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Brown v. Doe

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 28, 2014

SEAN BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOE and THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

EDGARDO RAMOS, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Sean Brown ("Plaintiff" or "Brown") brings this suit against John Doe and the City of New York ("Defendant" or "the City") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that he was held in the Segregated Housing Unit ("SHU") for over fifteen months while in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC") in violation of his constitutional rights. The City brings the instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the ground that Plaintiff has failed to state any plausible claims of entitlement to relief. Def.'s Mem. L. Support. Mot. Dismiss, Doc. 11 ("Def.'s Mot. Dismiss"). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

I. Factual Background

The Court accepts the following allegations as true for purposes of this motion.[1]

Plaintiff alleges that, starting May 25, 2012 and continuing for fifteen months thereafter, he was placed in the SHU "for no apparent reason" while awaiting trial.[2] Compl. 2-3, Doc. 2 ("Compl."). Plaintiff states that he was released from the SHU after his criminal trial. Compl. 9. Repeatedly throughout the Complaint and its attachments, Plaintiff refers to his period in the SHU as a "court ordered lockdown." Id. at 8-9, 11. However, in other instances, Plaintiff appears to contradict himself by stating that no court ever ordered his confinement in the SHU. Id. at 3, 4. He further claims that the judge assigned to his criminal case denied issuing such an order. Id. at 3.

Liberally construed, the Complaint alleges that Plaintiff suffered unconstitutional conditions of confinement and a violation of his due process rights in connection with being placed in the SHU. Id. at 5, 8. Plaintiff asserts that, during his time in the SHU, his mail was confiscated and his phone and visitation privileges were denied. Id. at 8. He contends that, as a result, he was unable to reach witnesses who he presumably wanted to testify on his behalf and was not "properly ready for trial." Id. at 8, 9. He was not denied access to his attorney, however.[3] Id. at 5. According to Plaintiff, he suffered mental anguish while in the SHU, namely "many psychological problems" which included nightmares and trouble sleeping. Id. at 3. Plaintiff indicates that he saw a psychologist who advised against taking medication for his condition. Id. Plaintiff is currently incarcerated pursuant to multiple convictions associated with the state's criminal case against him.[4]

The suit was originally brought against John Doe and the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). Id. at 1. On December 17, 2013, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the DOC because it is not an entity that can be sued. Order 1-2, Dec. 17, 2013, Doc. 6. The Court instructed the Clerk of the Court to replace the DOC with the City of New York. Id. at 2.

On March 18, 2014, the City filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 1. Plaintiff failed to file his opposition papers by the original deadline of April 4, 2014. Order, April 23, 2014, Doc. 14. Given Plaintiff's pro se status and his current incarceration, the Court sua sponte granted Plaintiff until May 30, 2014 to file his opposition. Id. In the same Order, the Court advised Plaintiff that if he failed to respond by the deadline, the motion to dismiss could be decided based solely on Defendant's papers. Id. On May 6, 2014, Plaintiff requested an extension of time due to his transfer to a new correctional facility and request for discovery of documents. Pl. Ltr., April 30, 2014, Doc. 15. The Court granted his request and ordered Plaintiff to file his opposition papers by July 21, 2014. Order, May 9, 2014, Doc. 16. During that time, Plaintiff submitted four letters to the Court. Pl. Ltrs., Docs. 18-21. The first letter advised the Court that Plaintiff was attempting to obtain the minutes from his trial to prove that Supreme Court Justice Bonnie Wittner stated that she never ordered his detention in the SHU. Pl. Ltr. Doc. 18. Plaintiff also forwarded the Court a copy of the Freedom of Information Act request that he filed in an attempt to retrieve the mail he alleges was confiscated while he was in the SHU. Pl. Ltr. Doc. 21. Plaintiff's letters otherwise simply reiterated the allegations contained in the Complaint and accused the DOC of covering up "a scandal, " without further specification. Pl. Ltrs. Docs. 18-20. Since none of the subsequent letters appear intended to constitute opposition papers to Defendant's motion, the Court therefore considers the Defendant's motion unopposed.

II. Discussion

A. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard

When ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014). The court is not required to credit "mere conclusory statements" or "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see also id. at 681 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 551). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter... to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). More specifically, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. If the plaintiff has not "nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680.

The question in a Rule 12 motion to dismiss "is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Sikhs for Justice v. Nath, 893 F.Supp.2d 598, 615 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 278 (2d Cir.1995)). "[T]he purpose of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test, in a streamlined fashion, the formal sufficiency of the plaintiff's statement of a claim for relief without resolving a contest regarding its substantive merits, '" and without regard for the weight of the evidence that might be offered in support of Plaintiff's claims. Halebian v. Berv, 644 F.3d 122, 130 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Global Network Commc'ns, Inc. v. City of New York, 458 F.3d 150, 155 (2d Cir. 2006)).

The same standard applies to motions to dismiss pro se complaints. See Zapolski v. Fed. Republic of Germany, 425 F.App'x 5, 6 (2d Cir. 2011). The Court remains obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally, Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011), and to interpret a pro se plaintiff's claims as raising the strongest arguments that they suggest. Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a pro se plaintiff's pleadings still must contain "more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation." Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 678. A complaint that "tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further enhancement" will not suffice. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Triestman, 470 F.3d at 477 ("[ P ] ro se status does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.'" (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)).

In addition to confining its consideration of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to the facts stated in the complaint and in documents appended or incorporated by reference, a court may also take into account matters of which judicial notice can be taken. Leonard F. v. Israel Disc. Bank of New York, 199 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Allen v. WestPoint-Pepperell, Inc., 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir.1991)); see also Fed.R.Evid. 201. In order for a court to take judicial notice of a public document on a dismissal motion, the plaintiff must have relied on the terms and effect of the document in drafting the complaint. Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Int'l Audiotext Network, Inc. v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 62 F.3d 69, 72 (2d Cir. 1995)). Accordingly, it is routine for courts to take judicial notice of court documents, "not for the truth of the matters asserted in the other litigation, but rather to establish the fact of such litigation and related filings." Kramer v. Time Warner Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 774 (2d Cir. 1991); see, e.g., Kendall v. Cuomo, No. 12 CIV. 3438 (ALC), 2013 WL 5425780, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2013) (taking judicial notice of a valid court order Plaintiff claimed was "false, fake, and nonexistent").

Defendant asks the Court to take judicial notice of the May 25, 2012 order issued by Justice Wittner of the New York State Supreme Court, New York County ("May 25, 2012 Order"), which states in its relevant part:

[I]t is hereby ORDERED that the Commissioner, New York City Department of Correction, or whosoever shall have supervision or control of the defendant... should otherwise prevent the defendant by any means necessary, including 24 hour lockdown, from making telephone calls except to the defendant's attorney[.] [...] This order shall remain in ...

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