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Blount v. Moccia

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 21, 2017

KELLY BLOUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK MOCCIA; WILLIAM PUSKAS; JASON KORPOLINSKI; STEWART A. LIEBER; MICHAEL GEE; ROBERT REGNIER; JAVIER VALENTIN; LIEUTENANT BHOJ; OFFICER O'ROURKE; JESSICA GROPPE; ROBERT T. JOHNSON; SEAN MARYNES; THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          GREGORY H. WOODS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kelly Blount was arrested and indicted in 2012 for robbery and other related crimes. Three years later, the charges against him were dismissed. Plaintiff filed this action against several members of the New York City Police Department (the “NYPD Defendants”), members of the Bronx District Attorney's Office (the “D.A. Defendants”), and the City of New York, alleging violations of his constitutional rights in connection with the prosecution of the criminal charges against him. In his second amended complaint, Plaintiff expressly pleads a claim for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“section 1983”). The Court also construes the second amended complaint to suggest a due process claim under section 1983, Monell liability, and claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and respondeat superior liability under New York state law.

         Defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Because the D.A. Defendants are entitled to absolute immunity, the claims against them are dismissed. Plaintiff's federal claims against the other defendants are also dismissed, and the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims. Defendants' motion to dismiss is therefore GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         A. The July 31, 2012 Armed Robbery

         Shortly after midnight in the morning hours of August 1, 2012, Plaintiff's brother, Jesse Blount, was arrested in connection with the armed robbery of two victims that had occurred just hours before on July 31, 2012. Plaintiff's Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 66 (“Pl.'s Opp.”), Ex. 1.[2] Jesse was carrying Plaintiff's identification at the time. Pl.'s Supp. Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 78 (“Pl.'s Supp. Opp.”) at 4.[3] Jesse was taken to the 47th Precinct, where Officer Jason Korpolinski was assigned to process his arrest. Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 1.

         Both robbery victims positively identified Jesse during a show-up identification. Id. Several pieces of jewelry that were identified as stolen items by one of the victims were recovered from the front yard of 3327 Barker Avenue-the same area where Jesse's arresting officer first saw him. Id. A semi-automatic handgun was also recovered from nearby. Id. According to the report prepared by Captain Stewart A. Lieber, the duty captain responsible for investigating the robbery, the following NYPD members “were present”: Sergeants Gee, Quiles, O'Rourke, and Laliberte; Detectives Regnier, Higgins, and Cacce; Lieutenants Bhoj and Valentin; and Officers Martinez and Moccia. Id. Captain Lieber recommended that the matter be “followed up by the 47th Precinct Detective Squad.” Id.

         That same day, Detective Mark Moccia of the 47th Precinct Detective Squad requested that a “Deputy Commissioner's Subpoena” be issued to T-Mobile USA, Inc. in connection with a stolen cell phone. Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 2. The request noted that one of the robbery victim's cell phone was stolen on July 31, 2012, and that the cell phone records were “required to determine if the cell phone was used after it was stolen and to aid in locating the perpetrator.” Id. The request for the subpoena was approved weeks later by the Commanding Officer of the 47th Precinct Detective Squad. Id.

         B. Plaintiff's Arrest and Indictment

         On August 8, 2012, at approximately 6:00 a.m., Detectives William Puskas and Mark Moccia, [4] accompanied by other plain-clothed detectives, knocked and banged on Plaintiff's windows and doors. Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 41 (“SAC”) at 3. When Plaintiff answered the door, Detectives Puskas and Moccia knocked him to the floor and “[s]eized” him “because of an alleged robbery that occurred the night of July 31, 2012” (the “robbery”). Id. A little over an hour later, Plaintiff was transported to the “Detective Bureau” located at 1086 Simpson Street in the Bronx. Id. Plaintiff was neither interrogated nor asked to provide any handwritten or oral statements in connection with the robbery. Id.

         The following day, Plaintiff was arraigned in the Bronx County Criminal Court, and an “[e]xcessive [b]ail” was set. SAC at 4. Plaintiff was then taken to the Vernon C. Bain Center (“V.C.B.C.”) in the Bronx, where he was detained for six days. Id.

