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Myers v. The Municipality of Greene County

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 14, 2020

SCOTT MYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE MUNICIPALITY OF GREENE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          Lawrence E. Kahn Senior U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pro se plaintiff Scott Myers brings this complaint against the Municipality of Greene County and individual defendants Shaun Groden, Ed Kaplan, Kira Pospesel, and Patrick Linger. Dkt. No. 1 (“Complaint”); 9 (“Amended Complaint”). After granting Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”), the Honorable Christian F. Hummel, U.S. Magistrate Judge reviewed the Amended Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and recommended that the Court dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims. Dkt. No. 14 (“Report-Recommendation”) at 26- 28. Plaintiff objected. Dkt. No. 16 (“Objections”). For the reasons that follow, the Report-Recommendation is adopted in part and rejected in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. The Report-Recommendation

         The facts and allegations in this case were detailed in the Report-Recommendation, familiarity with which is assumed. In short, Plaintiff asserts that officials in Greene County-and particularly County Attorney Ed Kaplan-committed a variety of constitutional violations against him, largely in response to his vociferous opposition to a proposed Greene County jail. See Generally Am. Compl. Plaintiff also repeatedly states that the September 11, 2001 attacks rendered his apartment in lower Manhattan uninhabitable, and suggests that Defendants have targeted him based on his status as an “internally displaced refugee.” See Am. Compl. at 6; Obj. at 6.

         Judge Hummel construed Plaintiff's Complaint and Amended Complaint[1] to assert the following claims: (1) False arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution claims against Kaplan; (2) First and Fourteenth Amendment claims against Kaplan based on Kaplan's denial of Plaintiff's Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”) requests; (3) First Amendment claims against Kaplan based on Kaplan's opposition to Plaintiff's applications for poor person relief; (4) First Amendment claims against Kaplan based on Kaplan's role in seeking an order of protection against Plaintiff and blocking Plaintiff's emails; (5) a claim that Kaplan “aided an eviction” of Plaintiff; (6) Unspecified constitutional claims under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments against Groden, Kaplan, Pospesel, and Linger; and (7) a Monell claim against Greene County. R. & R. at 26-27.

         Judge Hummel recommended dismissing with prejudice the First and Fourteenth Amendment claims against Kaplan based on the denial of Plaintiff's FOIL requests and the First Amendment claims against Kaplan based on the denial of Plaintiff's application for poor person relief. Id. at 26. Judge Hummel recommended dismissing all other claims without prejudice and with an opportunity to amend. Id. at 26-28.

         B. Plaintiff's Objections

         Plaintiff filed his Objections on August 6, 2019. Objs. As a preliminary matter, these Objections were untimely. The Report-Recommendation advised Plaintiff that, as of the July 12, 2019 date of decision, he had fourteen days to file written objections, R. & R. at 28, and factoring in Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court set an objection deadline of July 29, 2019. However, given Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court will consider his Objections nonetheless. See Brown v. Outhouse, No. 07-CV-1169, 2009 WL 1652211, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. June 10, 2009) (considering pro se plaintiff's untimely objections); Garcia v. Griffin, No. 16-CV-2584, 2019 WL 4917183, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 4, 2019) (same).

         While Plaintiff's filing objects to several of the Magistrate Judge's recommendations, it also purports to narrow the scope of his claims and to add and drop defendants. Objs. at 1, 4, 8. Plaintiff also states, however, that “[a] modified complaint will be filed shortly.” Id. at 3. Thus, the Court does not construe Plaintiff's Objections as a sort of objection-second amended complaint hybrid, but rather construes the filing as objections that preview a potentially forthcoming amended complaint. To date, Plaintiff has not filed a second amended complaint.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. § 1915 Review

         When a plaintiff seeks to proceed IFP, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time” if the action: “(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Thus, even if a plaintiff meets the financial criteria to commence an action IFP, it is the court's responsibility to determine whether the plaintiff may properly maintain the complaint before permitting the plaintiff to proceed IFP. See id.

         The Court must review pro se complaints liberally, see Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam), and should exercise “extreme caution . . . in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and both parties (but particularly the plaintiff) have had an opportunity to respond.” Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted). Therefore, a court should not dismiss a complaint if the plaintiff has stated “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although the Court should construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Rule 8 “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, a pleading that only “tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” will not suffice. Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         B. Report-Recommendation

         Within fourteen days after a party has been served with a copy of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the party “may serve and file specific, written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); L.R. 72.1(c). If objections are timely filed, a court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). However, if no objections are made, or if an objection is general, conclusory, perfunctory, or a mere reiteration of an argument made to the magistrate judge, a district court need review that aspect of a report-recommendation only for clear error. Barnes v. Prack, No. 11-CV-857, 2013 WL 1121353, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 2013); Farid v. Bouey, 554 F.Supp.2d 301, 306-07, 306 n.2 (N.D.N.Y. 2008), abrogated on other grounds by Widomski v. State Univ. of N.Y. at Orange, 748 F.3d 471 (2d Cir. 2014)). “Even a pro se party's objections to a Report and Recommendation must be specific and clearly aimed at particular findings in the magistrate's proposal.” Machicote v. Ercole, No. 06-CV-13320, 2011 WL 3809920, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 25, 2011). “A [district] judge . . . may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” § 636(b).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Overview

         In his Objections, Plaintiff states, “I'm focusing singularly on the access to government (1st Amendment).” Obj. at 1; see also id. at 4 (“To save court resources consistent with Judge Hummel's lead, I'm narrowing the complaint to just ‘Access To Government' 1st Amendment issues[.]”). In line with this narrowed scope, Plaintiff's specific objections focus primarily on his First Amendment claims.[2] The Court reviews the Report-Recommendation's findings on these issues de novo. While Plaintiff's Objections also reference his other claims, these paragraphs are copied nearly verbatim from his Amended Complaint, and thus the Court reviews the Magistrate Judge's findings on these issues for clear error. Barnes, 2013 WL 1121353, at *1 (“[I]f an objection is . . . a mere reiteration of an argument made to the magistrate judge, a district court need review that aspect of a report-recommendation only for clear error.”).

         The Court agrees with Judge Hummel's ultimate conclusion that all of Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed. However, the Court departs from Report-Recommendation's finding that several of Plaintiff's allegations are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, and instead dismisses these allegations for failure to state a claim. Additionally, the Court dismisses Plaintiff's ...


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