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Debellis v. P.O. Soloman

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
Oct 28, 2019
19-CV-8730 (CM) (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 28, 2019)

Opinion

19-CV-8730 (CM)

10-28-2019

ANTHONY F. DEBELLIS, aka GIANFRANCO, Plaintiff, v. P.O. SOLOMAN Shield 15004; SGT. GILBERT Shield 3452; JUAN O'SULLIVAN; BERNARD MONAHAN; ALIPIO ALDARONDO; DANIELLE KOVES; ERICK HICKS; NYPD; NY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Defendants.


ORDER TO AMEND :

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Rikers Island, brings this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights. By order dated October 8, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff's request to proceed without prepayment of fees, that is, in forma pauperis. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint within sixty days of the date of this order.

Prisoners are not exempt from paying the full filing fee even when they have been granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that federal courts screen complaints brought by prisoners who seek relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a prisoner's in forma pauperis complaint, or any portion of the complaint, that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b); see Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). The court must also dismiss a complaint if the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).

While the law mandates dismissal on any of these grounds, the court is obliged to construe pro se pleadings liberally, Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009), and interpret them to raise the "strongest [claims] that they suggest," Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphasis in original). But the "special solicitude" in pro se cases, id. at 475 (citation omitted), has its limits - to state a claim, pro se pleadings still must comply with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires a complaint to make a short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.

The Supreme Court has held that under Rule 8, a complaint must include enough facts to state a claim for relief "that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff pleads enough factual detail to allow the court to draw the inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. In reviewing the complaint, the court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). But it does not have to accept as true "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action," which are essentially just legal conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. After separating legal conclusions from well-pleaded factual allegations, the court must determine whether those facts make it plausible - not merely possible - that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id.

BACKGROUND

The complaint contains the following allegations. Plaintiff was arrested in Bronx County on July 23, 2017. After a jury trial, he was acquitted on April 4, 2019. At the time of his arrest, Plaintiff had been an employee of the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) for fifteen years. Plaintiff alleges that he was falsely accused of stealing city property, and although he was acquitted, he was fired from his job. Plaintiff asserts claims of wrongful arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, wrongful termination, and defamation. Named as Defendants are Police Officer Soloman; Police Sergeant Gilbert; employees of the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) Juan O'Sullivan and Bernard Monahan; DCAS custodian Alipio Aldarondo, DCAS Disciplinary Counsel Erick Hicks; the New York County Assistant District Attorney's Office; Assistant District Attorney Danielle Koves; and the New York Police Department. Plaintiff seeks a written apology and money damages.

Plaintiff filed this complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York; that court transferred the matter here. See Debellis v. Solomon, ECF 1:19-CV-4408 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2019). Plaintiff recently filed another case in this Court. Debellis v. Massing, 1:19-CV-7834, 1 (CM) (S.D.N.Y. filed Aug. 21, 2019).

DISCUSSION

A. False Arrest, False Imprisonment, Malicious Prosecution

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege both that: (1) a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) the right was violated by a person acting under the color of state law, or a "state actor." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48-49 (1988).

A claim for false arrest under § 1983 incorporates the elements of a false arrest claim under state law. See Boyd v. City of New York, 336 F.3d 72, 75 (2d Cir. 2003). To establish a false arrest claim under New York law, a plaintiff must show that: "(1) the defendant intended to confine [the plaintiff], (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." Liranzo v. United States, 690 F.3d 78, 95 (2d Cir. 2012). An arrest is privileged if it is based on probable cause. Jenkins v. City of New York, 478 F.3d 76, 84 (2d Cir. 2007) ("The existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes justification and is a complete defense to an action for false arrest.") (quoting Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The tort of malicious prosecution "remedies detention accompanied, not by absence of legal process, but by wrongful institution of legal process." Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 389-90 (2007). To state a claim for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must allege facts showing: (1) that the defendant initiated or continued a prosecution against the plaintiff; (2) that the defendant lacked probable cause to commence the proceeding or believe the proceeding could succeed; (3) that the defendant acted with malice; and (4) that the prosecution was terminated in the plaintiff's favor. Fulton v. Robinson, 289 F.3d 188, 195 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Lanning v. City of Glens Falls, 908 F.3d 19, 25 (2d Cir. 2018) (holding that common law principles are meant simply to guide rather than to control the definition of § 1983 claims and courts should not "mechanically apply" the law of New York State).

