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Joanne Smith, Donald Smith, and Edward Lilly v. Ben Campbell

October 3, 2012

JOANNE SMITH, DONALD SMITH, AND EDWARD LILLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BEN CAMPBELL DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The defendant in this federal civil rights action, Ben Campbell, a New York State Police Trooper, has moved pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss claims asserted against him by plaintiffs Joanne Smith, Donald Smith, and Edward Lilly. In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that defendant Campbell harassed and intimidated them in violation of their constitutional rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They bring their action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

In support of his motion to dismiss, defendant Campbell contends that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate the violation of any specific federal right, requiring that their claims be dismissed as a matter of law. For the reasons set forth below, the claims by plaintiffs Joanne Smith and Edward Lilly are dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), with leave to amend, while the claims by plaintiff Donald Smith are dismissed with prejudice. Additionally, the plaintiffs' claim for recovery directly under the First Amendment is dismissed, sua sponte, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

The events alleged in the complaint are harassment, intimidation, and abuse of authority by defendant Campbell in his capacity as a New York State Trooper. Although much of the lengthy factual section of the complaint concerns third parties and allegations irrelevant to the assertion of a federal claim, the incidents involving the defendant and the three plaintiffs can be divided roughly into three discrete sets of events. For purposes of deciding the motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court assumes that facts alleged in the complaint are all true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

A. Traffic Tickets: November 2007--June 2009.

In the first encounter alleged, on November 22, 2007, plaintiff Joanne Smith was driving on Center Road in Lewiston, New York, when defendant Campbell began to follow her in his personal pick-up truck. When the plaintiff reached her destination, a private residence where her son was staying, defendant Campbell pulled in the private driveway behind her and began to question her. The defendant accused the plaintiff of pulling out in front of him at a stop sign on Center Road, and questioned whether she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Plaintiff Joanne Smith's son, non-party Tom Smith, became involved in the encounter. When Tom Smith asked whether the defendant "made it a habit" of making traffic stops in off-duty cars, defendant Campbell responded, "That's it, your mother's getting two tickets now." Defendant Campbell then drove off, without having issued tickets.

Several days later, on November 26, 2007, Joanne Smith and Donald Smith, her husband, lodged a complaint against defendant Campbell at the New York State Trooper Barracks in Lewiston. After voicing their grievance to Sergeant Hieser of the New York State Police, the Smiths returned home. Hours later, defendant Campbell personally delivered three traffic tickets to plaintiff Joanne Smith at her home, for violations allegedly occurring on November 22:

(1) for failing to stop at a red light; (2) for failing to remove ice from her windows; and (3) for failing to yield the right of way at a stop sign.*fn1

After appearing before Town Justice Thomas Sheeran on July 9, 2008, and pleading not guilty to each violation in the tickets, plaintiff Joanne Smith was found guilty on all three charges. The decision was supported in part by defendant Campbell's testimony. In June, 2009, two of the three tickets were reversed on appeal by the County Court of Niagara County.

B. Orange Cat Coffee Company -- July 12, 2008

The next set of events described in the complaint relate to an incident occurring at the Orange Cat Coffee Company, a cafe located in Lewiston. On July 12, 2008, plaintiff Joanne Smith's son, non-party Tom Smith, remarked to other patrons at the cafe that defendant "Campbell was harassing" his mother and himself. Eventually, a customer called the Lewiston Police Department, and for some reason, defendant Campbell arrived. Tom Smith had left by that point.

Defendant Campbell proceeded to drive to Joanne and Donald Smith's house, looking for their son. The defendant stopped his car "directly outside" plaintiffs' house, and "came to the door of the house." Plaintiff Donald Smith informed defendant Campbell that Tom Smith was not at home. At that point, plaintiff Edward Lilly, Joanne and Donald Smith's son-in-law, arrived at the house. Defendant Campbell and plaintiff Lilly had a verbal disagreement, during which the defendant shouted, "Ed Lilly . . .,[you] don't belong here and . . . this is none of your business." Defendant Campbell and Lewiston Police Officer John Pinzotti, who was also present, stood directly in front of and behind plaintiff Lilly, respectively, in a manner alleged to be intimidating. The defendant ordered Lilly to leave. It is unclear from the complaint whether plaintiff Lilly did in fact leave, but defendant Campbell and Officer Pinzotti left at that time.

Later that day, plaintiff Lilly filed a complaint against defendant Campbell at the New York State Police Trooper Barracks. On July 15, 2009, while at the Lewiston Town Court,*fn2 defendant Campbell pointed at plaintiff ...


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