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Burdick v. Town of Schroeppel

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 6, 2017

TOWN OF SCHROEPPEL; ARMEN J. NAZARAIN, Schroeppel Town Justice; SALVATORE LANZA, Esq.; DONALD TODD, Oswego County Court Judge; JAMES G. CLOONAN, Oswego County Commissioner of Jurors; and OSWEGO COUNTY NEW YORK, Defendants.

          STEVEN D. BURDICK Plaintiff, pro se.


          Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge.

         On November 21, 2016, Plaintiff Steven D. Burdick filed his original 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint against Defendants Town of Schroeppel, Armen J. Nazarian[1] ("Justice Nazarian"), Salvatore Lanza, Esq. ("Lanza"), Donald Todd ("Judge Todd"), James G. Cloonan ("Cloonan"), and Oswego County. See Dkt. No. 1. That same day, Plaintiff also filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"). See Dkt. No. 2. Following a series of extensions, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on January 18, 2017, see Dkt. No. 9, and additional exhibits in support of the amended complaint on January 25, 2017, see Dkt. No. 12.

         On January 31, 2017, Magistrate Judge Dancks issued an Order and Report-Recommendation which granted Plaintiff's IFP application and recommended that the Court (1) dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint without leave to amend, see Dkt. No. 13 at 17; (2) dismiss Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Justice Nazarian, Judge Todd, Lanza, Oswego County and the Town of Schroeppel with prejudice, see id.; (3) and refrain from exercising supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims, see id. On February 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed his objections to the Order and Report-Recommendation. See Dkt. No. 14. On February 17, 2017 and March 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed two additional letters in support of the amended complaint. See Dkt. Nos. 15-16. Currently before this Court is Magistrate Judge Dancks' Order and Report-Recommendation. See Dkt. No. 13.

         When a plaintiff seeks to proceed IFP, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In making this determination, "'the court has the duty to show liberality towards pro se litigants, ' however, 'there is a responsibility on the court to determine that a claim has some arguable basis in law before permitting a plaintiff to proceed with an action in forma pauperis.'" Griffin v. Doe, 71 F.Supp.3d 306, 311 (N.D.N.Y. 2014) (quoting Moreman v. Douglas, 848 F.Supp. 332, 333-34 (N.D.N.Y. 1994); see also Thomas v. Scully, 943 F.2d 259, 260 (2d Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (holding that a district court has the power to dismiss a complaint sua sponte if the complaint is frivolous).

         When reviewing a complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), courts are guided by applicable requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While Rule 8(a) "does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ' . . . it demands more than an unadorned" recitation of the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)) (other citations omitted).

         To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a party need only present a claim that is "plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "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 (citation omitted). In determining whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted, "the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted).

         When a party files specific objections to a magistrate judge's order and report-recommendation, the district court "make[s] a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). However, when a party files "'[g]eneral or conclusory objections, or objections which merely recite the same arguments presented to the magistrate judge, '" the court reviews those recommendations "'for clear error.'" Chime v. Peak Sec. Plus, Inc., 137 F.Supp.3d 183, 187 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (quotation omitted). After the appropriate review, "the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         Plaintiff sued Defendants pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a violation of his civil rights under the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. See Dkt. No. 9 at 3. Magistrate Judge Dancks recommended dismissing Plaintiff's claims on a number of grounds. See Dkt. No. 13 at 9.

         First, as Magistrate Judge Dancks correctly explained, civil lawsuits may not be used to collaterally attack criminal convictions. See id. at 8. Rather, the Supreme Court has held that:

[I]n order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.

Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254); see also Praileau v. Fischer, 930 F.Supp.2d 383, 396 (N.D.N.Y. 2013) (stating "[u]nless, and until, the conviction is challenged and adjudicated in Plaintiff's favor, Plaintiff's [42 U.S.C. § 1983] claims are barred under Heck").

         As Magistrate Judge Dancks found, Plaintiff's claims related to the jury pool selection, voir dire, jury charges, ineffective assistance of counsel, and appeals of the previous case would necessarily imply the unlawfulness of a valid conviction or sentence and fall within Heck. See Dkt. No. 13 at 9. Plaintiff objects, stating that his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims should not be barred because "[a] jury found Claimant/Plaintiff was not guilty on [the] charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child" and because he "is pursuing an appeal to the Court of Appeals as to the dismissal of his appeal of conviction Oswego County Court (Judge Todd)." Dkt. No. 14 at ¶ 1. Nonetheless, Plaintiff's convictions for resisting arrest and cruelty to an animal have not been overturned. Where, as here, "success on Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims would implicate the validity of the remaining convictions, Heck's bar precludes their adjudication" notwithstanding the fact that Plaintiff was not convicted on all counts. Warren v. Fischl, No. 15-cv-2829, 2015 WL 6760230, *6 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2015), aff'd, ___ Fed. Appx.___, 2017 WL 66584 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2017) (emphasis added). Moreover, to the extent the complaint may be deemed to assert a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, such claim is also barred by Heck. See Amaker v. Weiner, 179 F.3d 48, 51-52 (2d Cir. 1999) (collecting cases).

         Second, Magistrate Judge Dancks recommended dismissing the claims against Justice Nazarian and Judge Todd with prejudice due to judicial immunity. See Dkt. No. 13 at 10. "[J]udicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages." Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). "[T]he Supreme Court has generally concluded that acts arising out of, or related to, individual cases before the judge are considered judicial in nature." Bliven v. Hunt, 579 F.3d 204, 210 (2d Cir. 2009). "This immunity applies even ...

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