Harris v. County of Nassau et al
MEMORANDUM & ORDER: Plaintiff's 2 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief, including a preliminary injunction and continued federal oversight of his state crim inal case, is DENIED. Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants Rice and Haddad are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. By October 18, 2013, Plaintiff must file an Amended Complaint that names the individuals personally responsible for the alleged denial of his constitutional rights. See document for full detail. So Ordered by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis on 9/13/2013. (c/m to pro se) (Lee, Tiffeny)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
13-CV-4728 (NGG) (RML)
-againstCOUNTY OF NASSAU, KATHLEEN
RICE, Nassau County District Attorney,
DETECTIVE RISPOLI, P.O. VELTE,
Nassau County Police, MICHELLE
HADDAD, Assistant District Attorney
Nassau County, and Others,
NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Dennis Harris brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Nassau County and
multiple individual defendants, including Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and
Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Michelle Haddad, contesting his arrest by Nassau
County police officers and the ensuing state criminal prosecution, which is still pending.
Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") is GRANTED. However, for
the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs request for injunctive relief is DENIED, and his claims for
monetary relief against Rice and Haddad are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. As described
below, Plaintiff must file an Amended Complaint by October 18, 2013.
The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint and matters of which judicial
notice may be taken. See Halebian v. Berv, 644 F.3d 122, 131 & n.7 (2d Cir. 2011).
On June 16, 2013, Plaintiff was arrested by Nassau County police officers on petty
larceny charges. (Compl. (Dkt. 1) at 4.) The officers impounded Plaintiff's automobile but "did
not issue a receipt, nor inventory voucher for the vehicle and the property contained therein."
(IQJ Thereafter, Plaintiff was indicted by a grand jury on various charges, and he remains in
Nassau County custody pending trial. (Id.) See also People v. Harris, No. Ol 124N-2013
(Nassau Cnty. Crim. Ct.).
Plaintiff asserts that his constitutional rights were violated because ( 1) his property was
seized "with out [sic] any notice, cause or opportunity to be heard"; (2) Defendants "have falsely
charged [Plaintiff] without probable cause"; (3) Defendants "maliciously pursued" the criminal
charges; (4) Defendants "procured an indictment" without providing sufficient notice to
Plaintiff; (5) Defendants failed to comply with certain provisions of New York criminal law;
and (6) a police officer refused to loosen Plaintiffs handcuffs. (See Compl. at 5-6, iii! 1-7.) For
these alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff requests (1) "a preliminary injunction
ordering his release from custody without bail"; (2) "a release of his automobile and the contents
[located therein]"; (3) "federal oversight of the criminal proceedings against him"; and
(4) $100,000 in damages. (Id. at 7.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A district court must dismiss an action in which the plaintiff proceeds IFP if the court
determines that 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). An action is "frivolous" when either: (I) "the factual
contentions are clearly baseless, such as when allegations are the product of delusion or fantasy";
or (2) "the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Livingston v. Adirondack
Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted).
In reviewing a complaint submitted prose, the court reads the plaintiff's submissions
liberally and interprets them as raising the strongest arguments they suggest. See McEachin v.
McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004); Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.
1994). This is because "a prose complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
94 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Nevertheless, a complaint must plead sufficient 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). While "detailed factual allegations" are not required, "[a] pleading
that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do."' Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
Pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 ( 1971 ), a federal court must decline to
exercise its jurisdiction and abstain from deciding a constitutional claim where: "(l) there is an
ongoing state proceeding; (2) an important state interest is implicated in that proceeding; and (3)
the state proceeding affords the federal plaintiff an adequate opportunity for judicial review of
the federal constitutional claims." Diamond "D" Constr. Com. v. McGowan, 282 F.3d 191, 198
(2d Cir. 2002). A federal court should be particularly careful when asked to enjoin state
proceedings because, as compared to monetary damages, injunctions are more likely to pose an
"unacceptable interference with the ongoing state proceeding, the evil against which Younger
seeks to guard." Kirschner v. Klemons, 225 F.3d 227, 238 (2d Cir. 2000); cf. Rivers v. McLeod,
252 F.3d 99, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2001) (holding that Younger does not apply to claims for money
damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Here, because all three criteria for Younger abstention are
satisfied, Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief is denied.