Plaintiff may be able to state claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution, but he does not provide sufficient facts for the Court to make that determination. All Plaintiff asserts is that he was arrested, and that the charges were dismissed. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint to provide facts in support of his claims.

B. Claims Against the NYPD

Plaintiff's claims against the New York Police Department must be dismissed because an agency of the City of New York is not an entity that can be sued. N.Y. City Charter ch. 17, § 396 ("[A]ll actions and proceedings for the recovery of penalties for the violation of any law shall be brought in the name of the city of New York and not in that of any agency, except where otherwise provided by law."); Jenkins v. City of New York, 478 F.3d 76, 93 n.19 (2d Cir. 2007); see also Emerson v. City of New York, 740 F. Supp. 2d 385, 396 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) ("[A] plaintiff is generally prohibited from suing a municipal agency.").

When a plaintiff sues a municipality under § 1983, it is not enough for the plaintiff to allege that one of the municipality's employees or agents engaged in some wrongdoing. The plaintiff must show that the municipality itself caused the violation of the plaintiff's rights. See Connick v. Thompson, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011) ("A municipality or other local government may be liable under [section 1983] if the governmental body itself 'subjects' a person to a deprivation of rights or 'causes' a person 'to be subjected' to such deprivation.") (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978)); Cash v. Cnty. of Erie, 654 F.3d 324, 333 (2d Cir. 2011). In other words, to state a § 1983 claim against a municipality, the plaintiff must allege facts showing (1) the existence of a municipal policy, custom, or practice, and (2) that the policy, custom, or practice caused the violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Jones v. Town of East Haven, 691 F.3d 72, 80 (2d Cir. 2012); Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997) (internal citations omitted).

Plaintiff does not allege any facts suggesting a municipal liability claim. Should Plaintiff wish to assert a claim against the City of New York, he must name the City of New York as a defendant, and provide facts demonstrating that a municipal policy, custom, or practice gave rise to the injuries discussed in his complaint.

C. Claims against the District Attorney's Office and Danielle Koves

Prosecutors are immune from civil suits for damages for acts committed within the scope of their official duties where the challenged activities are not investigative in nature but, rather, are "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Simon v. City of New York, 727 F.3d 167, 171 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)); see also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993) (holding that absolute immunity is analyzed under "functional approach" that "looks to the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it"). In addition, prosecutors are absolutely immune from suit for acts that may be administrative obligations but are "directly connected with the conduct of a trial." Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 344 (2009).

Here, Plaintiff fails to allege any specific facts against Koves or the District Attorney's office. Any claims based on actions within the scope of the prosecutor's official duties and those associated with the conduct of a trial cannot proceed, because they seek monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from suit. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to provide more facts regarding his claims against the prosecutor and the District Attorney's office.

D. Personal Involvement

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts showing the defendants' direct and personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Spavone v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. Serv., 719 F.3d 127, 135 (2d Cir. 2013) (citing Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995)). A defendant may not be held liable under § 1983 solely because that defendant employs or supervises a person who violated the plaintiff's rights. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) ("Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior."). An individual defendant can be personally involved in a § 1983 violation if:

(1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of [the plaintiff] by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.
Colon, 58 F.3d at 873.

"Although the Supreme Court's decision in [Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)] may have heightened the requirements for showing a supervisor's personal involvement with respect to certain constitutional violations," the Second Circuit has not yet examined that issue. Grullon v. City of New Haven, 720 F.3d 133, 139 (2d Cir. 2013). --------

Where a plaintiff names a defendant in the caption, but the complaint contains no substantive allegations against the defendant, dismissal of the complaint as to that defendant is appropriate. See Iwachiw v. New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 299 F. Supp. 2d 117, 121 (E.D.N.Y. 2004), aff'd, 396 F.3d 525 (2d Cir. 2005); Dove v. Fordham Univ., 56 F. Supp. 2d 330, 335 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) ("[W]here the complaint names a defendant in the caption but contains no allegations indicating exactly how the defendant violated the law or injured the plaintiff, a motion to dismiss the complaint in regard to that defendant should be granted") (citations omitted).

