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Washington v. Ilund

United States District Court, E.D. New York

July 17, 2017




         Plaintiffs Ursula Washington and Ziare Cook, proceeding pro se, filed this action against Defendant Detective Brian Ilund alleging constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from searches of Plaintiffs' home by Defendant Uund on November 19 and November 20, 2014. Defendant moves pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 41(b) to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant, with other officers, arrived at their home on November 19, 2014. (Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 2.) There, officers questioned Plaintiff Cook and conducted a search of the apartment in an unsuccessful attempt to locate Jamar Cook, Plaintiff Cook's father. (Id.) The officers did not present a search warrant. (Id.)

         The officers returned the following day. (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, officers broke the knocker to their front door and flashed a light through the peephole while banging on the door. (Id.) When Plaintiff Washington opened the door, the officers rushed past her, again in search of Jamar Cook. (Id.) The officers proceeded to search the bedrooms, behind the sofa, and in the closets. (Id.) Washington asked the officers if they had a search warrant, but no such warrant was presented to her. (Id.) At some point after the search of the home concluded, Defendant asked Washington her name. (Id.) Upon learning her name, Defendant arrested Plaintiff Washington pursuant to a bench warrant that had issued in August 2014 for an open container violation. (Id.)


         To withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows a court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard "is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (internal citations omitted). A court considering a 12(b)(6) motion must take factual allegations in the complaint to be true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor. Id.

         At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court "must merely determine whether the complaint itself is legally sufficient." Morris v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 37 F.Supp.2d 556, 565 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (internal citation omitted). It is not the Court's function to weigh the evidence that might be presented at trial. Id. The issue before the Court on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion "is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Id. (citing Villager Pond Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 378 (2d Cir. 1995), cert, denied, 519 U.S. 808 (1996)). Recovery "may appear remote and unlikely on the face of the pleading, but that is not the test for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)." Id. (citing Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ, 69 F.3d 669, 673 (2d Cir. 1995)).

         Where, as here, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, courts are "obliged to construe the plaintiffs pleadings liberally." Giannone v. Bank of Am., N.A., 812 F.Supp.2d 216, 219 (E.D.N.Y. 2011). As such, pro se complaints should be read to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)). A pro se complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). This rule is "particularly so when the pro se plaintiff alleges that her civil rights have been violated." Id. (citing McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004)). Accordingly, the dismissal of a pro se claim as insufficiently pleaded is appropriate "only in the most unsustainable of cases." Rios v. Third Precinct Bay Shore, No. 08-cv-4641, 2009 WL 2601303, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 20, 2009).


         I. Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment Claim

         Defendant argues that dismissal is warranted in this case because: (1) Defendant had a bench warrant for Plaintiff Washington's arrest; (2) the purported search of the apartment amounted to no more than a "quick walk through, " not a search; and (3) any search that occurred on November 20, 2014, was a permissible protective sweep to ensure the safety of the officers. (Mem. Law Supp. Def's Mot. to Dismiss 7, 9-10, ECF No. 32.) The Court disagrees.

         With regard to Defendant's first argument, there is no question that "an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives where there is reason to believe the suspect is within." Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980). This authority extends to bench warrants issued for a failure to appear in court. See Cogswell v. Cty. of Suffolk Deputy Sheriff's Dep't, 375 F.Supp.2d 182, 187 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) (authority to enter dwelling to arrest "includes arrests pursuant to bench warrants issued for failing to appear in court"). Accordingly, where a bench warrant is issued for a failure to appear, authorities may "find and seize" the suspect "anywhere they [can] find [her]." United States v. Spencer, 684 F.2d 220, 223 (2d Cir. 1982). The existence of a bench warrant, however, does not give law enforcement unfettered authority to enter a suspect's dwelling. Rather, for entry to be lawful, an officer must have "a reasonable belief that the suspect resides at the place to be entered to execute an arrest warrant[.]" United States v. Lauter, 57 F.3d 212, 215 (2d Cir. 1995). In addition, and of particular significance here, the officer must have a "reason to believe that the suspect is present." Id.; see also Spencer, 684 F.2d at 224 (where search of home was conducted pursuant to a bench warrant in connection with misdemeanor charges, court had to "determine[] whether reason existed to believe that the suspect was within his home").

         In this case, Plaintiffs allege that officers, including Defendant, entered and searched their home on two separate occasions-each time looking for Jamar Cook. (Compl. ¶ 3.) According to the Complaint, on the first occasion, the officers searched the apartment, but did not present a search warrant. (Id.) On the second occasion, Plaintiff Washington alleges that when she answered the door, officers rushed into her home and conducted a search for Jamar Cook. (Id.) Plaintiff Washington further alleges that it was only after the officers began searching the residence, and after she asked the officers whether they had a search ...

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