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Robinson v. City of Auburn

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 15, 2015

MICHIE ROBINSON, individually and on behalf of V. R., S.R., and S.R., Plaintiff,

Michie Robinson Plaintiff pro se Auburn, NY.

ORDER and REPORT-RECOMMENDATION

THÉRÈSE WILEY DANCKS, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court is a pro se complaint filed by Plaintiff Michie Robinson. (Dkt. No. 1.) This Court previously granted Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis. (Dkt. No. 4.) Generally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants wrongfully stopped her vehicle, searched her car, and searched her home. (Dkt. No. 1.) For the reasons discussed below, I recommend that the Court dismiss the claims brought on behalf of Plaintiff's children without prejudice and terminate the children from the docket, dismiss the claims against the City of Auburn with leave to amend, dismiss the claims against the Auburn Police Department without leave to amend, direct Defendants to respond to the false arrest claims, dismiss the false imprisonment claims without leave to amend, and dismiss the illegal search claim with leave to amend.

I. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARD

28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) (2006) directs that when any person proceeds in forma pauperis, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action... (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

In order to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must contain, inter alia, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The requirement that a plaintiff "show" that he or she is entitled to relief means that a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (emphasis added). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief... requires the... court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.... [W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 679 (internal citation and punctuation omitted).

"In reviewing a complaint... the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). Courts are "obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

When screening a complaint, the court has the duty to show liberality towards pro se litigants. Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam). "[E]xtreme caution should be exercised in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and [the] parties have had an opportunity to respond." Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983).

II. ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Officer Andrew Kalet of the Auburn Police Department pulled her over on the evening of June 13, 2012, as she drove on South Street in the city of Auburn. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) Plaintiff's boyfriend, DaShawn Russell, was in the passenger seat. Id. Their three children were also in the vehicle. Id. Defendant Kalet asked Plaintiff her name. Id. Plaintiff asked why she had been stopped. Id. Defendant Kalet did not respond. Id. He asked her again for her name, and Plaintiff complied. Id. Defendant Kalet asked Mr. Russell for his name and Mr. Russell promptly replied. Id. Defendant Kalet then instructed Plaintiff to turn off her vehicle and place her keys on the dashboard. Id. Defendant Kalet instructed Mr. Russell to put both hands on the dashboard. Id. Defendant Kalet then handcuffed Mr. Russell and asked him to step out of the vehicle. Id. Mr. Russell promptly complied. Id. Defendant Kalet did not read Mr. Russell his rights. Id.

Members of the Fingerlakes Drug Task Force, including Defendant Detective Jeff Catalfano and Defendant Lieutenant Anthony, arrived on the scene. (Dkt. No. 1 at 6, 7.) They instructed Plaintiff to drive behind a house located on South Street. Id. at 7. Plaintiff complied. Id. The task force members asked Plaintiff to exit the vehicle. Id. They then searched the vehicle with Plaintiff's three children still inside. Id. The search yielded no contraband. Id.

The task force members and members of the Auburn Police Department then "forced" Plaintiff to lead them back to her residence on Fitch Avenue. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) They "forced" Plaintiff to unlock the door to her residence. Id. They then searched the premises. Id. Plaintiff asked to see a warrant authorizing the search of her car or residence, but no member of the task force or police department produced one. Id.

Plaintiff learned later that a warrant had been issued on June 3, 2011. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) Plaintiff alleges that, pursuant to CPL 690.30, the warrant expired twenty-four hours before it was executed. Id.

Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action on June 12, 2014. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff names the City of Auburn, Detective Jeff Catalfano, the Auburn Police Department, the Fingerlakes Drug Task Force, Lieutenant Anthony, and Officer Kalet as Defendants. Id. Plaintiff seeks ten million dollars in compensatory damages and five million dollars in punitive damages. Id. at 4.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Children as Plaintiffs

Plaintiff lists her three children as plaintiffs. (Dkt. No. 1 at 6.) Minors cannot appear on their own behalf in federal court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 17. Plaintiff, who is not an attorney and is not represented by counsel, cannot serve as her children's representative. "[A] lay person may not... appear on behalf of his or her own minor child." Iannaccone v. Law, 142 F.3d 553, 558 (2d Cir. 1998). See also Cheung v. Youth Orchestra Found. of Buffalo, Inc., 906 F.2d 59, 61 (2d Cir. 1990) ("[A] non-attorney parent must be represented by counsel in bringing an action on behalf of his or her child."); Johns v. Cnty. of San Diego, 114 F.3d 874, 876-77 (9th Cir. 1997) (joining "all other circuit courts addressing the issue [that] have held that the guardian or parent cannot bring a lawsuit on behalf of a minor in federal court without retaining a lawyer.").