         On August 14, 2012, at approximately 6:00 p.m., Plaintiff testified before a grand jury and was questioned by Assistant District Attorney (“ADA”) Sean Marynes about the robbery. Id. The “complainant witness did not implicate Plaintiff in the robbery.” Pl.'s Supp. Opp. at 4. That same evening, Plaintiff was released home. SAC at 4. At some point between August 30, 2012 and September 10, 2012, Plaintiff was indicted on various robbery and other related charges. Id.[5]Among other things, the indictment charged Plaintiff and his brother with committing various counts of robbery by “acting in concert with each other and another, and each aiding the others actually present.” Declaration of Melissa Kim in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 59 (“Kim Decl.”), Ex. B.[6]

         C. Plaintiff's Criminal Proceedings

         Plaintiff was initially represented by attorney David Barnhard in connection with the criminal charges. SAC at 4. At some point, Plaintiff's brother provided “Exculpatory Materials” to Mr. Barnhard, after the receipt of which Mr. Barnhard withdrew as counsel to Plaintiff out of concern that he would be called upon as a potential witness. Id.[7] Attorney Victor Schurr then assumed Plaintiff's representation. Id. Mr. Barnhard provided Mr. Schurr with Plaintiff's file, including the “BRADT [sic] Materials.” Id.

         On March 6, 2014, ADA Jessica Groppe issued a subpoena duces tecum to Mr. Schurr, commanding that Mr. Schurr produce “[a]udio calls, letters and notes from Jesse Blount to former attorney for Kelly Blount (David Barnhard) regarding Indictment 2726/2012 (People v. Jesse Blount & Kelly Blount)” on March 7, 2014. Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 3. Mr. Schurr provided the “Brady Materials” to ADA Groppe. SAC at 4. Plaintiff alleges that, despite ADA Groppe's receipt of the exculpatory materials, she “never investigated correctly or stated any of these materials to the Judge.” Id. ADA Groppe then “stepped off” Plaintiff's case. Id.

         D. Plaintiff's Charges Are Dismissed

         In a letter dated January 27, 2015, Plaintiff's brother Jesse acknowledged that he decided to “be a big man” and “to tell the truth about July 31st.” Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 4.[8] The letter describes the robbery and states that, after stealing jewelry and a cell phone from his victims, Jesse ran to Plaintiff's house “and asked him for car fair [sic] so [he] could pawn the jewlery [sic].” Id. The letter affirms that Plaintiff “never knew what happend [sic].”

         On August 7, 2015, after “an extensive 1, 072 days, ” the charges against Plaintiff were dismissed. SAC at 3.[9]

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants maliciously prosecuted him by arresting him while knowing that the real suspect was already in custody, suppressing exculpatory evidence, and violating New York's speedy trial laws. SAC at 4. Plaintiff claims that, as a result, he has endured “cruel and unusual pain, mental anguish, emotional distress, a divorce, and pain to [his] daughter.” SAC at 5. Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of fourteen million dollars. Id.

         E. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed this action pro se on June 15, 2016, naming as defendants various members of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), former Bronx County District Attorney Robert T. Johnson, ADA Sean Marynes, the Bronx County 47th Precinct, and the City of New York. ECF No. 1. The case was initially assigned to Chief Judge McMahon. Plaintiff was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis on October 24, 2016. ECF No. 6.

         On November 10, 2016, Chief Judge McMahon issued an order sua sponte granting Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint to address the timeliness of his claims arising out of his August 2012 arrest. ECF No. 7. Chief Judge McMahon also granted Plaintiff leave to plead whether all of the charges brought against him in connection with his arrest were dismissed. Id. On December 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, naming in large part the same defendants as the original complaint. ECF No. 9.

         On January 31, 2017, the case was reassigned to this Court. On February 1, 2017, the Court dismissed as time-barred Plaintiff's claims for false arrest, excessive force, and false imprisonment, noting that Plaintiff failed to address the timeliness of these claims in his amended complaint. ECF No. 12. On April 5, 2017, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint, which Plaintiff filed on April 17, 2017. ECF Nos. 39, 41. The second amended complaint again names as defendants various NYPD members, Bronx County District Attorney defendants, and the City of New York. ECF No. 41.

