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Dudek v. Nassau County Sheriff's Dep't

United States District Court, E.D. New York

November 19, 2013

STANLEY DUDEK, Plaintiff,
v.
NASSAU COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Stanley Dudek, Plaintiff: Robert James La Reddola, LEAD ATTORNEY, La Reddola, Lester & Associates, LLP, Garden City, NY.

For Nassau County Sheriff's Department, Michael J. Sposato, Robert Mastropieri, Nassau County, Michael Goropeuschek, Christopher Lee, Francis Gorey, Michael Linn, Defendants: Peter A Laserna, Office of the Nassau County Attorney, Mineola, NY.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM & ORDER

PAMELA K. CHEN, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Stanley Dudek's Complaint[1] principally alleges that the Nassau County Sheriff's Department (the " Sheriff's Department" ) has an unconstitutional policy of refusing to return a person's firearms, after the court order to confiscate those firearms is no longer in place. (Dkt. No. 18 (" Compl." ) ¶ ¶ 14-16, 19.) The alleged policy requires the person to petition a different court to secure the return of those firearms, once the original court's order directing their seizure has been vacated. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 19, 34.) According to Defendants,[2] however, the refusal by the Sheriff's Department to return those firearms is not pursuant to a policy, but rather is the department's way of giving effect to a " glitch" in state law, namely, that the same court which orders the confiscation of those firearms has no legal authority to order that they be returned. (Dkt. No. 41-7 (" Defs. Br." ), at 6-8.)

Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint (the " Motion" ), mainly on the basis of its failure to state a claim and the individual officers' absolute or qualified immunity. Defendants' Motion also argues that the Complaint is untimely. This Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion, for the reasons set forth below.

I. Background

A. The Law

Under New York's Family Court Act, a person may commence a " family offense

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proceeding" in the Family Court against their spouse, or another member of their family or household, for committing specific offenses, such as sexual abuse, harassment, or reckless endangerment.[3] N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 812. This proceeding's purpose is to " attempt[] to stop the violence, end the family disruption and obtain protection." Id.

In furtherance of this proceeding, the Family Court " for good cause shown may issue a temporary order of protection," prior to making a final decision. Id. § 828. Section 842-a of the Family Court Act (" Section 842-a" ) provides that such an order may (i) suspend the spouse's firearm license and (ii) confiscate[4] any firearms that he might have. Id. § 842-a. Although Section 842-a authorizes the Family Court to order the confiscation of those firearms, this provision does not authorize it to order their subsequent return. See Aloi v. Nassau Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't (" Aloi II " ), 9 Misc.3d 1050, 800 N.Y.S.2d 873, 874 (Sup.Ct. Nassau Cnty. June 20, 2005) (holding that " [Section 842-a] does not specifically provide authority to the Family Court judge to return the firearms ordered to be seized" ); see also Engel v. Engel, 24 A.D.3d 548, 807 N.Y.S.2d 383, 384 (2d Dep't 2005) (holding that the Family Court " did not have jurisdiction to issue such a directive" ); Aloi v. Aloi (" Aloi I " ), 10 A.D.3d 655, 781 N.Y.S.2d 613, 614 (2d Dep't 2004) (same); Blauman v. Blauman, 2 A.D.3d 727, 769 N.Y.S.2d 584, 585 (2d Dep't 2003) (same). As one state court has observed, " it appears to be a legislative oversight in not providing the Family Court judge with continued jurisdiction to determine whether the firearms seized pursuant to that judge's order of protection can be returned to the offending party." Aloi II, 800 N.Y.S.2d at 874-75.

B. The Facts[5]

On November 17, 2008, Dudek's wife, Claudia Dudek (" Claudia" ), commenced a family offense proceeding in the Family Court against Dudek. (Compl. ¶ 14; Dkt. No. 41-2-41-6 (" Defs. Exs." ), Ex. A, at 1.) The proceeding stemmed from an " alleged

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domestic incident" involving one of the couple's two children. (Defs. Ex. C ¶ 4.) Upon commencement of the proceeding, the Family Court issued a temporary order of protection for Claudia and the children (the " Order" ). (Compl. ¶ 14; Defs. Ex. A, at 1.) The Order required Dudek to:

[s]urrender any and all handguns, pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and any other firearms owned or possessed. Such surrender shall take place immediately, but in no event later than service of this order. [sic] at the appropriate law enforcement agency. Including all hunting weapons that maybe [sic] in basement[.]

