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Hudson v. County of Dutchess

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 29, 2014

ROBERT HUDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF DUTCHESS, NEW YORK STATE POLICE OFFICER MIANO, and NEW YORK STATE POLICE OFFICER J. MARGENDAHL, Defendants

Robert Hudson, Plaintiff, Pro se, Stanfordville, N.Y.

For County of Duchess, Defendant: David Lewis Posner, Esq., McCabe & Mack L.L.P., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

For Miano and Mergendahl, Defendants: Daniel A. Schulze, Esq., Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, N.Y.

Page 358

OPINION AND ORDER

KENNETH M. KARAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This case is rooted in a decades-old property dispute between Plaintiff Robert Hudson (" Hudson" ) and his neighbors, the Varneys, which dispute has already been the subject of multiple state- and federal-court proceedings. At various points throughout the course of the proceedings before this Court, Plaintiff has named a total of 13 different individuals and entities as Defendants. However, the Court issued an Order dismissing ten of those Defendants, leaving only Defendants County of Dutchess (" Dutchess County" ), New York State Trooper Miano (" Trooper Miano" ), and New York State Trooper Mergendahl (" Trooper Mergendahl" ).[1] Dutchess County and Troopers Miano and Mergendahl now move to dismiss certain claims asserted against them. For the following reasons, Dutchess County's Motion to Dismiss is granted, while Troopers Miano and Mergendahl's Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, which is lengthy, not a model of clarity, and includes allegations about events dating back to 1979. Indeed, many of the

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allegations appear to be completely unrelated to the causes of action that Plaintiff seeks to assert against the remaining Defendants. ( See, e.g., Third Am. Compl. 5 (" I drove a truck with an eight foot by eight foot sign accusing [a Putnam County judge and attorney] of extortion, against me." ); id. (" In 1984 and again in 1986 I ran for the office of the United States Congressman for the twenty first Congressional District N.Y." ).)[2] The Court will therefore describe only those facts that are pertinent to Defendants' Motions.

Plaintiff resides in the Town of Pine Plains, in Dutchess County, New York, on " twenty two and a half . . . acres," which Plaintiff describes as his " place of domicile" and his " home." ( Id. at 6.) Plaintiff " maintain[s] [seven] goats on this property to help [him] bring [his] estate into farming (grazing) condition." ( Id.) On June 24, 2010, Trooper Miano signed an information accusing Plaintiff of criminal trespass in the third degree, in violation of New York Penal Law § 140.10.[3] ( See Pl.'s Exs., at 2.)[4] Specifically, the criminal trespass information that Trooper Miano signed stated that, on June 24, 2010, Plaintiff " did drive his [vehicle] on the property of Sebastian Varney [" Varney" ] . . . in the Town of Pine Plains. [Plaintiff] was notified several times not to enter or drive on said property. The property is clearly posted and fenced in." (Pl.'s Exs., at 2.)

On the same day, Trooper Miano also signed an information accusing Plaintiff of criminal harassment in the second degree, in violation of New York Penal Law § 240.26, in connection with the same events.[5] ( See id. at 3.) Specifically, the criminal harassment information that Trooper Miano signed stated that, on June 24, 2010, Plaintiff " did drive his vehicle . . . on the property of . . . Varney and while doing so did yell out the window, 'What's up young Varney.' [Plaintiff] also swer[]ved at [Varney's] dog trying to strike the dog with his vehicle. [Plaintiff] was notified several times to stay off the property and the property is well marked and fenced in." ( Id.) The factual basis for both of the informations that Trooper Miano signed appears to have been the allegations contained in a deposition to which Varney swore at the Town of Pine Plains Criminal Court earlier that day. ( See id. at 1.) Many details from Varney's deposition appear in the charging instruments sworn to by Trooper Miano. ( See id. at 2-3.) In his deposition, Varney also requested an order of protection. ( See id. at 1.)

Also on June 24, 2010, as a result of the foregoing events, Town of Pine Plains Justice

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Christie Acker (" Justice Acker" ) signed a temporary order of protection, ordering Plaintiff to stay away from Varney's home and business; to refrain from communications or any other contact with Varney; to refrain from various forms of harassment against Varney; to refrain from intentionally injuring or killing without justification Varney's dog; and, most importantly for the purposes of Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, to " [s]urrender any and all handguns, pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and other firearms [that Plaintiff] owned or possessed" to the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office by 1:00 PM on June 25, 2010. (Pl.'s Exs., at 4.) Justice Acker specified that the order was to remain in effect until December 24, 2010. ( See id.)[6]

Plaintiff was arrested on his property by Trooper Mergendahl and a second State Trooper on the same day that Justice Acker issued the order. ( See id. at 19.) The next day, June 25, 2010, " the New York State Police took Plaintiff's rifles," even though the order " required Plaintiff to turn his rifles . . . over to the Dutchess County Sheriff." (Third Am. Compl. 7.) Plaintiff attached a June 25, 2010 receipt from the New York State Police for one Springfield and one Remington rifle as an exhibit to his Third Amended Complaint. ( See Pl.'s Exs., at 5.) The receipt was signed by a New York State Trooper with the surname " Doncitek." ( Id.)

