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Donna Veeder, Stacy v. Steven Nutting

March 2, 2012

DONNA VEEDER, STACY VEEDER AND BRENDAN VEEDER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STEVEN NUTTING, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN INVESTIGATOR FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; JOHN DOE #1 (THE NAME BEING FICTITIOUS BUT INTENDED TO REPRESENT AN EMPLOYEE OF NEW YORK STATE POLICE), INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS/HER OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; DAVID BURNS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS INVESTIGATORS FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; ROBERT J. MARTIN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS INVESTIGATORS FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; KELLY STRACK, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS INVESTIGATORS FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; DREW MCDONALD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS INVESTIGATORS FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; GEORGE PORT, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS LIEUTENANTS FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; BRENT GILLIAM, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS LIEUTENANTS FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; BRIAN VALOZE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS EMPLOYEES OF THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; TIMOTHY HARD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS EMPLOYEES OF THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; STEPHEN HOGAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS AN ATTORNEY FOR THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE; JOHN DOE 7, (THE NAME BEING FICTITIOUS BUT INTENDED TO REPRESENT ONE OR MORE EMPLOYEES OF THE ALBANY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE), INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THE OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AN ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE COUNTY OF ALBANY, NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On June 8, 2010, Plaintiffs commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants acted in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. No. 40-1.

II. BACKGROUND

On or about May 23, 2008, Garry Veeder, a civilian employee of the New York State Police, committed suicide in a detached outbuilding of his home. See Dkt. No. 27 at ¶ 20. Garry Veeder lived with his wife, Donna Veeder, and their two children, Stacy and Brendan Veeder, all Plaintiffs in the present action. See id. Plaintiff Donna Veeder discovered Garry Veeder's body, and a call was placed to the Albany County Sherriff's Department. See Dkt. No. 27 at ¶ 21. The Sherriff's Department responded to the scene, along with Emergency Medical Technicians ("EMTs"). See id.

At some point while Plaintiff Donna Veeder was in her house, a separate building from where Garry Veeder was discovered, she "noticed a notebook with a sticky-note on the outside addressed to [her] and her husband's attorney." See id. at ¶ 24. The notebook contained documents for the attorney, as well as "sealed envelopes addressed to each [P]laintiff" and additional family members. See id. at ¶ 25. Upon discovery of the notebook, Plaintiff Donna Veeder also became aware of the fact that "all members of the Sheriff's Department . . . had suddenly left the premises." See id. at ¶ 26. Plaintiff Donna Veeder, assuming she was alone, then carried the notebook upstairs, "so that the family could read the letters addressed to them when they became able." See id. at ¶ 27. At this time, Plaintiff Donna Veeder became startled by the presence of an unknown individual in her home, later identified as Defendant Steven Nutting, Investigator for the New York State Police. See id. at ¶ 29. Defendant Nutting was not wearing a uniform at the time. See id. Plaintiff Donna Veeder stated to Defendant Nutting, "[w]ho are you and what are you doing in my house?" See id. In response, Defendant Nutting handed Plaintiff Donna Veeder an identification card, but he allegedly "refused to explain" why he was there. See id. at ¶ 31. Defendant Nutting then "ordered [Plaintiff] Donna Veeder to turn over the notebook containing the letters [to him] . . . stating that it was 'evidence.'" See id. at ¶ 32. When Plaintiff Donna Veeder refused, replying that the notebook was "her property" and stating that the letters inside were "addressed to her" and other family members, Defendant Nutting then allegedly stated "I can do anything I want, lady, this is a crime scene until I say otherwise." See id. at ¶¶ 33-34. Defendant Nutting did not allow Plaintiff Donna Veeder to open any of the envelopes. See id. at ¶¶ 35-36.

At this point, Plaintiff Donna Veeder "became aware that other [D]efendants were conducting a room by room search of her house." See id. at ¶ 37. No Plaintiff had invited any Defendant into their home, and no Plaintiff had granted any Defendant permission to conduct a search. See id. at ¶ 38. Two Defendants, one of whom was Defendant Martin, then followed Plaintiff Stacy Veeder into Plaintiff Brendan Veeder's bedroom, where she was typing an e-mail to her boyfriend. See id. at ¶ 39. Defendant Martin advised Plaintiff Stacy Veeder that her computer was "evidence," and asked if her father had left a note on the computer. See id. at ¶ 40. Plaintiff Stacy Veeder, attempting to get away from Defendant Martin, left her brother's room and went into her own bedroom. See id. at ¶ 41. Defendant Martin then followed Plaintiff Stacy Veeder into her bedroom. See id. at ¶ 42. Plaintiff Stacy Veeder continued to try and get away from Defendant Martin and the other unidentified Defendant who were "following her from room to room," but was unsuccessful. See id. at ¶ 43. Defendant Martin and the other Defendant then allegedly forced Plaintiff Stacy Veeder into an unmarked police automobile, which she attempted to exit but could not because Defendant Martin was holding the door shut. See id. at ¶¶ 44-45.

