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Tuff v. Village of Yorkville Police Department

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 30, 2017

JARED TUFF, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF YORKVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT, VILLAGE OF YORKVILLE, POLICE CHIEF DeLUCA, OFFICER GUCA, Defendants.

          DECISION & ORDER

          THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Jared Tuff commenced this action asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state law. Compl. # 1. Defendants move to dismiss on various grounds. Dkt. # 4. Plaintiff opposes the motion, dkt. # 12, and Defendants have replied. Dkt. # 13. The Court will decide the motion without oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         On April 22, 2015, Plaintiff, an Africa American male, was driving an automobile east on Oriskany Blvd. in the Village of Yorkville, New York. After passing under a traffic light, Defendant Officer Guca, a member of the Village of Yorkville Police Department, pulled Plaintiff over. When he approached Plaintiff's car, Guca unbuckled his holster and placed his hand on his weapon. Plaintiff asked why he was being pulled over. Guca told Plaintiff that he failed to stop at a red light. Guca then grabbed Plaintiff, pulled him out of his car, and “slammed him across the hood of the car facing away from the driver's seat.” Compl. ¶ 13. Plaintiff felt threatened and fearful, and received bruising as a result of being pulled out of the vehicle and “slammed” on the hood of the car. Id. ¶ 27. Guca threatened to arrest Plaintiff if Plaintiff moved. Guca "patted" plaintiff down, and then searched through Plaintiff's car although “Guca had no reasonable cause to search the inside of the car.” Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff was not charged with having any contraband in the car, but Guca issued Plaintiff a traffic ticket alleging that Plaintiff failed to stop at a traffic control device.

         On the return date of the ticket, Plaintiff requested that the Village Justice set the matter for trial. At the ensuring bench trial in Village Court, Guca testified that the light was red when Plaintiff drove through it. Plaintiff testified that the light was not red, and contended that Guca had lied because Guca was unable to see the traffic light from his vantage point at the time Plaintiff proceeded under the light. After the trial, Plaintiff “was advised that the traffic ticket was dismissed and/or that he was not guilty of the infraction.” Id. ¶ 21.

         Plaintiff maintains that “[t]he policies, procedures and practices of the defendants as set forth in this complaint violate the rights of plaintiff under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 because: the search was conducted without probable cause or reason to believe that any contraband, dangerous materials or incriminating objects or weapons would be found. Thus each [sic] search constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The search constitutes a gross invasion of the rights of the plaintiff to privacy and due process under the Fifth Amendment, Ninth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Id. ¶ 33; see also, id., ¶ 22, ¶ 28.[2] Plaintiff also appears to allege that the Village had a policy of failing to properly train and supervise its police officers in the appropriate use of physical force. Id. ¶¶ 29-30.[3]

         Further, Plaintiff contends that the Defendants' actions resulted in deprivations of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eight, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. ¶ 34.[4]

         Under the caption “State Law Theories of Recovery, ” Plaintiff asserts that “[t]he acts and conduct alleged above constitute actionable torts under the laws of the State of New York including the torts of: a. false arrest; b. assault and battery; c. malicious prosecution; d. abuse of process; e. negligence and [sic]; f. gross negligence; g. illegal search.” Id. ¶ 41. He contends that on July 2, 2015, he served a written verified Notice of Claim “on the proper officer, agents and employees the [sic] Defendants Village and Police Department pursuant to the claims statutes covering these cases, ” id. ¶ 39, and that on August 3, 2015, he served “Amended” Verified Notices of Claims upon “the defendants.” Id.; see also id., Ex. A.

         Plaintiff attaches as Exhibit A to the Complaint several Notices of Claim, which he claims he filed pro se.[5] The first indicates that it was executed and served on the Oneida County Clerk on July 2, 2015. Compl., Ex. A., p. 1. It is against “Officer Guca of the Yorkville Police Dept. in his own capacity and as an individual, ” and asserts “§ 69.02 Liability for Intentional Torts” arising from an April 7, 2015 traffic ticket issued by Officer Guca. Id. Plaintiff asserts that he was ticketed on April 7, 2015 for running a red light even though the light was yellow, Officer Guco caused Plaintiff to become fearful because Officer Guco was yelling at him for running a red light, and Officer Guco lied about the facts underlying the traffic ticket at the ensuing trial. Id. The Notice of Claim does not allege that Officer Guco pulled Plaintiff out of the car, slammed Plaintiff on the vehicle's hood, patted Plaintiff down, or searched through the vehicle. Id. The only mention of Chief DeLuca is in the context of Plaintiff's allegation that at the time Officer Guca ticketed him, Officer Guca's eyes were “bulging” and he was sweating. Plaintiff asserts that when he asked Officer Guca at the trial “about his eyes bulging and sweating, he stated he did not know why, but he told the police Chief DeLuca that it was rain [sic] when he admitted in trial that it was not raining.” Id. For relief, Plaintiff seeks “Punitive damages-to punish Officer Guca.” Id.

