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Flores v. Nieva

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 6, 2017

JOHN ANDREW FLORES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPTAIN NIEVA Shield No. 501, OFFICER SMITH Shield No. 3893, OFFICER MILLNER Shield No. 7468, and OFFICER PADUA Shield No. 9213, Defendants. CAPTAIN NIEVA Shield No. 501, OFFICER SMITH Shield No. 3893, OFFICER MILLNER Shield No. 7468, and OFFICER PADUA Shield No. 9213, Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Third-Party Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff John Andrew Flores alleges that he was assaulted by corrections officers while incarcerated at Rikers Island. His operative complaint, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, names only individual defendants. Now - after the close of fact discovery - Plaintiff moves for leave to amend his complaint in order to include a claim of municipal liability against the City of New York (the “City”). The City opposes. Because Plaintiff has demonstrated good cause to amend under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16, and the Court finds no basis to deny leave to amend under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, Plaintiff's motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Allegations in the Complaint

         On October 1, 2014, Plaintiff brought a pro se § 1983 action, alleging that he was assaulted by corrections officers while in the custody of the New York City Department of Corrections (“DOC”) at the Robert N. Davoren Complex's Adolescent Mental Observation Unit on Rikers Island. (Compl. 1-4).

         The Complaint alleges the following facts. Plaintiff was repeatedly punched and kicked in the face by Corrections Officer (“C.O.”) Smith, while Captain Nieva stood by, and then Plaintiff was “dragged” into a corridor where there were no video cameras. (Compl. 3). There, Captain Nieva and three unidentified corrections officers continued to assault Plaintiff, while another officer watched. (Id.). The assault left Plaintiff with an injured jaw, swollen face, and two black eyes. (Id.). Thereafter, he was denied medical attention for two days. (Id.). Because Captain Nieva was present when Plaintiff was treated, the Complaint alleges, the doctor refused to record what had actually happened to Plaintiff. (Id.). The Complaint identifies the date and time of the assault only as: “October or November at around 12:30 A.M.” (Id. at 2). The Complaint names as defendants Captain Nieva, C.O. Smith, and several John and Jane Does, but not the City or DOCS. (Id. at 1).

         B. Procedural History

         On October 24, 2014, this Court issued an Order of Service, which requested that Defendants Smith and Nieva waive service of summons, and that Plaintiff file an amended complaint specifying the date of the alleged assault and providing other details. (Dkt. #8). The Court also directed the Clerk of Court “to notify the New York City Department of Correction and the New York City Law Department” of that Order. (Id.). On November 14, 2014, Corporation Counsel appeared in this action as an “Interested Party” and requested “that all notices and other papers be served upon” it. (Dkt. #9).

         On February 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (the “FAC”) that was still missing certain identifying details as well as the exact incident date, estimating only that it was in October or November of 2011. (FAC 4). On March 20, 2015, Corporation Counsel informed the Court that it had identified the date of the incident described in Plaintiff's complaints and the corrections officers present during the alleged assault - Captain Nieva and C.O. Smith as well as C.O.'s Padua and Millner. (Dkt. #19). On May 20, 2015, the Court directed the Clerk of Court to amend the case caption to include the aforementioned officers and remove all John and Jane Doe defendants. (Dkt. #30). All four of the individual defendants have either been served or have waived service. (Dkt. #35, 38, 41, 83).

         On August 6, 2015, C.O. Millner and C.O. Padua filed a Third-Party Complaint against the City, which was amended the following day. (Dkt. #44, 47). The Amended Third-Party Complaint alleges that the conduct complained of by Plaintiff occurred within the scope of the correction officers' employment and seeks indemnification by the City for any liability arising from Plaintiff's suit. (Dkt. #47).

         On December 3, 2015, the Court ordered the Clerk of Court to “seek pro bono counsel to enter a limited appearance for the purpose of conducting certain document discovery and depositions (‘Limited Discovery Counsel').” (Dkt. #64 at 1). This Order set forth the scope of representation, which “consist[ed] of defending the deposition of the plaintiff and taking the depositions of [the individual defendants], as well as conducting document and other discovery necessary to take or defend such depositions.” (Id. at 2). The Order also provided that counsel “may, but is not required to, conduct additional discovery which, in [the] exercise of his or her good faith judgment, Limited Discovery Counsel deems necessary.” (Id.).

         On January 6 and 7, 2016, two attorneys from the Kramer Levin firm appeared in this case as Limited Discovery Counsel. (Dkt. #68, 71). On January 7, 2016, the Court entered a Case Management Plan and Scheduling Order, which set the deadline for fact discovery on May 6, 2016, and for expert discovery on June 20, 2016. (Dkt. #70 at 2). The Order did not set a deadline for the filing of amended pleadings, but noted that the Order “may not be modified or the dates … extended, except by further Order of th[e] Court for good cause shown.” (Id. at 3).

         C. The United States Attorney's Office Investigation of Rikers Island

         According to Limited Discovery Counsel, Plaintiff “was not in a position to understand the legal requirements for municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 prior to” the appointment of counsel. (Burns Decl. ¶ 8). After a June 2016 meeting with Plaintiff, Limited Discovery Counsel “began to investigate whether [Plaintiff] had a good-faith basis to assert a … claim against the City” pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). (Id. at ¶ 4).

         “Shortly after” the June 2016 meeting, while researching the City's potential Monell liability, “counsel learned of a report produced by the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (‘USAO') presenting the findings of an investigation into the treatment of adolescent male inmates between the ages of 16 and 18 at jails on Rikers Island during the period of 2011 to 2013.” (Burns Decl. ¶ 5). That report (the “USAO Report” or the “Report”) is attached as Exhibit B to the Burns Declaration. The Report was published on August 4, 2014, and addressed to the Mayor's Office, DOC, and Corporation Counsel. (Burns Decl., Ex. B, at 1).

         The USAO Report “centered exclusively on whether DOC adequately protects adolescents from harm” - including “whether adolescents are subject to excessive and unnecessary use of force by DOC correction officers and their supervisors” - and “primarily focused on practices and conduct during the period 2011 through the end of 2013.” (Burns Decl., Ex. B, at 1-2). The Report concluded

that there is a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates. In particular … adolescent inmates at Rikers are not adequately protected from harm, including serious physical harm from the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by DOC staff.

(Id. at 3). The USAO Report also identified “systematic deficiencies that contribute to, exacerbate, and indeed are largely responsible for the excessive and unnecessary use of force by DOC staff.” (Id. at 4).

         According to Limited Discovery Counsel, Plaintiff “was unfamiliar with the findings of the USAO Report, or any other evidence of the DOC's unconstitutional customs and policies at RNDC” prior to working with Limited Discovery Counsel. (Burns Decl. ¶ 9). Upon learning of the USAO Report, Limited Discovery Counsel “conducted research into whether [Plaintiff] had a basis to assert a Monell claim against the City.” (Id. at ΒΆ 6). Concluding ...


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