Plaintiff does not allege facts showing how any of the named Defendants were personally involved in violating his constitutional rights, or even what role they played in what occurred. In any amended complaint Plaintiff files, he should include facts showing how each Defendant was personally involved in the events giving rise to this action.

E. Supplemental State Law Claims

A district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state-law claims when it "has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Generally, "when the federal-law claims have dropped out of the lawsuit in its early stages and only state-law claims remain, the federal court should decline the exercise of jurisdiction." Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n.7 (1988)). Once the Court has determined that it has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims, it will decide whether to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over any state-law claims Plaintiff may be asserting. See Kolari v. New York-Presbyterian Hosp., 455 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2006) ("Subsection (c) of § 1367 'confirms the discretionary nature of supplemental jurisdiction by enumerating the circumstances in which district courts can refuse its exercise.'") (quoting City of Chicago v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 173 (1997)).

LEAVE TO AMEND

In light of Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint. See Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 123-24 (2d Cir. 2011); Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988).

In the statement of claim, Plaintiff must provide a short and plain statement of the relevant facts supporting each claim against each defendant named in the amended complaint. Plaintiff is also directed to provide the addresses for any named defendants. To the greatest extent possible, Plaintiff's amended complaint must:

a) give the names and titles of all relevant persons;

b) describe all relevant events, stating the facts that support Plaintiff's case including what each defendant did or failed to do;

c) give the dates and times of each relevant event or, if not known, the approximate date and time of each relevant event;

d) give the location where each relevant event occurred;

e) describe how each defendant's acts or omissions violated Plaintiff's rights and describe the injuries Plaintiff suffered; and
f) state what relief Plaintiff seeks from the Court, such as money damages, injunctive relief, or declaratory relief.

Essentially, the body of Plaintiff's amended complaint must tell the Court: who violated his federally protected rights; what facts show that his federally protected rights were violated; when such violation occurred; where such violation occurred; and why Plaintiff is entitled to relief. Because Plaintiff's amended complaint will completely replace, not supplement, the original complaint, any facts or claims that Plaintiff wishes to maintain must be included in the amended complaint.

CONCLUSION

The Clerk of Court is directed to assign this matter to my docket, mail a copy of this order to Plaintiff, and note service on the docket. Plaintiff is granted leave to file an amended complaint that complies with the standards set forth above. Plaintiff must submit the amended complaint to this Court's Pro Se Intake Unit within sixty days of the date of this order, caption the document as an "Amended Complaint," and label the document with docket number 19-CV-8730 (CM). An Amended Civil Rights Complaint form is attached to this order. No summons will issue at this time. If Plaintiff fails to comply within the time allowed, and he cannot show good cause to excuse such failure, the complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

The Clerk of Court is directed to docket this as a "written opinion" within the meaning of Section 205(a)(5) of the E-Government Act of 2002. SO ORDERED. Dated: October 28, 2019

New York, New York

/s/_________

COLLEEN McMAHON

Chief United States District Judge __________ Write the full name of each plaintiff. -against- __________ Write the full name of each defendant. If you cannot fit the names of all of the defendants in the space provided, please write "see attached" in the space above and attach an additional sheet of paper with the full list of names. The names listed above must be identical to those contained in Section IV. ___CV__________
(Include case number if one has been assigned) AMENDED COMPLAINT
(Prisoner) Do you want a jury trial?
[ ] Yes [ ] No

NOTICE

The public can access electronic court files. For privacy and security reasons, papers filed with the court should therefore not contain: an individual's full social security number or full birth date; the full name of a person known to be a minor; or a complete financial account number. A filing may include only: the last four digits of a social security number; the year of an individual's birth; a minor's initials; and the last four digits of a financial account number. See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2.

