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Little v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 25, 2014

JOHN LITTLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, OFFICER MS. HUNTER Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge.

The pro se plaintiff, John Little, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages against defendants the City of New York and "Officer Ms. Hunter." Little alleges that the City and Officer Hunter violated his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights when Officer Hunter observed his strip search. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the plaintiff did not file a response. The Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, and the plaintiff's claims are dismissed without prejudice and with leave to replead.

I.

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the allegations in the complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the plaintiff's favor. McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp. , 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). The Court's function on a motion to dismiss is "not to weigh the evidence that might be presented at a trial but merely to determine whether the complaint itself is legally sufficient." Goldman v. Belden , 754 F.2d 1059, 1067 (2d Cir. 1985). The Court should not dismiss the complaint if the plaintiff has stated "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the Court should construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id.

Because Little is proceeding pro se, the Court must "construe his complaint liberally and interpret it to raise the strongest arguments that it suggests." Chavis v. Chappius , 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted). "Even in a pro se case, ... threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.'" Id . (quoting Harris v. Mills , 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009)). Thus, although the Court must "draw the most favorable inferences" that the plaintiff's complaint supports, it "cannot invent factual allegations that he has not pled." Id .; see also Bowden v. Duffy, No. 13cv717, 2014 WL 338786, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2014).

II.

A.

The plaintiff filed his Original Complaint on June 3, 2013. (Original Compl. 1.) At a December 12, 2013, conference, and before the defendants moved to dismiss, the plaintiff elected to amend his complaint. (See Dec. 12, 2014, Conference Tr. 6:12-20.) The Amended Complaint removes many of the factual details of the strip search and instead alleges that the defendants violated the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. (Compare Original Compl. 3, with Am. Compl. 3.) The plaintiff thus appears to believe that the Amended Complaint supplements, rather than replaces, the Original Complaint. Because the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court will consider the Original Complaint and the Amended Complaint together as the operative pleading. See Winters v. United States, No.10cv7571 , 2013 WL 1627950, at *1 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 16, 2013); see also Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976).

B.

The following facts alleged in the complaints are accepted as true. The plaintiff was detained at the George R. Vierno Center on Rikers Islands. On April 20, 2013, the plaintiff left his cell, and Officer Hunter (a female) asked the plaintiff (a male) to "strip down and hand me your clothes and drop your underwear and turn around and bend over." (Original Compl. 3.) The plaintiff complied. (Original Compl. 3.) Another officer, Ms. Feliciano, witnessed the search. (Original Compl. 3.) Officer Hunter then conducted strip searches of the inmates in two other nearby cells. (Original Compl. 3.) The plaintiff claims that the search violated the Fourth and Eighth Amendments, (Am. Compl. 3, ) and requests damages for his emotional distress. (Am. Comp. 3.)

III.

A.

Although the constitutional rights of prison inmates are restricted because of the institutional needs of imprisonment, see Price v. Johnston , 334 U.S. 266, 285 (1948), abrogated on other grounds, 28 U.S.C. § 2244, the Fourth Amendment still requires that strip searches of inmates be reasonable. See Hodges v. Stanley , 712 F.2d 34, 35 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam) (citing Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979)); see also Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders , 132 S.Ct. 1510, 1517 (2012) ("[C]orrectional officials must be permitted to devise reasonable search policies to detect and deter the possession of contraband in their facilities."). The reasonableness of a strip search, in turn, "requires a balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of personal rights that the search entails. Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted." Bell, 411 U.S. at 559. The Supreme Court has "repeated the admonition that, in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have exaggerated their response to these considerations courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters.'" Florence , 132 S.Ct. at 1517 (quoting Block v. Rutherford , 468 U.S. 576, 584-85 (1984)).

Because an inmate "bears the burden of showing that a search was unreasonable, " to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff "must plead facts sufficient to give rise to a plausible inference' that the search he challenges was unreasonable under the standards described above." Peek v. City ...


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