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Engels v. Town of Potsdam

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 3, 2013

JAMES P. ENGELS, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF POTSDAM, et al., Defendants.

JAMES P. ENGELS, Plaintiff, pro se.

ORDER and REPORT-RECOMMENDATION

ANDREW T. BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.

The Clerk has sent to the court a civil rights complaint, filed by pro se plaintiff, James P. Engels (Dkt. No. 1). Plaintiff has paid the filing fee for this action.

I. Complaint

Plaintiff has named six defendants in this action, including the Town of Potsdam, an environmental conservation officer, two town justices, and two assistant district attorneys. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-8). Plaintiff appears to be challenging a criminal action brought against him, resulting from his ownership of a junkyard and the storage of tires on the property.[1] Plaintiff states that in August of 2007, the Town of Parishville filed a complaint against plaintiff with defendant Department of Conservation ("DEC") Officer Jonathan Ryan. (Compl. ¶ 9). As a result of that complaint, plaintiff states that he was ticketed for a violation of 6 NYCRR § 360-13.1(b).[2]

Plaintiff states that the case was originally scheduled to be heard in the Town of Parishville Court, but that the Town of Parishville Justice, defendant Frank Dunning, disqualified himself from hearing the case.[3] ( Id. ) Due to the disqualification, the case was transferred to the Potsdam Town Court, with defendant Justice Samuel Charelson presiding. ( Id. ). Plaintiff claims that, after defendant Dunning recused himself, he discussed his dislike for plaintiff and his opinion regarding the outcome of the case, with defendant Ryan. ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that these conversations between defendant Ryan and defendant Dunning were "an abuse of power." Plaintiff also claims that he "went before Supreme Court Judges against Town of Parishville's attorney Roger Linden concerning my junkyard permit, " and on both occasions, he "mentioned in the court's [sic] that Frank Dunning had been stalking me." ( Id. )

Plaintiff decided that based on the "unnecessary change"[4] in the course of the action, he realized that he could not get a fair hearing because the two judges were "allegedly well acquainted." (Compl. ¶ 10). Plaintiff claims that defendant Dunning made it clear to the Potsdam Town Court and to the DEC how he would like the case to be resolved. ( Id. )

Plaintiff states that he appeared in the Potsdam Town Court twenty-two times, and that four of these appearances were "never recorded or transcribed." (Compl. ¶ 11). Plaintiff claims that this shows a "lack of care, duty, and disregard of the law by the employees for the town court." ( Id. ) Plaintiff claims that there were "countless" unnecessary adjournments, due to "collusion and lack of knowledge on behalf of the court and the prosecuting attorneys on how to proceed with the charge." ( Id. )

Plaintiff states that on his July 29, 2009 appearance, the Assistant District Attorney ("ADA"), defendant Jonathan Becker, asked plaintiff to sign a conditional discharge, and plaintiff agreed because defendant Becker told plaintiff that by signing the stipulation, he would only receive a "penalty" with no jail time for the violation. (Compl. ¶12). After the 90-day conditional discharge, defendant Ryan and another officer (who is not a defendant in this action) came to inspect plaintiff's premises. (Compl. ¶ 13). Plaintiff claims that defendant Ryan told him that "Mr. Dunning's comment was that he wants all the tires out of here.'" ( Id. ) Plaintiff states that it was unethical for defendant Dunning to disqualify himself from hearing plaintiff's case, but continue to communicate with, and influence defendant Ryan and the Potsdam Town Court. ( Id. ) On November 6, 2009, defendant Ryan wrote to the town court an "unsigned and unsworn" note advising that he and Officer Lauzon inspected plaintiff's premises. ( Id. )

Plaintiff states that on November 17, 2009, defendant Becker filed an "Affidavit in Support of Declaration of Delinquency" and for "re-sentencing upon the conviction of ECL § 71-2703-2(b)(1)."[5] Plaintiff claims that this section of the law was not mentioned previously, and the applicability of this new section to the charge of unlawful tire storage was "not established in the record." (Compl. ¶ 14). Plaintiff claims that he was in full "DEC compliance" because he had less than 1000 tires on his property. ( Id. )

Plaintiff states that throughout the many court appearances in December and January, [6] he attempted to show defendant Becker that plaintiff was in compliance with the law, but defendant Becker had no interest in viewing the plaintiff's proof. Plaintiff wrote a letter to defendant Charelson on December 9, 2009, also stating that he was in compliance with the DEC regulations and requesting that the court review his proof, but plaintiff states that he never received a response from the judge. (Comp. ¶ 15).

On January 14, 2010, plaintiff had another court appearance with a different[7] ADA. (Compl. ¶ 16). Plaintiff claims that the new ADA contradicted defendant Becker regarding "jail time" and told plaintiff that jail time was "involved" for a violation. Plaintiff alleges that, even though he and the ADA were present, the court date was adjourned, and plaintiff was told that he would receive a letter in the mail, notifying him of the new court date. ( Id. )

Plaintiff states that his "sentencing proceeding" was scheduled for March 11, 2010, and that "prospective defense attorney, " Gary Miles appeared and spoke with the court and defendant ADA HaberkornHalm. (Compl. ¶ 17). Plaintiff claims that the judge told Attorney Miles about plaintiff's prior plea, including the "lead battery storage charge, "[8] but that the court was not sure whether it had jurisdiction over all of the charges. The court then allegedly "misinformed" Mr. Miles that the declaration of delinquency was supported by the sworn affidavit of defendant Ryan, because the only affidavit was that of ADA Becker, which "was based on information and belief from reading other documents." ( Id. ) Plaintiff states that defendant Charelson stated that he intened to impose a fine, running from the date of the filing of the Declaration of Delinquency on December 10, 2009, for a total of $1, 278, 000.00. ( Id. ) Plaintiff claims that with the "massive fine" that was going to be imposed, Attorney Miles chose not to become involved in the case. ( Id. )

Plaintiff states that defendant Becker filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's "appeal, " and that plaintiff was served with the motion papers only two days before the court date. (Compl. ¶ 18). Plaintiff states that in June of 2012, a "respondent's brief" was filed in opposition to the motion to dismiss, but none of his arguments persuaded the court. (Compl. ¶ 19). Plaintiff states that in his brief, he argued that he was in "complete compliance" with the requirement that he remove the tires from his property, ...


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