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Coggins v. County of Nassau

United States District Court, E.D. New York

December 2, 2013

DARRYL T. COGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF NASSAU, NASSAU COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT, POLICE OFFICER JAMES VARA, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, POLICE OFFICER CRAIG BUONORA, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, SERGEANT PICKERING, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, LIEUTENANT DELARGY, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND JOHN DOES 1-10, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, Defendants

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For Plaintiff: Frederick K. Brewington and Valerie M. Cartright, Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, Hempstead, NY.

For The County, Defendants: Diane C. Petillo, Office of the Nassau County Attorney, Mineola, NY.

For Buonora, Defendant: Laurence Jeffrey Weingard and Mitchell F. Senft, Hayt, Hayt & Landau, Great Neck, NY.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOSEPH F. BIANCO, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Darryl T. Coggins (" Coggins" or " Plaintiff" ) brings this action against Defendants County of Nassau (" Nassau County" or " the County" ); Nassau County Police Department (" NCPD" ); Police Officers James Vara (" Vara" ) and Craig Buonora (" Buonora" ), in their individual and official capacities; Sergeant Pickering (" Pickering" ), in his individual and official capacity; Lieutenant Delargy (" Delargy" ), in his individual and official capacity; and John Does 1-10, in their individual and

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official capacities (collectively, " Defendants" ), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § § 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1985, and New York State tort law.

A grand jury empaneled by the Nassau County District Attorney's Office (the " DA's Office" ) indicted Coggins on March 17, 2005, on charges of unlawful possession of a weapon and resisting arrest. Coggins contends that Defendants actively prosecuted him despite knowing he was innocent. Specifically, he alleges that Buonora and Vara conspired to and did, inter alia, falsify police reports, affidavits, and memorandum books; fabricate evidence; and commit perjury during grand jury proceedings. Indeed, after the DA's Office dismissed the criminal charges against Coggins, it indicted Buonora for perjury. Buonora pleaded guilty.

Presently before the Court are two motions. First, Coggins moves to file a Third Amended Complaint (" TAC" ) in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Rehberg v. Paulk, 132 S.Ct. 1497, 182 L.Ed.2d 593 (2012). The County, NCPD, Vara, Pickering, and Delargy (collectively, the " County Defendants" ) oppose, arguing that amendment would be futile. Second, Buonora moves to dismiss the TAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Buonora argues he is entitled to absolute immunity from the only well-pleaded cause of action--the one under § 1983.

For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Coggins's motion to amend, and grants in part and denies in part Buonora's motion to dismiss the TAC. In particular, the Court holds, in light of the Supreme Court decision in Rehberg, that defendants Vara and Buonora have absolute immunity with respect to any alleged perjury in the grand jury, or any alleged conspiracy to present false testimony to the grand jury, and such alleged evidence cannot be used to support any other Section 1983 claim concerning the initiation or maintenance of a prosecution. Thus, to the extent that the Section 1983 claims are based upon such conduct, the motion to dismiss is granted. However, as discussed herein, the motion to dismiss the Section 1983 claims in the entirety is denied because the TAC alleges unconstitutional conduct against Vara and Buonora far beyond perjury and/or conspiring to commit perjury in the grand jury. For example, it is alleged that defendant Vara improperly stopped, detained, assaulted, and chased Coggins on October 9, 2004. In addition, it is alleged that Vera and Buonora conspired to alter the version of what transpired that night, which led to the falsification and omission of evidence from police reports, resulting in a malicious prosecution. These allegations in support of the Section 1983 and related claims are completely independent of the alleged perjury in the grand jury and are not barred under the doctrine of absolute immunity under Rehberg . It is clear that Rehberg is not meant to be an absolute immunity cloak that, once a police officer testifies in the grand jury, suddenly shields him or her from all allegedly unconstitutional acts even if they are outside the scope of the grand jury appearance. To the extent defendants suggest that plaintiff will be unable to prove these other allegations of unconstitutional wrongdoing, such arguments are premature at the motion to dismiss stage, and the Court, in its discretion, declines to consider any summary judgment motion at this time because discovery is not complete. Defendants may renew the absolute immunity argument in a summary judgment motion once discovery is complete. Thus, the motion to dismiss all the federal claims, and related state law

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claims, in their entirety on absolute immunity grounds is denied, and plaintiff's motion to amend such claims in the TAC is granted. The claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1986 and the false arrest and imprisonment ...


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