United States District Court, E.D. New York
PATRICIA RANTA, NICHOLAS RANTA, and PRISCILLA RANTA, Plaintiffs,
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, and LOUIS SCARCELLA, and STEPHEN CHMIL, individually and as Members of the New York City Police Department, and JOHN AND JANE DOE POLICE OFFICERS #1-15, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
FREDERIC BLOCK SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Ranta spent twenty-three years in prison for a murder he did
not commit. See Frances Robles, Man Framed by Detective Will
Get $6.4 Million From New York City After Serving 23 Years
for Murder, N.Y. Times, Feb. 20, 2014, at ¶ 19. He
settled with the City of New York before filing suit. See id.
ex-wife and children, meanwhile, filed this lawsuit against
the City and two detectives with the New York City Police
Department, Louis Scarcella and Stephen Chmil. Invoking 42
U.S.C. § 1983, they claimed that the detectives deprived
them of their Fourteenth Amendment rights to (1) familial
association and (2) access to courts, and that the City is
liable for those deprivations under Monell v. Department
of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). All defendants
moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
prior memorandum and order, Judge Townes granted the motion
with respect to the familial association claim, holding that
uncertainty in the law governing the claim entitled the
detectives to qualified immunity. See Ranta v. City of
New York, 2015 WL 5821658, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30,
2015). With respect to access to courts, she converted the
motion to a motion for summary judgment and gave the parties
leave to submit additional factual material. See Id.
at *9. Finally, she dismissed the New York City Police
Department as a non-suable entity, see id., and
deferred consideration of the Monell claim, see Id.
case was reassigned to me following Judge Townes' death.
For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is
granted and the plaintiffs' access-to-courts claim is
dismissed. However, the complaint is deemed amended to
directly allege the state-law causes of action underlying the
Judge Townes explained, the plaintiffs claim that Scarcella
and Chmil covered up their efforts to frame David, which
“[p]revented them from timely asserting state-law
claims including, but not limited to, loss of consortium and
marital benefits (Patricia); loss of consortium (Nicholas and
Priscilla); and intentional or negligent infliction of
emotional and mental pain, suffering, and distress (Patricia,
Nicholas, Priscilla).” Ranta, 2015 WL 5821658,
at *7. Thus, they assert what the Supreme Court has called
“backward-looking access claims, ”
Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 414 n.11
(2002), in which “[t]he official acts claimed to have
denied access may allegedly have caused the loss or
inadequate settlement of a meritorious case, ”
Id. In Harbury, the Supreme Court “assume[d],
without deciding, the correctness of the [circuit-court]
decisions” recognizing backward-looking claims,
Id. at 414, n.9. Ten years later, the Second Circuit
stated that “[t]he viability of backing-looking
right-of-access claims is far from clear in this
Circuit.” Sousa v. Marquez, 702 F.3d 124, 128
(2d Cir. 2012).
such a claim exists, the plaintiff must establish both
“the underlying cause of action and its lost
remedy.” 536 U.S. at 415. If the underlying cause of
action is still viable, then there can be no access-to-courts
claim: “There is, after all, no point in spending time
and money to establish the facts constituting denial of
access when a plaintiff would end up just as well off after
litigating a simpler case without the denial-of-access
defendants' principal argument is that “when one
spouse settles a claim against a defendant, and signs a
release, the other spouse is precluded from bringing a
separate action for loss of consortium.” Defs.'
Supp. Mem. of Law 3. As an initial matter, that argument
would have no bearing on claims for intentional and negligent
infliction of emotional distress; nor is it clear that the
same rule applies to loss of consortium claims by children.
In any event, even with respect to loss of spousal consortium
claims, the rule is not that simple. In Buckley v.
National Freight, Inc., 90 N.Y.2d 210 (1997), the New
York Court of Appeals held that “a loss of consortium
claim must be joined with a claim for illness or bodily harm
whenever possible.” Id. at 216 (emphasis
added). It then approvingly quoted the Restatement position:
[I]t is possible to join the actions . . . in all situations
in which the deprived spouse has had full opportunity to join
in the impaired spouse's action and assert a claim and
has failed to do so. Thus if the impaired spouse has begun an
action for bodily harm, and then settled it and given a
release, and the deprived spouse has stood by throughout with
full knowledge of the conduct, it has been possible to join
in the action at any time before it has become barred by the
release, and the deprived spouse cannot now be permitted to
maintain a separate action.
Id. at 216-17.
Buckley, the injured party had filed suit and then signed a
release. Her husband had “stood by throughout with full
knowledge, ” and offered “no special
circumstances such as illness or disablement which would have
explained his failure to prosecute his claim before his
wife's action was settled.” Id. at 217
(internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). Thus, the
Court of Appeals held that “when plaintiff's wife
released her claim, the release barred plaintiff's claim
for loss of consortium.” Id. at 217.
by contrast, there is no evidence that Patricia, Nicholas and
Priscilla had a “full opportunity” to join
David's action for the simple reason that David settled
before filing suit. Moreover, that David and Patricia are
divorced suggests an obvious reason why she might not have
been aware of or privy to the settlement discussions in the
same way a current spouse would ...