By October 18, 2010, criminal proceedings had commenced against Plaintiff in connection with the two charging instruments that Trooper Miano signed. ( See Pl.'s Exs., at 7.) On that date, Justice Acker granted the prosecutor's request for an adjournment, as well as his " application for a reduction of the misdemeanor Criminal Trespass 3rd to a violation of Trespass," and informed Plaintiff that " the matter [could] only proceed as a Bench Trial." ( Id.) However, before those criminal proceedings reached a resolution, another incident involving Plaintiff and Varney occurred. On January 28, 2011, Varney swore to a second deposition, in which he stated that he " witnessed a vehicle" cross onto his property and " proceed through the back portion of [his] property," and that " the operator" had been " shouting as he drove." ( Id. at 9.) Varney " believe[d] without doubt [that] the operator [was] [Plaintiff,] as [Plaintiff] [had] exhibited this course of action on numerous occasions." ( Id.) Varney stated that he had " an order of protection in place," and " would like to have [Plaintiff] arrested." ( Id.)

On the same day that Varney swore to this deposition, apparently on the basis of the allegations contained therein, Trooper Mergendahl signed an information accusing Plaintiff of criminal trespass, in violation of New York Penal Law § 140.05.[7] ( See id. at 10.) Specifically, the criminal trespass information that Trooper Mergendahl signed alleged that, on January 28, 2011, Plaintiff " did intentionally, knowingly and unlawfully drive his ATV onto [Varney's] property." ( Id.) On the same day, Trooper Mergendahl also signed an information accusing Plaintiff of criminal contempt in the second degree, in violation of New York Penal Law § 215.50.[8] ( See id. at 11.)

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Specifically, the criminal contempt information that Mergendahl signed alleged that, on January 28, 2011, Plaintiff " did intentionally, knowingly and unlawfully trespass onto . . . the residence of [Varney]," and that " [a]n active order of protection issued by the Town of Pine Plains Court refrain[ed] [Plaintiff] from being near the home of [Varney]." (Pl.'s Exs., at 11.)

Plaintiff alleges that, on either January 27 or January 29, 2011, and again on February 3, 2011, two New York State Troopers, including Trooper Mergendahl, entered his property while he was not there. ( See Pl.'s Third Am. Compl. 9; Pl.'s Exs., at 15-29.)[9] In response to an order that the Court issued pursuant to Valentin v. Dinkins, 121 F.3d 72 (2d Cir. 1997), on February 28, 2013, ( see Dkt. No. 57), the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York informed the Court on April 8, 2013 that, although it had " not been able to locate any records that identif[ied] the second officer," " Trooper Miano believe[d] that he may have been the second officer accompanying Trooper Mergendahl," (Dkt. No. 59).

Plaintiff claims that " [w]hen . . . Trooper [Mergendahl] came to [his] home, [his] home was broken into and 300 pounds of [his] sheep and goat feed were dumped onto the top of the snow." (Third Am. Compl. 9; see also id. at 16 (" After N.Y.S. State Police Officer Mergendahl came to [P]laintiff[']s property [his] home was broken into." ).) Plaintiff alleges that he " carried sheep and goat feed, to keep the 12 goats that [he] had . . . alive." ( Id. at 16.) Plaintiff also claims that " [a]fter [his] home was broken into [he] moved his important papers to his car," fearing that if he did not, " the papers in [his] home would be taken." ( Id.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that " [t]he regulator on [his] car window was broken and [t]he N.Y.S. Secretary of State decision against the N.Y.S. Police and other papers were taken from [his] car." ( Id. at 16-17.)

On February 14, 2011, Plaintiff submitted the first of several requests to the New York State Police under New York State's Freedom of Information Law, N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 84 et seq. (" FOIL" ), for information pertaining to these alleged entries. (Pl.'s Exs., at 15.) Specifically, he requested " any information concerning any inquiry of [Plaintiff] conducted by the New York State Police and any warrants or reasons, that may have been used to gain entry into [his] home or any other inquir[i]es that have ever been undertaken concerning [Plaintiff]." ( Id.) On February 17, 2011, Captain Michael A. Jankowiak (" Captain Jankowiak" ) responded to Plaintiff's letter, writing that he had " forwarded [Plaintiff's] letter to Captain Scott Brown" (" Captain Brown" ), and that Captain Brown would " ensure [that] a supervisory member of his command review[ed] [the] matter and advise[d] [Plaintiff] of the final determination." ( Id. at 17.)

