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Bradford v. City of Watertown

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 27, 2015

LAWRENCE M. BRADFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF WATERTOWN, WATERTOWN POLICE DEPT., CHAD FREDRICK, SHANE RYAN, All in their Individual and Official Capacities, Defendants.

LAWRENCE M. BRADFORD 13-B-2878 Plaintiff, pro se Ogdensburg Correctional Facility One Correction Way Ogdensburg, New York 13669-2288.

ORDER AND REPORT-RECOMMENDATION

THÉRÈSE WILEY DANCKS, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Clerk has sent to the Court for review the Complaint in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action brought by Plaintiff Lawrence M. Bradford against Defendants City of Watertown, Watertown Police Dept., and Watertown Police Officers Chad Frederick, and Shane Ryan. (Dkt. No. 1.) Also before the Court is Plaintiff's second application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP Application").[1] (Dkt. No. 9.) Plaintiff has also moved for appointment of counsel. (Dkt. No. 3.)

II. IFP APPLICATION

As to Plaintiff's second IFP Application, the Court finds that Plaintiff has demonstrated economic need and has filed the inmate authorization form required in the Northern District to proceed with this matter in forma pauperis. (Dkt. Nos. 6 and 9.) As a result, Plaintiff's second IFP Application (Dkt. No. 9) is granted.

III. INITIAL SCREENING

Having found that Plaintiff meets the financial criteria for commencing this case in forma pauperis, and because Plaintiff seeks relief from a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity, the Court must consider the sufficiency of the allegations set forth in the Complaint in light of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. Section 1915(e) directs that when a plaintiff 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)(B)(i)-(iii).[2]

Similarly, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, a court must review any "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity" and must "identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint... is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or... seeks monetary relief against a person who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court has the duty to show liberality towards pro se litigants, see Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990), and should exercise "extreme caution... in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and both parties (but particularly the plaintiff) have had an opportunity to respond." Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted). Therefore, a court should not dismiss a complaint if the Plaintiff has stated "enough facts to state a claim 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). Although the Court should construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged but it has not "show[n] that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 679 (quoting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)). While Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which sets forth the general rules of pleading, "does not require detailed factual allegations, ... it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, a pleading that only "tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" will not suffice. Id. (internal quotations marks and alterations omitted). Allegations that "are so vague as to fail to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them" are subject to dismissal. Sheehy v. Brown, 335 F.App'x 102, 104 (2d Cir. 2009).

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) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). 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." Cuoco, 222 F.3d at 112 (citation omitted).

IV. PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

Plaintiff is presently incarcerated in the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, having pleaded guilty to assault in the second degree, N.Y. Penal Law § 120.05(2), in Jefferson County Court in or about August of 2013. (Dkt. No. 1 at 1, 5.) Plaintiff claims that on January 5, 2013, at 1:05 a.m., Defendant Watertown Police Department ("Police Department") officers Defendants Chad Fredrick ("Fredrick") and Shane Ryan ("Ryan") commenced a warrantless and unauthorized search of his apartment in the absence of exigent circumstances. Id. at 2-3. According to Plaintiff, Fredrick and Ryan appeared at his address to arrest him on an alleged robbery. Id. at 2. Plaintiff's roommate answered the door and said "no" when the two officers asked if Plaintiff was at home. Id. The roommate also said "no" when Fredrick and Ryan asked if they could come into the apartment and conduct a search. Id. The Defendant Officers then allegedly asked the roommate why they could not search if she had nothing to hide. Id. Plaintiff claims that due to pressure and coercion by Fredrick and Ryan, the roommate let them in, pointed to Plaintiff's bedroom, and walked away. Id. at 3.

It appears from the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint that he was at home at the time and was arrested and taken into custody by Fredrick and Ryan. Id. Plaintiff contends the search was accomplished through coercion and in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment. Id. At Plaintiff's Huntley hearing, Fredrick testified that the initial search had been conducted with the consent of Plaintiff's roommate. Id. According to Plaintiff, Fredrick deceived the court on many occasions during his testimony at the Huntley hearing, which led to the suppression of statements Plaintiff had given to Fredrick and Fredrick and Ryan's police report on Plaintiff's arrest. Id. Plaintiff claims that if Fredrick and Ryan had not entered his home without a warrant in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and illegally arrested him, he might not be serving an unjust prison sentence of two-and-a-half years. Id. at 3-6.

Plaintiff seeks monetary damages in the amount of Five-Hundred Thousand ($500, 000.00) Dollars for mental anguish, loss of income, loss of family, and loss of business as a result of the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Id. at 7.

