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Soba v. New York City Housing Authority

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 9, 2013

MINERVA SOBA, as guardian ad litem for her daughter, Stephanie Carballal, Plaintiff,

Stuart E. Jacobs, Esq., David M. Hazan, Esq., Jacobs & Hazan, LLP, New York, NY, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Joanne Filiberti, Esq., Leahey & Johnson, P.C., New York, NY, Attorney for Defendant NYCHA.



Minerva Soba ("plaintiff"), as guardian ad litem for her intellectually disabled daughter, Stephanie Carballal ("Carballal"), commenced this action against the New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA") and its former exterminator, Benjamin Valentin ("Valentin"), alleging that Valentin sexually assaulted Carballal in violation of federal and state law. Valentin has not answered plaintiff's complaint or otherwise appeared in this action.[1]

Nonetheless, plaintiff maintains that NYCHA is liable for Valentin's alleged misconduct pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services , 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and a state law theory of vicarious liability. In addition, plaintiff asserts a direct claim against NYCHA for negligent hiring, retention, training, and/or supervision of Valentin.

In the motion before the Court, NYCHA seeks dismissal of plaintiff's claims pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 56"). For the reasons set forth below, we grant NYCHA's motion. We wish to make clear, however, that this Memorandum and Order is addressed solely to the issue of whether NYCHA may be held liable for the conduct alleged.


I. Introduction

Carballal is an intellectually challenged adult who lives with her siblings and mother (i.e., plaintiff) in an apartment building owned and operated by NYCHA. Compl. ¶¶ 12-14. Valentin is a former exterminator in NYCHA's Manhattan Property Management Department (the "Department"). See Filiberti Decl. Ex. A, at 1. Prior to the alleged incident underlying this action, Valentin worked as a NYCHA exterminator for approximately 23 years. See id. Ex. O, pt. 1, at 27 (identifying "7/27/1987" as Valentin's date of appointment).

On September 14, 2010, Carballal was allegedly alone in the apartment, wearing a black nightgown, when Valentin knocked on the door and told Carballal that he needed to perform extermination work. Compl. ¶¶ 16-18; Filiberti Decl. Ex. B, at 90:12-13, 111:10-11. Upon entering the apartment, Valentin allegedly groped Carballal's breasts and subjected her to other nonconsensual sex acts. Compl. ¶¶ 19-28. Plaintiff reported the incident to the police, who arrested Valentin later that day. Id . ¶ 32. The New York County District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Valentin. See Filiberti Decl. Ex. B, at 54:16-23. However, NYCHA launched a formal disciplinary action against Valentin, resulting in his ultimate resignation. See generally id. Exs. B-C, E.

Plaintiff now seeks to hold NYCHA liable for Valentin's alleged misconduct on a theory of municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983"). See Compl. ¶¶ 75-82. Specifically, plaintiff maintains that Carballal's alleged injuries were the result of NYCHA's official policy, practice, or custom, see id. ¶ 77, including its failure to properly recruit, screen, train, discipline, and/or supervise its employees, see id. ¶ 78. Plaintiff also seeks to hold NYCHA liable under a state law theory of respondeat superior. Id . ¶¶ 48, 53, 63, 68. To do so, plaintiff contends, inter alia, that Valentin committed the alleged sexual assault within the scope of his employment. Id . ¶¶ 47, 52. Finally, plaintiff alleges that NYCHA is independently liable to Carballal for negligently hiring, retaining, training, and/or supervising Valentin. Id . ¶¶ 55-57. Accordingly, plaintiff maintains that NYCHA had actual or constructive knowledge of Valentin's propensity to commit the acts alleged here.

II. NYCHA's Relevant Rules and Regulations

NYCHA provides its employees with a booklet entitled "General Regulations of Behavior" (the "regulations booklet"), see Filiberti Decl. Ex. S, which Valentin received on May 10, 2005, see id. Ex. T. The regulations booklet provides a compilation of rules, presented in "simple and clear language, " that derives from "the Human Resources Manual, the Management Manual, standard procedures, and memos that have been issued to employees." Id . Ex. S, at 3. The intended purpose of the regulations booklet is to assist NYCHA employees in "prevent[ing] any mistakes, errors in judgment or appearances of impropriety both on and off the job." Id.

The regulations booklet provides a number of rules that apply to employees, like Valentin, who "perform work in apartments." Id . Ex. S, at 9. As relevant here, the regulations booklet prohibits such employees from (1) visiting an apartment "during working hours except in the performance of assigned duties, " (2) entering an apartment "if the occupants are not properly clothed, " (3) engaging in "inappropriate conversation or discussion with the resident or others in the apartment, " and (4) getting "too close to" or "touch[ing] any occupant in the apartment for any reason." Id . Ex. S, at 10-11; see also id. Ex. A, at 1-2 (identifying similar rules in NYCHA's Human Resources Manual).

III. NYCHA's Previous Charges Against Valentin

Apart from the incident alleged here, NYCHA levied disciplinary charges against Valentin on three prior occasions. See Jacobs Decl. Exs. 4-6. On April 6, 1995, NYCHA charged Valentin with (1) disobeying a superior's orders to stop using an office copy machine for personal use, (2) relying on other employees to perform personal tasks, and (3) maintaining unsatisfactory time and attendance. Id . Ex. 6. A trial officer found Valentin guilty of these charges. Id . Accordingly, ...

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