         Exhibit A to the Complaint also includes three “Amended” Notices of Claim, all of which were executed and filed with the Oneida County Clerk on August 3, 2015. Compl., Ex. A, pp. 2-4. The first is against “Officer Guca in his own capacity and as an individual, ” and asserts “Sec. 69.02 Liability for Intentional Torts.” Id. p. 2. Plaintiff contends that on “April 22nd about 7:39 A.M. Officer Guco pulled me over and gave me a ticket for running a red light, when I did not. On June 29, while in trial, Officer Guco lied under oath by saying he could see the traffic light I went through from the property of Yorkville Auto sales, when he could not. Judge Kaluga ruled in my favor." Id. There is no allegation that Officer Guco pulled Plaintiff out of his vehicle, made Plaintiff lie across the vehicle's hood, patted Plaintiff down, or searched through the vehicle. Id. There is also no reference to Chief DeLuca in this Notice of Claim. For relief, Plaintiff seeks “Punitive damages-to punish officer Guca.” Id.

         The second is against “Yorkville Police Department, Officer Guca, ” and asserts “Sec. 69.1 Liability for Negligence” Id., p. 3. The factual allegations are the same as in the first Amended Notice of Claim, but for relief Plaintiff seeks: “Civil Rights Damages-Officer Guca violated my civil rights.” Id.

         The third is against “Yorkville Police Department, Officer Guca, ” and asserts “Sec. 69.01 Liability for Negligence.” Id. p. 4. The factual allegations are the same as in the first and second Amended Notices of Claim, but for relief Plaintiff seeks: “Actual Damages-for emotional distress and nightmares.” Id.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept “all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw[] all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). This tenet does not apply to legal conclusions, non-factual matter, or “conclusory statements” set forth in a complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

         "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." Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. While Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) “does not require detailed factual allegations, ... it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-harmed-me-accusation.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A claim will only have “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. A complaint which “tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement'” is insufficient. Id. (citation omitted).

         “In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint.” DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Defendants move to dismiss all claims against all defendants except the § 1983 excessive force claim against Officer Guca under the Fourth Amendment. The Court will address Defendants' arguments seriatim.

         a. Police Department As A Proper Defendant

         Defendants correctly note that a police department is an administrative arm of a municipality and cannot be sued because it does not exist separate and apart from the municipality and does not have its own legal identity. See Baggett v. Town of Lloyd, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111565, at *13-*14 (N.D.N.Y. 2011); Moffett v. Town of Poughkeepsie, 2012 WL 3740724, at *1, n.1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2012).[6] All claims against the Village of Yorkville Police Department are dismissed.

         b. Section 1983 Official Capacity Claims

         Plaintiff sues Defendant Police Chief DeLuca "individually and in his official capacity." Comp. ¶ 4. Section 1983 “[p]ersonal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law.” De Ratafia v. County of Columbia, 2013 WL 5423871, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2013)(citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237-238 (1974)). “Official-capacity suits, in contrast, ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Id. (quoting Monell v. New York City Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. (1978)). “As long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Id. (citing Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-472 (1985)). Because Plaintiff has sued the Village of Yorkville, his claims against DeLuca in his official capacity are redundant to the Village's potential § 1983 liability, and are dismissed.

         Plaintiff has not specifically stated whether he is suing Guca in his official capacity or personal capacity or both. To the extent he is suing Guca under Section 1983 in Guca's official capacity, all such claims are dismissed.

         c. Section 1983 - Supervisory Capacity Claim Againy DeLuca

         Defendants argue that to the extent Plaintiff is asserting any § 1983 claims against DeLuca based upon his supervisory capacity as the Police Chief, the claims should be dismissed for lack of personal involvement.

         “It is well-settled in this Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.” Odom v. Matteo, 772 F.Supp.2d 377, 403 (D. Conn. 2011) (quoting Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995)). “The personal involvement of a supervisory defendant may be shown by evidence that: (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation; (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong; (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of [others] by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.” Odom, 772 F.Supp.2d at 403 (quoting Colon, 58 F.3d at 873); see also Raspardo v. Carlone, 770 F.3d 97, 116 (2d Cir. 2014).[7]

