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Randall Zandstra v. Warden James Cross

February 6, 2012

RANDALL ZANDSTRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WARDEN JAMES CROSS, ELIZABETH HAAS, MICHAEL TRACY, UNITED STATES MARSHAL SERVICE, UNITED STATES BUREAU OF PRISONS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge:

OPINION & ORDER

Pro se plaintiff Randall Zandstra ("Zandstra") brings this lawsuit for compensatory and punitive damages against James Cross ("Cross"), Elizabeth Haas ("Haas"), Michael Tracey ("Tracey")*fn1 , the United States Marshall Service ("USMS"), and the United States Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). After Zandstra was sentenced to eleven months' detention for violating the terms of his supervised release, he claims that he was unlawfully held at the Westchester County Jail instead of being transferred to the custody of the BOP, and that he was unlawfully detained for twenty-one days after his sentence expired. The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and (6), Fed. R. Civ. P. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the plaintiff's complaint and are taken to be true for purposes of this motion. LaFaro v. New York Cardiothoracic Group, PLLC, 570 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). On July 19, 2006, Zandstra failed to attend his criminal trial in New Jersey Superior Court, Union County, as required under the conditions of his federal supervised release. On April 19, 2007, Zandstra was arrested by the USMS for the supervised release violation. On September 13, 2007, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced by the Honorable Robert W. Sweet ("Judge Sweet") to eleven months of imprisonment.

In his Judgment of September 13, 2007, Judge Sweet stated that Zandstra was to be committed to the custody of the BOP. Instead, Zandstra was held at the Westchester County Jail in the custody of the USMS until March 12, 2008, when he was transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center ("MCC"), a BOP facility in New York, New York. Zandstra claims that the Westchester County Jail had fewer freedoms, worse medical care, and other unspecified disadvantages compared with BOP facilities.

Zandstra's eleven-month federal sentence ended on March 19, 2008, but he was not released from federal custody on this date. On April 2, Zandstra claims that a USMS employee told his attorney, John Byrnes, that Zandstra was "lost in the system." On April 4, Tracy, an employee of the USMS, and Haas, an Inmate Systems Officer at the MCC, sent a number of emails over their government email accounts arranging for Zandstra's release from the MCC. These emails indicate that the New York Police Department ("NYPD") had a detainer for Zandstra at this time, and that he was to be released into state custody upon leaving the MCC. Zandstra was released from the MCC and handed over to "proper authorities" on April 8, 2008.

Zandstra commenced this lawsuit for compensatory and punitive damages on July 6, 2010. On June 20, 2011, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. By Order of September 26, plaintiff was to serve his opposition to the motion to dismiss by October 31. Zandstra did not file an opposition.

DISCUSSION

"A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it." Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the court "must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint, but [is] not to draw inferences from the complaint favorable to plaintiffs." J.S. ex rel. N.S. v. Attica Cent. Schs., 386 F.3d 107, 110 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists." Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 547 F.3d 167, 170 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). A district court may consider evidence outside the pleadings when resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. (citation omitted).

On a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the non-moving party's favor." LaFaro v. New York Cardiothoracic Group, PLLC, 570 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). 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) (citation omitted). The court is "not bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations." Id. at 1950--51.

Applying this plausibility standard is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950. There must be a "reasonably founded hope that the discovery process will reveal relevant evidence." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (citation omitted). "Plausibility thus depends on a host of considerations: the full factual picture presented by the complaint, the particular cause of action and its elements, and the existence of alternative explanations so obvious that they render plaintiff's inferences unreasonable." L--7 Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy, LLC, 647 F.3d 419, 430 (2d Cir. 2011).

Pleadings filed by pro se plaintiffs are to be construed liberally. Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). The rule favoring liberal construction of pro se submissions is especially applicable to civil rights claims. Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).

The complaint does not specify a cause of action. The Court, however, will construe a pro se plaintiff's complaint liberally to raise the strongest claims. In this case, the strongest possible claims consist of common law tort claims pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 1346(b), 2671-2680 ("FTCA") and claims for violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights ...


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