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Schafer v. Coyne

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 14, 2017

FRANKLIN D. SCHAFER, Individually and as A Member of a Proposed Class, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN FRANCIS COYNE, ELIZABETH R. DONATELLO, JACQUELINE FAITH COLLARD, DEBORAH STEVENSON, and JOHN AND JANE DOE, Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          JEREMIAH J. McCARTHY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before me is the motion of defendants John Francis Coyne and Jacqueline Collard (collectively, the “medical defendants”) to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. (“Rules”) 12(b)(6) and (b)(1) [10], [1" name="FN1" id="FN1">1] and the motion of defendants Elizabeth Donatello and Deborah Stevenson (collectively, the “County defendants”) to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and (b)(1), or in the alternative for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 [12]. The parties have consented to have me decide these motions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c) [25].[2]Oral argument was held on November 17');">7, 2016 [19]. At that time, I converted those portions of the motions seeking Rule 12(b)(6) relief to Rule 56 motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 12(d), and gave the parties the opportunity to file additional submissions based upon the conversion and letter briefs addressing additional authority cited by the medical defendants at the oral argument. November 17');">7, 2016 Text Order [22]. A letter brief was submitted by the medical defendants [23], but no other materials were filed.

         For the following reasons, the motions are granted to the extent they seek dismissal based upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 22, 2009 defendant was indicted on two counts of predatory sexual assault against a child, sex abuse in the first degree, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. [12-7');">7], p. 23 of 29. As part of the criminal investigation, the minor victims were interviewed by defendant Donatello, an Assistant Niagara County District Attorney, on January 16, 2009 at the Child Advocacy Center (“CAC”). Donatello Affidavit [12-6], ¶¶8-20. Defendant Stevenson, a caseworker with Niagara County Protective Services, and Richard Kline, a New York State Police Investigator, observed the interviews, which were not videotaped. Id., ¶¶7');">7, 10. Defendant Donatello also conducted a second interview with the minors that was videotaped for presentment to the grand jury. Id., ¶27');">7.

         Plaintiff alleges that following these interviews, defendant Collard, a Sexual Abuse Nurse Evaluator with the CAC, examined the minors and found “no physical evidence of sexual abuse”. Complaint [1], ¶¶12, 64. That report was then allegedly approved by defendant Coyne, the medical director of the CAC. Id., ¶¶10, 64.

         At plaintiff's June 2009 criminal trial in Niagara County Court, the reliability of the interviews conducted of the minors was heavily contested. Both minors testified at trial, and were subjected to cross-examination. Id., ¶14; minors' testimony [12-8 - 12-10]. Defendant Stevenson and Investigator Kline also testified at trial that the initial interview of the minors was proper and not leading. Id., ¶17');">7; defendant Stevenson's trial testimony [12-5], pp. 25-27');">7 of 44; Kline's trial testimony [12-11');">11], p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8 of 53. As part of plaintiff's defense at trial, he presented testimony from his expert, Charles Ewing, Ph.D., who testified that the initial interview deviated from accepted practice since it was by neither videotaped nor conducted by a neutral party. Ewing's trial testimony [12-13');">13');">13');">13], p. 3 of 35.

         Plaintiff was convicted by the jury on June 18, 2009 of all charges except one count of predatory sexual assault against a child (verdict sheet [12-13');">13');">13');">13], p. 35 of 35), and was later sentenced to an indeterminate term of 20 years to life in prison. Sentencing transcript [12-15], pp. 2-12 of 20. His conviction was later affirmed on appeal. See People v. Schafer, 1 A.D.3d 13');">13');">13');">1361');">81 A.D.3d 13');">13');">13');">1361, 13');">13');">13');">1362 (4th Dep't. 2011');">11), lv. denied, 17');">7 N.Y.3d 861');">17');">7 N.Y.3d 861 (2011');">11).

         Plaintiff also challenged his conviction by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in May 2012, arguing, inter alia, that he was denied “his federal constitutional right to confront witnesses by the use of hearsay evidence against him”. See Schafer v. LaVallee, 12-cv-00419(MAT), Petition [1], p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8');">p. 8 of 14, Ground Three.[3] As support for that ground of his habeas petition, plaintiff alleged - as he does in this action - that the prosecutor “conducted two suggestive questioning sessions with the accusers prior to a medical exam in violation of professional norms, standards and practices that interviews with children be conducted by neutral, non-partisan, specially trained interviewers to minimize the possibility of false results. The medical exam produced no evidence supporting the accusations against petitioner beyond serving as a mere rehash of the suggestive questioning”. Id. Although plaintiff states in his Complaint that he “expects to be exonerated” as a result of his habeas petition, that petition has since been denied. See Judge Telesca's September 17');">7, 2013');">13');">13');">13 Decision and Order, 12-cv-00418, [24].

         Plaintiff commenced this action in January 2012 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§1983, 1985(3), and 1986, alleging that his “wrongful conviction was the result of misconduct by the Defendants”. Complaint [1], ¶1. He seeks class action certification under Rule 23 for a class of “similarly aggrieved victims”. Id., ¶5. His six causes of action center on the interviews of the minors that occurred during the criminal investigation. Specifically, he alleges 1) that defendant Donatello's “constitutionally deficient interviews of the child accusers” subjected him to an unlawful arrest without probable cause and an unreasonable search and seizure, in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Complaint [1], Count one), and violated plaintiff's “right to procedural and substantive due process . . . by causing Plaintiff's deprivation of liberty and incarceration”, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (id., Count two); 2) that defendants Donatello, Coyne and Collard conspired to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1985(3) (id., Count three); that the medical defendants were negligent and/or grossly negligent “[b]y failing to determine to what extent the accusations against Plaintiff emerged as the result of improper questioning by Defendant Donatello on two occasions prior to the medical exam” (id., Count four); and 4) that defendant Stevenson violated 42 U.S.C. §1986, “[b]y not insisting that the constitutionally deficient interviews conducted by Defendant Donatello . . . be videotaped per CAC protocols”. Id., Counts five and six.

         In lieu of answering the Complaint, defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint by arguing, inter alia, that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, [4] and in the alternative that plaintiff's claims lack merit or otherwise fail to state a cause of action. Medical defendants' Memorandum of Law [10-4]; County defendants' Memorandum of Law [12-17');">7]. While plaintiff's counsel submitted an Affidavit with attached exhibits [13');">13');">13');">13] in opposition to defendants' motions, it does not mention any case law or legal authority whatsoever, let alone discuss the specific arguments raised by defendants in support of dismissal.[5]

         ANALYSIS

         A. Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) Motions

         1. The Rule 12 ...


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