         The Complaint contains no specific allegation about DeLuca's personal involvement in any of the events underlying this case, instead making only conclusory allegations about DeLuca's responsibilities and supposed failures after the alleged constitutional violations had occurred. A § 1983 claim cannot be grounded on barebones, conclusory assertions. See De Ratafia, 2013 WL 5423871, at *9. Plaintiff's argument that DeLuca was personally involved because he "had the opportunity to dismiss/withdraw the ticket and chose not to, " Pl. Mem. L. p. 5, relies on facts not alleged in the Complaint. Even if these facts were alleged, DeLuca's supposed inaction, in the form of opting not to withdraw a traffic ticket that another police officer had already issued, does not rise to the level of personal involvement in underlying constitutional violations. Plaintiff fails to present factual allegations plausibly indicting that DeLuca (1) participated directly in the alleged constitutional violations committed by Guca; (2) failed to remedy a constitutional violation after being informed of it;[8] (3) created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed continuance of such a policy or custom; (4) was grossly negligent in supervising Guca; or (5) exhibited deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's rights by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.[9] Because Plaintiff's non-conclusory factual allegations fail to present a plausible basis to satisfy any of the Colon factors, the §1983 claims against DeLuca are dismissed without prejudice to repleading.[10]

         d. Monell Claim Against the Village

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff fails to state a factually plausible claim under Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), because “[n]owhere in the complaint does plaintiff make any factual allegations to support a conclusion that the Village had unconstitutional customs or policies that caused a deprivation of a constitutional right. ” Def. Mem. L. p. 10; see also Id. pp. 9-10. In this regard, defendants argue that “[t]he only factual allegations relate to Guca's alleged actions in connection with ticketing plaintiff for running a red light. However, proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity here would not be sufficient to impose Monell liability.” Id. p. 10 (citing Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823-824 (1985)).

         In opposition, Plaintiff merely asserts that “[t]here is sufficient allegations in plaintiff's complaint to sustain actions against the Village of Yorkville. Upon discovery it will be clear to the parties as to the exact involvement of the Village of Yorkville. After discovery, it may be that plaintiff will seek court approval for filing an amended complaint.” Pl. Mem. L. pp. 5-6.

         To prevail on a § 1983 claim against a municipality, a plaintiff must show that a municipal policy or custom caused the deprivation of his constitutional rights. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91. A municipality may not be held liable under § 1983 on the basis of respondeat superior. Id. at 694. Rather, “[t]he 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.... Second, the plaintiff must establish a casual connection-an ‘affirmative link'-between the policy and deprivation of his constitutional rights.” Vippolis v. Village of Haverstraw, 768 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 916 (1987). Therefore, in order to establish municipal liability, Plaintiff must establish that an identified municipal policy or practice was the “moving force [behind] the constitutional violation” that he suffered. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694; see also Anderson v. City of New York, 657 F.Supp. 1571, 1575-76 (S.D.N.Y. 1987).[11]

         Monell claims must satisfy the Iqbal and Twombly plausibility standard. Plair v. City of New York, 789 F.Supp.2d 459, 469 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). “[T]he boilerplate Monell claims often included in many § 1983 cases . . . do not rise to the level of plausibility.” Santiago v. City of New York, 2009 WL 2734667, at *3, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75372, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 18, 2009) (dismissing Monell claim); see Plair, 789 F.Supp.2d at 469 (collecting cases). “Furthermore, it is well established that a single incident does not give rise to an unlawful practice by subordinate officials ‘so permanent and well-settled as to constitute ‘custom or usage.'” Plair, 789 F.Supp.2d at 469 (quoting City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988) and citing Sorlucco v. New York City Police Department, 971 F.2d 864, 870 (2d Cir.1992)[12] and Anderson, 657 F.Supp. at 1574[13]).

         For the most part, Plaintiff relies on conclusory allegations arising from a single incident to fill the gaps in his complaint between Guco's conduct and a Village policy, custom or practice that caused Plaintiff a constitutional injury. However, Plaintiff alleges that the Village “had prior notice of the vicious propensities of defendant Guco but took no steps to train him, correct his abuse of authority, or discourage his unlawful use of authority.” Compl. ¶ 29. While a § 1983 failure to train or supervise claim cannot be grounded on barebones, conclusory assertions, see De Ratafia, 2013 WL 5423871, at *9, Plaintiff has alleged enough to allow his failure to train or supervise claim against the Village to continue. Whether Plaintiff can establish the required elements of the claim can be tested after discovery. For present purposes, Defendants' motion on this ground is denied.

         e. Section 1983 Illegal Vehicle Search Claim

         Defendants assert that Plaintiff's Section 1983 illegal search claim should be dismissed because he alleges that after he was removed from the vehicle, he was “facing away from the driver seat” and only heard “noises” that sounded like Guca was “going through” plaintiff's vehicle. These facts, Defendants contend, are insufficient to support a plausible claim that Guca unlawfully searched Plaintiff's vehicle.

