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Hanniford v. County of Dutchess

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 14, 2017

COUNTY OF DUTCHESS, OFFICER ERIC D. HARRIS, in his individual capacity, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER


         On June 4, 2017, plaintiff Dean Hanniford filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as his right to due process. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by defendant County of Dutchess (“defendant” or “County”) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 30.)

         Plaintiff's Complaint rests entirely on his assertion that the “charge of Burglary was brought against Plaintiff for the sole purpose of preventing Plaintiff from posting bail.” (Compl. ¶ 28.) In other words, he contends that no probable cause existed for his burglary arrest on April 22, 2016. However, the facts included in defendant's exhibits-which plaintiff agrees are incorporated by reference in the Complaint-support probable cause for that charge. (See Mem. Opp. at 4, 7 (stipulating to most of the facts in defendant's memorandum and to defendant's exhibits B, C, and D).) Plaintiff was found on April 8, 2016 with stolen jewelry; six days later, he was identified by a burglary victim as having been at her house the day before the burglary took place. The same jewelry reported as stolen in March was identified by the victim in April; the identified jewelry was that which plaintiff Hanniford was found with on April 8, 2016. This evidence, undisputed by plaintiff, provides a sufficient basis for the burglary charge. (Id. ¶ 28.) Accordingly, defendant's motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual allegations below are drawn from plaintiff's Complaint, (ECF No. 1), as well as three documents produced by defendant, (Mem. Supp., Ex. B, Ex. C, Ex. D).[1] They are presumed true for purposes of this motion.

         On June 17, 2015, plaintiff was arraigned in Dutchess County for criminal possession of a weapon. (Compl. ¶ 11.) He posted bond and was released several months later, on February 3, 2016. (Id.)

         On March 17, 2016, while plaintiff was out on bail, a burglary occurred in the County. (Mot. Dismiss, Ex. D., at ¶ 1.) That day, the victim of the burglary filed a complaint alleging that her house had been burglarized; her complaint listed nine items that had been stolen, including a wedding ring and a diamond and sapphire necklace and earring set. (Id. at ¶ 1-E2.) A few weeks later, on April 8, 2016, plaintiff was arrested again and charged with two new felonies: criminal possession of stolen property and of a controlled substance. (Compl. ¶ 12.) The stolen property included a diamond and sapphire necklace and earring set, as well as a wedding ring. (Mot. Dismiss, Ex. D., at ¶ 4.) On April 11, 2016, and as a result, the county court increased the amount of the bond needed to post bail for plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 13.) A bail source hearing was scheduled for April 22, 2016. (Id.)

         Meanwhile, on April 14, 2016, the burglary victim saw plaintiff's picture in the local newspaper; she went to the police and identified plaintiff as “the person that was in [her] house on March 16, 2016, the day before the burglary.” (Mot. Dismiss, Ex. D., at ¶ 4.) Her statement noted that “Investigator Harris . . . informed [her that the] jewelry was found in the vehicle Hanniford was a passenger in. He directed [her] to contact SP Cortlandt to verify that jewelry as [hers], which [she] recognized.” (Id.) She proceeded to identify her “diamond wedding band, [her] sentimental ring purchased with [her] daughter in Florida, [valued at] ~$40, [her] sapphire and diamond set in platinum purchased as a gift for [her] from [her] husband-a necklace and earring set valued at more than $3000.” (Id.)

         Before the bail source hearing on Friday, April 22, 2016, defendant Harris filed another complaint against plaintiff-this time for burglary in the second degree-and a warrant was issued. (Compl. ¶ 14; Mot. Dismiss, Ex. B. (“Hearing Tr.”), at 17:3-8; id., Ex. 4 at ¶ 2.) At the hearing, plaintiff was arraigned on the burglary charge. (Hearing Tr. at 9:7-15.) Over the defendant's vulgar objections referring to the judge as “the devil” and exclaming “I spit in your fucking face. Fuck you acting like you tough in a fucking robe, ” the judge set bail on the burglary charge at $200, 000 cash or a $400, 000 bond, an amount plaintiff asserts he could not meet. (Id. at 17-18; see also Compl. ¶ 17.) Three days later, on Monday, April 25, 2016, plaintiff pled guilty to the pre-existing weapons charge in an agreement that provided for a five-year term of imprisonment. Thus, as of April 25, 2016, plaintiff commenced serving his sentence and the bail issues were essentially moot. (Mem. Supp., Ex. C, at 28:3.)

         On November 15, 2016, the County moved to reduce the burglary charge to petit larceny. (Compl. ¶ 18.) A week later, on November 22, 2016, the County then moved to dismiss the outstanding criminal charges; that motion was ultimately granted on December 20, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) In a written decision explaining why he agreed to dismiss the charge, the town justice wrote that “any sentence that Defendant might serve if convicted of [petit larceny] would merge with his prison sentence on the weapons indictment as a matter of law.” (Konan Decl., ECF No. 34, Ex. 1 at 5.) He also noted that the “evidence that Defendant committed the burglary is also entirely circumstantial, whereas the possession of stolen property charges pending in Putnam County are based upon direct evidence.” (Id.)


         A. Pleading Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a defendant may move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must provide grounds upon which their claim rests through “factual allegations sufficient ‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In other words, the complaint must allege “‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Starr v. Sony BMG Music Entm't, 592 F.3d 314, 321 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         In applying that standard, the Court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations, but it does not credit “mere conclusory statements” or “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action.” Id. Furthermore, the Court will give “no effect to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.” Port Dock & Stone Corp. v. Oldcastle Ne., Inc., 507 F.3d 117, 121 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). If the Court can infer no more than the mere possibility of misconduct from the factual averments-in other words, if the well-pled allegations of the ...

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