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Vessa v. City of White Plains

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 27, 2014

FRANK VESSA, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF WHITE PLAINS, THE CITY OF WHITE PLAINS POLICE DEPARTMENT, DETECTIVE LT. ERIC FISCHER, CHIEF BRADLEY, POLICE OFFICERS

OPINION AND ORDER

EDGARDO RAMOS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Frank Vessa ("Plaintiff" or "Vessa") brings this action against Defendants the City of White Plains (the "City"), the City of White Plains Police Department ("WPPD"), Detective Lieutenant Eric Fischer ("Fischer"), Chief Bradley ("Bradley"), Police Officers John Doe and Mary Doe 1-10 (the "John Doe Defendants"), Westchester County (the "County"), and John Roe and Mary Roe 1-10 (the "John Roe Defendants") (collectively, "Defendants"), stating claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Plaintiff's First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.[1] Presently before the Court are the City and County Defendants' motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Docs. 27, 28. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions to dismiss are GRANTED.

I. Factual Allegations

The following facts are taken from the allegations in the Amended Complaint, which the Court accepts as true for purposes of this motion.[2] Famous Horse Inc. v. 5th Ave. Photo Inc., 624 F.3d 106, 108 (2d Cir. 2010).

Plaintiff alleges that on June 21, 2011, officers of the WPPD (i.e., the John Doe Defendants) and "police officers, assistant district attorneys and/or officers" of the County (i.e., the John Roe Defendants) entered Plaintiff's family's residence in Thornwood, New York (the "Residence") "pursuant to a search warrant." Am. Compl. (Doc. 23) ¶¶ 59-67.[3] Plaintiff claims that the search warrant was wrongfully obtained by unspecified Defendants on "improper, fraudulent and invalid grounds."[4] Id. ¶¶ 68-69. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendants failed to thoroughly investigate and corroborate "the credibility of informants [and] complainants" and failed to validate or confirm the information upon which they negligently and erroneously obtained the warrant. Id. ¶ 75. According to Plaintiff, the information upon which Defendants obtained the warrant was fabricated and otherwise based upon conjecture and speculation, and Defendants knew or should have known that the information was false. Id. ¶¶ 76-77. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants wrongfully executed the warrant "during the early morning hours, in the presence... of [Plaintiff's] wife and young child and various neighbors and strangers, seriously and severely frightening, terrorizing, humiliating and embarrassing the plaintiff, causing the infliction of emotional and mental distress." Id. ¶ 70.

Plaintiff claims that in executing the warrant, Defendants illegally seized Plaintiff's property, including his electronics, computers, iPad, external hard drive, and four "off-duty" firearms.[5] Id. ¶¶ 97-100. Plaintiff further claims that at the time of the alleged illegal search, Defendants told him that his electronics and computers were being seized due to an investigation of Plaintiff concerning three anonymous postings on the Journal News website regarding Mayor Bradley leaving office as Mayor of White Plains. Id. ¶ 158. The comments were posted under the screen name "ltfischer, " and included: (i) "You're welcome from the WPPD"; (ii) "Next Up Commissioner Chong GTHO"; and (iii) "Figure it out Yourself." Id.

Subsequent to the search and seizure, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants knowingly charged him with criminal offenses "of which he was wholly innocent, " causing Plaintiff to be suspended from his employment as a police officer. Id. ¶¶ 107-109. Thereafter, in or around July 2011, the charges against Plaintiff "failed to be verified" and, as a result, Plaintiff's suspension was lifted. Id. ¶¶ 110-111. Plaintiff further claims that Defendants caused an illegal investigation to be initiated against him by various governmental law enforcement agencies. Id. ¶ 143.

Moreover, Plaintiff claims that in or around June and July 2011, Defendants knowingly made false and defamatory statements about him. Id. ¶¶ 125-127. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants-and Defendant Fischer "in particular"-made the following false and defamatory statements: (i) that Plaintiff "was involved in kiddy porn, " which was discovered on Plaintiff's computers; (ii) that Plaintiff was a "pedophile"; (iii) that Plaintiff "was guilty of criminal impersonation"; (iv) that Plaintiff "was guilty of forgery"; and (v) that Plaintiff "was having an illicit affair with [a female officer]." Id. ¶¶ 129-134.

II. Legal Standard

When ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), district courts are required to accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and to draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Famous Horse Inc., 624 F.3d at 108. However, this requirement does not apply to legal conclusions, bare assertions or conclusory allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 681 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In order to satisfy the pleading standard set forth in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. Accordingly, a plaintiff is required to support its claims with sufficient factual allegations to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

III. Plaintiff Fails to State a Section 1983 Claim[6]

Plaintiff brings a Section 1983 claim for alleged violations of his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The crux of Plaintiff's action is that the execution of the search warrant on June 21, 2011 constituted an "unreasonable search and seizure" in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, in that Defendants wrongfully obtained the warrant using fabricated information that Defendants knew or should have known was false. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 68-69, 75-77. Plaintiff also contends that Defendants' actions caused his "speech to be chilled" in violation of his First Amendment rights and constituted an "abuse of process" in violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights.[7] Id. ¶¶ 144, 159.

a. Against Defendants Fischer and Bradley

To the extent that Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants Fischer and Bradley liable for his constitutional claims, those claims are dismissed as against them. Case law is clear that "personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983." Rahman v. Fisher, 607 F.Supp.2d 580, 585 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (citation omitted). Here, the Amended Complaint is completely devoid of any allegation that Defendants Fischer or Bradley had any involvement in the alleged constitutional violations. Indeed, none of the facts alleged in support of Plaintiff's constitutional claims even reference Defendants Fischer and Bradley by name. Rather, Plaintiff merely repeatedly alleges that the wrongful acts were committed by "defendants, their servants, agents, police officers, detectives, chiefs, district attorney, assistant district attorneys, ...


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