I. LEGAL BASIS FOR CLAIM

State below the federal legal basis for your claim, if known. This form is designed primarily for prisoners challenging the constitutionality of their conditions of confinement; those claims are often brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (against state, county, or municipal defendants) or in a "Bivens" action (against federal defendants). [ ] Violation of my federal constitutional rights [ ] Other: __________

II. PLAINTIFF INFORMATION

Each plaintiff must provide the following information. Attach additional pages if necessary. __________
First Name __________
Middle Initial __________
Last Name __________ State any other names (or different forms of your name) you have ever used, including any name you have used in previously filing a lawsuit. __________ Prisoner ID # (if you have previously been in another agency's custody, please specify each agency and the ID number (such as your DIN or NYSID) under which you were held) __________
Current Place of Detention __________
Institutional Address __________
County, City __________
State __________
Zip Code

III. PRISONER STATUS

Indicate below whether you are a prisoner or other confined person: [ ] Pretrial detainee [ ] Civilly committed detainee [ ] Immigration detainee [ ] Convicted and sentenced prisoner [ ] Other: __________

IV. DEFENDANT INFORMATION

To the best of your ability, provide the following information for each defendant. If the correct information is not provided, it could delay or prevent service of the complaint on the defendant. Make sure that the defendants listed below are identical to those listed in the caption. Attach additional pages as necessary. Defendant 1:

__________

First Name

__________

Last Name

__________

Shield #

__________

Current Job Title (or other identifying information)

__________

Current Work Address

__________

County, City

__________

State

__________

Zip Code Defendant 2:

__________

First Name

__________

Last Name

__________

Shield #

__________

Current Job Title (or other identifying information)

__________

Current Work Address

__________

County, City

__________

State

__________

Zip Code Defendant 3:

__________

First Name

__________

Last Name

__________

Shield #

__________

Current Job Title (or other identifying information)

__________

Current Work Address

__________

County, City

__________

State

__________

Zip Code Defendant 4:

__________

First Name

__________

Last Name

__________

Shield #

__________

Current Job Title (or other identifying information)

__________

Current Work Address

__________

County, City

__________

State

__________

Zip Code

V. STATEMENT OF CLAIM

Place(s) of occurrence: __________ Date(s) of occurrence: __________

FACTS:

State here briefly the FACTS that support your case. Describe what happened, how you were harmed, and how each defendant was personally involved in the alleged wrongful actions. Attach additional pages as necessary. __________

INJURIES:

If you were injured as a result of these actions, describe your injuries and what medical treatment, if any, you required and received. __________

VI. RELIEF

State briefly what money damages or other relief you want the court to order. __________

VII. PLAINTIFF'S CERTIFICATION AND WARNINGS

By signing below, I certify to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief that: (1) the complaint is not being presented for an improper purpose (such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation); (2) the claims are supported by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument to change existing law; (3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and (4) the complaint otherwise complies with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. I understand that if I file three or more cases while I am a prisoner that are dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or for failure to state a claim, I may be denied in forma pauperis status in future cases. I also understand that prisoners must exhaust administrative procedures before filing an action in federal court about prison conditions, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), and that my case may be dismissed if I have not exhausted administrative remedies as required. I agree to provide the Clerk's Office with any changes to my address. I understand that my failure to keep a current address on file with the Clerk's Office may result in the dismissal of my case. Each Plaintiff must sign and date the complaint. Attach additional pages if necessary. If seeking to proceed without prepayment of fees, each plaintiff must also submit an IFP application. __________
Dated

__________

Plaintiff's Signature __________
First Name __________
Middle Initial __________
Last Name __________
Prison Address __________
County, City __________
State __________
Zip Code Date on which I am delivering this complaint to prison authorities for mailing: __________


Summaries of

Debellis v. P.O. Soloman

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
Oct 28, 2019
19-CV-8730 (CM) (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 28, 2019)
Case details for

Debellis v. P.O. Soloman

Case Details

Full title:ANTHONY F. DEBELLIS, aka GIANFRANCO, Plaintiff, v. P.O. SOLOMAN Shield…

Court:UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Date published: Oct 28, 2019

Citations

19-CV-8730 (CM) (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 28, 2019)