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Ngemi v. County of Nassau

United States District Court, E.D. New York

February 20, 2015


For Plaintiff: Bryant Cherry-Woode and Matthew Scott Porges, Law Offices of Matthew S. Porges, Esq., New York, New York.

For Defendants: Richard Femia of the Nassau County Attorney's Office, Mineola, New York.

Page 414


JOSEPH F. BIANCO, United States District Judge.

This action arises from plaintiff's imprisonment for failing to meet his child support obligations. On March 28, 2014, plaintiff Yaa-Lengi Ngemi (" plaintiff" ) filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" Section 1983" ) and New York law against the County of Nassau and the Nassau County Sheriff's Office (" defendants" ), alleging that he was wrongfully detained pursuant to an order of commitment issued by the Nassau County Family Court.

Presently before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint.[1] For the reasons set forth herein, the Court grants the motion to dismiss the federal claims in their entirety. In brief, it is undisputed that the commitment order was valid at the time of the plaintiff's arrest in December 2012. Moreover, the commitment order explicitly directed the Sheriff to " take the body of Respondent and safely keep in close custody in the jail of the above-named county for a period of 93 days." (Order, Docket Entry 9-1.) The commitment order does not direct the Sheriff to bring plaintiff to court, or to

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provide him with any additional process; rather, it directs the Sheriff to bring him to jail for ninety-three days. Thus, no plausible due process claim under Section 1983 can exist against the Sheriff's Office for executing this facially valid commitment order. As a threshold matter, plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate his child support obligations, and had the right to appeal the commitment order (which he opted not to do). Plaintiff nevertheless contends that he should have been afforded additional process after his arrest, including an opportunity to demonstrate to the court that he had a present inability to pay child support under Section 455(5) of the New York Family Court Act. However, that section allows for modification of ongoing child support obligations, but does not allow for modification of prior arrears unless good cause is shown for failing to seek such relief prior to the accrual of such arrears. In any event, whatever process was available to plaintiff under state law after his arrest under the valid commitment order (either to purge the order in the amount of the arrears or to otherwise challenge his detention), the Sheriff had no legal obligation to bring plaintiff to court before bringing him to jail pursuant to the valid commitment order. The commitment order explicitly directed the Sheriff to bring plaintiff to jail. There is no claim that the Sheriff, in any way, interfered with the ability of plaintiff (or an attorney for plaintiff) to attempt to seek additional process to challenge the valid commitment order in state court after his arrest. Thus, as a matter of law, the Section 1983 due process claim against the Sheriff's Department is implausible and completely without merit. In addition, given the absence of a constitutional violation by any employee of the Sheriff's Department, no plausible Monell claim can exist against the County. In any event, in the alternative, the conclusory allegations about the County's policies and practices are insufficient to support a plausible Monell claim. Accordingly, the Court grants the motion to dismiss all the federal claims.

To the extent that plaintiff is attempting to assert state law claims, the Court declines, in its discretion, to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over such claims.

I. Background

The following facts are taken from the complaint and from public records annexed to the parties' submissions in connection with this motion. The Court will assume these facts to be true and, for purposes of the pending motion to dismiss, will construe them in a light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party.

On March 20, 2008, the New York State Family Court in Nassau County held a hearing to address plaintiff's failure to meet his child support obligations under a previous court order. Plaintiff attended the hearing. ( See Order, Docket Entry 14-1.) Following the hearing, the court issued an Order of Disposition finding that plaintiff had willfully failed to obey a previous order of support. ( Id.) The order recommended that plaintiff " be committed to County jail, for a period not to exceed six months unless the arrears are paid in full," and the order reflects that it was mailed to plaintiff. ( Id.)

On January 20, 2010, the Family Court issued an Order of Commitment, which was mailed to plaintiff. The order stated:

An order having been made dated March 20, 2008, adjudging Respondent to be in willful violation of said order; it is therefore, ORDERED that Respondent be and hereby is committed to Nassau County Correctional Facility for a term of 93 days from the beginning of said ...

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