United States District Court, N.D. New York
WILLIE J. STRONG, JR., Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF SYRACUSE, POLICE OFFICER GONZALEZ, and POLICE OFFICER KATELL, Defendants.
Lichtmacher Attorney for Plaintiff
Christina F. DeJoseph Khalid Bashjawish City of Syracuse
Corporation Counsel Attorneys for Defendants
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
A. MORDUE SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Willie J. Strong, Jr. brings this action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against the City of Syracuse
(“City”), Police Officer Gonzalez, and Police
Officer Katell (collectively the “Defendants”),
alleging constitutional violations related to his arrest by
the officers in September 2013. (Dkt. No. 1). Now before the
Court is the Defendants' unopposed motion for judgment on
the pleadings as to Plaintiff's third cause of action.
(Dkt. Nos. 57, 60). For the following reasons, the motion is
alleges that on September 2, 2013 at approximately 2:00 a.m.,
he was pulled over by Defendant Officers Gonzalez and Katell
and ordered to get out of his vehicle. (Dkt. No. 1, ¶
10). Plaintiff claims that he complied with the officers'
orders and exited the vehicle with his hands raised,
whereupon the officers charged at him, struck him in the
head, put him in handcuffs, and kicked, elbowed, and punched
him, all while “hurling racial slurs at him.”
(Id., ¶¶ 11-12, 14). Plaintiff claims that
he was taken to the hospital and received stitches for his
injuries, and that “[t]here was no need to use any
force much less the gratuitous, malicious force employed,
before and after the handcuffs were placed on [him].”
(Id., ¶¶ 15-16).
claims are as follows: (1) excessive force against the
officers; (2) failure to intervene against the officers; and
(3) a municipal liability claim against the City pursuant to
Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs. of City of New York,
436 U.S. 658 (1978). (Dkt. No. 1).
Monell claim alleges that the City “tolerates
members of the [Syracuse Police Department
(“SPD”)] committing acts violating the Fourth
Amendment rights of members of the African American
community.” (Id., ¶ 30). Plaintiff
alleges that “Syracuse operates and controls a police
department with numerous members, insensitive and hostile to
the African American community, ” and that “SPD
has had frequent instances of the use of gratuitous,
unreasonable and excessive force against members of the
African American community as well as other violations of
that community's constitutional rights and still,
Syracuse has failed to take effective action to curtail the
aforementioned behavior by its officers.”
(Id., ¶¶ 32-33). Plaintiff claims that the
City of Syracuse, “via its de facto policy of
tolerating the abuse of African Americans, caused plaintiff
to sustain physical injuries, including permanent and
non-permanent physical injuries . . . .” (Id.,
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits the entry of judgment
as a matter of law on the basis of the pleadings alone.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); Oneida Indian Nation
v. Phillips, 397 F.Supp.3d 223, 229 (N.D.N.Y. 2019).
“The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion for
judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a Rule
12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.”
Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259
F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001) (collecting cases). “In
both postures, the district court must accept all allegations
in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the
non-moving party's favor.” Id. “To
survive a Rule 12(c) motion, [the] ‘complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state
a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Johnson v. Rowley, 569 F.3d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009)). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678. Legal conclusions, however, are not afforded the same
presumption of truthfulness. Id. The plausibility
standard is not, however, a probability requirement: the
pleading must show, not merely allege, that the pleader is
entitled to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 556 (2007); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 (a)(2). In other words,
to survive dismissal the allegations in the complaint must
nudge the claim “across the line from conceivable to
plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
“[i]n this District, when a non-movant fails to oppose
a legal argument asserted by a movant, the movant's
burden with regard to that argument is lightened, such that,
in order to succeed on that argument, the movant need only
show that the argument possesses facial merit, which has
appropriately been characterized as a ‘modest'
burden.” Thomas v. City of Troy, 293 F.Supp.3d
282, 296 (N.D.N.Y. 2018); see also McCall v. Pataki,
232 F.3d 321, 322 (2d Cir. 2000) (noting that for an
unopposed motion to dismiss, courts must “assume the
truth of a pleading's factual allegations and test only
its legal sufficiency”) (citing De Jesus v. Sears,
Roebuck & Co., Inc., 87 F.3d 65, 69 (2d Cir. 1996)).
Accordingly, although Plaintiff states that he does not
oppose Defendants' motion to dismiss his Monell
claim (Dkt. No. 60), the Court will evaluate Defendants'
arguments on the merits.
Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss
Plaintiff's Monell claim because
“Plaintiff's conclusory allegations wholly fail to
plausibly allege a municipal liability claims against the
city under Section 1983.” (See Dkt. No. 57,
pp. 4-11). The Defendants characterize Plaintiff's
allegations as asserting two theories of municipal liability:
(1) that constitutional violations were widespread and
tolerated by the City through an unofficial, de
facto policy; and (2) that the City was deliberately
indifferent to known abuses based on its failure to train
and/or discipline its officers. (Id., pp. 6-7). The
Defendants argue that the first theory fails because
Plaintiff asserts only “boilerplate statements”
that SPD officers routinely commit acts that violate the
rights of African Americans without alleging any specific
instances of misconduct amounting to a pattern or practice of
misconduct. (Id., pp. 7-9). Similarly, the
Defendants argue that the second theory fails because
Plaintiff does not allege a pattern of misconduct and
therefore “cannot plausibly allege an ...