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Bruno v. City of Schenectady

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 20, 2014

CARMENCITA BRUNO, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SCHENECTADY; THOMAS MATTICE, City Police Officer; JOHN DOES #1 THROUGH #3, City Police Officers; JANE DOE #1, City Police Officer; MICHAEL DELLAROCCO, City Fire Chief/Captain; FAARSTAD, City Fire Chief; COUNTY OF SCHENECTADY; MARK LAVIOLETTE, County EMS Dept. Employee; KYLE RUDOLPHSEN, County EMS Dept. Employee; VILLAGE OF SCOTIA, and JOHN DOES #6 THROUGH #10, Village Firemen, Defendants.

CARMENCITA BRUNO, Howes Cave, NY, Plaintiff, Pro Se.

MICHAEL J. MURPHY, ESQ., CARTER CONBOY, CASE, BLACKMORE, MALONEY & LAIRD, P.C., Albany, NY, Counsel for City Defendants.

MARC H. GOLDBERG, ESQ., PHILLIPS LYTLE LLP, Albany, NY, Counsel for County Defendants,

JONATHAN M. BERNSTEIN, ESQ., GOLDBERG SEGALLA, Albany, NY, Counsel for Village Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this pro se civil rights action by Carmencita Bruno ("Plaintiff") against the above-captioned municipalities and municipal employees (collectively "Defendants"), are the following four motions: (1) a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim filed by the City of Schenectady and seven of its employees (the "City Defendants"); (2) a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and/or lack of subject-matter jurisdiction filed by the Village of Scotia and five of its employees (the "Village Defendants"); (3) a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and/or lack of subject-matter jurisdiction filed by the County of Schenectady and two of its employees (the "County Defendants"); and (4) Plaintiff's crossmotion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint. (Dkt. Nos. 23, 26, 36, 44.) For the reasons set forth below, the City Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part; the Village Defendants' motion is granted; the County Defendants' motion is granted; and Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Claims Asserted in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

Because this Decision and Order is intended primarily for the review of the parties, and the parties have demonstrated (in their motion papers) an adequate understanding of the procedural history of this action leading up to the filing of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on August 24, 2012, and the Court will not recite that procedural history at this time.

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that, on the evening of November 17, 2010, Defendants callously refused to rescue her dogs from her home during or after a fire in that home, refused to let Plaintiff rescue her dogs after the fire (causing their death), and mistreated her due to her repeated pleas for assistance. (Dkt. No. 8.)

Based on these allegations, the Amended Complaint asserts the following 13 causes of action: (1) a violation of her "general" constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (asserted against all Defendants); (2) a violation of her right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment (asserted against the City Defendants); (3) a violation of her right of free speech under the First Amendment (asserted against the City Defendants); (4) municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 through a failure to the implement appropriate policies or customs (asserted against all Defendants); (5) a violation of her right to be free from the use of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment (asserted against the City Defendants); (6) a violation of her right to be free from false arrest under the Fourth Amendment (asserted against the City Defendants); (7) a violation of her right to substantive and procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment (asserted against all Defendants); (8) a claim of false imprisonment in violation of the "New York Tort Liability Act" (asserted against the City Defendants); (9) negligence (asserted against the City Defendants); (10) negligent supervision (asserted against all Defendants); (11) trespass (asserted against the City Defendants and Village Defendants); (12) conversion (asserted against all Defendants); and (13) battery (asserted against the City Defendants). ( Id. )

B. Parties' Briefing on City Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

1. City Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Chief

Generally, in their memorandum of law in chief, the City Defendants assert twelve arguments with regard to Plaintiff's claims against them. (Dkt. No. 23, Attach. 13 [City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

First, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint should be dismissed, as a threshold matter, for failing to comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8's requirement of a "short and plain statement, " because it asserts 286 paragraphs of rambling and often irrelevant allegations that make it impossible to decipher the relief sought and the grounds for that relief. ( Id. at 10-13 [attaching pages "2" through "5" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Second, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against the City of Schenectady under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because (a) a municipality can be liable under Section 1983 only if the action alleged to be unconstitutional was the result of an official policy or custom, (b) generally an official policy cannot be inferred from a single incident of illegality, absent some additional circumstance, and (c) here, Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that the single incident alleged resulted from a municipal policy or custom. ( Id. at 13-15 [attaching pages "5" through "7" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Third, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of infringement of her right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment arising from her detention in a police car, police station and the hospital without having been read her Miranda rights, because (a) she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that a criminal proceeding had been commenced against her, and (b) in any event, the right to counsel during a custodial interrogation recognized in Miranda is merely a procedural safeguard (whether it arises under the Fifth or Sixth Amendment), the violation of which does not give rise to a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ( Id. at 15-17 [attaching pages "7" through "9" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Fourth, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of infringement of her right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment, because she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that (a) Plaintiff's request that her dogs be rescued was speech protected under the First Amendment, (b) the City Defendants' actions (in arresting her and preventing the rescue of her dogs) were motivated, or substantially caused, by that speech, or (c) the City Defendants' actions effectively chilled future such speech. ( Id. at 17-21 [attaching pages "9" through "13" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Fifth, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for conversion under New York State common law, because she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that the City Defendants exercised unauthorized dominion over her dogs by failing to rescue them and/or preventing them from being rescued, as the other emergency personnel were attempting to extinguish the fire in her home. ( Id. at 21-22 [attaching pages "13" and "14" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Sixth, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for trespass under New York State common law, because she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that the City Defendants, who were present at her home to put out a fire there, lacked justification to be there. ( Id. at 22-23 [attaching pages "14" and "15" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Seventh, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for negligence under New York State common law, because (a) there is no recognized duty in New York to save an individual's pet, and (b) in any event, a municipality bears no liability for the negligent performance by its agents of governmental functions absent the existence of a special relationship between the injured party and the municipality (the facts of which have not been alleged here). ( Id. at 23-24 [attaching pages "15" and "16" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Eighth, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of infringement of her right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, because she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that (a) the City Defendants' actions was so outrageously arbitrary as to be a gross abuse of governmental authority (for purposes of a substantive due process claim), or (b) the City Defendants had sufficient time to conduct a hearing before the dogs' death or even that they deprived Plaintiff of her property (for purposes of a procedural due process claim). ( Id. at 24-26[attaching pages "16" through "18" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Ninth, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, because she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant Mattice used anything more than a de minimis amount of force against her, or that she sustained any specific or identifiable physical or mental harm. ( Id. at 27-28 [attaching pages "19" and "20" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Tenth, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment, because (a) she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant Mattice, or any other the City Defendants, intentionally confined her without justification (or that she sustained any cognizable damages as a result of the alleged false arrest), and (b) indeed she has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant Mattice had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff. ( Id. at 28-30 [attaching pages "20" through "22" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Eleventh, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of infringement of rights under the New York State Constitution, because her state constitutional claims of battery, false imprisonment, and negligent supervision are duplicative of her federal constitutional claims of excessive force and false arrest. ( Id. at 30-31 [attaching pages "22" and "23" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Twelfth, argue the City Defendants, the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining common-law claims, which should be dismissed without prejudice. ( Id. at 31-32 [attaching pages "23" and "24" of City Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

2. Plaintiff's Opposition Memorandum of Law

Generally, in her opposition memorandum of law, Plaintiff asserts twelve arguments. (Dkt. No. 39, Attach. 1 [Plf.'s Opp'n Memo. of Law].)

First, argues Plaintiff, she has stated a claim against the City Defendants, because her allegations were factual and particularized to the events described, thus allowing the Court to draw all reasonable inferences therefrom, and providing sufficient notice to the City Defendants of Plaintiff's claims. ( Id. at 6-10.)

Second, argues Plaintiff, she has state a claim against the City of Schenectady under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because (a) she has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that the injury resulted from a municipal policy or custom (through the municipality's failure to take disciplinary action against the offending police officers), and (b) her claim should be liberally construed as effectively amended by her papers in response to the City Defendants' motion (to the extent those papers are consistent with the allegations of her Amended Complaint). ( Id. at 10-18.)

Third, argues Plaintiff, while it is true that a denial-of-counsel claim does not exist under the circumstances (under either the federal or state constitution), the Court should, as a policy matter, note the City Defendants' brazen and barbaric abuse of power, and their conduct in keeping her in secrecy in the hospital. ( Id. at 18-20.)

Fourth, argues Plaintiff, while it is true that a denial-of-free-speech claim does not exist (because her speech was not chilled), the Court should note that the City Defendants' arrest of her was motivated by contempt and callousness, and not by the existence of probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. ( Id. at 20-21.)

Fifth, argues Plaintiff, while it is true that her Amended Complaint "did not recite factually all the elements of conversion, " her Second Amended Complaint does so, because it alleges facts plausibly suggesting that the City Defendants "robustly excluded Plaintiff's absolute right to possession" of her dogs, after she demanded that the City Defendants rescue those dogs, and their exigent need to not attempt to do so had dissipated. ( Id. at 22-24.)

Sixth, argues Plaintiff, she has stated a claim for trespass under New York State common law, because she has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that the City Defendants (specifically, Defendants DellRocco, Mattice and John Doe #1, and Faarstad) "acted robustly to exclude Plaintiff's absolute right to possession" of her dogs (by failing to rescue them by "bring[ing] them out for air"), even after the fire had been extinguished. ( Id. at 24-27.)

Seventh, Plaintiff concedes that she has not stated a claim for negligence against the City Defendants under New York State common law. ( Id. at 27.)