Approximately two weeks later, on March 2, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested by

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Trooper Mergendahl and his partner, ( id. at 19), and released on bail the following day, ( id. at 12), in connection with the trespass and criminal contempt informations that Trooper Mergendahl signed. On the same day that Plaintiff was released, Captain Laurie M. Wagner (" Captain Wagner" ), Records Access Officer at the Central Records Bureau for the New York State Police, sent Plaintiff a letter in which she wrote that " the record located responsive to [Plantiff's] [FOIL] request concern[ed] a case that [was] pending adjudication," and that Plaintiff's request was " therefore . . . denied." ( Id. at 18.) Captain Wagner also informed Plaintiff that the record that he had requested " was compiled for law enforcement purposes," and that its disclosure " would interfere with judicial proceedings." ( Id.)

Plaintiff appealed this decision in a March 15, 2011 letter addressed to " [t]he New York State Police . . . Records Appeal Officer," in which Plaintiff asked the officer to " [p]lease allow [him] access to the documents compiled against [him] and [his] home and [his] land by the New York State Police." ( Id. at 19-20.) On March 21, 2011, Lieutenant Colonel Terence P. O'Mara (" Lt. Colonel O'Mara" ), Assistant Deputy Superintendent for Administration for the New York State Police, wrote to Plaintiff that he had " reviewed [Plaintiff's] appeal and determined that the record located responsive to [Plaintiff's] request concern[ed] a case that [was] pending adjudication" ; that " [d]isclosure of this record, which was compiled for law enforcement purposes, would interfere with judicial proceedings" ; and that Plaintiff's appeal was therefore denied. ( Id. at 22.) Plaintiff appealed this denial as well, in an April 6, 2011 letter addressed to the " N.Y.S. Secretary of State--N.Y.S. Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Officer Director." ( Id. at 23.)

After a bench trial, Justice Acker found Plaintiff guilty of the trespass charge, but not guilty of the harassment charge, both relating to the June 24, 2010 incident. ( See id. at 8.) Following this verdict, on May 9, 2011, Justice Acker cancelled and recalled the protective order that she issued on June 24, 2010, and that she extended on December 15, 2010. ( See id. at 14.) Then, on July 19, 2011, a jury acquitted Plaintiff of the charges stemming from the trespass and contempt charges that Trooper Mergendahl initiated in January 2011. ( See id. at 13; Pl.'s Third Am. Compl. 9 (" In the second trial, the jury found [the] Plaintiff innocent of the N.Y.S. Trooper [Mergendahl] second set of charges of Trespass and Violation of the Judge[']s Order of Protection." ).)

After Plaintiff's acquittal, he persisted with his FOIL request. At some point before November 11, 2011, Plaintiff renewed his request for records " pertaining to the entry of the New York State Police into [his] home or entry upon [his] real property . . . in early February 2011," in a letter addressed to the New York State Police " Records Access Officer," in which he described his prior efforts to obtain the information that he was seeking. ( See Pl.'s Exs., at 24.) In this letter, Plaintiff stated that the Records Access Office had previously denied his request because it " concern[ed] a case that [was] pending adjudication," but that by the time he sent his November 11, 2011 letter, " all judicial proceedings against [Plaintiff] [had] been dismissed and [Plaintiff] [had] been found innocent of all criminal charges." ( Id.) On November 21, 2011, Captain Wagner answered, in a letter in which she informed Plaintiff that his request was under review, and that a written response would be sent to him approximately 20 days from the date of her letter. ( Id. at 25.) On December 19, 2011, Plaintiff sent another

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letter to the New York State Police, addressed to its " Appeals Officer," in which he wrote that, despite Captain Wagner's assurances in her November 21, 2011 letter, he had still " not received a response from the records access officer." ( Id. at 26.)

On February 14, 2012, Plaintiff wrote yet another letter to the New York State Police, this time requesting the return of his rifles. ( Id. at 27.) Plaintiff emphasized that " [a]ll criminal charges [against him had] been dismissed," cited the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and quoted from Razzano v. County of Nassau, 765 F.Supp.2d 176 (E.D.N.Y. 2011), a case in which the court found that " persons whose longarms are seized by Nassau County are entitled to a prompt post-deprivation hearing," and that because the plaintiff in that case had " not [been] offered [that] type of hearing, Nassau County [had] violated [the plaintiff's] Fourteenth Amendment due process rights." Id. at 190-91. Specifically, Plaintiff paraphrased the following passage from Razzano :

[T]he right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, and although this right is by no means unlimited, ownership of guns by individuals legally entitled to those guns is a basic right. A prompt due process hearing is likely to limit the unfair curtailment of this right.

Id. at 190.

On February 17, 2012, Captain Jankowiak wrote to Plaintiff that he had " forwarded [Plaintiff's] letter to [Captain Brown]," who would " ensure [that] a supervisory member of his command review[ed] [the] matter and advise[d] [Plaintiff] of the final determination." (Pl.'s Exs., at 29.) Plaintiff alleges that, as of March 22, 2013, the date on which he filed his Third Amended Complaint, there has never been a post-deprivation hearing regarding the confiscation ...


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