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Bouche v. City of Mount Vernon

March 23, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S.D.J.



Leroi Bouche brings this action pursuant to section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code ("section 1983") raising seventeen federal and state claims. The claims are based on allegedly coerced and falsified statements police officers obtained from three witnesses in a murder investigation, leading to the alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution of the plaintiff. Defendants now move to dismiss Bouche's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted.*fn1 For the following reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


A. The Incident Leading to Bouche's Arrest

On January 12, 2009, several police officers arrested Bouche for an incident occurring on one of three dates: August 13, 2008, October 13, 2008 or August 13, 2009.*fn3 The incident involved the death of Shomari Knox, who was operating a vehicle in the early hours of the morning when he was shot and killed.*fn4

The other passengers in the car were Turon Savoy, Corey Cabannis, Donny Dixon, and Travis Bryant.*fn5 All four passengers told the police that they could not identify the shooter because it was dark outside and the shooter was wearing a hoodie.*fn6

Subsequently, three individuals who were questioned by police about the shooting implicated Bouche in the crime.*fn7

B. The Three Witnesses Linking Bouche to the Shooting

The first witness, Janita Robinson, was arrested on unrelated felony charges on September 22, 2008.*fn8 On October 16, 2008, Robinson was interrogated by Police Officers Mitchell and Baia about her previous conversations and interactions with Bouche.*fn9 Bouche claims that Robinson provided false statements about the shooting, in exchange for leniency in her pending criminal matter.*fn10

The second witness, Teena Castellano, was interrogated by Police Officers Mitchell and Ossipo after being arrested on January 7, 2009 on unrelated felony charges. Bouche again alleges that Castellano provided false statements and information about the shooting, in exchange for leniency in her pending criminal matter. The final witness, Savoy, was one of the passengers in the car on the night of the murder. Savoy was arrested and prosecuted for an unrelated felony assault on April 22, 2009.*fn11 Savoy was questioned by police officers about the Knox shooting and identified Bouche as the shooter. Bouche alleges that the detectives coerced Savoy into recanting his original statement that he could not identify the shooter and identifying Bouche as the suspect. This identification of the plaintiff occurred seven months after the shooting. Bouche also alleges that the defendants showed Savoy a photograph of him during the interrogation and "indicated that he should identify the person depicted in the photos as the perpetrator . . . and that he should pick that same person out in a line-up which was held on June 3, 2009."*fn12

Bouche alleges that in exchange for identifying him in the interrogation room and in the line-up, Savoy was promised and received a reduced sentence.*fn13

C. The Arrest and Subsequent Trial

Bouche was eventually arrested for the murder of Knox. He alleges that "as a result of the defendants' improper and unlawful investigation of Shomari Knox's death, and the defendants, intentional, reckless, and/or deliberate disregard for plaintiff's rights, plaintiff was indicted by a Grand Jury."*fn14 While Bouche was awaiting trial, he was remanded and incarcerated at the Westchester County Department of Corrections ("WCDOC") and on Rikers Island.*fn15 Subsequently, on April 29, 2010, Bouche was acquitted of all charges and the case record was sealed.*fn16

Bouche alleges that his arrest and prosecution were a "direct result of the unconstitutional policies, customs or practices of the CITY OF MOUNT VERNON, including, without limitation, the inadequate screening, hiring, retaining, training, and supervising of its employees."*fn17 Additionally, Bouche alleges that what allegedly happened to him is not an isolated incident, and that the City is aware that many of the City's officers are insufficiently trained and supervised. As a result of his alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution, Bouche claims he sustained "physical injuries, emotional distress, embarrassment, and humiliation, and deprivation of his constitutional rights."*fn18


A. Rule 12(b)(6) - Failure to State a Claim

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must evaluate the sufficiency of a complaint under the "two-pronged approach" articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal.*fn19 First, a court "'can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'"*fn20 "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to withstand a motion to dismiss.*fn21 Second, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief."*fn22 To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the allegations in the complaint must meet a standard of "plausibility."*fn23 A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."*fn24 Plausibility "is not akin to a probability requirement;" rather, plausibility requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."*fn25

"In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint."*fn26 However, a court may also consider a document, not incorporated by reference, "where the complaint 'relies heavily upon its terms and effect,' thereby rendering the document 'integral' to the complaint."*fn27

B. Section 1983

Section 1983 states, in relevant part, that [e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

Section 1983 "does not create a federal right or benefit; it simply provides a mechanism for enforcing a right or benefit established elsewhere."*fn28 "The purpose of [section]1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails."*fn29 In order to state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must show that the conduct complained of was committed by a person or entity acting under color of state law, and that the conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.*fn30 Any form of liability under section 1983 requires that the defendant's direct involvement caused the damages. "Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to ... [section] 1983 suits, a plaintiff must [prove] that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution."*fn31

For a person deprived of a constitutional right to have recourse against a municipality under section 1983, he or she must show harm that results from an identified municipal "policy," "custom," or "practice."*fn32 In other words, a municipality may not be found liable simply because one of its employees or agents is guilty of some wrongdoing.*fn33 Moreover, a policy, custom, or practice cannot arise soley from a single instance of unconstitutional conduct by an employee of the municipality.*fn34 The Supreme Court has emphasized that [i]t is not enough for a § 1983 plaintiff merely to identify conduct properly attributable to the municipality. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the "moving force" behind the injury alleged. That is, a plaintiff must show that the municipal action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability and must demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights.*fn35

In the absence of an established written municipal policy, a plaintiff must prove that a municipal practice was so "'persistent or widespread' as to constitute 'a custom or usage with the force of law,'"*fn36 or that a practice or custom of subordinate employees was "so manifest as to ...

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