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Sengmany Savatxath v. Christopher Stoeckel

May 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge



Plaintiff commenced this civil rights action pro se, asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants move pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the claims. Motion, dkt. # 14. Plaintiff has opposed the motion. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


"Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 1964-65. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 1965. "'[T]he pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.'" Id. at 1965 (quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint does not suffice "if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Iqbal, at 1950. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 557) (internal quotations omitted).


On or about June 22, 2009, between 12:00 AM and 1:30 AM, the Plaintiff ran out of gas while driving a friend's vehicle. The vehicle came to a stop under the Brandywine Highway overpass on Henry Street in the City of Binghamton. The Plaintiff had intended to drop two of his friends off at their home on Pine Street; however, after the vehicle died his friends walked home and he walked to the Extra Mart gas station on Court Street. When he arrived at the gas station, he observed a marked Binghamton police vehicle parked across the street. Given the early morning hour, the Plaintiff went inside the station to pre-pay for his gas. He paid the store clerk $3.00. When he came back outside the Binghamton police vehicle was still across the street. The Plaintiff began to fill a laundry detergent bottle with gasoline. While he was pumping gas, a friend named "Country" came up to him and started talking. Country was curious what the Plaintiff was doing in the area that late at night. The detergent bottle only held $.90 of gasoline and Country told the Plaintiff he should go back into the station to get his change from the clerk. The Plaintiff told Country he was alright, but that he needed to get back to the borrowed vehicle. Plaintiff and Country then each left the gas station. At the time, the police vehicle was still across the street.

After leaving the gas station, Country walked to his house on Pine Street and the Plaintiff continued on to Henry Street toward the borrowed vehicle. About five (5) minutes into his walk, when he was about 100 yards away from the vehicle, the Plaintiff was approached by a Binghamton police car with its lights on. The vehicle came from behind Plaintiff and then pulled in front of him, blocking his path. Two officers, Officer Baer and Officer Stoeckel, stepped out of the police vehicle. Officer Baer asked Plaintiff to put down the bottle and the Plaintiff said, "I wasn't doing anything wrong." Officer Baer then said, "Don't make me tell you again to put the bottle down." Plaintiff put the bottle down in the middle of Henry Street. Plaintiff was then directed to put his hands on top of the police vehicle's hood. Officer Baer then asked, "How come you only pumped $.90 at the gas pump?" Plaintiff replied that was all the laundry bottle would hold. Officer Baer then asked, "How come you were talking to the black guy at the gas pump?" Plaintiff explained that Country was his friend and had only said hello and asked if everything was okay. Officer Baer asked if he could search Plaintiff, and Plaintiff said, "No. I didn't do anything wrong." Officer Baer asked again and the Plaintiff said "No" again. "Officer Baer patted down the plaintiff he [sic] did not did not find any weapon's [sic]. As Officer Baer patted down the plaintiff, but this time he was searching through the plaintiff's pant's and jacket pocket's [sic]" Officer Baer found a crack pipe in Plaintiff's "right front pocket" and a piece of crack cocaine in the Plaintiff's "left upper front jacket." Am. Compl., p. 3. Officer Baer then asked Plaintiff if there was any more "stuff" and Plaintiff told him that there was a bag of marijuana in his sock. Plaintiff was then arrested. Plaintiff asserts that the charges against him have since been "dropped." Id. p. 9.

Plaintiff asserts in the First Cause of Action that Officer Baer violated Plaintiff's "unreasonable search and seizure [constitutional] rights" by detaining and searching plaintiff without "probable cause or reasonable suspicion." Am. Compl., p. 7. Plaintiff also asserts in the First Cause of Action that Officer Baer's actions "violated the plaintiff [sic] equal protection rights which in [sic] violation of the 14th Amendment." Id. Plaintiff asserts in the Second Cause of Action that Officer Stoeckel "presented false statements and documents to the court, and did not protect the plaintiff [sic] constitutional rights of illegal search and seizure by the defendant Officer David Baer." Id. Plaintiff asserts in the Third Cause of Action that "[t]here was no reason to confront Plaintiff" and that "anytime an intrusion on the security & privacy of the individual is taken with intent to harass or is based upon mere whim or curiosity, the spirt of the Constituion has been violated." Id.


a. Post-Discovery of Crack Pipe Detention

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for damages arising from the period of detention occurring after the discovery of the crack pipe. They argue that once the officers discovered the crack pipe on Plaintiff's person, they had a reasonable suspicion that criminality was afoot which gave them a legally proper justification to detain Plaintiff. The Court agrees.

It is important to note that the Complaint describes the object discovered in Plaintiff's pocket as a "crack pipe," not simply a "pipe," a "tobacco pipe," or a "glass tube." The distinction, provided by the Plaintiff himself, is important because "[a] crack pipe is a telltale sign of narcotics possession. The defendant's possession of a such a pipe . . . gave the arresting officers reason to believe that the defendant unlawfully possessed a controlled substance, consisting of, at least, crack cocaine residue. The officers, therefore, had probable cause to arrest and search the defendant." People v. Ketteles, 62 A.D.3d 902, 903-04 (2nd Dept. 2009)(citations omitted); see also People v. Edwards, 160 A.D.2d 501, 502 (1st Dept. 1990);*fn2 but see Ketteles, 62 A.D.3d at 909 (Leventhal, J., dissenting).*fn3 Moreover, even if the discovery of the crack pipe alone did not provide a legally proper justification for detention, that legal justification arose once the officers found the crack cocaine on Plaintiff's person.

The probable cause from the discovery of these items defeats any claim for false arrest damages arising from the detention after the discovery of the crack pipe and drugs.*fn4 See Townes v. City of New York, 176 F.3d 138, 149 (2d Cir. 1999),*fn5 cert. denied, 120 S. Ct. 398 (1999); Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 2001 WL 1217224, *5 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2001).*fn6 Thus, assuming, arguendo, that the officers did not have a legally proper justification to initially stop and detain Plaintiff, such a justification arose once the crack pipe and crack cocaine were discovered in Plaintiff's pockets. Accordingly, any claim for damages for the period of detention after the discovery of the crack pipe and crack cocaine must be dismissed. Leave to amend will not be granted on the dismissed portion of this claim because the amended complaint, even when read ...

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