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Salmon v. Blesser

United States District Court, N.D. New York

May 12, 2014

OLIVER SALMON, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS BLESSER; CITY OF ALBANY POLICE DEPARTMENT; THE CITY OF ALBANY; JOHN DOE1; and JOHN DOE2, Defendants.

OFFICE OF KEITH F. SCHOCKMEL, KEITH F. SCHOCKMEL, ESQ., Albany, New York, Attorney for Plaintiff.

CITY OF ALBANY CORPORATION COUNSEL ERIC P. SUGAR, ESQ., JOHN JOSEPH REILLY, ESQ., Albany, New York, Attorneys for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants Thomas Blesser, the City of Albany Police Department, the City of Albany, "John Doe1, " and "John Doe2." See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions violated his constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. See Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 46-49, 52-53. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants' actions give rise to a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. See id. ¶¶ 50-51. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Dkt. Nos. 6, 22.[1]

II. BACKGROUND[2]

In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on September 1, 2010, he was at the Albany City Courthouse with his attorney in order to examine a file in the Clerk's office. Dkt. 1 ¶ 11. Because only attorneys were permitted to enter the Clerk's office, Plaintiff was instructed to wait for his attorney in a public area of the courthouse near the Clerk's office window. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. While Plaintiff was waiting for his attorney, Defendant Blesser, who is a police officer for the City of Albany, told two unknown individuals to leave the lobby. Id. ¶ 14. Subsequently, Defendant Blesser shouted at Plaintiff and asked him which courtroom he was supposed to be in. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Plaintiff explained to Defendant Blesser that he was not there for a court appearance, but was waiting for his attorney who was in the Clerk's office. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff stepped away from the window of the Clerk's office so Defendant Blesser could tap on the window to get Plaintiff's attorney's attention. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. However, when Plaintiff stepped away from the window, Defendant Blesser grabbed Plaintiff by the collar and twisted his arm behind his back, shoving Plaintiff towards the door. Id. ¶ 23. At this point, an unknown officer, "John Doe1" approached Defendant Blesser and Plaintiff and provided "encouragement and assistance to Defendant Blesser." Id. ¶ 27. John Doe2 observed Defendant Blesser and John Doe1's actions. Id. ¶ 30. Plaintiff was physically removed from the building and threatened with arrest if he reentered. Id. ¶ 28. As a result, "Plaintiff has suffered permanent physical injury." Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff also alleges that he was seized pursuant to official policies or customs of the municipal defendants. See id. ¶¶ 38-43.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the party's claim for relief and pleadings without considering the substantive merits of the case. See Global Network Commc'ns v. City of New York, 458 F.3d 150, 155 (2d Cir. 2006); Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111-12 (2d Cir. 2007). In considering the legal sufficiency, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the pleading and draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor. See ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). This presumption of truth, however, does not extend to legal conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). "Generally, consideration of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is limited to consideration of the complaint itself" unless all parties are given a reasonable opportunity to submit extrinsic evidence. Faulkner v. Beer, 463 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2006). In ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court generally must confine itself to the four corners of the complaint and look only to the allegations contained therein. Robinson v. Town of Kent, No. 11 Civ. 2875, 2012 WL 3024766, at *3-4 (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 2012) (citing Roth v. Jennings, 489 F.3d 499, 509 (2d Cir. 2007)).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a party need only plead "a short and plain statement of the claim, " see Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), with sufficient facts "to sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under this standard, the pleading's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level, " see id. at 555, and present claims that are "plausible on [their] face, " id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Ultimately, "when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558, or where a plaintiff has "not nudged [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed, " id. at 570.

B. Analysis

1. Municipal Liability Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ( Monell Claim)

As an initial matter, it is clear that the City of Albany Police Department is not a proper defendant in this action. It is well established that a police department "is an administrative arm of the City, which is a municipality, [and therefore] the Police Department cannot sue or be sued because it does not exist separate and apart from the municipality and does not have its own legal identity.'" Hines v. City of Albany, 542 F.Supp.2d 218, 227 (N.D.N.Y. 2008) (quoting Leland v. Moran, 100 F.Supp.2d 140, 145 (N.D.N.Y. 2000)); see also Lluberes v. City of Troy, No. 11-CV-1346, 2014 WL 1123413, *8 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2014) (finding claims against the City of Troy and the Troy Police Department to be redundant and dismissing claims against the latter). As such, Plaintiff's claims against the City of Albany Police Department are dismissed.

Plaintiff also asserts claims against Defendant Blesser in both his individual and official capacities. Official capacity claims against municipal officials are treated as raised against the municipality itself. See e.g., Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72 (1985) ("a judgment against a public servant in his official capacity' imposes liability on the entity that he represents"); Coon v. Town of Springfield, 404 F.3d 683, 687 (2d Cir. 2005) ("a § 1983 suit against a municipal officer in his official capacity is treated as an action against the municipality itself"); Curley v. Vill. of Suffern, 268 F.3d 65, 72 (2d Cir. 2001) ("the claim against defendants... in their official capacity is essentially a claim against the village"); see also Lluberes, 2013 WL 1123413, at *8 (dismissing claims against individual defendants in their official capacities). As such, Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Blesser in his official capacity are dismissed.

In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) defendants were state actors or were acting under color of state law at the time of the alleged wrongful action; and (2) the action deprived plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution or federal law. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). "Section 1983 is only a grant of a right of action; the substantive right giving rise to the action must come from another source." Singer v. Fulton Cnty. Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970)). Thus, a civil rights action brought under Section 1983 will stand only insofar as the plaintiff can prove an actual violation of his rights under the Constitution or federal law. Id.

A municipality cannot be held liable under Section 1983 for the acts of its employees below the policy-making level solely on a theory of respondeat superior. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Patterson v. Cnty. of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 226 (2d Cir. 2004). A Section 1983 claim can only be brought against a municipality if the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional was the result of an official policy or custom. Id. at 690-91. Thus, a plaintiff must allege that such a municipal policy or custom is responsible for his injury. Bd. of Cnty. Commis of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); see also Connick v. Thompson, ___ U.S. ____, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011) ("A municipality or other local government may be liable under [§ 1983] if the governmental body itself subjects' a person to a deprivation of rights or causes' a person to be subjected' to such deprivation.") (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 692).

The Second Circuit has established a two prong test for Section 1983 claims brought against a municipality. First, the plaintiff must prove "the existence of a municipal policy or custom in order to show that the municipality took some action that caused his injuries beyond merely employing the misbehaving [official].'" Johnson v. City of New York, No. 06 CV 09426, 2011 WL 666161, *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2011) (quoting Vippolis v. Vill. of Haverstraw, 768 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1985)). Second, the plaintiff must establish a causal connection between the policy or custom and the alleged ...


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