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Kraus v. Town of Friendship

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 2, 2017

John M. Kraus, Plaintiff,
Town of Friendship, Defendants.


          Honorable Hugh B. Scott United States Magistrate Judge.


         On November 2, 2015, plaintiff John Kraus (“Kraus”) allegedly drove a motor vehicle in the Town of Friendship, New York while his license was suspended. On November 5, 2015, Kraus allegedly drove a motor vehicle again-in particular, a motor vehicle that lacked an ignition interlock device, a requirement imposed following a conviction for driving while intoxicated. Later that day, Kraus was arrested and charged with several violations of New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law (“VTL”). Friendship Town Court (“Town Court”) dismissed all charges against Kraus on May 3, 2016 but without explaining why. Following the dismissal of charges, Kraus sued defendants the Town of Friendship, Friendship Police Officer Erica Kreamer (“Kreamer”), the Town of Cuba, and Cuba Police Officer Jeremy Clauson (“Clauson”) in this District for various violations by way of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         On March 31, 2017, the Town of Friendship and Kreamer filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Dkt. No. 15.) A few days later, on April 3, 2017, the Town of Cuba and Clauson filed a similar motion under Rule 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 17.) All defendants seek dismissal of the complaint because, in their view, Clauson and Kreamer had probable cause to arrest and to charge Kraus. To the extent that defendants have attempted to anticipate specific theories of liability from Kraus, defendants argue further that Clauson and Kraus acted in good faith and would enjoy qualified immunity against any liability. Kraus opposes the motions primarily on the basis that certain purported misrepresentations in the paperwork for the charges meant that Clauson and Kreamer acted maliciously and fraudulently when charging him.

         The Hon. Lawrence J. Vilardo has referred this case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). (Dkt. No. 6.) The Court held oral argument on May 31, 2017. For the reasons below, the Court respectfully recommends granting both motions in their entirety.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Underlying Events

         This case concerns two sets of interactions that Kraus had with law enforcement, on November 2 and November 5, 2015. On November 2, 2015, Clauson, an officer with the Town of Cuba Police Department, was in the Town of Friendship, New York shortly after 3:00 PM. Clauson saw Kraus-he knows who Kraus is-driving a pickup truck in the town. Seeing Kraus drive a pickup truck drew Clauson's attention because he knew from an unspecified prior experience that Kraus had his license suspended. Suspecting that the license remained suspended, Clauson contacted the Town of Friendship Police Department and spoke with Kreamer, the officer on duty. Clauson asked Kreamer to confirm the status of Kraus's license. Kreamer confirmed that Kraus's license remained suspended and asked Clauson to complete a supporting deposition to help her locate and bring charges against Kraus. Kraus was not located, arrested, or charged on November 2, 2015.

         Kraus had another encounter with law enforcement a few days later, on November 5, 2015. The circumstances are not clear from the record, but Kreamer apparently had occasion to observe Kraus driving a motor vehicle that day in the Town of Friendship, at approximately 1:41 PM. Kreamer's observation was significant because, at the time, Kraus was under an obligation to drive only motor vehicles that had an ignition interlock device in them.[2] The obligation came from a prior conviction for driving while intoxicated. The record implies, and the parties do not contest, that Kreamer believed that she saw Kraus in a motor vehicle that did not have an ignition interlock device. A short time later, Kreamer found Kraus at his residence, arrested him, served him with three traffic citations, and brought him to Town Court.

         The three traffic citations that Kreamer served on Kraus covered the events of both November 2 and November 5, 2015 and came in the form of simplified traffic informations. The first simplified traffic information, for November 2, charged Kraus with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the second degree, in violation of N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law (“VTL”) § 511(2)(a)(iv). (Dkt. No. 21-2 at 2.) Kreamer signed the form and affirmed under penalty of perjury. Item number seven on the form stated that the charge was based on “Officer's Direct Observation”; which officer-Clauson or Kreamer-was not specified. In support of the simplified traffic information, Clauson furnished a supporting deposition dated November 4, 2015. (Dkt. No. 21-4 at 2.) In the supporting deposition, Clauson described his direct observations of Kraus driving a pickup truck while his license was suspended. The other two simplified traffic informations charged Kraus with operating a leased, rented, or borrowed motor vehicle without an ignition interlock device, in violation of VTL § 1198(7)(a); and with operating a motor vehicle without an ignition interlock device, while under court order to use one, in violation of VTL § 1198(9)(d). Kreamer listed direct observation, presumably her own, as the basis for the charges. Any supporting depositions created in support of these simplified traffic informations are not part of the record for this case.

         Kraus appeared in Town Court on November 5, 2015. Town Court set bail at $5, 000 cash or $10, 000 property bond. At a subsequent proceeding on May 3, 2016, Town Court dismissed all three simplified traffic informations and all charges against Kraus. (Dkt. No. 21-3 at 2.) The certificate of disposition does not list any reasons for the dismissal.

         B. This Litigation

         Kraus commenced this case by filing a complaint on January 10, 2017. (Dkt. No. 1.) The complaint contains no sections labeled “claims” or “causes of action, ” and it does not contain any language explicitly setting forth distinct claims or theories of liability. Nonetheless, the complaint contains language that hints at federal[3] and state theories of liability. Kraus recited Clauson's preparation of a supporting deposition on November 4, 2015. Kraus did not assert that the information in Clauson's supporting deposition was false. Rather, Kraus focused on Clauson's passing of the supporting deposition to Kreamer and her ambiguous listing of “direct observation” in the November 2 simplified traffic information. Kraus made reference to both November 5 simplified traffic informations but did not assert that any content in them was false. Based solely on the ambiguity in the November 2 simplified traffic information-that is, the ambiguity about who made the direct observation-and the ultimate dismissal of charges, Kraus asserted “[t]hat the actions of the above named officers of the Town of Friendship and Town of Cuba Police Departments causing the detention and arrest was unreasonable, negligent, carless, was in violation of Plaintiffs constitutional rights under the fourth (4th) and fourteenth (l4th) Amendment of the United States Constitution and those provisions of the Constitution of the State of New York.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 3 ¶ 16.) Kraus asserted further “[t]hat the actions of these individual Defendants were malicious, oppressive and illegal.” (Id. ¶ 17.) Kraus attributed liability to the municipal defendants by asserting “[t]hat upon information and belief the respective Towns of Friendship and Cuba condones [sic], condone, urged and required the individuals to act in violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights.” (Id. ¶ 18.) Finally, before moving to a discussion of claimed damages, Kraus made reference to his “illegal and unlawful arrest and detention.” (Id. ¶ 19.)

         C. ...

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