Eighth, with regard to the City Defendants' arguments challenging her due process claim, Plaintiff asserts an argument "[a]s discussed supra with legal authority" (apparently referring to her arguments that she was denied due process of law through her denial of counsel and the prohibited "taking" of her dogs). ( Id. at 18, 24, 27.)

Ninth, argues Plaintiff, she has stated a claim for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment, because, in this case, "two young strong men" took "a petit woman" and "thr[e]w her into the back of the car, where she [fell] on her side, bruising her left side: thing, arm and wrist." ( Id. at 27.)

Tenth, argues Plaintiff, while it is true that her Amended Complaint does not state a claim for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment, she is "confident" that her Second Amended Complaint does so because, since the filing of her Amended Complaint, she has "refused to accept an offensive adjournment in contemplation of dismissal" in "the Schenectady criminal court." ( Id. at 28.)

Eleventh, argues Plaintiff, she has stated a claim for cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, because of the City Defendants' deliberately or recklessly failing to provide her with adequate medical care, despite her serious medical needs. ( Id. at 28-30.)

3. City Defendants' Reply Memorandum of Law

Generally, in their reply memorandum of law, the City Defendants assert five arguments. (Dkt. No. 49, Attach. 6 [City Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

First, argue the City Defendants, even when Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is afforded the extra-liberal constructions usually reserved for pro se pleadings and/or civil rights pleadings, the Amended Complaint fails to allege facts plausibly suggesting a viable claim. ( Id. at 4-6 [attaching pages "1" through "3" of City Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

Second, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff's papers in opposition to the City Defendants' motion should not be considered as effectively amending the allegations of her Amended Complaint, because the allegations in Plaintiff's opposition papers are wholly inconsistent with the allegations in her Amended Complaint (including an unrelated allegation that she had previously filed a complaint against a city police officer, an unrelated allegation that her whereabouts were concealed from her family and associates, and a late-blossoming personalinjury claim). ( Id. at 6-7 [attaching pages "3" and "4" of City Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

Third, argue the City Defendants, the voluminous extrinsic evidence that Plaintiff presents to the Court (i.e., a 56-page PowerPoint presentation on disaster animal response, the 137-page Volume 3 of Qualitative Sociology Review, a two-page brochure from Tufts University, 126-pages of internet news stories, and complaints from three other federal court actions involving Defendant Mattice and/or the City of Schenectady Police Department's alleged Use of Force policy) should not be considered by the Court as part of her Amended Complaint. ( Id. at 7-8 [attaching pages "7" and "8" of City Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

Fourth, argue the City Defendants, Plaintiff has effectively abandoned various claims by failing to specifically address the City Defendants' arguments challenging them (including her Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel claim, her First Amendment free-speech claim, her Fourteenth Amendment due process claims, her Fourth Amendment false arrest claim, her state constitutional claims, her state common-law conversion claim, her state common-law negligence claim, and any other supplemental state common-law claims). ( Id. at 8-9 [attaching pages "5" and "6" of City Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

Fifth, argue the City Defendants, even setting aside this effective abandonment, these claims, and Plaintiff's other claims, should be dismissed for the following reasons: (a) her municipal claim should be dismissed because she has failed to plead any exceptional circumstances allowing a single incident to be viewed as a municipal custom or policy, but merely references her previous dealings with City of Schenectady Police Officers; (b) her Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel claim should be dismissed because she has failed to plead facts plausibly suggesting that adversary judicial proceedings were commenced against her; (c) her state common-law trespass claim should be dismissed based on the City Defendants' allegedly remaining on her property after the fire had been extinguished without rescuing her dogs, because the City Defendants were justified in temporarily remaining on her property, and there are no factual allegations plausibly suggesting that the dogs lived after the fire was extinguished (or that they would have lived longer, had they been brought out of the home); (d) her Fourth Amendment excessive force claims should be dismissed because even her late-blossoming, threadbare allegation of "bruising" is insufficient to state an actionable claim; and (e) her Eighth Amendment cruel-and-unusual punishment claim should be dismissed because it is not included in her Amended Complaint, nor is any allegation that the City Defendants failed, with a sufficient mental state, to provide her medical treatment. ( Id. at 9-16 [attaching pages "6" through "13" of City Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

C. Parties' Briefing on Village Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

1. Village Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Chief

Generally, in their memorandum of law in chief, the Village Defendants assert 12 arguments with regard to Plaintiff's claims against them. (Dkt. No. 26, Attach. 8 [Village Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

First, argues the Village Defendants, Plaintiff lacks standing to assert her claims, because she has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that it was the Village Defendants, as opposed to the fire (or the other Defendants in this case), that caused the death of her dogs (or even that the Village Defendants arrested her and thus prevented her from rescuing her dogs). ( Id. at 15-16 [attaching pages "5" and "6" of Village Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Second, argues the Village Defendants, Plaintiff's claims against the Defendant Village of Scotia Fire Department must be dismissed as redundant of her claims against the Defendant Village of Scotia. ( Id. at 16-17 ...


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