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Stevens v. Webb

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 21, 2014

JACOB STEVENS, as Administrator of the ESTATE OF CLARA HEYWORTH, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY WEBB, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

KIYO A. MATSUMOTO, District Judge.

On June 11, 2012, plaintiff Jacob Stevens ("plaintiff" or "Stevens"), as administrator of the estate of his late wife, Clara Heyworth ("Heyworth"), filed this action against Anthony Webb ("Webb"), Ayesha P. Cubia-Webb ("Cubia-Webb"), the City of New York, New York City Police Department ("NYPD") Sergeant Alessio Bono ("Bono"), and two pseudonymous members of the Police Department ("Roe" and "Doe"). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on November 8, 2012, adding two additional pseudonymous defendants ("Moe, " an NYPD detective, and "Boe, " a City employee) and asserting constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), a Monell claim against the City for the same constitutional violations, and various claims under New York law related to a car accident that caused the death of Ms. Heyworth and the subsequent investigation of that accident. ( See generally, Am. Compl., ECF No. 16.) On July 8, 2013, the City and Bono, and, if served, defendants Roe, Doe, Moe and Boe (collectively, "the City defendants") filed a motion to dismiss all claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 25.) For the reasons set forth in this opinion, defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's federal and state law claims against the City defendants is granted.

BACKGROUND[1]

This case arises out of the tragic death of Ms. Heyworth after she was struck by defendant Webb as he drove Cubia-Webb's vehicle. In the early morning of July 10, 2011, defendant Webb was driving Cubia-Webb's car in Brooklyn, New York. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19.) Webb was intoxicated and exceeding the speed limit. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.) He was also driving by himself, a violation of the conditions of his driver's license. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.) At 1:50 a.m., Webb struck Ms. Heyworth as she crossed the street on foot to meet her husband, plaintiff Stevens. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) Stevens witnessed the collision between the vehicle and the decedent occur, but he cannot recall the specifics of the collision due to the psychological trauma of the event. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.)

At 2:05 a.m., police officers from the 88th Precinct of the NYPD arrived at the scene of the accident. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) One of the officers instructed Stevens not to speak with Webb with words to the effect, "We've got this situation covered." (Am. Compl. ¶ 25.) Between 2:06 and 2:08 a.m., another officer requested that the Accident Investigation Squad ("AIS") report to the scene and informed the emergency dispatcher that he believed that Heyworth "may be likely" to die from her injuries. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) AIS is "comprised of officers assigned to the NYPD Highway District in each borough who are responsible for the investigation of fatal and other serious crashes." (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) By contrast to the other traffic officers in the Police Department, AIS may investigate traffic accidents and may issue summonses, even if the AIS officer has not personally witnessed the incident. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 59-61 (citing NYPD Oversight Hr'g Tr. at 24:3-12)[2]; see also Am. Compl. ¶ 64.)

Around the time AIS was called, Heyworth was transported to the hospital. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.) Although the NYPD officers attempted to summon AIS to the scene of the accident again at 2:10 a.m. and 2:34 a.m., AIS did not arrive, and the call to the Squad was eventually cancelled at 2:59 a.m. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 28.) The police dispatcher's records of this cancellation indicate that "HWY 2 Sgt, " whom plaintiff believes to be either defendant Bono or Doe, called off the AIS request because Heyworth was still alive when she arrived at the hospital. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-30.)

After the cancellation of the AIS call, the NYPD officers measured Webb's blood alcohol level but did not have the necessary equipment because AIS generally measures a driver's blood alcohol content after a serious car crash occurs. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-32 (citing NYPD Patrol Guide).) Webb was ultimately tested about an hour later, had a blood alcohol content of 0.07%, and was arrested for driving while intoxicated in addition to other charges. (Am. Compl. ¶ 33.) It was later determined that the equipment used to measure Webb's blood alcohol level had not been properly calibrated (although it did give an accurate reading), and could not be used in court. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-37.) Other than conducting Webb's blood alcohol test, the NYPD officers at the site of the crash did not preserve or record any evidence on the day of the accident because AIS is typically responsible for this type of evidencegathering. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 34-35.)

At 2:59 a.m. on July 10, at approximately the same time the AIS request was cancelled, Heyworth arrived at Bellevue Hospital. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 27-28.) On July 11, 2011, [3] Heyworth died from her injuries, which included "blunt impact injuries to the head, the right lower extremity, and the thorax, as well as extensive hemorrhages and shattered bones." (Am. Compl. ¶ 19, 38.) On July 13, 2011, Stevens informed an AIS detective, referred to as Detective Moe, that Heyworth had died, and Moe in turn told Stevens that AIS would be investigating the accident. (Am. Compl. ¶ 43.) Stevens was also told by Tom Kessler, who was employed by the Kings County District Attorney's Office, on July 14 or July 15, that someone from the Police Department was investigating the accident. (Am. Compl. ¶ 45.) On October 15, 2011, Steven was informed that the Office would seek to have Webb indicted on charges that would include vehicular manslaughter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 48.)

Stevens later learned that the Police Department did not in fact resume investigating Heyworth's death until on or after July 15, 2011. (Am. Compl. ¶ 44.) Stevens avers that, had he known the NYPD was not investigating, he would have made efforts to preserve evidence, such as the skid marks from Webb's car that Stevens observed on July 13. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41-42.) Plaintiff catalogues the evidence lost as a result of the delayed resumption of the investigation as follows: witnesses and surveillance footage from nearby businesses were not identified; information from the vehicle's Event Data Recorder, such as car speed, was overwritten; the location of Heyworth in the road and the vehicle's skid marks were not noted or photographed; and Webb's blood alcohol level was not tested with a properly calibrated instrument while he was still intoxicated. (Am. Compl. ¶ 46.) In light of the lack of admissible evidence preserved after the crash, on February 16, 2012, the District Attorney's Office informed Stevens that the criminal charges against Webb would not be pursued. (Am. Compl. ¶ 50.)

Plaintiff alleges that the loss of evidence and lack of investigation in Heyworth's case was due to the NYPD's policy not to investigate many serious vehicular crashes that do not result immediately in death or in a victim who is likely to die and that officers are untrained as to the definition of "likely to die." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 62, 65, 71-76.) Plaintiff further alleges that generally the NYPD fails to investigate serious traffic crashes that could lead to criminal charges due, in part, to the pressure exerted on the NYPD to reduce its crime statistics. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 94-95; see also ¶¶ 96-107.)

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

The City defendants seek to dismiss the claims asserted against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a pleading may be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." "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.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although the court must "accept as true all factual statements alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, " McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007), plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Indeed, "[c]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to [defeat] a motion to dismiss." Achtman v. Kirby, McInerney & Squire, LLP, 464 F.3d 328, 337 (2d Cir. 2006) (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). Applying the above standard, the court will first address plaintiff's federal law claims and then plaintiff's state law claims against the City defendants.

II. Federal Claims

Plaintiff raises two federal claims pursuant to Section 1983 against the City defendants: that plaintiff was deprived of procedural due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and that the defendants infringed upon plaintiff's right to access the courts in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff also alleges that the City is liable for these constitutional violations as a result of its policies and ...


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