a person's liberty."). On April 29, 2008, the New York State Court of Appeals likewise struck down administratively imposed PRS as a matter of state law in two cases. See People v. Sparber, 10 N.Y.3d 457, 470 (2008) ("sentencing is a uniquely judicial responsibility"); Garner v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. Servs., 10 N.Y.3d 358, 362 (2008) ("DOCS's imposition of the PRS term contravenes the CPL's express mandate that sentencing is a judicial function"). The New York State Court of Appeals noted that an improperly imposed term of PRS could be remedied through resentencing by the original sentencing court. See Garner, 10 N.Y.3d at 363 n.4. The state legislature codified this remedy with the passage of Correction Law § 601-d and Penal Law § 70.85, effective June 30, 2008. See Ruffins v. Dep't of Corr. Servs., 701 F. Supp. 2d 385, 398--402 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (providing procedural history); Nazario v. State, 24 Misc. 3d 443, 447--48 (N.Y. Ct. Cl. 2009) (same). Notably, New York Correction Law §§ 601-d(1)--(2) also mandates that DOCS notify persons in Plaintiff's situation, as well as the original sentencing court, "[w]henever it shall appear to the satisfaction of [DOCS]" that such persons improperly received a term of administratively imposed PRS.

On or about August 5, 2008, an arrest warrant for Plaintiff was issued in New York, stemming from a violation of her PRS, which, as originally imposed by DOCS, was still in effect.*fn2 (Compl.¶ 15.) On or about August 28, 2008, Plaintiff was returned to the custody of DOCS in New York pursuant to this warrant. (Id. ¶ 16.) On October 23, 2008, a Kings County Supreme Court judge,*fn3 pursuant to New York Correction Law § 601-d and New York Penal Law § 70.85, declined to retroactively impose a term of PRS, and Plaintiff was released on October 30, 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 17--18.)

On November 13, 2008, Plaintiff brought the instant § 1983 action, claiming, inter alia, that Defendants "willfully and intentionally imposed upon [her] a term of PRS which they knew they had no authority to impose [that resulted in her being] wrongly and falsely imprisoned in the State of New York for 63 days." (Compl. ¶¶ 19, 23.)

Defendants move to dismiss the action on a number of grounds. First, they argue that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege their personal involvement in her alleged constitutional deprivation. (Mot. to Dismiss. 3--8.) Next, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's "allegedly wrongful confinement was . . . privileged." (Id. at 8--11.) Defendants also argue that they are entitled to absolute immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, as "New York State is the real substantial party in interest." (Id. at 11.) Defendants further claim that they are shielded by qualified immunity as, "[a]t the time of the alleged imposition of PRS on Plaintiff, it was not clearly established [that doing so was unconstitutional]." (Id. at 13.) Finally, Defendants maintain that the instant action is barred by the statute of limitations. (Id. at 25.)


A. Personal Involvement of Defendants

"[P]ersonal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983." Shomo v. City of N.Y., 579 F.3d 176, 184 (2d Cir. 2009). "[M]erely [holding] a high position of authority" is insufficient. Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 2009 WL 3300263, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 13, 2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Second Circuit has held that personal involvement may be established by a showing that "the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom . . . ." Scott v. Fischer, 2010 WL 2991085, at *8 (2d Cir. Aug. 2, 2010) (citing Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995)).

As an initial matter, only conduct that occurred after New York codified the Sparber/Garner holdingson June 30, 2008 is actionable at bar as, prior to that date, it was not clearly established that DOCS' administrative imposition of PRS was unconstitutional. (See Part II.D, infra.) Defendant Lucien J. LaClaire, Jr. was Acting Commissioner of DOCS from August 30 to December 31, 2006 (Compl. ¶ 3), and Defendant Glenn S. Goord was the Commissioner of DOCS from 1996 until August 2006. (Id. ¶ 4.) Thus, neither was capable of personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation during the actionable period. Accordingly, Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion is granted in its entirety with respect to LaClaire and Goord.

In contrast, Defendants Brian Fischer and Anthony J. Annucci were the Commissioner and a Deputy Commissioner, respectively, of DOCS at all relevant times subsequent to June 30, 2008. (See Compl. ¶¶ 2, 5.) Plaintiff claims that both were, at all relevant times, "responsible for the oversight of DOCS, including . . . developing and enforcing the policies and practices implemented . . . at DOCS." (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 5.) Plaintiff also alleges that both were "policy-maker[s] with respect to DOCS' policies and decisions to administratively impose terms of . . . PRS," and for "ensuring that DOCS policies and actions . . . are not in violation of the Constitutions of the United States or the State of New York." (Id.) With respect to the unnamed defendants, Plaintiff similarly alleges that during the relevant period, they were "supervisory and/or policy making officers . . . of DOCS, responsible for the implementation and enforcement of DOCS' policies and decisions concerning the imposition of PRS." (Id. ¶ 6.) Furthermore, Plaintiff ...

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