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KASTLE v. TOWN OF KENT

March 21, 2014

BARBARA B. KASTLE AND MATTHEW L. KASTLE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS JOINT ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL W. KASTLE, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE TOWN OF KENT, NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



Plaintiffs Barbara B. Kastle and Matthew L. Kastle bring this Section 1983 action against defendants the Town of Kent, the Town of Kent Police Department, Police Chiefs Donald L. Smith and Alex DiVernieri, Police Sergeant Jerry Raneri, Police Officers Vincent E. Bade, Chris Tompkins, Darren M. Cea, and Alex VanderWoude, and "John Doe" police officers (collectively, the "Kent Defendants"); the County of Putnam, Sheriff Donald B. Smith, Deputy Sheriffs J.P. Kerwick and Daniel Hunsberger, and "Michael Doe" deputy sheriffs (collectively, the "Putnam Defendants"); and the Town of East Fishkill, the Town of East Fishkill Police Department, Police Chief Brian C. Nichols, Police Captain Dwayne P. Doughty, Police Officers Kyle P. Doughty, Daniel P. Didato, and Ryan J. Angioletti, and "Mark Doe" police officers (collectively the "East Fishkill Defendants"), arising out of a car accident involving plaintiffs' deceased son, Michael W. Kastle ("Michael"), and defendant Bade. Plaintiffs assert constitutional claims for Fourth Amendment violations, procedural and substantive due process violations, conspiracy, abuse of process, and for municipal liability as against the Town of Kent, the Town of East Fishkill, and Putnam County. Plaintiffs also assert a state law wrongful death claim. Now pending are the Kent Defendants' motion to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Doc. # 22), the Putnam Defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (Doc. # 26), and the East Fishkill Defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (Doc. # 31). For the following reasons, each motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Briccetti, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

BACKGROUND

For purposes of deciding the pending motions, the Court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations in the amended complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs are Barbara and Matthew Kastle, the parents of Michael Kastle, who died on April 8, 2012, at the age of eighteen, after an apparent interaction of prescription Xanax and a contraindicated narcotic painkiller.

I. The Car Accident and Related Proceedings

On April 27, 2011, Michael's car collided with Kent Police Officer Vincent E. Bade's car in East Fishkill, New York. Plaintiffs allege Bade was intoxicated and crossed into Michael's lane of traffic, and Bade's alcohol consumption was a significant factor in the accident. Defendants the Town of Kent, and Kent Police Chiefs Donald L. Smith and Alex DiVernieri were allegedly notified of the accident and of the fact that Bade was driving while intoxicated within a few minutes. "[T]o preserve the reputation" of the Kent Police Department and Bade, plaintiffs allege Donald L. Smith and DiVernieri directed Bade be removed from the scene and spared interviews and blood-alcohol tests, and dispatched an unnamed Kent police officer to the scene to coordinate with the East Fishkill Defendants investigating the accident. (Am.Compl.¶¶ 30–32).

The unidentified Kent police officer arrived and, at the request of Bade, Donald L. Smith and DiVernieri, allegedly removed evidence from Bade's vehicle, including a briefcase and beer and/or liquor bottles. Plaintiffs further allege the East Fishkill Defendants concealed Bade's intoxication at the time of the accident "upon the request" of the Kent Defendants. (Id. ¶ 38).

Plaintiffs allege that, between two and eight hours after the accident, Bade was administered a breathalyzer test revealing a blood alcohol content of 0.04%, which plaintiffs contend implies Bade was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident. Unspecified actors from East Fishkill also allegedly advised Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith that Bade was impaired, but the Putnam Defendants declined to investigate further.*fn1

During the investigation, Michael was allegedly confined in a police vehicle and, later, isolated and interrogated at the East Fishkill Police Station. He was charged with various traffic offenses, allegedly on the basis on false factual and expert statements submitted by Bade and the East Fishkill Defendants, including "three separate, inconsistent versions of the information affidavits and depositions ... all of which knowingly and falsely claimed that the accident was exclusively [Michael's] fault" submitted by the East Fishkill Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 56, 58(a), (c)).

Plaintiffs allege the East Fishkill Defendants also pressured Michael to admit to causing the accident. Throughout the investigation and subsequent court proceedings, Michael and his minor passenger "consistently maintained" Bade's vehicle had crossed into Michael's lane, causing the accident. (Id. ¶ 48).

On November 16, 2011, Michael was tried for and convicted of traffic violations relating to the accident. Plaintiffs allege the conviction was based on incomplete testimony from East Fishkill police officers, "who did not disclose their finding that Bade was impaired at the time of the accident," or release written reports, even though they were repeatedly asked to do so. (Id. ¶ 87). Plaintiffs further allege the Town of East Fishkill denied the existence of accident investigation records until after Michael was convicted of charges relating to the accident and the deadline for appealing the conviction had passed.

II. The Alleged Campaign To Harass Michael

Immediately after the accident, defendants allegedly "began a coordinated campaign to target, intimidate and harass" Michael that persisted until Michael's death on April 8, 2012, which arose out of their "collective and collaborative desire to protect" Bade and to suppress evidence of Bade's intoxication at the time of the accident. (Id. ¶ 58).

