Staton v. State of CT et al
RULING denying 233 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Janet C. Hall on 7/25/2011. (Simpson, T.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
PRISONER CASE NO.
JULY 25, 2011
RULING RE: DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS THE FOURTH AMENDED
COMPLAINT [Doc. No. 233]
Plaintiff Terrell Staton is an inmate currently confined at the Cheshire
Correctional Institution in Chesire, Connecticut. On January 11, 2011, the court
appointed pro bono counsel for Staton. Order (Doc. No. 207). Subsequent to the
appointment of counsel, on April 22, 2011, Staton filed a Motion to Amend/Correct the
Operative Complaint. Doc. No. 230. The court granted that Motion on April 25, 2011,
and Staton filed his Fourth Amended Complaint on May 13, 2011. Fourth Am. Compl.
(Doc. No. 235). Pending before the court is defendant Jason Cassavechia’s Motion to
Dismiss Count Two of the Fourth Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 233).1
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or
constitutional power to adjudicate it. See Morrison v. Nat'l Austl. Bank Ltd., 547 F.3d
In his original Complaint, Staton named fourteen separate defendants. After motion
practice too voluminous to recount here, the court dismissed the complaint against or granted
summary judgment for thirteen of the defendants. Only defendant Jason Cassavechia remains.
167, 170 (2d Cir. 2008); Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000).
In assessing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, “the court must
take all facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of plaintiff.” Natural Res. Def. Council v. Johnson, 461 F.3d 164, 171 (2d Cir.
2006). The court, however, refrains from “drawing from the pleadings inferences
favorable to the party asserting [jurisdiction].” APWU v. Potter, 343 F.3d 619, 623 (2d
On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff must establish by a
preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject matter jurisdiction over the
complaint. See Morrison, 547 F.3d at 170; see also Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113; Malik
v. Meissner, 82 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir. 1996). A court evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion
“may resolve the disputed jurisdictional fact issues by reference to evidence outside the
pleadings, such as affidavits.” Zappia Middle E. Constr. Co. v. Emirate of Abu Dhabi,
215 F.3d 247, 253 (2d Cir. 2000).
In applying supplemental jurisdiction over pendent state law claims, federal
courts must apply state substantive law. See, e.g., Promisel v. First Am. Artificial
Flowers, Inc., 943 F.2d 251, 257 (2d Cir. 1991). Thus, “a state law depriving its courts
of jurisdiction over a state law claim also operates to divest a federal court of jurisdiction
to decide the claim.” McGullam v. Cedar Graphics, Inc., 609 F.3d 70, 74, n.3 (2d Cir.
2010) (quoting Moodie v. Federal Reserve Bank, 58 F.3d 879, 884 (2d Cir. 1995)).
On June 26, 2006, police officers set up a one-mile perimeter in Danbury,
Connecticut to catch a suspect who fled from an unregistered vehicle. Fourth Am.
Compl. ¶ 10. While the police were searching this area, Staton climbed over a fence
adjacent to a parking lot. Id. at ¶ 11. At that time, State Trooper Cassavechia threw his
canine partner “over the south perimeter of the fence.” Id. at ¶ 12. The canine then
leapt on top of the wall where Staton was standing and “lunged for Staton’s face.” Id. at
¶ 14. The canine bit the inside of Staton’s right arm. Id. Staton fell off the wall and
rolled onto the ground. Id. at ¶ 15. The canine then bit Staton’s upper right shoulder.
Id. at ¶ 16. Cassavechia reached Staton and picked up the canine’s leash. Id. at ¶ 17.
At this point, Cassavechia “gave the canine a signal and the canine became more
aggressive and scratched Staton with his fangs, causing long, thin abrasions on his
shoulder.” Id. While other officers were placing handcuffs on Staton, Cassavechia
again signaled the canine, which then bit Staton’s right arm. Id. at ¶¶ 18-20.
Cassavechia signaled the canine to attack Staton even though other officers had arrived
on the scene and Staton no longer threated to escape. Id. at ¶ 37. Staton was
subsequently brought to Danbury Hospital where his wound was treated and a rabies
shot was administered. Id. at ¶ 24.
Staton’s second claim for relief is that Cassavechia negligently failed to control
his canine partner and that such negligence occurred “with malice, wantonness and/or
Taking the factual allegations in the Complaint as true, and drawing all reasonable
inferences in favor of Staton, the court assumes the following facts for the purposes of the
Motion to Dismiss.
the intent to injure Staton.” Fourth Am. Compl. ¶ 38. The Fourth Amended Complaint
invokes Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n as authorizing a negligence claim against
Cassavechia.3 Cassavechia seeks to dismiss Staton’s negligence claim on the grounds
that (1) the statute cited as the basis for the claim does not apply to the State of
Connecticut itself, but only to political subdivisions of the State of Connecticut, and (2)
the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Staton’s claim for negligence because
the State of Connecticut and its officers, agents, and employees enjoy sovereign
immunity from liability for negligence under the common law and pursuant to Conn.
Gen. Stat. §§ 4-160 and -165.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n provides that “a political subdivision of the state shall
be liable for damage to person or property caused by . . . [t]he negligent acts or
omissions of such political subdivision or any employee, officer or agent thereof acting
within the scope of his employment or official duties.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n(a)(1).
By its plain language, this statutory provision does not apply to state officers and
employees. This provision is limited to political subdivisions of the State of Connecticut
– namely, municipalities.
Claims against the State of Connecticut are instead governed by Chapter 53 of
the Connecticut General Statutes. See Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 4-141 to -165b. That
The Fourth Amended Complaint actually cites to “Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-577n –
Negligence” as the basis for its pendent state law claim. Fourth Am. Compl. at 6. Cassavechia
correctly observes that no Connecticut statute exists with this citation, and Staton likely intended
to cite Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n. Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 233), at 1, n.1.