V. ANALYSIS

A. Watertown Police Department

Plaintiff has named the Watertown Police Department as a Defendant. "A police department is an administrative arm of [a] municipal corporation, " and "cannot sue or be sued because it does not exist separate and apart from the municipality and does not have its own legal identity." Baker v. Willett, 42 F.Supp.2d 192, 198 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing Loria v. Town of Irondequoit, 775 F.Supp. 599, 606 (W.D.N.Y. 1990); see also Dexter v. City of Syracuse, No. 5:14-CV-0363 (TJM/DEP), 2014 WL 2611384, at * 4, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80008, at * 11 (N.D.N.Y. June 11, 2014)[3] (same). Accordingly, because the Watertown Police Department is not a proper defendant in this case, the Court recommends that it be dismissed from the action with prejudice.[4]

B. City of Watertown

In addition to Fredrick and Ryan, Plaintiff seeks to hold the City of Watertown liable for the alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. However, his Complaint fails to allege facts meeting the standard for establishing municipality liability as laid out in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). In order to set forth a cognizable claim for municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must plead and prove that a deprivation of his constitutional rights "was caused by a governmental custom, policy, or usage of the municipality." Jones v. Town of East Haven, 691 F.3d 72, 80 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. 658); see also Vippolis v. Village of Haverstraw, 768 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1985) ("The plaintiff must first prove the existence of a municipal policy or custom in order to show that the municipality took some action that caused his injuries beyond merely employing the misbehaving officer. Second, the plaintiff must establish a causal connection an affirmative link' between the policy and the deprivation of his constitutional rights.") (citing Oklahoma v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824 n.8 (1985)) (plurality opinion).

Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts showing the existence of a municipal policy or custom regarding searches, and that Fredrick and Ryan's alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures was causally connected to that municipal policy or custom. Furthermore, Plaintiff's Complaint contains no factual allegations regarding the Watertown Police Department that assist him in stating a claim for municipal liability against the City of Watertown under Monell. Therefore, the Court recommends that the action be dismissed as against City of Watertown with leave to amend.

C. Fredrick and Ryan

Plaintiff claims that Fredrick and Ryan violated his Fourth Amendment rights by engaging in a warrantless search of his apartment based upon the coerced consent of his roommate. Mindful of the Second Circuit's instruction that a pro se plaintiff's pleadings must be liberally construed, see e.g., Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008), the Court will require a response to Plaintiff's Complaint by Defendants Fredrick and Ryan.[5] In so ruling, the Court expresses no opinion as to whether Plaintiff's claims can withstand a properly filed motion to dismiss or for summary judgment.

VI. MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL

Plaintiff has moved for appointment of counsel. (Dkt. No. 3.) However, a more fully developed record will be necessary before the Court can assess whether counsel should be appointed. See Hendricks v. Coughlin, 114 F.3d 390, 392 (2d Cir. 1997) (court must look to the likelihood of merit of the underlying dispute in determining whether to appoint counsel).

Therefore, the motion is denied, without prejudice.

ACCORDINGLY, it is hereby

ORDERED, that Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. No. 9) is GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk provide the superintendent of the facility, designated by Plaintiff as his current location, with a copy of Plaintiff's inmate authorization form (Dkt. No. 6) and notify the official that this action has been filed and that Plaintiff is required to pay to the Northern District of New York the entire statutory filing fee of $350.00 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915;[6] and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk provide a copy of Plaintiff's inmate authorization form (Dkt. No. 6) to the Financial Deputy of the Clerk's Office; and it is

RECOMMENDED, that the Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as against Defendant Watertown Police Department on the ground that it is not an entity capable of being sued; and it is further

RECOMMENDED, that the Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) be DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND against Defendant The City of Watertown for failure to state a claim; and it is

ORDERED, that the Clerk shall issue summonses and forward them, along with copies of the Complaint (Dkt. No. 1), to the United States Marshal for service upon Defendants Fredrick and Ryan; and it is further

ORDERED that Defendants Fredrick and Ryan, or their counsel, shall file a response to the claims against them in the Complaint as provided for in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; and it is further

ORDERED, that Plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel (Dkt. No. 3) is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; and it is further

ORDERED that all pleadings, motions and other documents relating to this action must bear the case number assigned to this action and be filed with the Clerk of the United States District Court, Northern District of New York, 7th Floor, Federal Building, 100 S. Clinton St., Syracuse, New York XXXXX-XXXX. Any paper sent by a party to the Court or the Clerk must be accompanied by a certificate showing that a true and correct copy of same was served on all opposing parties or their counsel. Any document received by the Clerk or the Court which does not include a proper certificate of service will be stricken from the docket. Plaintiff must comply with all requests by the Clerk's Office for any documents that are necessary to maintain this action. All parties must comply with Local Rule 7.1 of the Northern District of New York in filing motions. Plaintiff is also required to promptly notify the Clerk's Office and all parties or their counsel, in writing, of any change in his address; his failure to do so will result in the dismissal of this action; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk serve a copy of this Order and Report-Recommendation on Plaintiff, along with copies of all unpublished decisions cited herein in accordance with Lebron v. Sanders, 557 F.3d 76 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).

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. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989)); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72.

Alisha Dexter, Lemorris M. Dexter II, Syracuse, NY, pro se.

None, for Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.

*1 This pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action was referred to the Hon. David E. Peebles, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge, for a Report-Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

No objections to the May 6, 2014 Report-Recommendation have been raised. After examining the record, this Court has determined that the Report-Recommendation is not subject to attack for plain error or manifest injustice. Accordingly, this Court ...


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