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the second amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on June 16, 2017. ECF No. 56.[10] Plaintiff filed his opposition to Defendants' motion on July 17, 2017. ECF No. 66. Defendants filed a reply on August 22, 2017, and Plaintiff filed a supplemental opposition on September 12, 2017. ECF Nos. 74, 78.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Rule 8 “does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “To survive dismissal, the plaintiff must provide the grounds upon which his 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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The court must accept all facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Burch v. Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc., 551 F.3d 122, 124 (2d Cir. 2008) (per curiam). However, a complaint that offers “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without “further factual enhancement” will not survive a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).

         “In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint.” DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). “Where a document is not incorporated by reference, the court may never[the]less consider it where the complaint ‘relies heavily upon its terms and effect, ' thereby rendering the document ‘integral' to the complaint.” Id. (quoting Mangiafico v. Blumenthal, 471 F.3d 391, 398 (2d Cir. 2006)). Finally, the Court may also consider “matters of which judicial notice may be taken.” Goel v. Bunge, Ltd., 820 F.3d 554, 559 (2d Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).

         Because he is proceeding pro se, the Court must liberally construe Plaintiff's submissions and interpret them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also, e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (“A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed' . . . .” (citation omitted)); Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 63 (2d Cir. 2014) (“Where . . . the complaint was filed pro se, it must be construed liberally to raise the strongest claims it suggests.” (quoting Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013))). This mandate “applies with particular force when a plaintiff's civil rights are at issue.” Bell v. Jendell, 980 F.Supp.2d 555, 558 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Maisonet v. Metro. Hosp. & Health Hosp. Corp., 640 F.Supp.2d 345, 348 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)). However, “the liberal treatment afforded to pro se litigants does not exempt a pro se party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.” Id. at 559 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Rahman v. Schriro, 22 F.Supp.3d 305, 310 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (“[D]ismissal of a pro se complaint is nevertheless appropriate where a plaintiff has clearly failed to meet minimum pleading requirements.” (citing Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 65 (2d Cir. 1997))).

         III. DISCUSSION

         While Plaintiff specifically frames his allegations as bringing a claim under section 1983 for malicious prosecution, he also asserts that Defendants violated his constitutional rights secured by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. SAC at 4.[11] Defendants move to dismiss only Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim. However, to the extent that Plaintiff's second amended complaint can be read to raise other claims, the Court also addresses those claims.

         A. Claims Against the District Attorney Defendants

         Plaintiff claims that former Bronx County D.A. Johnson and ADAs Marynes and Groppe (the “D.A. Defendants”) violated his constitutional rights by (1) delaying his prosecution in violation of his speedy trial rights under New York law, (2) withholding exculpatory evidence, and (3) proceeding with his prosecution despite the exculpatory evidence. To the extent Plaintiff seeks damages from these defendants in their official capacities, the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's claims. Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 66 (2d Cir. 1997); see Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 30 (1991) (“[T]he Eleventh Amendment bars suits in federal courts by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

         To the extent that Plaintiff seeks damages from the D.A. Defendants in their individual capacities, these defendants enjoy absolute immunity. “Absolute immunity bars a civil suit against a prosecutor for advocatory conduct that is ‘intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.'” Giraldo v. Kessler, 694 F.3d 161, 165 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)). “This immunity attaches to conduct in court, as well as conduct ‘preliminary to the initiation of a prosecution and actions apart from the courtroom.'” Id. (quoting Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431 n.33).

         “To determine whether an official enjoys absolute immunity, ” courts are to “take a ‘functional approach, ' examining ‘the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it.'” Simon v. City of New York, 727 F.3d 167, 171 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269 (1993)). “Prosecutorial immunity from § 1983 liability is broadly defined, covering virtually all acts, regardless of motivation, associated with [the prosecutor's] function as an advocate.” Giraldo, 694 F.3d at 165 (quoting Hill v. City of New York, 45 F.3d 653, 660 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted)). “These functions include deciding whether to bring charges and presenting a case to a grand jury or a court, along with the tasks generally considered adjunct to those functions, such as witness preparation, witness selection, and issuing subpoenas.” Simon, 727 F.3d at 171 (citing Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431 n.33). More specifically, the ‚ÄúSupreme Court has explained that a prosecutor's functions preliminary to the initiation of proceedings include ...


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