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Hendricks v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 4, 2014

DONNESHIA HENDRICKS, Individually and As Administratrix Ad Prosequendum of the Estate of RICHARD JAMES FLUDD, JR., a Minor, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY ADMINISTRATION FOR CHILDREN'S SERVICES (ACS), RONALD E. RICHTER, TANZANIA STONE, and REGINALD SMITH, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

PAUL A. CROTTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Donneshia Hendricks makes claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and pendent state-law claims relating arising out of the death of her infant son, Richard James Fludd, Jr. ("the Decedent"). She alleges that Reginald Smith, with whom she was in a relationship, beat the Decedent to death, but Smith is not a state actor, and there is no Section 1983 claim against him. Plaintiff alleges that the City of New York, the Administration for Children's Services ("ACS"), its Commissioner, Ronald Richter, and an ACS caseworker, Tanzania Stone, (collectively, "the Municipal Defendants") failed to take appropriate steps to prevent the Decedent's death. The Municipal Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims under Rule 12(b)(6), and to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The Court accepts as true the tragic facts alleged in the Amended Complaint.

Plaintiff, a New Jersey resident, was in a relationship with Defendant Reginald Smith. ( See Am. Compl. ¶ 29; Pl.'s Opp'n at 7.) Unbeknownst to her, Smith was subject to a protective order issued by the Bronx County Family Court, which prohibited him from being in contact with children because he had allegedly physically abused his biological daughter and had "violent propensities." ( Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.)

Sometime in late November or early December 2011, Tanzania Stone, an ACS caseworker, visited Smith's apartment while Plaintiff and the Decedent were there. ( Id. ¶ 27.) Stone did not introduce herself to Plaintiff as an ACS caseworker, but Stone "was told and/or learned of Plaintiff's relationship with Defendant Smith, and of [Decedent]'s regular presence in the home and/or contact with Defendant Smith." ( Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) While there, Stone served the protective order on Smith, "knowing it would agitate him." ( Id. ¶ 31.) Stone knew that Smith was in violation of the protective order by having contact with the Decedent and "failed to take action to enforce" the order or to warn the Plaintiff about Smith's violent propensities. ( Id. ¶¶ 32-34.)

Approximately two months later, on January 25, 2012, Plaintiff left the Decedent in Smith's care in his apartment in the Bronx. ( Id. ¶ 35.) Smith allegedly beat the Decedent, which led to his death later that day. ( Id. ) While at the hospital, Plaintiff met with ACS caseworker Stone, who "informed Plaintiff for the first time that Defendant, Smith, was under a court order to stay away from children because he was under investigation for child abuse and assumed to be violent." ( Id. ¶ 39.) Smith was charged with murder two days later. ( Id. ¶ 37.)

Plaintiff claims that the Municipal Defendants are liable for the Decedent's death because (1) Stone's discussion of the protective order with Smith in late November or early December 2011 "agitated" him to violence, (2) the Municipal Defendants failed to enforce the protective order served on Smith, and (3) the City maintained constitutionally inadequate policies and procedures to prevent such tragedies. Plaintiff also asserts various state-law tort claims.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standards

"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)). That is, a complaint must "nudge[] [the plaintiff's] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Nevertheless, the Court must accept well-pleaded factual allegations as true, "drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Standard Inv. Chartered, Inc. v. Nat'l Ass'n of Sec. Dealers, Inc., 637 F.3d 112, 115 (2d Cir. 2011).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant acted "under color of state law, " and (2) "the conduct complained of... deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Pitchell v. Callan, 13 F.3d 545, 547 (2d Cir. 1994). The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not "require[] the State to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors." DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Svcs., 489 U.S. 189, 195 (1989). "Its purpose was to protect the people from the State, not to ensure that the State protected them from each other." Id. Thus, "the benefit that a third party may receive from having someone else arrested for a crime generally does not trigger protections under the Due Process Clause." Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748, 768 (2005) (concluding that "respondent did not, for purposes of the Due Process Clause, have a property interest in police enforcement of the restraining order against her husband").

The Second Circuit recognizes a very limited exception where "[t]he affirmative conduct of a government official may give rise to an actionable due process violation if it communicates, explicitly or implicitly, official sanction of private violence." Okin v. Vill. of Cornwall-On-Hudson Police Dep't, 577 F.3d 415, 429 (2d Cir. 2009). Under this "state created danger" doctrine, "the state[ has a] duty to protect a person from private violence when the state itself has placed that person at risk." Pena v. DePrisco, 432 F.3d 98, 108 (2d Cir. 2005). Thus, when "state officials communicate to a private person that he or she will not be arrested, punished, or otherwise interfered with while engaging in misconduct that is likely to endanger the life, liberty or property of others, those officials can be held liable under section 1983." Id. at 111. Such a circumstance is to be distinguished from "[a] failure to interfere when misconduct takes place, and no more, [which] is not sufficient to amount to a state created danger." Id. at 110.

In addition, under the "special relationship" doctrine, a state actor "assume[s] an obligation to protect an individual by restricting the individual's freedom in some manner, as by imprisonment." Lombardi v. Whitman, 485 F.3d 73, 80 n.3 (2d Cir. 2007). In such circumstances, "[t]he affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State's knowledge of the individual's predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but ...


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