(Defs. Ex. A, at 2.) On the same day, the Sheriff's Department served Dudek with the Order at his residence and simultaneously confiscated his handgun[6] and two longarms,[7] a Remington Model 7600 rifle and Remington Model 870 shotgun. (Compl. ¶ 15; Dkt. No. 42 (" Pl. Exs." ), Ex. 1, at 1; Pl. Ex. 2, at 1.) Several days later, the licensing section of the Nassau County Police Department (the " NCPD" ) notified Dudek that it had suspended his pistol license, pursuant to the Order. (Compl. ¶ 15; Defs. Ex. C, Ex. 1, at 1.)

On January 6, 2009, the Family Court, citing the fact that Claudia withdrew her petition, terminated the family offense proceeding and vacated the Order. (Compl. ¶ 16; Defs. Ex. B, at 1.) At that point, the Sheriff's Department did not return any of the firearms that it seized from Dudek, nor did the NCPD reinstate Dudek's pistol license.

On November 30, 2010, Dudek petitioned the Supreme Court of New York, Nassau County (" New York Supreme Court" ), pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, for the reinstatement of his pistol license by the NCPD. (Compl. ¶ 17; Defs. Ex. C ¶ 16.) On September 19, 2011, the NCPD agreed, by written stipulation, to reinstate Dudek's pistol license and return his handgun. (Compl. ¶ 18; Pl. Ex. 6, at 1.)

Throughout this time, the Sherriff's Department has " refused to return Dudek's two longarms . . . without a Court Order, despite being asked by Dudek." [8] (Compl. ΒΆ 19.)

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On January 20, 2012, Dudek wrote to two of the individual officers with the Sherriff's Department, Sheriff Sposato and Deputy Sheriff Mastropieri, requesting the return of his longarms. ( Id. ¶ 20.) No one responded to Dudek's January 20, 2012 request, and his longarms have yet to be returned to him. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 20, 24-27.)

C. Procedural History

On March 12, 2012, Dudek commenced this action by filing the first of three complaints. (Dkt. No. 1.) The original complaint named, as Defendants, the Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Sposato, and Deputy Sheriff Mastropieri, but not the County or any of the other individual officers. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 6-8.)

Defendants named in the original complaint initially moved to dismiss it. (Dkt No. 7.) At a conference on November 29, 2012, Judge Leonard D. Wexler, who was previously assigned to this action, orally denied the initial motion from the bench. (Order, dated Nov. 29, 2012.) There appears to be no written record of Judge Wexler's reasons for the denial.[9]

On December 3, 2012, Dudek filed the amended complaint. (Dkt. No. 13.) The amended complaint was the same as the original complaint, except that it also named the County as a Defendant. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 6-9.)

On March 11, 2013, Dudek filed the second amended, and operative, Complaint. (Compl., at 1.) The only difference between the second amended Complaint and the prior two complaints is that it also names the other individual officers. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 6-13.) As with the prior two complaints, the second amended Complaint asserts the following claims against Defendants:

o A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" Section 1983 claim" ) that Defendants allegedly violated Dudek's Fourteenth Amendment right of procedural due process by enacting and enforcing the " policy . . . requiring a Court Order for the return of confiscated longarms" after the Family Court vacated the Order, and thus " fail[ing] [to] provide a procedure or mechanism" for their return, but rather " placing the burden on" Dudek to take his own " affirmative steps" ( id. ¶ ¶ 30-35; see id . ¶ 1); and

o Supplemental state law claims of conversion and replevin, alleging that Defendants

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unlawfully retained Dudek's longarms " without cause or legal authority," when the Family Court's Order was lifted ( id. ¶ ¶ 47-57).

Specifically, with respect to the Section 1983 claim, Dudek requests monetary relief, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. ( Id. at 8-9.) The monetary relief requested consists of compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages against Sheriff Sposato and Deputy Sheriff Mastropieri and attorneys' fees.[10] ( Id.) The declaratory and injunctive relief requested is that this Court (i) declare the no-return policy unconstitutional and (ii) direct the return of the longarms retained under the policy and replace the policy with a " fair and adequate procedure for the handling of firearms in Nassau County that does not violate the due process requirements." ( Id.)

On July 29, 2013, the parties briefed the Motion presently before this Court, pertaining to the dismissal of the second ...


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