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Mabb v. The Town of Saugerties

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 14, 2020



          BURKE, SCOLAMIERO & HURD, LLP Attorneys for Defendants The Town of Saugerties, Chief of Police Joseph Sinagra, and Ryan Hampel JUDITH B. AUMAND, ESQ.

          MCCABE & MACK LLP Attorneys for Defendants James Mullen, The County of Ulster, The County of Ulster URGENT Task Force Board of Directors, Holley Carnright, Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum, and William Weishaupt DAVID L. POSNER, ESQ.

          MURPHY BURNS, LLP Attorneys for Defendant Daniel Waage THOMAS K. MURPHY, ESQ.


          Frederick J. Scullin United States District Judge


         Johndrue Mabb (“Plaintiff”) commenced this action against the Town of Saugerties (“Defendant Town of Saugerties”), the Town of Saugerties's Chief of Police, Joseph Sinagra (“Defendant Sinagra”), Police Officer Ryan Hampel (“Defendant Hampel”), Police Officer James Mullen (“Defendant Mullen”), the County of Ulster (“Defendant Ulster County”), the Ulster County URGENT Task Force Board of Directors (“Defendant URGENT Task Force”), and Defendant URGENT Task Force's Board Members Holley Carnright, Paul VanBlarcum, Daniel Waage, and William Weishaupt, in their individual capacities, (“Defendants Carnright, VanBlarcum, Waage, and Weishaupt”) seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees for alleged violations of his civil rights. See generally Dkt. No. 1. Defendants Mullen and Hampel have moved to dismiss several of Plaintiff's claims against them, see generally Dkt. Nos. 17, 26; and the remaining Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see generally Dkt. Nos. 14, 17, 26.


         Plaintiff alleges that, on July 25, 2017, while sitting in traffic at a red light, he noticed a dark SUV come up behind his vehicle. Upon information and belief, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Mullen was driving the car and Defendant Hampel was a passenger. Both men are Investigators and Police Officers with the Town of Saugerties Police Department, and they were working undercover for the Ulster County URGENT Task Force at the time; but Plaintiff alleges that he did not know they were police officers. Plaintiff claims that the SUV stopped about six inches from his rear bumper, and he moved his car forward and stopped. According to Plaintiff, the SUV then pulled up again; and he again moved forward. See Id. Plaintiff states that he looked in his rear-view mirror, thinking the SUV's driver was not paying attention; and he saw two males smiling at him. Plaintiff alleges that the SUV then moved up within inches of his vehicle again, and Plaintiff inched forward.

         Plaintiff alleges that, because he was feeling threatened, he motioned for the driver and passenger in the SUV to stop harassing him. According to Plaintiff, Defendants Mullen and Hampel appeared angry; and so he put up his windows, locked his doors, and reached in the back of his vehicle and moved a baseball bat to the passenger seat of his car. Plaintiff alleges that, when he looked back again after grabbing his baseball bat, Defendant Hampel “motioned both hands back and forth toward his chest as if he was inviting Plaintiff for a fight.”

         In response, Plaintiff states that he made a right turn onto 9W north while the traffic light was yellow to get away from the SUV; but the SUV ran the red light and followed him onto 9W north. Lights were flashing on the visors and grill of the SUV when it caught up to Plaintiff's vehicle; and, at that point, Plaintiff called 911. Plaintiff alleges that, while he was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, he stopped at a traffic light and the SUV pulled over in front of his vehicle, which blocked his passage to the road. According to Plaintiff, the two males then exited the vehicle with their guns drawn and pointed at him; and they demanded that he put his phone down and shut his car off. Plaintiff alleges that, as soon as he unbuckled his seat belt, Defendant Mullen yanked him out of his vehicle from a seated position to six inches off the ground, threw his body against his car, handcuffed his right hand, and proceeded to force his left arm backwards in an effort to handcuff him.

         Plaintiff further asserts that, due to a physical disability, his arm did not bend backwards; and, when he tried to tell Defendants Mullen and Hampel this, they mocked and threatened him. Plaintiff alleges that, eventually, he was handcuffed in the front, taken to the police station, and charged with misdemeanor criminal possession of a weapon, misdemeanor menacing, a violation of driving across hazardous markings, and a violation for failing to comply with a lawful order of a police officer. All of the charges were eventually withdrawn by the People and dismissed by the Saugerties Town Court. However, as a result of this incident, Plaintiff alleges he suffered injuries in and around his back, neck, and shoulders; and he is traumatized, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiff filed his complaint in the instant suit on July 24, 2018, asserting the following seven causes of action:

(1) Excessive use of force pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment[2]against Defendants Mullen and Hampel;
(2) Failure to intervene pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment against Defendants Mullen and Hampel;
(3) Failure to train, supervise, or discipline pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Town of Saugerties, Sinagra, Ulster County, the URGENT Task Force, Carnright, VanBlarcum, Waage, and Weishaupt;
(4) Assault and battery pursuant to New York common law against Defendants Mullen and Hampel;
(5) Negligence and gross negligence pursuant to New York common law against all Defendants;
(6) False arrest, false imprisonment, and unreasonable search pursuant to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments against Defendants Mullen and Hampel; and
(7) Malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants.

         See generally Dkt. No. 1.


         A. Legal standard governing a motion to dismiss

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) “challenges only the ‘legal feasibility' of a complaint.” Goel v. Bunge, Ltd., 820 F.3d 554, 558 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Global Network Commc'ns, Inc. v. City of New York, 458 F.3d 150, 155 (2d Cir. 2006)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting [Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, ] 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citation omitted).

         “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations … a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.] …” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544');">550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will … be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted). When making its decision, this court must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and consider those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Chapman v. N.Y. State Div. for Youth, 546 F.3d 230, 235 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 2007) (per curiam)).[3]

         B. Claims against Defendants Mullen and Hampel[4]

         1. Failure to intervene

         “It is widely recognized that all law enforcement officials have an affirmative duty to intervene to protect the constitutional rights of citizens from infringement by other law enforcement officers in their presence.” Anderson v. Branen, 17 F.3d 552, 557 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing O'Neill v. Krzeminski, 839 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 1988)) (other citations omitted). “Whether an officer had sufficient time to intercede or was capable of preventing the harm being caused by another officer is an issue of fact for the jury unless, considering all the evidence, a reasonable jury could not possibly conclude otherwise.” Id. (citing [O'Neill, 839 F.3d at 11-12]). At the summary judgment stage, courts have held, “where the officer is a direct participant in the allegedly excessive use of force, the failure to intervene theory of liability is inapplicable.” Cuellar v. Love, No. 11-CV-3632 (NSR), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51622, *23 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 11, 2014) (citations omitted).

         This matter is in the pleading stage, and Plaintiff has not yet conducted any discovery on this issue. Plaintiff argues that he is unable to determine which officer used the excessive force and which officer was the bystander. See Dkt. No. 18 at 16. Plaintiff further contends that the Court should permit him to plead inconsistent theories of liability in the alternative until he has had the opportunity to investigate which theory of liability is supported by the facts. See Id. (citing Consol. Risk ...

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