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Tanzi v. Town of Marlborough

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 23, 2014

JOSEPH TANZI, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF MARLBOROUGH; JENNIE GENT, Marlborough Court Clerk, in her official capacity and personally; JOHN DOE; and JANE DOE (1-12), Defendants.

LAW OFFICES OF HERBERT J. TAN, LLC, HERBERT J. TAN, ESQ., Counsel for Plaintiff, Fort Lee, NJ.

McCABE & MACK, LLP, DAVID L. POSNER, ESQ., Counsel for Defendants, Poughkeepsie, NY.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this civil rights action filed by Joseph Tanzi ("Plaintiff") against the above-captioned municipality and 13 individuals ("Defendants"), are Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and Plaintiff's cross-motion for leave to file an Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). (Dkt. Nos. 6, 11.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted, Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied as moot, and this action is dismissed.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, in early 2012, a clerk in the Town of Marlborough Justice Court refused to permit Plaintiff to file an action pro se in the court to evict a non-paying tenant, and instead required him to retain counsel to do so (causing him to expend thousands of dollars in legal fees and lose rental revenues). ( See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].) Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts the following three claims against Defendants: (1) a claim that Defendants violated his right to "selfrepresentation" under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and an unspecified provision of the New York State Constitution; (2) a claim that Defendants violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and an unspecified provision of the New York State Constitution; and (3) a separate claim that Defendants violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and an unspecified provision of the New York State Constitution. ( Id. ) Familiarity with the remaining factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. ( Id. )

B. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Generally, in support of their motion to dismiss, Defendants assert the following three arguments: (1) Plaintiff's claims under the Sixth and/or Fourteenth Amendments must be dismissed because there is no "right to counsel" in a civil eviction proceeding in state court; (2) Plaintiff's claims under the New York State Constitution must be dismissed because there is no "right to counsel" in a civil landlord/tenant action; and (3) in the alternative, Plaintiff's claims under the New York State Constitution must be dismissed because they are barred by the applicable one-year-and-90-day limitations period established by New York General Municipal Law § 50-i. (Dkt. No. 6, Attach. 1 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Generally, in his response, Plaintiff argues that, while he admittedly does not have a Sixth Amendment "right to counsel, " he does have a "right of self-representation" under both the Sixth Amendment and 28 U.S.C. § 1654, and he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting a violation of that right. (Dkt. No. 10.)

Generally, in their reply, Defendants assert the following three arguments: (1) Plaintiff's claims under the New York State Constitution must be dismissed because he effectively "abandoned" those claims when he failed, in his opposition memorandum of law, to address Defendants' arguments in favor of their dismissal; (2) Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claims must be dismissed because (a) he effectively "abandoned" those claims when he failed, in his opposition memorandum of law, to address Defendants' arguments in favor of their dismissal, and (b) in any event, there is no Fourteenth Amendment "right to counsel" in a civil eviction proceeding in state court; and (3) Plaintiff's Sixth Amendment claim must be dismissed because (a) there is no Sixth Amendment right to appear pro se in a civil action in state court, and (b) 28 U.S.C. § 1654 (which applies only to actions in federal court) does nothing to change that point of law. (Dkt. No. 12.)

C. Parties' Briefing on Plaintiff's Cross-Motion to Amend

Generally, in support of his cross-motion for leave to file an Amended Complaint, Plaintiff argues that he should be granted leave to correct the pleading defects contained in his original Complaint by expressly asserting procedural and substantive due process claims under the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments. (Dkt. No. 10.)

Generally, in their opposition to Plaintiff's cross-motion, Defendants argue that leave to amend should be denied because Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint asserts claims that are futile in that, inter alia, (1) they fail to allege facts suggesting any malicious or vindictive motive (as opposed to negligent oversight) on behalf of Defendant Gent, sufficient to render her liable under the United States Constitution, and (2) they allege that Plaintiff ultimately accessed the courts and obtained the remedy that he was seeking (and thus was provided a suitable postdeprivation remedy and did not suffer an actual injury). (Dkt. No. 12.)

II. GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Legal Standard Governing Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

It has long been understood that a dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), can be based on one or both of two grounds:

(1) a challenge to the "sufficiency of the pleading" under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); or (2) a challenge to the legal cognizability of the claim. Jackson v. Onondaga Cnty., 549 F.Supp.2d 204, 211, nn.15-16 (N.D.N.Y. 2008) (McAvoy, J., adopting Report-Recommendation on de novo review).

Because such dismissals are often based on the first ground, a few words regarding that ground are appropriate. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) [emphasis added]. In the Court's view, this tension between permitting a "short and plain statement" and requiring that the statement "show[]" an entitlement to relief ...


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