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Lekia Coleman v. City of Syracuse; Officer Shawn Hauck; Officer Scott Carns; Officer

January 4, 2011

LEKIA COLEMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF SYRACUSE; OFFICER SHAWN HAUCK; OFFICER SCOTT CARNS; OFFICER SEAN CARLEO; OFFICER BRIAN NOVITSKY; OFFICER MATTHEW ERWIN; OFFICER CHRISTOPHER LAMONTAGNE; LIEUTENANT JOHN IVES; AND EASTERN PARAMEDICS INC., D/B/A RURAL METRO MEDICAL SERVICES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court in this civil rights action filed by Lekia Coleman ("Plaintiff") against the City of Syracuse, Officer Brian Novitsky, Officer Shawn Hauck, Officer Scott Carns, Officer Sean Carleo, Officer Matthew Erwin, Officer Christopher LaMontagne, Lieutenant John Ives, and Eastern Paramedics Inc., d/b/a Rural Metro Medical Services ("Defendants") is Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 9, Attach. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Relevant Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his original Complaint in this action on December 14, 2009. (Dkt. No. 1.) On April 28, 2010, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. No. 9.) On June 9, 2010, Plaintiff opposed that motion and cross-moved for leave to file an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 19.) On August 31, 2010, Plaintiff was granted leave to file an Amended Complaint, which was accepted for filing. (Text Minute Entry for 8/31/2010; see also Dkt. No. 25.)

Because an amended complaint supersedes an original complaint in its entirety for all purposes, it is possible for the filing of an amended complaint to render moot the relief requested in a previously filed motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.*fn1 However, here, beyond properly identifying certain Defendants, the Amended Complaint contains all but one of the same claims as does the original Complaint, asserts no new claims, and is otherwise markedly similar to the original Complaint, adding only six new allegations and modifying only four previous allegations. (Compare Dkt. No. 1 with Dkt. No. 25.)

For these reasons, the Court construes the arguments raised in Defendants' motion to dismiss, discussed below in Part I.C. of this Decision and Order, as applying to the claims and factual allegations asserted in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

B. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, on December 13, 2008, Defendants Novitsky, Hauck, Carns, Carleo, Erwin, LaMontagne, Ives, and the City of Syracuse violated his civil rights by unlawfully searching his vehicle and his person, arresting him, and using excessive force to effectuate his arrest. (See generally Dkt. No. 25 [Plf.'s Am. Compl.].) Based on these allegations, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts the following seven claims: (1) a claim of excessive force against Defendants Novitsky, Hauck, Carns, Carleo, Erwin, LaMontagne, and Ives (hereinafter "the Police Defendants"); (2) a claim of false arrest/false imprisonment against the Police Defendants; (3) a claim of unreasonable search and seizure against the Police Defendants; (4) a claim of violation of his equal protection rights against the Police Defendants; (5) a claim of inadequate conditions of confinement against the Police Defendants; (6) a due process claim against the Police Defendants; and (7) a claim of municipal liability against the City of Syracuse arising out of the conduct of the Police Defendants. (Dkt. No. 25, Ãé¶Ãé¶ 27-57.)*fn2 Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. (Id.)

C. Defendants' Motion

Generally, in support of their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue, in pertinent part, as follows: (1) Plaintiff's claims against the City of Syracuse must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting a claim for municipal liability, and the City of Syracuse cannot be held liable on a theory of respondeat superior; (2) Plaintiff's claims against the Police Defendants should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to "plead sufficient facts to show that the claims in the [Amended] Complaint are plausible on their face"; (3) the Police Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) the Police Defendants in their official capacity and the City of Syracuse are immune from liability for punitive damages. (See generally Dkt. No. 9, Attach. 1 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].)*fn3

In Plaintiff's response to Defendants' motion to dismiss, he argues as follows: (1) Plaintiff's claim of municipal liability against the City of Syracuse should not be dismissed because he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting a custom or policy of inadequate supervision and/or training; (2) Plaintiff's claims against the Police Defendants should not be dismissed because Plaintiff has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that the Police Defendants violated his constitutional rights; (3) based on the allegations in the Amended Complaint, the Police Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) because Plaintiff has sued the Police Defendants in their individual, as well as their official capacity, he is entitled to request punitive damages. (See generally Dkt. No. 20, Attach. 1 [Plf.'s Response Memo. of Law].)

In their reply, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages should be dismissed because he has failed to specify which Defendants he is seeking punitive damages against, and he cannot recover punitive damages against the City of Syracuse. (Dkt. No. 22.)

II. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Legal Standard Governing Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim For the sake of brevity, the Court will not recite, in this Decision and Order, the well-known legal standard governing dismissals for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), but will direct the reader to the Court's recent decision in Wade v. Tiffin Motorhomes, Inc., 05-CV-1458, 2009 WL 3629674, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 27, 2009) (Suddaby, J.), which accurately recites that legal standard.

B. Legal Standards Governing Plaintiff's Claims

Because the parties to this action have demonstrated, in their memoranda of law, an accurate understanding of the relevant points of law contained in the legal standards governing Plaintiff's claims in this action, the Court will not recite, in their entirety, those legal standards in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Dkt. No. 9, Attach.1 [Defs.' Memo. of Law]; Dkt. No. 20, Attach. 1 [Plf.'s Response Memo. of Law].)

III. ANALYSIS

A. Plaintiff's Claim Against Police Defendants

As stated above in Part I.C. of this Decision and Order, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against the Police Defendants because (1) Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting a claim of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure, violation of Plaintiff's right to equal protection, or inadequate conditions of confinement, and (2) the Police Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law based upon the factual allegations of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint.

Addressing Defendants' second argument first, "[a]lthough a defendant may assert the defense of qualified immunity in a motion to dismiss, the Second Circuit has held that it is very difficult for such a defense to succeed at the pleading stage." Charles v. New York State DOCS, 07-CV-1274, 2009 WL 890548, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2009) (Hurd, J.) (citing McKenna v. Wright, 386 F.3d 432, 436-37 [2d Cir. 2004]). "The defense must be based on facts appearing on the face of the complaint." Charles, 2009 WL 890548, at *10 (citing Benzman v. Whitman, 523 F.3d 119, 125 [2d Cir. 2008]); see also Bernstein v. City of New York, 06-CV-0895, 2007 WL 1573910, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) ("Because the qualified immunity defense necessarily involves a fact-specific inquiry, '[i]t is generally premature to address the defense of qualified immunity in a motion to dismiss pursuant to [Rule] 12(b)(6).'") (quoting Walker v. Mendoza, 00-CV-0093, 2000 WL 915070, at *7 [E.D.N.Y. June 27, 2000]). In other words, a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity on a motion to dismiss if the Plaintiff fails to "state a claim of violation of clearly established law." Connell v. Signoracci, 153 F.3d 74, 80 (2d. Cir. 1998) (quoting Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 306 [1996]).

Here, the factual allegations in the Amended Complaint do not lead to the inescapable conclusion that the Police Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from suit. "Depending on what evidence is adduced through discovery, dismissal of [P]laintiff's claims against [these Defendants] may be warranted on a properly supported motion for summary judgment, but at this point, ...


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