Filing 47

OPINION. Signed by Judge Jose L. Linares on 4/2/2014. (nr, )

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NOT FOR PUBLICATION THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY Civil Action No. 2:12-cv-06929 (JLL) (JAD) Plaintiffs, v. OPINION PASSAIC POLICE DEPARTMENT et al, Defendants. JOSEPH A. DICKSON, U.S.M.J. This matter comes before the Court upon motion by plaintiffs, Jose Angel Pacheco, Zul a Gonzalez, Angel Ramos, Yorelys Torres, Iverson Pacheco, Orlando Gonzalez, and Zulma Ay a (collectively "Plaintiffs"), for leave to file an amended complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 ) (the "Motion to Amend"), and add defendants: 1) Passaic County Prosecutor's Office; 2) Detect e Lieutenant D. Bachok; and 3) Detective M. Saracino to this action. (ECF No. 32). Pursuant o Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, no oral argument was heard. Upon consideraf n of the parties' submissions, and for the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' Motion to Amen denied without prejudice. I. BACKGROUND. A. Procedural and Brief Factual History This is an action for alleged violations ofthe civil rights 1 of Jose Angel Pacheco, Zulm Gonzalez, Angel Ramos, Yorelys Torres, Iverson Pacheco, Orlando Gonzalez, and Zulma Ayal (collectively "Plaintiffs"), arising from a search of Plaintiffs' residence, conducted on Novembe 17, 2011. (Compl., ECF No. 1 at~ 21). Plaintiffs bring this action against the participants in th aforementioned search, namely, Passaic Police Department, City Of Passaic, Detective Anthon M. Aceste, Detective Saussan Hajhassan, and Officer De Los Santos, (collective! "Defendants"). (Id. at ~10-14). Specifically, Plaintiffs allege illegal and unlawful detention o Plaintiffs, illegal searches of Plaintiffs' persons and the illegal search of Plaintiffs' apartmen ffih at ~2). All violations are alleged to have occurred during the Defendants' performance o their duties while acting under the color of state law. ffih). On September 18, 2013, this Court entered a Pretrial Scheduling Order which stated th all amended pleadings in this case shall be submitted by October 31, 2013. (ECF No. 30). Upo receipt of Defendants' Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 disclosures, Plaintiffs' timely filed this Motion t Amend, seeking to add certain defendants to this action, and attaching therein, a propose amended complaint (the "Amended Complaint"). (Pis. Br., ECF No. 32-1 at 2-3). B. The Proposed Defendants Plaintiffs seek to amend the Complaint and add the following new defendants to thi action: 1) Passaic County Prosecutor's Office; 2) Detective Lieutenant D. Bachok; and 3 1 Plaintiffs specifically allege violations of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1986, N.J.S.A. 10:6-2, the New Jersey Constitution, the New Je Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1, et seq., and New Jersey common law. (Compl., ECF No. 1, ~ 1). 2 y Detective M. Saracino, (collectively the "Proposed Defendants"). (Pis. Br., ECF No. 32-1, at 3 Upon the exchange of certain discovery, Plaintiffs became aware of information identifying th Proposed Defendants as individuals who ran and/or supervised the investigation and raid o Plaintiffs' residence. (ld.). 2 Specifically, Plaintiffs argue that based upon the informatio provided in Rule 26 disclosures and written discovery responses that were served on August 1 2013, August 29, 2013 and September 17, 2013, Plaintiffs have become aware of the identiti of the "John Doe" defendants named in their original complaint. (ld. at 5). Defendants3 oppos the addition of the Proposed Defendants, primarily on the grounds of futility. (Def. Opp., EC No. 33, at 2-5). 4 II. STANDARDOFREVIEW. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 governs motions to amend or supplement proceedin s. Rule 15(a) provides that after a responsive pleading has been filed: [A] party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the courts leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). 2 Plaintiffs specifically seek to amend the Complaint regarding the Proposed Defendants by adding the follo pertinent provisions: 1) "Passaic County Prosecutor's Office is responsible for the hiring, training, and supervisio the police officers and detectives and other personnel who were involved in the investigation, search and detentio also responsible for the establishment and/or implementation of policies, procedures, and practices used by its po ce officers, detectives and other municipal personnel regarding investigations, searches of dwellings, and detentio of individuals;" 2) "Detective D. Bachok was a police detective employed by the defendant Passaic County's Prosecut ... acting in her official capacity as a police detective under color of law;" and 3) "Police Detective M. Saracino the police detective employed by the defendant to Fayette County prosecutor's office and working with the ci Passaic and the Passaic Police Department and she was acting in her official capacity as a police detective under c oflaw." (See Amended Compl., ECF No. 32 at Ex. A, ~12, ~15, ~16). 