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Noonan v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 26, 2015

ERICA NOONAN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LAURA TAYLOR SWAIN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Erica Noonan ("Plaintiff") brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1986, against Defendants the City of New York ("the City"), the New York Police Department ("NYPD" and, collectively, "Moving Defendants"), and various individual defendants, alleging deprivation of her civil rights. Plaintiff has also asserted several corresponding state law claims. The City and the NYPD move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them.[1] The Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367. The Court has carefully considered the parties' submissions. For the following reasons, Moving Defendants' motion is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are alleged in the Complaint ("Compl., " Docket Entry No. 2) or drawn from documents annexed thereto. On March 11, 2013, Plaintiff was pulled over by Defendant Carlos Becker ("Becker"), an NYPD officer, while driving in Bronx County, New York. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Becker placed Plaintiff under arrest and, as he placed her into his patrol car, allegedly touched her breast, despite her objections. (Id. ¶ 18.) Officer Becker then escorted Plaintiff to his precinct, where Plaintiff claims that he watched her as she used the bathroom, inappropriately commented on her appearance and "video recorded Plaintiff, her body, her lower body and her buttocks." (Id. ¶¶ 19-21.) Throughout the course of this interaction, Becker continually reassured Plaintiff that he was willing to assist her in resolving any charges that might eventually be brought against her and, to that end, provided Plaintiff with his personal cell phone number. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 22-25.) A criminal complaint was eventually filed against Plaintiff, charging her with driving while intoxicated. (Id. ¶ 26, Exh. B.) The complaint was later dismissed and sealed. (Id. ¶ 90.)

At the urging of her criminal defense attorney, Plaintiff maintained contact with Becker while her criminal case was pending, and the two exchanged a series of text messages in which Becker expressed an interest in arranging an in-person meeting. (Id. ¶¶ 28-30, Exh. C.) Plaintiff eventually agreed to meet with Becker at a restaurant on the evening of March 24, 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 40-43.) After meeting at the restaurant, Plaintiff continued on to a bar with Becker, who assured her they would discuss her pending criminal case. (Id. ¶¶ 44-45.) Plaintiff alleges that at the bar she began to feel "groggy, her eyes felt heavy and she began to go in and out of consciousness." (Id. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff claims that Becker then put her into his car and took her to his home where, she alleges, Becker sexually assaulted her. (Id. ¶ 48-52.) Plaintiff awoke in Becker's bed on March 25, 2013, having sustained a bruised and swollen eye. (Id. ¶ 53.) Plaintiff reported these events to police that day, but claims that they were unreceptive to her complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 58-59.) She then went to the hospital for a medical examination. (Id. ¶¶ 60-64.) NYPD Internal Affairs officers responded to the hospital, where Plaintiff again recounted what had occurred. (See Compl. ¶¶ 65-66.) Following a subsequent investigation, Becker was indicted for "Official Misconduct." (Id. ¶¶ 68-69.) The misconduct charges were eventually dismissed (id. ¶ 73), and Becker was never charged in relation to the alleged sexual assault, which he denies ever took place. (See id. ¶¶ 73-74, 77.)

Plaintiff filed suit against the City and the NYPD pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1986, asserting that the injuries she sustained were a direct product of the City's policies and customs. (See Compl. ¶¶ 102-60.) In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges - in conclusory fashion - that the City maintained "policies, customs and/or practices exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of citizens, " as well as policies of "inadequately and/or improperly investigat[ing] the complaints of citizens." (Id. ¶¶ 142-43.) Plaintiff alleges that the City and the NYPD failed to properly screen, hire, train, and discipline police officers despite "having been on notice for years" that misconduct was "widespread prior to the wrong that was visited upon [her]." (Id. ¶¶ 142-49.) Plaintiff also asserts various state-law tort claims, including negligent hiring and supervision and vicarious liability under a theory of respondeat superior, as well as a claim for deprivation of her rights under the New York State Constitution. (Id. ¶¶ 161-291.)

