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Nowlin v. Monroe County

United States District Court, Second Circuit

August 16, 2013

MONROE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.

1. This action, brought by pro se Plaintiff, Quintin Nowlin, asserts claims against several law enforcement officers, the City of Rochester, and Monroe County. Plaintiff initially filed his complaint on August 25, 2011, asserting that his rights under the United States and New York State Constitution were violated during the course of an arrest on August 5, 2010. He twice amended his complaint, and the second amended complaint, which is now the operative one, contains five counts, two of which assert claims against Monroe County and its Sheriff, Patrick O'Flynn.

On October 5, 2012, Monroe County and Sheriff O'Flynn moved for judgment on the pleadings (Docket No. 25), [1] and shortly thereafter this Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott. (Docket No. 26.) Under the authority of that referral order, Judge Scott issued a Report and Recommendation advising this Court to grant the moving Defendants' motion. Plaintiff timely objected, and that objection is currently before this Court.

When a party timely objects to a Report and Recommendation, this Court must review de novo those parts of the recommended disposition that were objected to. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) ("A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made"); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) ("The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to."). Undertaking that review, and for the following reasons, the Report and Recommendation is set aside and Monroe County's and Sheriff O'Flynn's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.

2. According to the second amended complaint, Plaintiff was arrested on August 5, 2010 for soliciting a prostitute. Two disguised Jane Doe police officers allegedly approached his vehicle and, after a brief discussion, Plaintiff told them, "Well Yall Get In [sic]." (Sec. Am. Compl., ¶ 19; Docket No. 12.). The officers refused, but offered to perform a sex act in exchange for money and told Plaintiff to meet them "up the block." (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff did not respond "as [he] was not interested in a prostitute, " and drove away. (Id. ¶ 21.) But he was then quickly pulled over and arrested by a different officer. (Id. ¶ 23.) He was handcuffed, searched, and driven in a police wagon to a Monroe County jail. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Once at the jail's "booking area, " Officer Richard Pozzuolo, a defendant in this case, presented a "plastic bag and asked [Plaintiff] if it was [his]." (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff said it was not. (Id.) Nonetheless, he was charged with "possession of the drugs, " presumably the contents of the plastic bag. (Id. ¶ 27.)

As relevant to this Decision, Plaintiff now claims that a custom or policy adopted by Monroe County and Sheriff O'Flynn led to the allegedly-false drug charge.

3. Monroe County and Sheriff O'Flynn move to be dismissed from this case under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Courts faced with motions under Rule 12(c) apply the same standard used to decide motions brought under Rule 12(b)(6). Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills , 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001).

In turn, Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Federal pleading standards are generally not stringent: Rule 8 requires only a short and plain statement of a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). But the plain statement must "possess enough heft to show that the pleader is entitled to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

When determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court must construe it liberally, accept all factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd. , 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). Legal conclusions, however, are not afforded the same presumption of truthfulness. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 677, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.").

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). Labels, conclusions, or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. Facial plausibility exists when the facts alleged allow for a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct charged. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. The plausibility standard is not, however, a probability requirement: the pleading must show, not merely allege, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 678; Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Well-pleaded allegations must nudge the claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570.

4. It is well settled that a municipality or a supervisor cannot be held liable on the theory of respondeat superior or simply because it employs a tort feasor. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs of City of New York , 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct., 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). In other words, to impose liability on a municipality or a supervisory defendant, it (or he) must be the moving force behind the injury alleged. Board of County Com'rs Bryan County, Okl. v. Brown , 520 U.S. 397, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997); see Jeffes v. Barnes , 208 F.3d 49, 57 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Monell , 436 U.S. at 690-91)) (municipality may be "held liable if the conduct that caused the unconstitutional deprivation was.... adopted and promulgated by that body's officers").

To this end, it had been previously well settled that:

[t]he personal involvement of a supervisory defendant may be shown by evidence that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant ...

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