Ongoing State Proceeding
First, it is apparent that Plaintiff's state criminal action is ongoing. Plaintiff alleges that
he "remains in custody, to date, in lieu of $25,000 bail" relating to these charges. (Compl. at 4.)
Plaintiff also requests "federal oversight of the criminal proceedings against him" (id. at 7),
which indicates that the proceedings are still ongoing. Finally, a review of New York State
criminal records indicates that Plaintiffs criminal prosecution is active, with the next hearing
scheduled for September 17, 2013. See People v. Harris, No. Ol 124N-2013 (Nassau Cnty. Crim.
Ct.). Thus, there is an ongoing state proceeding that would be halted if this court were to award
injunctive relief, and the first Younger criterion is met.
Important State Interest
Second, important state interests are at stake. "[A] state interest is 'important' where 'the
state action concerns the central sovereign functions of state government."' Arbitron Inc. v.
Cuomo, No. 08-CV-8497 (DLC), 2008 WL 4735227, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 27, 2008) (quoting
Grieve v. Tamerin, 269 F.3d 149, 152 (2d Cir. 2001)).
Here, New York's interest in properly administering its criminal justice system is the
prototypical state interest that justifies abstention. New York has an important interest in
enforcing its criminal laws. See Washington v. Cnty. of Rockland, 373 F .3d 310, 318 (2d Cir.
2004) (Sotomayor, J.) ("Under Younger, federal courts, in the interest of comity, must abstain
from enjoining pending state court criminal prosecutions and allow state courts to resolve
pending matters within their jurisdiction."). Indeed, Younger itself concerned state criminal
prosecutions. See 401 U.S. at 45 (detailing the "fundamental policy against federal interference
with state criminal prosecutions"). Federal injunctive relief in this case would therefore interfere
with an important state interest, satisfying the second Younger prong.
Adequacy of State Proceedings
Finally, Plaintiff has an adequate "opportunity for judicial review of his constitutional
claims during or after the proceeding." Univ. Club v. City ofN.Y., 842 F.2d 37, 40 (2d Cir.
1988). In Plaintiffs ongoing criminal proceeding, he may challenge the sufficiency of the
evidence against him as well as the circumstances surrounding the seizure of his automobile.
See Hansel v. Town Ct. for Town of Springfield, N.Y., 56 F.3d 391, 394 (2d Cir. 1995)
("Because [the criminal defendant] is free to raise his constitutional claims before a legally
trained judge both prior to trial, see N.Y. Code Crim. Proc.§ 170.25, and after conviction on
direct appeal, [he] can assert no bar to having his constitutional argument heard before the state
For these reasons, all three requirements for Younger abstention are met, and the court
denies Plaintiffs request to enjoin his state criminal prosecution.
Prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity for their prosecutorial acts. "It is well
established that a state prosecuting attorney who acted within the scope of his duties in initiating
and pursuing a criminal prosecution is immune from a civil suit for damages under § 1983."
Shmueli v. City ofN.Y., 424 F.3d 231, 236 (2d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).
"Prosecutorial immunity from § 1983 liability is broadly defined, covering virtually all acts,
regardless of motivation, associated with [the prosecutor's] function as an advocate." Hill v.