3 Defendants, Detective Anthony M. Aceste and Detective Saussan Hajhassan are represented by Counsel apart the remaining Defendants, City of Passaic, Passaic Police Department, and Officer Luis de los Santos. Detective Anthony M. Aceste and Detective Saussan Hajhassan submitted a formal brief in opposition to the Motion to Amend, which this Court cites throughout this Opinion. (ECF No. 33). 4 Defendants, City of Passaic, Passaic Police Department, and Officer Luis de los Santos oppose the Motion to Am nd by way of correspondence, stating "Defendants object to Plaintiffs' proposed Amended Complaint. The Amen nt would be futile ... " (ECF No. 35). 3 The grant or denial ofleave to amend under Rule 15(a) is a matter "committed to the so discretion of the district court." Arab African lnt'l Bank v. Epstein, 10 F .3d 168, 174 (3d 1993). The Third Circuit adopted a liberal approach to the amendment of pleadings under R le 15 to ensure that "a particular claim will be decided on the merits rather than on technicaliti " Dole v. Arco Chern. Co., 921 F.2d 484,487 (3d Cir. 1990) (internal citation omitted). The bur n is generally on the party opposing the amendment to demonstrate why the amendment should be permitted. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178 (1962). Leave to amend a pleading may be denied where the court finds: (1) undue delay; (2) un e prejudice to the non-moving party; (3) bad faith or dilatory motive; or (4) futility of amendm Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000). A proposed amendment may also bed based on futility if it "would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted." Shan Fauver, 213 F.3d at 115. Thus, "[i]n assessing 'futility' the District Court applies the s standard oflegal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6)." ld. To survive dismissal under R 1e 12(b)(6), a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter accepted as true to 'state a clai relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). The Supreme Court refined the standard for summary dismissal of a complaint that fail state a claim in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). The Court examined Rule 8(a)(2) of e Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provides that a complaint must contain "a short and pl ·n statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)( 5 Citing its opinion in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), for the proposition that' pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation ofthe elements of a ca e 5 Rule 8(d)(l) provides that"[ e ]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. No technical form is required. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d). 4 of action will not do,"' Igbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), the Supr e Court identified two working principles underlying the failure to state a claim standard. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice .... Rule 8 ... does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. 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. But where the wellpleaded 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a){2). Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-1950 (citations omitted). The Court further explained that: a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausible give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 1950. Thus, to prevent a summary dismissal, a civil complaint must allege "sufficient fac 1 matter'' to show that the claim is facially plausible. Id. at 1949. This then "allows the court o draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Supreme Court's ruling in Iqbal emphasizes that a plaintiff must demonstrate that the allegati s ofhis complaint are plausible. Id. at 1949-50. III. DISCUSSION. The parties did not argue, and the Court does not find, that this Motion to Amend sho ld be denied based on undue delay, undue prejudice or bad faith. Defendants only argue t at permitting an amendment to add the Proposed Defendants would be futile, as prosecuto al 5 defendants are entitled to absolute immunity or, in the alternative, qualified immunity. (Def. Op ., ECF No. 33, at 4). Thus, the Court must determine whether Plaintiffs' amendments are futile to each Proposed Defendant. 1. Plaintiffs Fail To State A Claim For Relief Against Proposed Defendants. Defendants argue that adding the Proposed Defendants to this action would be futile as e amendment will have no bearing on the outcome of this matter and would not change any of e claims in the Complaint. (Reply Br., ECF No. 34 at 4). While these arguments do not prop articulate the futility standard, this Court finds that the Amended Complaint would not otherw e survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The Amended Complaint does not include any facts or claims referring to Detec e Bachok's and Detective Saracino's 6 involvement in the investigation or the alleged unlaw search and seizure. Nor does the Amended Complaint include any facts or assertions referrin o the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office. Plaintiffs