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Shawn Michael Vincent v. Superintendent Mr. Bruce S.Yelich

August 29, 2011

SHAWN MICHAEL VINCENT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT MR. BRUCE S.YELICH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Because these two complaints raise identical issues and were argued before the Court on the same day, the cases are consolidated for purpose of this decision.

The respective plaintiffs, Shawn Michael Vincent, and Jimmie Johnson, Seneca Robinson, Gary St. Mary, Walter Eades, Reginald Johnson, Donald McLean, Jeffrey Palmer, Wayne B. Wright, Jr., Shawn Goodman and David Waddell (collectively "plaintiffs"), bring actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 against officers and employees of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") and New York State Division of Parole (collectively "defendants").*fn1 Each plaintiff alleges that the defendants, acting individually and in concert, violated his Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights in connection with DOCS's administrative imposition of a period of post-release supervision ("PRS"), which followed each plaintiff's service of a judicially-imposed determinate sentence of incarceration.

The defendants now move pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1), (3) and (6) to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims, on the grounds that the defendants are, inter alia, entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motions to dismiss (Johnson Dkt. #21, Vincent Dkt. #7, #27)*fn2 are granted, and the subject complaints are dismissed.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6)

In deciding a motion under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), a court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. See Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994), citing Ad-Hoc Comm. of Baruch Black & Hispanic Alumni Ass'n v. Bernard M. Baruch College, 835 F.2d 980, 982 (2d Cir. 1987). However, "a plaintiff's obligation . . . requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

II. Qualified Immunity

Defendants chiefly urge that plaintiffs' claims must be dismissed, because the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. The defense of qualified immunity shields public officials from an action for civil damages, to the extent that their challenged acts do not violate "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). It applies to circumstances in which it is "objectively reasonable" for an official to believe that his conduct did not violate a plaintiff's rights, in light of clearly established law and information known to the official at the time the challenged acts occurred. See Simms v. Village of Albion, 115 F.3d 1098, 1106 (2d Cir. 1997); Hill v. City of New York, 45 F.3d 653, 661 (2d Cir. 1995); Velardi v. Walsh, 40 F.3d 569, 573 (2d Cir. 1994). In determining whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must focus on "objective circumstances rather than an [official's] subjective motivation." Bradway v. Gonzales, 26 F.3d 313, 319 (2d Cir. 1994).

The Supreme Court has identified two key inquiries for evaluating assertions of qualified immunity: (1) whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, show that the defendant violated a constitutional right; and (2) whether that constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009); Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). The Court may decide these questions in whatever order is best suited to the case at hand. Pearson, 555 U.S. 223 at 236. While the question of whether a violation has occurred is one of law, the issue of whether the relevant right was "clearly established" requires a notably broader inquiry.

The primary issue here is whether the plaintiffs' rights were so clearly established at the time defendants participated in the administrative imposition of a 5-year period of PRS following service of the plaintiffs' determinate sentences, that the defendants should have been aware that their actions violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

In summary, the relevant facts are these. Each of the plaintiffs was sentenced to a determinate sentence following a criminal felony conviction. Notwithstanding the provisions of New York Penal Law §70.45 (commonly known as "Jenna's Law"), which mandated a period of PRS as part of every determinate sentence for the plaintiffs' crimes, the sentencing courts neglected or failed to specify a period of PRS. Each of the plaintiffs was released from incarceration sometime between March 2002 and June 2007. Upon each plaintiff's release, DOCS, construing Penal Law §70.45 as requiring an automatic period of PRS, administratively imposed PRS on each of the plaintiffs. PRS was later revoked for most of the plaintiffs, who subsequently returned to DOCS custody.

It is now clear (in 2011) that both federal and state case law have found that the administrative imposition of PRS to be unconstitutional and unlawful. Defendants claim, though, that at the time that the ...


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