In his Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, Staton acknowledges that his
negligence claim arises under Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-557n. Mem. in Opp. (Doc. No. 240) at 1.
chapter provides immunity for state officers and employees for most injuries. Conn.
Gen. Stat. § 4-165(a). Specifically, the statute provides that:
No state officer or employee shall be personally liable for damage or injury, not
wanton, reckless or malicious, caused in the discharge of his or her duties or
within the scope of his or her employment. Any person having a complaint for
such damage or injury shall present it as a claim against the state under the
provisions of this chapter.
Id. (emphasis added). Notably, the statutory scheme for immunity does not extend to
harmful actions by state employees that were “wanton, reckless or malicious.” Id. The
Connecticut Supreme Court has observed that “[s]tate employees do not . . . have
statutory immunity for wanton, reckless or malicious actions . . . . For those actions, they
may be held personally liable, and a plaintiff who has been injured by such actions is
free to bring an action against the individual employee.” Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301,
In the context of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-165, “wanton, reckless or malicious”
conduct requires that the defendant had a “state of consciousness” with regard to the
“consequences of one’s acts.” Martin v. Brady, 261 Conn. 372, 380 (2002) (internal
citation omitted). The conduct must be “more than negligence” and “more than gross
negligence.” Id. To infer wanton, reckless, or malicious conduct, “there must be more
than a failure to exercise a reasonable degree of watchfulness to avoid danger to others
or take reasonable precautions to avoid injury to them.” Id. Here, Staton alleges that
Cassavechia twice signaled his dog to attack Staton after Staton was already on the
ground. Fourth Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-20, 37. The Fourth Amended Complaint also
specifically alleges that Cassavechia acted with “malice, wantonness and/or the intent
to injure Staton.” Id. ¶ 38. These facts plausibly state a claim for wanton, reckless, or
malicious conduct on the part of Cassavechia, as those terms are defined under
Connecticut law. Therefore, Cassavechia is not protected by statutory immunity under
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-165.
Common Law Sovereign Immunity
The only remaining issue is whether Cassavechia enjoys sovereign immunity
under Connecticut common law. “If the plaintiff’s complaint reasonably may be
construed to bring claims against the defendant in [his] individual capacity[y], then
sovereign immunity would not bar those claims.” Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 307
(2003); see also Longmoor v. Nilsen, 285 F. Supp. 2d 132, 143 (D. Conn. 2003) (where
plaintiff sued state police officers only in their individual capacities, the defendants could
not be protected by the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity).
To determine whether a claim has been brought against the state or against a
defendant in his individual capacity, the court must examine four criteria, all four of
which must be satisfied for the claim to be deemed to be against the state. See Kenney
v. Weaving, 123 Conn. App. 211, 216 (2010) (citing Spring v. Constantino, 168 Conn.
563 (1975)). The criteria are:
(1) a state official has been sued; (2) the suit concerns some matter in which that
official represents the state; (3) the state is the real party against whom relief is
sought; and (4) the judgment, though nominally against the official, will operate to
control the activities of the state or subject it to liability.
In this case, Staton alleges that Cassavechia engaged in malicious, wanton, or
intentional misconduct. The State of Connecticut is not required to indemnify state
employees for willful and malicious conduct. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-141d(a).
Specifically, Connecticut law provides that:
The state shall save harmless and indemnify any state officer or employee . . .
from financial loss and expense arising out of any claim, demand, suit or
judgment by reason of his alleged negligence or alleged deprivation of any
person’s civil rights or other act or omission resulting in damage or injury, if the
officer, employee or member is found to have been acting in the discharge of his
duties or within the scope of his employment and such act or omission is found
not to have been wanton, reckless or malicious.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-141d(a) (emphasis added).
In Hanton v. Williams, No. CV095030962S, 2011 WL 2611781, *6 (Conn. Super.
June 3, 2011), the Connecticut Superior Court observed that “[i]n analyzing the state’s
possible liability under the fourth criterion, courts look to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 5-141d(a) to
determine whether the state would possibly be required to indemnify the state official in
the event of a judgment being rendered against the official.” Id. Because the plaintiff in
Hanton alleged deliberate and malicious conduct by the defendant, the state would not
have been required to indemnify the defendant, and “the relief sought by the plaintiff
would not subject the state to liability.” Id. As a consequence, the fourth criterion of the
Spring test was not satisfied, and the plaintiff therefore had brought the suit against the
defendants in their individual capacities.
Similarly, in David v. Bureau, No. CV075001460S, 2008 WL 4249406, *3 (Conn.
Super. Aug. 25, 2008), the Connecticut Superior Court held that where a judgment for
damages against a defendant would be against the defendant alone, and the state
indemnification statute did not apply, the fourth criterion was not met, and the claims
could therefore be reasonably construed to be directed against the defendant in his
Here too, the relief sought by Staton under Count Two would not subject the
State of Connecticut to liability, and the fourth criterion of the Spring test has not been
met. See id. Because Staton’s claim for malicious, wanton, or intentional misconduct
may reasonably be construed to bring claims against Cassavechia in his individual
capacity, the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity does not bar this claim. See
Miller, 265 Conn. at 307.
The court concludes that Staton’s allegations of malicious, wanton, or intentional
misconduct constitute a claim against Cassavechia in his individual capacity. Such a
claim is not barred by the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity, nor is the claim
barred by the provisions of Chapter 53 of the Connecticut General Statutes. For the
foregoing reasons, Cassavechia’s Motion to Dismiss Count Two of the Fourth Amended
Complaint [Doc. No. 233] is denied.
Dated at Bridgeport, Connecticut, this 25th day of July, 2011.
/s/ Janet C. Hall
Janet C. Hall
United States District Judge
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