On October 7, 2014, the Court issued an order staying this case for ninety days in order to allow Plaintiff an opportunity to obtain counsel for her minor children. (Dkt. No. 4.) The Court advised Plaintiff that the undersigned would issue a Report and Recommendation to the assigned district court judge recommending that the claims asserted on behalf of the children be dismissed without prejudice if there was no appearance by counsel on behalf of the minors on or before January 9, 2015. Id. Those ninety days have passed and Plaintiff has not advised the Court that she has obtained counsel for her children. Therefore, I recommend that the Court dismiss the claims asserted on behalf of the children without prejudice and that the Clerk terminate the children's names from the docket.

B. Claim Against the City of Auburn

Plaintiff names the City of Auburn as a Defendant. (Dkt. No. 1 at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that the "City of Auburn is the municipality responsible for the officers in action at the Auburn Police Department." Id. at 6. Plaintiff alleges that there was "negligent supervision training and discipl[ine]." Id. at 3. These allegations are insufficient to plausibly state a claim against the City of Auburn.

In order "to hold a [municipality] liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional actions of its employees, a plaintiff is required to... prove three elements: (1) an official policy or custom that (2) causes the plaintiff to be subjected to (3) a denial of a constitutional right." Batista v. Rodriguez, 702 F.2d 393, 397 (2d Cir. 1983). An "official policy or custom" can be shown in several ways: (1) a formal policy officially endorsed by the municipality; (2) actions taken by government officials responsible for establishing municipal policies related to the particular deprivation in question; (3) a practice so consistent and widespread that it constitutes a custom or usage sufficient to impute constructive knowledge of the practice to policymaking officials; or (4) a failure by policymakers to train or supervise subordinates to such an extent that it amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of those who come in contact with the municipal employees. Dorsett-Felicelli, Inc. v. Cnty. of Clinton, 371 F.Supp.2d 183, 194 (N.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978), Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483-84 (1986), and City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)).

A local government entity's alleged failure to train its employees creates liability under § 1983 only "[i]n limited circumstances." Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011). Indeed, a "municipality's culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on a failure to train." Id. The "stringent standard" of deliberate indifference applies to failure-to-train claims. Id. at 1360. In order to prevail, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the municipality was "on actual or constructive notice that a particular omission in [its] training program causes... employees to violate citizens' constitutional rights [and] the policymakers chose to retain that program." Id. (citing Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 409 (1997)). "A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ordinarily necessary' to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train." Id.

Here, Plaintiff has not pleaded facts plausibly suggesting that the incident at issue was the result of a formal policy officially endorsed by the municipality, actions taken by government officials responsible for establishing municipal policies, or a practice so consistent and widespread that it constitutes a custom or usage sufficient to impute constructive knowledge of the practice to policymaking officials. Further, Plaintiff has not pleaded facts plausibly suggesting that the City of Auburn was on actual or constructive notice that particular omission in its training program causes employees to violate citizens' rights. Therefore, I recommend that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's claims against the City of Auburn.

Where a pro se complaint fails to state a cause of action, the court generally "should not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation and citation omitted). However, an opportunity to amend is not required where "the problem with [the plaintiff's] causes of action is substantive" such that "better pleading will not cure it." Id. Here, it is possible that better pleading could cure the defect with the claims against the City of Auburn. Therefore, I recommend that the Court dismiss the claims against the City of Auburn with leave to amend.

C. Claim Against the Auburn Police Department and the Fingerlakes Task Force

Plaintiff names the Auburn Police Department and the Fingerlakes Task Force as Defendants. (Dkt. No. 1 at 2, 5.) "Under New York law, departments that are merely administrative arms of a municipality do not have a legal identity separate and apart from the municipality and, therefore, cannot sue or be sued." Davis v. Lynbrook Police Dep't, 224 F.Supp.2d 463, 477 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) (citations omitted). Therefore, I recommend that the Court dismiss the claims against the Auburn Police Department and the Fingerlakes Task Force without leave to amend.

D. False Arrest

Plaintiff asserts a claim for false arrest. (Dkt. No. 1 at 3.) Plaintiff asserts this claim under both federal and New York law. Id. Construed broadly, this claim appears to be asserted against Defendant Kalet for the initial stop of Plaintiff's vehicle and against Defendants Kalet, Catalfano, and Anthony for detaining Plaintiff during the searches of her vehicle and her home. Id. at 7. For the reasons discussed below, I recommend that the Court find both the federal claim and the state claim sufficiently wellpleaded to survive initial review.

The elements of a Fourth Amendment false arrest claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are the same as those for a false arrest claim under New York law. Kraft v. City of New York, 696 F.Supp.2d 403, 418 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). "To state a claim for false arrest under New York law, a plaintiff must show that (1) the defendant intended to confine the plaintiff, (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." Savino v. City of New York, 331 F.3d 63, 75 (2d Cir. 2002) (punctuation and citation omitted). "Confinement" occurs where "in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave." Posr v. Doherty, 944 F.2d 91, 97 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980)). Where an officer has probable cause to arrest a plaintiff, the confinement is privileged. Savino, 331 F.3d at 76. The burden of showing that there was probable cause for the arrest is on the officer. Id.