only allude to the possibility of the Propo Defendants' knowledge that a raid took place. Specifically, Plaintiffs state only that Defend Ru1e 26 disclosures "identified persons with knowledge of the raid and the investigation that to the raid" and according to this disclosure, the Proposed Defendants, "ran and/or supervised e investigation and raid on plaintiffs home in conjunction with the previously named defendan " (Pl. Br., ECF No. 32-1 at 4-5). The facts alleged in the Amended Complaint only name Proposed Detective Defendants as parties that were employed by proposed defendant, Pass ·c County Prosecutor's Office and working with the City of Passaic and Passaic Police Departm (See Amended Compl., ECF No. 32). These allegations, even when taken as true, do not all 6 For the purposes of this Opinion. the ''Proposed Detective Defendants" referenced are Detective Lieutenant D. Bachok and Detective M. Saracino. 6 e how or when the Proposed Defendants were involved in the violation of Plaintiffs' rights, and th , do not pass muster under a 12(b)(6) analysis. A. Constitutional Rights Violations Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Plaintiffs have brought suit for damages against all Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violations of their Fourth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Compl., ECF No. 1, ~1 ). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the conduct at is e was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) the conduct deprived plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the laws and Constitution of the Uni States. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988). Section 19 3 itself does not establish substantive rights, but instead provides a ''method for vindicating fede rights elsewhere conferred." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) (quotations and citation omitted). A claim in a civil rights action must allege or show that the defendant had "perso involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be predicated on the operation of respond at superior." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir.1988). See also Iqbal, 129 S.Ct at 1949 (explaining that supervisors are "only liable for his or her own misconduct"). The Propo Detective Defendants were acting under color of state law in their official capacities as detecti s for the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office. The issue before this Court is whether Plaintiffs h e stated sufficient facts to support the claim that Proposed Defendants violated Plainti constitutional rights. As stated above, it is not clear whether the Proposed Defendants are alle to have been present during the alleged deprivations, much less whether they actively participa in the violations themselves. The facts, even when viewed must favorably towards Plaintiff, do 7 sufficiently state a plausible claim against Proposed Defendants as it is unclear how they allege( y violated Plaintiffs' rights. B. Civil Conspiracy "Civil conspiracy is a vehicle by which § 1983 liability may be imputed to those who hf lre not actually performed the act denying constitutional rights." McGovern v. Citv of Jersev C tv, No. 98-CV-5186 (JLL), 2006 WL 42236, at 9 (D.N.J. Jan.6, 2006). "To properly state a§ 19 g3 conspiracy claim, a plaintiff must allege that, "persons acting under color of state law conspired o deprive him of a federally protected right." Al-Ayo ubi v. City ofHackensack, No.2: 10-cv-025 2, 2011 WL 6825944, at 8 (D.N.J. Dec.28, 2011) (quotations and citation omitted). The allegati< ps for a conspiracy claim" 'must provide some factual basis to support the existence of the eleme ts of a conspiracy: agreement and concerted action.' " Id. (quoting Capogrosso v. Supreme Court bf New Jersey, 588 F.3d 180, 185 (3d Cir.2009)). As to the civil conspiracy claim, the Amen( ed Complaint does not adequatelyly allege that the Proposed Defendants participated in an "impro ler agreement" or unlawful conspiracy to violate Plaintiffs' civil rights, rendering such amendm int futile. The Amended Complaint alleges that all "defendant police officers and detectives" agrc: oo and acted to deprive Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights and further concludes "any of tle defendant officers and detectives named herein who were present and did not actively particip te in the deprivations set forth herein are liable for failing to prevent them." (Amended Compl., E F No. 32 at ~49-50). However, there are no actual facts alleging how any of the Proposed Defenda ts deprived Plaintiffs of their rights, engaged in concerted action in doing so, or were present at ~e raid. As stated above, Plaintiffs' only allege the Proposed Defendants had "knowledge" of the r ~d 8 and investigation that is the subject of this lawsuit and that they "ran and/or supervised" the r d of Plaintiffs' home. (Pl. Br., ECF No. 32-1 at 4-5). These facts do not create a plausible cause action but are merely conclusory statements of the elements of a civil rights claim. The remaini facts fail to show that there was any agreement resulting in violations of Plaintiffs' righ .7 Accordingly, the Motion to Amend shall be denied without prejudice for failure to state a clai , pursuant to the Rule 12(b)(6) analysis. Plaintiffs shall be permitted to seek to amend within thi y (30) days of the date of this Opinion to remedy the failures of the Amended Complaint. Howev r, Plaintiffs are cautioned by the Court's following analysis of qualified immunity. 