The amended complaint includes the following allegations in support of these claims:

• Over the eleven month period between the accident and Michael's death, defendants "follow[ed] Michael routinely, whenever he was driving alone" (Id. ¶ 58(d)) and, between April 27 and June 23, 2011, made "physical and verbal" threats that if anything happened to Bade, "Michael would be arrested and charged with murder, or otherwise harmed." (Id. ¶ 68).

• Kent police officers frequently parked outside Michael's house in patrol cars to observe and "intimidate" him. (Id. ¶ 58(q)-(r)).

• Between April 27 and May 17, 2011, Michael's car was impounded and searched without probable cause by the Town of East Fishkill and, subsequently, by Putnam County in June 2011.

• On July 9, 2011, defendant Kent Police Officer Chris Tompkins "attempted to run Michael off the road," detained him, and filed incorrect statements and false traffic charges against him. (Id. ¶ 58(f)). DiVernieri knew about these false statements but failed to investigate them or to discipline Tompkins.

• In July 2011, after Michael's lawyer moved to dismiss the charges arising out of the accident on the basis of the inconsistent affidavits, a new ticket for crossing a pavement marking, "backdated" to April 27, 2011, was delivered to plaintiffs. (Id . ¶¶ 58(h), 72).

• During a court proceeding on July 30, 2011, the East Fishkill Police Department refused to disclose exculpatory evidence gathered during the accident investigation.

• On August 23, 2011, Michael was detained and falsely ticketed for "imprudent speed" without probable cause when his car approached an accident scene at which Tompkins was present. At the time, Tompkins "was being investigated for his false statement in connection with the July 9 stop," and that investigation, not traffic offenses, "was the reason" Tompkins issued the ticket to Michael that day. (Id. ¶ 75).

• On September 15, 2011, Putnam County police officers, including defendant Deputy Sheriff Daniel Hunsberger, followed Michael from his school to a Home Depot in Southeast. Hunsberger arrested Michael in the store and charged him with misdemeanor offenses, including petit larceny, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. During the arrest, Hunsberger "slammed Michael's face into a wall," injuring him. (Id. ¶ 83). Hunsberger also falsely claimed in court documents that Michael had apologized to Hunsberger for his conduct relating to the accident.

• On October 27, 2011, six months after the accident, Michael received a notice of a speeding ticket arising out of the accident, issued without probable cause and based on an affidavit of defendant East Fishkill Police Officer Daniel P. Didato.

• In the fall of 2011, Kent police officers, including Tompkins, Darren M. Cea, and Alex VanderWoude, frequently followed Michael to and from school.

• In the fall of 2011 and winter of 2011–2012, Kent police officers drove by Michael's house at night, "shining strong lights into the windows" of his bedroom. (Id. ¶¶ 58(p), 100–01).

• At some time during the winter of 2011–2012, unspecified Kent police officers stopped Michael and conducted an unlawful search of Michael and his car, during which they observed a container of Michael's prescription Xanax.

• In March 2012, Michael was driving with his father, Matthew Kastle. Matthew Kastle observed an unidentified Kent police officer speed up and indicate Michael should pull over. When the officer saw Matthew Kastle was in the car, he sped away.

• On March 11, 2012, defendant Putnam County Deputy J.P. Kerwick stopped Michael and ticketed him on the basis of a false affidavit for failing to signal.

• On March 30, 2012, Cea followed Michael to Michael's friend's house, where Cea watched him as he "burned tires ... with the consent of the homeowner." As Michael was leaving, Cea pulled him over and issued a ticket for an "unsafe start," failure to wear a seatbelt, and driving with an obstructed view. (Id. ¶ 58(u)). At that time, Cea learned Michael had retained a civil rights lawyer.

• The same day, Michael received a call from an individual who encouraged Michael to "swap" some of his prescription Xanax pills for a narcotic painkiller.*fn2

• Defendant Kent Police Sergeant Jerry Raneri advised Barbara Kastle to stop filing FOIA requests seeking public records relating to the arrests and tickets, allegedly "implying Michael would continue to be harmed" if she did not. (Id. ¶ 58(k).

III. Michael's Mental Health Treatment

On May 3, 2011, Michael experienced a panic attack and was admitted to the hospital, after which he was treated by mental health professionals. He began the course of prescription Xanax treatment in June 2011.

After his driver's license was suspended on October 25, 2011, Michael "became profoundly depressed" (Id. ¶ 85) and underwent psychotherapy. Michael was admitted to the hospital for another panic attack on November 17, 2011.

Plaintiffs allege that in March 2012, Michael's psychological condition worsened and he had difficulty sleeping, eating, and taking care of himself and "became markedly fearful, withdrawn and uncommunicative." (Id. ¶ 105).

Michael experienced another panic attack on April 5, 2012, after receiving a notice to appear in court for the March 11, 2012, traffic offense. Plaintiffs allege this panic attack was brought on by the notice and, more generally, by the alleged pattern of harassment.

IV. Michael's Death

Tragically, Michael died after being found unresponsive at a friend's home on the morning of April 8, 2012. Plaintiffs allege the Putnam County Sheriff's Office informed them Michael's death was caused by an ...


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