Here, for the purposes of this initial review, the complaint alleges facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants Kalet, Catalfano, and Anthony intentionally confined Plaintiff without her consent. In particular, I note that Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Kalet "instructed" Plaintiff "to turn off her vehicle and to place her keys upon the dashboard" and that Plaintiff was "forced" to remain outside her residence while it was searched. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) I express no opinion as to whether Plaintiff's false arrest claims would survive a fully briefed dispositive motion by Defendants after they are served with the complaint.

E. False Imprisonment

Plaintiff asserts a claim for "unlawful imprisonment." (Dkt. No. 1 at 3.) "False arrest and false imprisonment are not separate torts; they are different names for the same tort." Simone v. United States, No. 09-CV-3904 (TCP) (AKT), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100699, at *26 n.8, 2012 WL 4891617, at *9 n.7 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 9, 2012).[1] Where a plaintiff asserts both a false arrest and a false imprisonment claim against the same defendants, the false imprisonment claim should be dismissed as duplicative. See, e.g., Bowman v. City of Middletown, 91 F.Supp.2d 644, 660 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). Here, Plaintiff asserts claims for both false arrest and false imprisonment. (Dkt. No. 1 at 3.) Therefore, I recommend that the Court dismiss the false imprisonment claim without leave to amend.

F. Illegal Search

Construed broadly, the complaint asserts a cause of action for illegal search. (Dkt. No. 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Kalet, Catalfano, and Anthony were "responsible for the application and execution of the invalid search warrant." (Dkt. No. 1 at 6.)

"In order to recover compensatory damages [based on an allegedly unreasonable search], the § 1983 plaintiff must prove not only that the search was unlawful, but that it caused him actual, compensable injury, which... does not encompass the injury' of being convicted and imprisoned." Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 n.7 (1994) (emphasis in original). Here, Plaintiff does not allege any injury that occurred as a result of the allegedly illegal search(es). Therefore, I recommend that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's illegal search cause of action with leave to amend.

ACCORDINGLY, it is

ORDERED that the Clerk provide Plaintiff with a copy of Simone v. United States, No. 09-C3904 (TCP) (AKT), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100699, 2012 WL 4891617 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 9, 2012); and it is further

RECOMMENDED that the Court dismiss the claims brought on behalf of Plaintiff's children without prejudice and terminate the children's names from the docket; and it is further RECOMMENDED that the Court dismiss the claims against the City of Auburn and the illegal search claim with leave to amend; and it is further

RECOMMENDED that the Court dismiss the claims against the Auburn Police Department and the Fingerlakes Task Force and the false imprisonment claim without leave to amend; and it is further

RECOMMENDED that the Court direct Defendants Catalfano, Anthony, and Kalet to respond to the false arrest claims as provided for in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure subsequent to service of process; and it is further

RECOMMENDED that if the Court adopts this Report-Recommendation, the Clerk issue a summons and forward it, along with a copy of the complaint and a packet containing General Order 25, which sets forth the Civil Case Management Plan used by the Northern District of New York, to the United States Marshal for service upon Defendants Catalfano, Anthony, and Kalet; and it is further

ORDERED that any paper sent by a party to the Court or the Clerk shall be accompanied by a certificate setting forth the date a true and correct copy of it was mailed to all opposing parties or their counsel. Any letter or other document received by the Clerk or the Court which does not include a certificate of service which clearly states that an identical copy was served upon all opposing parties or their attorneys is to be returned, without processing, by the Clerk. Plaintiff shall also comply with any requests by the Clerk's Office for any documents that are necessary to maintain this action. All motions shall comply with the Local Rules of Practice of the Northern District; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk serve a copy of this Order and Report-Recommendation and General Order 25 on Plaintiff.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties have fourteen days within which to file written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing Small v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989)); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (Supp. 2013); Fed. R.

Attorneys and Law Firms

Loren F. Selznick, Dailey & Selznick, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Farzin Franklin Amanat, United States Attorneys Office, Brooklyn, NY, Vincent Lipari, United States Attorneys Office, Central Islip, NY, for Defendant.

AMENDED MEMORANDUM & ORDER

PLATT, District Judge.

*1 Before the Court are Defendant's jointly-filed and briefed Motions to Dismiss[1] and for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 43) and Plaintiffs' cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 47). For the reasons stated below, the Court: (1) DENIES Defendant's Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss; (2) DENIES, in part, and GRANTS, in part, Defendant's Rule ...


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