2. Even if the Amended Complaint Could Pass Muster under 12(b)(6), the Propo Defendant, Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, Is Entitled to Eleventh Amendm Immunity. The Eleventh Amendment protects non-consenting states from suits brought in fed court by private citizens seeking money damages. Hyatt v. Cnty. of Passaic, 340 F. App'x 8 836 (3d Cir. 2009). (Citing Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 1 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984).). This immunity extends to state agencies when the state is e "real party in interest." Hyatt v. Cnty. of Passaic, at 833. To determine whether the State is e "real party in interest," the Court considers the following factors: "(1) the source of the money would pay for the judgment; (2) the status of the entity under state law; and (3) the entity's de 7 "Because transgressions of§ 1986 by definition depend on a preexisting violation of§ 1985, if the claimant does not set forth a cause of action under the latter, its claim under the former necessarily must fail also." Rogin v. Bensalem Township, 616 F.2d 680, 696 (3d Cir.1980). Here, because Plaintiffs have not adequately pled a claim under Section § 1985(3) the Court may dismiss the Section § 1986 claim against Proposed Defendants. 9 of autonomy." Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Prob. & Parole, 551 F.3d 193, 198 d Cir.2008) (citing Fitchik v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 873 F.2d 655, 659 (3d Cir.1989) The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office is an arm of the State of New Jersey under N w Jersey law. Under New Jersey law, when county prosecutors and their subordinates perform 1 w enforcement and prosecutorial functions, "they act as agents of the State," and the State m st indemnify a judgment arising from their conduct. Wright v. State, 169 N.J. 422, 778 A.2d 461-62, 464 (2001). A county, such as the County of Passaic, is liable when prosecuto defendants "perform administrative tasks unrelated to their strictly prosecutorial functions, s h as ... personnel decisions." Hyatt v. Cnty. of Passaic, at 836. (Citing Coleman v. Kaye, 87 F d 1491, 1499 (3d Cir.1996)). In this case, Plaintiffs' claims against the Passaic County Prosecut Office are related to the performance of classic law enforcement and prosecutorial functions. Specifically, the Amended Complaint asserts claims against the Passaic Co Prosecutor's Office for: (1) its failure to train and supervise its police officers and detectives the fundamental law of police procedures and protocols in dealing with investigations, searc seizures and detentions;" and (2) its adoption of an official policy or custom of unreasonable illegal conduct by its officers and detectives. (Id. at ,84-91). Plaintiffs further allege that e failure of the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office to train and refusal to discipline its detecti es encouraged the defendant officers and detectives to engage in the type of illegal conduct that to the violation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. (ld.). Training and policy decisions that req legal knowledge and discretion are related to prosecutorial functions and are unlike administrat e tasks concerning personneL Hyatt v. Cnty. of Passaic, 836-837. 10 Here, the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office procedures, policy, and training regard· searches, seizures, investigations and detentions require legal knowledge and discretion, and therefore related to prosecutorial functions. Further, under New Jersey law, the Passaic Cou Prosecutor's Office "remains at all times subject to the supervision and supersession power of e Attorney General" when performing its prosecutorial function and is not autonomous from e State. Wright 778 A.2d, at 462. Therefore, the PCPO is immune from all of Plaintiffs' cl · s because it is not autonomous from the State regarding its prosecutorial activities, which incl e the procedures policies and training regarding investigations, searches, seizures and detentio Accordingly, because the PCPO and its officials acted in their official capacities as agents of e State, they qualify for Eleventh Amendment immunity. Further, this District has consistently and uniformly held that the Eleventh Amendm precludes federal suits against New Jersey county prosecutors, as well as their offices and st arising out of their law enforcement functions on the basis that the real party in interest in th e suits is the State of New Jersey. See Nugent v. County of Hunterdon, No. 09-2710, 2010 1949359 (D.N.J. May 14, 2010); Watkins v. Attorney General ofNew Jersey, No. 06-1391,2 WL 2864631 at 3 (D.N.J. October 4, 2006) ("[A county prosecutor's office] is not subject to s it under § 1983 because the Prosecutor's Office is not a government entity which can be sued un r § 1983 separate from the individual who is the county prosecutor or the governmental entity the county prosecutor serves"). Similarly, under the Fitchik8 analysis, the Third Circuit consistently held that county prosecutor's offices are agents of the state, and therefore entitl Eleventh Amendment Immunity from suit, when performing classic law enforcement investigative functions. See Coleman v. Kaye, 87 F.3d 1491, 1505 (3d Cir.1996). 