         1. Fourth Amendment

         Accepting the alleged facts as true, and drawing reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor, there are sufficient factual allegations from which a reasonable fact finder could conclude that Plaintiff heard Guca enter Plaintiff's vehicle while Plaintiff was lying on the hood. Given these circumstances, it would be a reasonable inference that Guca searched the vehicle while he was in it. Further, accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, Officer Guca lacked a legal justification to search Plaintiff's vehicle. Thus, the allegations are sufficient to support a plausible Fourth Amendment illegal search claim. Defendants' motion on this ground is denied.

         2. Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments

         However, Plaintiff asserts his illegal search claim not only under the Fourth Amendment, but also the Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.

         A. Fifth Amendment

         The Fifth Amendment has no application in this case. The Fifth Amendment solely governs the conduct of federal government and federal employees, and does not regulate the activities of state officials or state actors. Maddox v. Fowler, 2015 WL 4366222, at *10 (N.D.N.Y. July 16, 2015). Because Plaintiff's lawsuit does not allege a deprivation of his rights by the federal government, all claims premised upon the Fifth Amendment are dismissed.

         B. Eighth Amendment

         Likewise, the Eighth Amendment has no application in this case. The Eighth Amendment prohibition on the infliction of cruel and unusual punishments applies only to those individuals convicted of crimes. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 297 (1991). Because the facts do not indicate that Plaintiff was convicted of a crime, the Eighth Amendment claim is inapplicable. Thus, all claims premised upon the Eighth Amendment are dismissed.

         C. Ninth Amendment

         The Ninth Amendment provides no basis for Section 1983 liability. The Ninth Amendment "is recognized as a rule of construction, not one that protects any specific right, [and thus] no independent constitutional protection is recognized which derives from the Ninth Amendment and which may support a § 1983 cause of action." Rini v. Zwirn, 886 F.Supp. 270, 289 (E.D.N.Y. 1995)(citing Laurence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law § 11-3, at 774-75 (2d ed. 1988)); see Barnett v. Carberry, 420 Fed.Appx. 67, 69 (2d Cir. 2011), [14] cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 248 (2011); Bussey v. Phillips, 419 F.Supp.2d 569, 586 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).[15] Thus, all claims premised upon the Ninth Amendment are dismissed.

         D. Fourteenth Amendment

         The Fourteenth Amendment also does not apply to Plaintiff's illegal search claim. Because the Fourth Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection for Plaintiff's alleged constitutional injury, he has no basis for a due process claim based upon the alleged illegal search of his vehicle. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273 (1994). Accordingly, Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process claim based upon the alleged search of Plaintiff's vehicle is dismissed.

         f. Section 1983 False Arrest Claim

         The Complaint alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights “by unlawfully and wrongfully seizing plaintiff's person without probable cause . . . in clear violation of due process.” Compl. ¶ 34 (a). Defendants argue that this claim must be dismissed because (1) Guco had probable cause to detain Plaintiff for purposes of issuing him a traffic ticket; (2) the issuance of a traffic ticket or court summons does not constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment for purposes of establishing a false arrest claim; (3) the facts are insufficient to support a false arrest claim because there are no allegations that Guco handcuffed Plaintiff, used a weapon to detain him, or transported him away from the scene of the traffic stop.

         1. Fourth Amendment

         While “[c]ourts ... have repeatedly held that the issuance of a traffic ticket or court summons alone does not constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment for the purposes of establishing a false arrest ... claim, ” LoSardo v. Ribaudo, 2015 WL 502077, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2015), Plaintiff's allegations are susceptible to a reading that he was unlawfully arrested within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when he was physically removed from his vehicle without reason, “slammed” across the hood of the vehicle, patted down, and told not to move. These facts, accepted as true, are sufficient to present a plausible claim that Plaintiff was falsely arrested for a period of time beyond that which was required for Guco to issue Plaintiff a traffic ticket. See Cross v. City of Albany, 2016 WL 6106476, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 19, 2016);[16] see also LoSardo, 2015 WL 502077, at *5.[17]

         Moreover, “[t]emporary detention of individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a ‘seizure' of ‘persons' [under the Fourth Amendment].” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10 (1996). “Automobile ‘stops must be justified by probable cause or a reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulable facts, of unlawful conduct.'” Cross, 2016 WL 6106476, at *3 (quoting United States v. Scopo, 19 F.3d 777, 781 (2d Cir. 1994)). Taking Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, Guco neither had probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to believe that Plaintiff had committed “a traffic offense-however minor.” Scopo, 19 F.3d at 782. Under such circumstances, Plaintiff states a plausible Fourth Amendment claim of false arrest. See Cross, 2016 WL 6106476, at *4. Accordingly, Defendants' motion on this ground is denied.

         2. Fourteenth Amendment

         However, the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause does not apply to Plaintiff's false arrest claim because the Fourth Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection for Plaintiff's alleged constitutional injury caused by that arrest. Albright, 510 U.S. at 273; see Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 125 n. 27 (1975).[18]Accor ...


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