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Spencer v. City of Lockport

November 19, 2010

BILLY JO SPENCER, MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF DSS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF LOCKPORT DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the assignment of this case to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. Dkt. # 10.

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

Plaintiff Billy Jo Spencer, mother and natural guardian of DSS, seeks recovery for alleged violations of the infant plaintiff's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985. Plaintiff also asserts New York state law causes of action for false imprisonment, negligence, invasion of privacy, and civil rights violations under the Constitution of the State of New York.

Currently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment by defendant City of Lockport based on qualified immunity. Dkt. # 16.

For the following reasons, summary judgment is granted to defendant and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed in all respects.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The parties do not dispute the basic facts of the case as set forth below.

On January 7, 2008, the infant plaintiff, DSS, had in his possession at Lockport High School a composition notebook entitled "Death Note". Dkt. #16 at Ex. G, p 6, lines 3-7; Dkt. # 18 at Ex. A, p 6, lines 3-7. Within the "Death Note" notebook, DSS had written the names of forty-four students he knew at both Lockport High School and Emmett Belknap Middle School. After the names of each individual student, DSS described how each of the students would die. Several of the students listed in the notebook had asterisks by their names. Dkt. #16 at Ex. F. According to DSS, the asterisks next to certain students' names indicated that those students would suffer harder deaths. Dkt. # 16 at Ex. G, p 9, 11, 16-17.

On the day in question, the Lockport High School's administration became aware of DSS's possession of the "Death Note" notebook through student complaints. DSS was brought to the school's administrative offices where he, at the request of the school Vice Principal, Melissa Niver ("Niver"), turned over the notebook in question. Dkt. #16 at Ex. G, p 31, lines 12-23; Dkt. #18 at Ex. A, p 31, lines 12-23. After reviewing the notebook and verifying that said notebook belonged to DSS, Niver contacted the school's Safety Officer, Scott Snaith ("Snaith"). Dkt. # 16 at Ex. G, p 32, lines 5-13; Dkt. #18 at Ex. A, p 32, lines 5-13.

Snaith reviewed the "Death Note" notebook and subsequently attempted to contact Detective Warren Hale ("Hale"), the Lockport City Police Department's juvenile officer. Snaith was unable to get ahold of Hale, and left Hale a message to contact him. Dkt. #16 at Ex. I, p 21, lines 1-19; Dkt. #18 at Ex. B, p 21, lines 1-19. Thereafter, Snaith contacted the Niagara County Department of Mental Health ("Mental Health") and spoke with the director. The Mental Health director indicated to Snaith that he could refer DSS for a psychological examination at the Niagara Falls Medical Center ("the Center") to determine whether DSS was a serious threat to himself or others. Dkt. #16 at Ex. I, p 22, lines 1-23, p 23, lines 1-3. Snaith then contacted Rural Metro Ambulance to have DSS transported to the Center for a psychological evaluation. Dkt. #18 at Ex. B, p 26, lines 4-14.

Thereafter, Hale responded to Lockport High School. Hale reviewed a photocopy of the "Death Note" notebook himself. Hale and Snaith conducted an interview with DSS and engaged in a conversation with DSS's mother, who had been called to the school as a result of the incident. Dkt. #16 at Ex. J, p 34, lines 20-23. In the interview, DSS indicated that the "Death Note" notebook was related to a movie he was writing. Dkt. # 18 at Ex. B, p 31, lines 15-17. In the course of the conversation with DSS's mother, she indicated that DSS had an appointment scheduled for that day to meet with Dr. Eugene Domenico, whom DSS had been counseling with for a period of several months prior to the incident. Dkt. #16 at Ex. G, p 61, lines 16-18; Dkt. # 18 at Ex. C, p 61, lines 7-23. She also indicated that she was aware of the "Death Note" notebook and had taken similar notebooks away from her son in the past and thrown them away. Dkt. # 16 at Ex. H, p 56, lines 19-23. She explained that, due to her concerns for her son's well-being, she had, prior to the date of the incident, talked with the school guidance counselor to get her son assistance. Dkt. # 16 at Ex. H, p 37, lines 1-5. She further indicated that she had also been concerned that her son was associating with "Goth" kids, one of whom engaged in cutting herself (and DSS on one occasion) with a razor blade. Dkt. # 16 at Ex. H, p 58, lines 7-22; Dkt. # 18, Ex. C, p 60, lines 5-8. DSS's mother stated that she became concerned for her son's well-being in the Fall of 2008, when his behavior had started to change; at that time, DSS was writing stories and the stories were becoming increasingly violent. Dkt. #16 at Ex. H, p 37, lines 4-11. Based on what he observed and heard that morning, Hale agreed that DSS should be taken to the Center for psychological evaluation. Dkt. #16 at Ex. J, p 72, lines 12-16. Snaith and Hale were both law enforcement officials for the City of Lockport Police Department with histories of juvenile experience. Dkt. # 16 at Ex. I, p 11, lines 7-23, Ex. J, p 7, lines 8-23, p 14, lines 17-23.

DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

Summary Judgment ...


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