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Aquino v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 25, 2017

RAMFIS AQUINO, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GREGORY H. WOODS, United States District Judge.

         In March 2013, Plaintiff Ramfis Aquino was taken into custody for violating the conditions of his parole. Plaintiff alleges that while being processed at the Bronx Central Booking facility, certain employees of the New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) subjected him to the use of excessive force when they struck him in the head and back without provocation, resulting in permanent hearing loss. The City of New York (the “City”) has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). For the reasons that follow, the City's motion is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Monell claim is dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On March 28, 2013, Plaintiff was taken into custody for allegedly violating the conditions of his parole. Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 27 (“Compl.”), ¶ 14. He was brought to Bronx Central Brooking. Id. ¶ 15. While at Bronx Central Booking, but before seeing a judge, Captain Francisco Medina, Correction Officer Anthony Robinson, “and other corrections officers arrived, removed [Plaintiff] from the holding cell, cuffed him, and escorted [him] downstairs to be strip searched.” Id. ¶ 16. En route, Captain Medina “encouraged the other officers to use force” against Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 17.

         The officer-defendants were present for a strip search of Plaintiff, during which Plaintiff “removed his clothes and squatted as directed by the officer defendants” and after which he “stood up and looked around.” Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Plaintiff “did not resist or disobey any orders from the officer-defendants.” Id. ¶ 23.

         Correction Officer Robinson “aggressively asked [Plaintiff], in sum and substance, why he was looking at their badges.” Id. ¶ 20. Thereafter, “in the immediate presence of the other officers, C.O. Robinson and C.O. Cruz punched, smacked, and/or otherwise struck [Plaintiff] in the back of the head.” Id. ¶ 21. This caused “a sharp pain in or near [Plaintiff's] left ear and an alteration in his ability to hear out of that ear.” Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff was taken to another cell and “repeatedly requested medical attention, ” but those requests were denied. Id. ¶ 24.

         Upon seeing the judge, Plaintiff was remanded to DOC custody. Id. ¶ 25. He “reported the injuries and the assault to DOC officials at intake in the Vernon C. Bain Center.” Id. ¶ 26. Over the next few days, Plaintiff's “left ear began discharging a foul-smelling pus-like substance” and an audiologist concluded that he had suffered hearing loss. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Plaintiff was thereafter given a hearing aid for his left ear, but due to an imbalance caused by impaired hearing in the left ear, he was also issued a hearing aid for his right ear. Id. ¶ 29-30.

         Plaintiff alleges that at the time of the incident at issue here, “there was a pattern and practice of conduct by DOC officials that violated the constitutional rights of inmates.” Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiff's municipal liability claim relies exclusively on facts drawn from two government reports concerning issues at the DOC, both of which he has incorporated by reference into the complaint. See Compl. ¶ 34 n.1, 2. The first report upon which Plaintiff relies was issued by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York on August 4, 2014. See CRIPA Investigation of the New York City Department of Corrections Jails on Rikers Island (the “DOJ Report”) (annexed as Ex. C to Declaration of Jeffrey Loperfido (Dkt. No. 52) (“Loperfido Decl.”)). The DOJ Report contains the conclusions of an investigation into “the treatment of adolescent male inmates, between the ages of 16 and 18, at New York City Department of Correction . . . jails on Rikers Island.” DOJ Report at 1. The report concluded that “there is a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.” Id. at 3. The DOJ Report also stated that its focus on the adolescent population “should not be interpreted as an exoneration of DOC practices in the jails housing adult inmates” and that the DOJ's “investigation suggests that the systemic deficiencies identified in th[e] report may exist in equal measures at the other jails on Rikers.” Id. (emphasis added).

         The second report upon which Plaintiff relies was issued approximately six months later, in January 2015, by the New York City Department of Investigation. See New York City Department of Investigation Report on the Recruiting and Hiring Process for New York City Correction Officers (the “DOI Report”) (annexed as Ex. D to Loperfido Decl.). The DOI Report was issued after an investigation into “systemic illegal conduct at the Department of Correction . . . Rikers Island Facility” and focused on recruitment and screening of DOC correction officers. DOI Report at 1, 3. The report concluded that the DOC had “fail[ed] to recruit and hire consistently excellent staff at the Correction Officer (CO) level” and that the “DOC's hiring process has failed to recruit sufficient talented COs and has failed, in some instances, to weed out those who would abuse their position.” Id. at 1.

         According to the complaint, “[t]here was, and is, a ‘deep-seated culture of violence' which was ‘pervasive' across the various DOC facilities, and ‘DOC staff routinely utilize[d] force not as a last resort, but instead as a means to control the [] population and punish disorderly or disrespectful behavior.'” Id. (quoting the DOJ Report at 3). There was a “pattern and practice of ‘correction officers resort[ing] to “headshots, ” or blows to an inmate's head or facial area too quickly.'” Id. ¶ 35 (quoting the DOJ Report at 4). The complaint also alleges that at all relevant times, “there was a pattern and practice of using force as punishment or retribution” and a “pattern or practice of using force in response to inmates' verbal altercations with officers.” Id. ¶¶ 36-37. According to the complaint, these “de facto policies, practices, customs and usages were a direct and proximate cause of the unconstitutional conduct alleged” in the complaint. Id. ¶¶ 38 (quoting the DOJ Report at 4) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The complaint also alleges that, at all relevant times, the City “failed to properly train, screen, supervise, or discipline its employees including the officer-defendants, and failed to inform supervisors of their need to train, screen, supervise or discipline DOC employees such as the officer-defendants regarding the limits on use of force.” Id. ¶ 39. The complaint further alleges that the “DOC's hiring process has failed to recruit sufficient talented [corrections officers] and has failed, in some instances, to weed out those who would abuse their position.” Id. ¶ 40 (quoting the DOI Report) (internal quotation marks omitted). The complaint alleges that the “failure to properly hire, train, screen, supervise, or discipline, were direct and proximate causes of the unconstitutional conduct alleged” in the complaint. Id. ¶ 41.

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on March 1, 2016, Dkt. No. 1, and an amended complaint on March 28, 2016, Dkt. No. 27. On July 28, 2016, the City filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's municipal liability claim. Dkt. No. 51. Plaintiff opposed the City's motion on August 18, 2016, Dkt. No. 54, and the City replied on August 25, 2016, Dkt. No. 56.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting 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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It is not enough for a plaintiff to allege facts that are consistent with liability; the complaint must “nudge” claims “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. The court must accept all facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Burch v. Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc.,551 F.3d 122, 124 (2d Cir. 2008) (per curiam). Legal conclusions, unlike facts, are not entitled to an assumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. A complaint that offers “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without “further factual enhancement” will not survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In determining the ...


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