City ofN.Y., 45 F.3d 653, 661 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted);
see also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 274 n. 5 (1993) (recognizing that absolute
immunity shields a "prosecutor's decision to bring an indictment, whether he has probable cause
or not"); Pinaud v. Cnty. of Suffolk, 52 F.3d 1139, 1149 (2d Cir. 1995) (holding district
attorneys absolutely immune from claims for malicious prosecution and presentation of false
evidence to a grand jury); Houston v. Nassau Cnty., No. 08-CV 197 (JFB) (WDW), 2011 WL
477732, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2011) ("[B]oth the Supreme Court and the Second Circuit have
made clear that the decision regarding whether or not to initiate prosecution is a quintessential
prosecutorial function that is entitled to absolute immunity."). Absolute immunity for
prosecutorial acts can be defeated only if the prosecutor is alleged to have acted in the complete
absence of jurisdiction. Shmueli, 424 F.3d at 237.
Here, even construing Plaintiffs allegations liberally, the claims against Rice and
Haddad must be dismissed because they seek monetary relief against Defendants who are
immune from suit. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii). These Defendants' challenged conductinitiating and pursuing a criminal case-are classic prosecutorial functions. See Hill, 45 F.3d at
661 ("[A] district attorney is absolutely immune from civil liability for initiating a prosecution
and presenting the case at trial."); Pinaud, 52 F.3d at 1149; Houston, 2011 WL 477732, at *3.
Whether these Defendants properly followed the law is of no moment; because they clearly did
not act in the complete absence of jurisdiction, absolute immunity bars all § 1983 claims against
them, and because Plaintiff is proceeding IFP, these claims must be dismissed. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii); cf. Mills v. Fischer, 645 F.3d 176, 177 (2d Cir. 2011) ("Any claim
dismissed on the ground of absolute judicial immunity is 'frivolous' for purposes of28 U.S.C.
Moreover, because of absolute immunity, any attempt to amend the claims against these
Defendants would be futile. As such, the claims for monetary damages against Rice and Haddad
are dismissed with prejudice. See Mosley v. Mcintosh, No. 08-CV-9635 (PKC) (THK), 2009
WL 1542546, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. May 29, 2009) (report and recommendation), adopted by id. at *l
(dismissing IFP claims with prejudice on the basis of absolute immunity because any amendment
would be futile).
Plaintiffs motion for leave to proceed IFP is GRANTED. Plaintiffs request for
injunctive relief, including a preliminary injunction and continued federal oversight of his state
criminal case, is DENIED. Plaintiffs claims for monetary damages against Defendants Rice and
Haddad are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
By October 18, 2013, Plaintiff must file an Amended Complaint that names the
individuals personally responsible for the alleged denial of his constitutional rights. If he does
not know the names of these individuals, Plaintiff may identify each of them as John Doe or Jane
Doe. To the best of his ability, Plaintiff must describe each individual and the role he or she
played in the alleged deprivation of his rights. To the extent Plaintiff wishes to bring a claim
against Nassau County, he must allege how a municipal policy or custom caused the deprivation
of his constitutional rights. See generally Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City ofN.Y., 436
U.S. 658 (1978). However, Plaintiff is cautioned that claims for false arrest and malicious
prosecution are defeated by the presence of probable cause, see Dickerson v. Napolitano, 604
F.3d 732, 751 (2d Cir. 2010); Weyant v. Okst, 101F.3d845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996), and that a grand
jury indictment "creates a presumption of probable cause," Savino v. City ofN.Y., 331 F.3d 63,
75 (2d Cir. 2003).
Plaintiff is further advised that an Amended Complaint does not simply add to the first
Complaint-it completely replaces the original. Therefore, Plaintiff must include in the
Amended Complaint all the necessary information that was contained in the original Complaint.
The Amended Complaint must be captioned as an "Amended Complaint" and bear the same case
number as this Memorandum and Order. Although Plaintiff's request for leave to proceed IFP is
granted, no summons shall issue at this time and all further proceedings shall be stayed until
October 18, 2013.
The court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal from this
Memorandum and Order would not be taken in good faith and therefore IFP status is denied for
purpose of an appeal. Coppedge v. United States, 269 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).
s/Nicholas G. Garaufis
United States District Judge
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
September il. 2013
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