At this time, Plaintiff Donna Veeder telephoned her attorney "for advice with regard to [D]efendant Nutting's demand that the notebook and letters . . . be given to him." See id. at ¶ 50. Plaintiff Donna Veeder's attorney advised her not to surrender the material to Defendant Nutting. See id. Plaintiff Donna Veeder's attorney then spoke with Defendant Nutting on the phone and told him that "he did not have permission to take the notebook and letters." See id. at ¶ 51. Defendant Nutting allegedly stated that "I can do anything I want, this is a crime scene unless I say otherwise." See id. at ¶ 52. Defendant Nutting then assisted Plaintiff Donna Veeder in contacting her daughter, who was stationed on an Army base at the time, to inform her of her father's death. See id. at ¶¶ 53-54.

After this, Defendant Nutting placed a phone call to Defendant Hogan, attorney for the New York State Police, to consult with him. See id. at ¶ 61. Defendant Hogan "authorized [D]efendant Nutting to search the [P]laintiffs' home without a warrant, [despite] [P]laintiffs' objection." See id. Defendant Hogan also authorized Defendant Nutting to "seize any items he wished from [P]laintiffs' home." See id. at ¶ 65. Defendant Nutting then placed a second phone call to Defendant "John Doe7," an Assistant District Attorney, who authorized Defendant Nutting to search the Plaintiff's home without a warrant and "seize any items he wished." See id. at ¶¶ 63, 67. At this point, Defendant Nutting told Plaintiffs to get dressed and leave the house. See id. at ¶ 69. Over Plaintiff Donna Veeder's objection, Defendant Nutting "took the notebook and letters away from [her]." See id. at ¶¶ 75, 76.

Plaintiffs then went to stay at a friend's house until Plaintiff Donna Veeder's afternoon doctor's appointment. See id. at ¶ 78. At the appointment, Plaintiff Donna Veeder was diagnosed with "dangerously elevated blood pressure requiring immediate attention." See id. at ¶ 79. After the appointment, Plaintiff Donna Veeder received a phone call from her brother stating that he had "just read an article on the internet describing the contents of the notes which [D]efendant Nutting had taken from [P]laintiffs." See id. at ¶ 80. Additionally, local television news stations also reported on the "contents of the notes taken from [P]laintiffs." See id. at ¶ 81. Plaintiffs then returned to their home and discovered that Defendants had "conducted a thorough search of [their] home and taken a briefcase" that belonged to Plaintiff Donna Veeder. See id. at ¶ 82. At no time was any warrant to search or seize Plaintiffs' property issued. See id. at ¶¶ 83, 85.

On May 23, 2008, at approximately 3:30 p.m., the Albany County Coroner officially ruled Garry Veeder's death a suicide. See id. at ¶ 89. On May 27, 2008, Defendant George Port, Lieutenant for the New York State Police, opened and photocopied the letters that Garry Veeder had left for his family and attorney, and retained the copies. See id. at ¶ 90.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Section 1983 imposes liability for "conduct which 'subjects, or causes to be subjected' the complainant to a deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws." Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 370-71 (1976) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Not only must the conduct deprive the plaintiff of rights and privileges secured by the Constitution, but the actions or omissions attributable to each defendant must be the proximate cause of the injuries and consequent damages that the plaintiff sustained. See Brown v. Coughlin, 758 F. Supp. 876, 881 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)(citing Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 100 S. Ct. 553, 62 L. Ed. 2d 481, reh. denied, 445 U.S. 920, 100 S. Ct. 1285, 63 L. Ed. 2d 606 (1980)). As such, for a plaintiff to recover in a section 1983 action, he must establish a causal connection between the acts or omissions of each defendant and any injury or damages he suffered as a result of those acts or omissions. See id. (citing Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District, 439 U.S. 410, 99 S. Ct. 693, 58 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1979)) (other citation omitted).

The Rule 12(c) standard for judgment on the pleadings is essentially the same as the standard that courts apply to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Johnson v. Rowley, 569 F.3d 40, 43-44 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the party's claim for relief. See Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111-12 (2d Cir. 2007). In considering the legal sufficiency, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the pleading and draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor. See ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). This presumption of truth, however, does not extend to legal conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009) (citation omitted). Although a court's review of a motion to dismiss is generally limited to the facts presented in the pleading, the court may consider documents that are "integral" to that pleading, even if they are neither physically attached to, nor incorporated by reference into, the pleading. See Mangiafico v. Blumenthal, 471 F.3d 391, 398 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2002)).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a party need only plead "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), with sufficient factual "heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief[,]'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (quotation omitted). Under this standard, the pleading's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level," see id. at 555 (citation omitted), and present claims that are "plausible on [their] face," id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citation omitted). "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.] at 557, 127 S. Ct. 1955). Ultimately, "when the allegations ...


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