DISCUSSION

The City and the NYPD move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In determining whether a plaintiff has set forth the "short and plain statement of the claim showing that [she] is entitled to relief" required by the Federal Rules (see Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), the Court looks to whether the allegations in the complaint establish the "facial plausibility" of the plaintiff's claims. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Such a showing "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " requiring "more than labels and conclusions, [or] a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court assumes the truth of the facts asserted in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71 (2d Cir. 2009).

Plaintiff's Claims Against the NYPD

As an agency of the City of New York, the NYPD is a non-suable entity. See N.Y.C. Charter § 396 (2014) ("All actions and proceedings for the recovery of penalties for the violation of any law shall be brought in the name of the city of New York and not in that of any agency...."); Jenkins v. City of New York, 478 F.3d 76, 93 n.19 (2d Cir. 2007) (noting that no claim may be brought directly against NYPD). Therefore, Plaintiff cannot properly allege any claims directly against the NYPD. Moving Defendants' motion is thus granted in its entirety with respect to the NYPD, and all claims asserted against the NYPD are dismissed.

Monell Liability (Causes of Action Six and Seven)

Plaintiff asserts that the City is liable for deprivation of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1986. (Compl. ¶¶ 141-56.)[2] A municipality may be held liable for depriving a citizen of her constitutional rights only when it has put in place a "policy or custom" that has led to that deprivation. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) ("Monell"); see also Askins v. Doe No. 1, 727 F.3d 248, 253 (2d Cir. 2013) (explaining that, in addition to pointing to "a tort in violation of federal law committed by municipal actors, " plaintiff must further show that "commission of the tort resulted from a custom or policy of the municipality."). Furthermore, "[u]nless a plaintiff shows that he has been the victim of a federal law tort committed by persons for whose conduct the municipality can be responsible, there is no basis for holding the municipality liable. Monell does not create a stand-alone cause of action under which a plaintiff may sue over a governmental policy, regardless of whether he suffered the infliction of a tort resulting from the policy." Askins, 727 F.3d at 253. Plaintiff attempts to establish the City's Monell liability under three separate theories: (1) that the City failed to supervise its police officers; (2) that the City improperly screened and hired its police officers; and (3) that the City failed to train and discipline its police officers. (Compl. ¶¶ 141-51.) Plaintiff also claims that the City had knowledge of a conspiracy to deprive her of her constitutional rights, but neglected to prevent this deprivation. (Id. ¶¶ 152-56.) As set forth below, Plaintiff does not plead facts supporting the existence of any policy, custom, or practice which led to her injuries and thus fails to state a claim against the City under Section 1983 or Section 1986.

Failure to Supervise

In order to successfully plead a claim of Monell liability for failure to supervise under Section 1983, a plaintiff must establish that "policymakers were knowingly and deliberately indifferent to the possibility that its police officers were wont to violate the constitutional rights of arrestees." Amnesty Am. v. Town of W. Hartford, 361 F.3d 113, 127 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, a plaintiff must show that "the need for more or better supervision to protect against constitutional violations was obvious" and that "no meaningful attempt" to curb the unconstitutional conduct was made. Id . (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Here, Plaintiff does not plead a single fact indicating that the City was aware that its police officers were "wont" to commit sexual assaults, nor does Plaintiff point to a single instance of sexual assault committed by Becker - or any other police officer - beyond the bald assertion that such conduct has been ongoing "for years." (Compl. ¶ 146.) Without setting forth a factual basis for the City's knowledge of the alleged misconduct, Plaintiff cannot plausibly claim indifference to such misconduct, much less the City's failure to respond appropriately to it. See Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d 94, 100 (2d Cir. 1993) ("The mere assertion... that a municipality has... a custom or policy is insufficient in the absence of allegations of fact tending to support, at least circumstantially, such an inference") (overruled on other grounds); Lowery v. City of New York, No. 10CV7284-KBF, 2014 WL 2567104, at *6 & n.12 (S.D.N.Y. June 6, 2014) (collecting cases and noting that "boilerplate, conclusory allegations are insufficient to withstand dismissal."). Because Plaintiff pleads no specific facts in support of her conclusory assertion that "[i]t was the policy of the... City of New York... ...


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