8 Referencing Fitchik v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 873 F.2d 655, 659 (3d Cir.l989). 11 3. Should the Amended Complaint Pass Muster under 12(b)(6), the Proposed Detec · e Defendants Are Likely Entitled To Qualified Immunity. Government officials are entitled to qualified immunity in the performance of th ·r discretionary duties if''their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutio rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 8 , 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1992). The determination of whether an officer is entitled o qualified immunity implicates a two-prong test: (1) the Court has to determine if the offi violated a "clearly established" constitutional right; and (2) whether a reasonable officer wo have known that his/her actions deprived the Plaintiff of that "clearly established" right. =H::=-'"F-'v. Plains Twp. Police Dep't, 421 F.3d 185, 192 (3d Cir.2005); see also Saucier, 533 U.S. at 2 Applying this standard, Proposed Detective Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity beca e the Amended Complaint does not allege any facts supporting a claim that Proposed Defend violated clearly established rights of Plaintiffs or anything else for that matter. To find that a right is clearly established, "the right allegedly violated must be define t the appropriate level of specificity." Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 615, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 1 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999). Plaintiffs have failed to plead specific facts that demonstrate Propo Detective Defendants violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Further, "a right is cle established for the purposes of qualified immunity when its contours are sufficiently clear th a reasonable official would understand that what he [/she] is doing violates that right." Hubbar Taylor, 538 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir.2008) (quoting Williams v. Bitner, 455 F.3d 186, 191 Cir.2006) (internal quotations omitted). The allegations that the Proposed Detective Defend had "knowledge" of the raid or "ran and/or supervised" the raid of Plaintiffs' home does 12 t correlate to actions by the Proposed Detective Defendants in violation of a right, especially in li~ ~t of the prior investigation and the warrant issued on probable cause. (See Pl. Br., ECF No. 32-1 at 2-5). It remains unclear if the Proposed Detective Defendants violated Plaintiffs' cleru y established constitutional rights, so the Court reserves discussion as to whether it was reasona1 e for them to violate such rights. Thus, as the first prong of this test is not met, the Proposed Detect e Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, "Qualified immunity is 'an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other hurd~ tls of litigation."' Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194,200 (2001) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 US. 511, 526 (1985)). Qualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold pub ~c officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials ftc ~ harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably. Pearson [V. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). As such, federal courts have made clear that the "drivi g force" behind creation of the qualified immunity doctrine was a desire to ensure that " 'insubstantial claims' against government officials [will] be resolved prior to discovery." Anders n v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). Accordingly, Courts have repeatedly stressed 1e importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227. Here, the application of qualified immunity to the Proposed Detect lre Defendants may well be appropriate, and the present proposed amendment fails to set forth clea y delineated, non-conclusory facts overcoming the presumption of immunity. The purpose of ~e Qualified Immunity Doctrine is to bar suit in cases, such as the one at bar, that do not articulat a clear violation of protected rights by government officials. Plaintiffs will be well advised o consider the doctrine of qualified immunity and section III (1) of this Opinion, should they ag, n seek to amend their Complaint. 13 IV. CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend, (ECF No. 32), is den· d without prejudice. SO ORDERED cc: Honorable Jose L. Linares, U.S.D.J. 14

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