United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION & ORDER
WILLIAM H. PAULEY III, DISTRICT JUDGE.
the City of New York, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and five
Assistant District Attorneys, move to dismiss this federal
civil-rights action by retired police officers who were
indicted in a massive Social Security fraud. For the
following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss is
Philip Blessinger, John Byrne, Scott Greco, and Darlene
Ilchert were indicted in a sweeping investigation by the
Manhattan DA into a large-scale Social Security Disability
insurance fraud. The masterminds of the scheme, the
“Lavallee Group, ” approached retired police
officers like Plaintiffs and offered to prepare fraudulent
applications for Social Security Disability Insurance
(“SSDI”) in exchange for cash kickbacks from the
resulting SSDI benefits. The Lavallee Group sent Plaintiffs
to selected mental-health professionals who provided
documentation of psychiatric conditions such as
post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and
depression. Plaintiffs allegedly used these diagnoses to file
fraudulent SSDI applications, which were prepared by the
Lavallee Group and contained substantively identical claims.
Once they obtained the SSDI benefits, Plaintiffs paid the
Lavallee Group in cash increments of less than $10, 000.
January 2014 a Manhattan grand jury indicted Plaintiffs
(along with more than one hundred other individuals),
charging them with Grand Larceny and Criminal Facilitation.
They were subsequently arrested on warrants issued under the
indictments. ADA Bhatia also filed civil asset forfeiture
proceedings against Plaintiffs, alleging that the proceeds of
the scheme were subject to forfeiture. Three of the
Plaintiffs filed motions to dismiss their indictments for
lack of evidence and improper venue; the presiding New York
Supreme Court justice denied each motion. Following the
indictments, the District Attorney's office continued to
investigate the charges by, inter alia, sending
investigators to speak to Plaintiffs' family members,
neighbors, and friends.
August 2016 ADA Santora moved to dismiss the charges against
each Plaintiff, citing “additional information and
records . . . includ[ing] psychiatric reports, additional
medical records, [and] work history reports, each of which
was not available to the People at the time the Grand Jury
voted the Indictment.” (Declaration of Elizabeth N.
Krasnow (“Krasnow Decl.”), ECF No. 42, Ex. D at
2.) In light of “this and other newly discovered
information, ” Santora stated, “the People
believe they are unable to prove the cases against these four
defendants beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Krasnow Decl.,
Ex. D at 2.) The District Attorney also stipulated to a
dismissal of the civil forfeiture proceedings the following
day. Notably, these stipulations contained remedy waivers
that Defendants are not seeking to enforce in this case.
(See, e.g. Krasnow Decl., Ex. L at 2.)
The Individual § 1983 Claims
argue that the claims for false arrest, malicious
prosecution, unreasonable asset seizure, and abuse of process
under § 1983 are barred by the Eleventh Amendment (with
respect to claims brought against the DA Defendants in their
official capacities) and the doctrine of absolute
prosecutorial immunity (with respect to claims brought
against the DA Defendants in their individual capacities).
See Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522,
529 (2d Cir. 1993) (“[T]he capacities in which a state
official is sued for damages under § 1983 establish
parallel lines of privileges.”)
claims against the DA Defendants in their official capacities
are plainly barred by the Eleventh Amendment which,
“with few exceptions, bars federal courts from
entertaining suits brought by a private party against the
state in its own name.” Ying Jing Gan, 996
F.2d at 529. Prosecutors are entitled to Eleventh Amendment
immunity when they are acting as state officials rather than
city or county employees. When prosecuting a criminal matter
on behalf of the state-for example, in “making an
individual decision whether to prosecute”-a district
attorney is considered a state official for Eleventh
Amendment purposes. Peterson v. Tomaselli, 469
F.Supp.2d 146, 157 (S.D.N.Y. 2007); see also Baez v.
Hennessy, 853 F.2d 73, 77 (2d Cir. 1988) (“[W]hen
prosecuting a criminal matter, a district attorney in New
York State, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, represents
the State not the county.”).
Plaintiffs allege that the DA Defendants violated their
constitutional rights by indicting and arresting them,
freezing their assets as possible proceeds of fraud, and
later dismissing the charges. All of this conduct is part and
parcel of a district attorney's role in prosecuting (or
deciding whether to continue to prosecute) a crime on behalf
of the state. Accordingly, these claims cannot form the basis
for liability against the DA Defendants in their official
the claims against the DA Defendants in their individual
capacities are barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity.
See Ying Jing Gan, 996 F.2d at 529. This immunity
“is broader than Eleventh Amendment immunity . . . and
extends beyond the decision of whether or not to
prosecute.” Peterson, 469 F.Supp.2d at 159.
Absolute prosecutorial immunity reflects the need “to
preserve the integrity of the judicial process and . . .
enable zealous performance of prosecutorial duties . . .
without the constant threat of legal reprisals.”
Pinaud v. Cty. of Suffolk, 52 F.3d 1139, 1147 (2d
Cir. 1995). Prosecutors can claim absolute immunity for
“prosecutorial activities that are ‘intimately
associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process,
[including] initiating a prosecution and  presenting the
state's case.'” Peterson, 469
F.Supp.2d at 159 (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424
U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976)). Ultimately, absolute immunity
covers “virtually all acts, regardless of motivation,
associated with [the DA's] function as an
advocate.” Dory v. Ryan, 25 F.3d 81, 83 (2d
claims against the DA Defendants in their individual
capacities are based on conduct that falls squarely within
the scope of absolute immunity. Specifically, Plaintiffs
allege that the DA Defendants conducted a subpar
investigation and, as a result, indicted innocent parties.
These acts are exactly the type that courts in this circuit
have repeatedly found to be protected by the doctrine of
absolute immunity. See, e.g. Bernard v. Cty. of
Suffolk, 356 F.3d 495, 503 (2d Cir. 2004) (finding
absolute immunity for prosecutor's decision to seek
indictment without probable cause); Hill v. City of New
York, 45 F.3d 653, 661 (2d Cir. 1995) (absolute immunity
applies even when prosecutor alleged to have presented
falsified evidence to the grand jury); Spear v. West
Hartford, 954 F.2d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1992) (applying
absolute immunity to prosecutors who initiated civil suits in
connection with criminal prosecutions).