Copelin v. Suffolk County, et al
ORDER granting 2 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. SO ORDERED that plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis is granted and plaintiffs claims against the County are sua sponte dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S. C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(l) for failure to state a claim for relief unless plaintiff files an amended complaint in accordance with this Order on or before November 4, 2013. The Clerk of the Court shall: (1) forward copies of the su mmonses, the complaint and this Order to the United States Marshal Service for service upon the individual defts without prepayment of fees; and (2) serve notice of entry of this Order upon plaintiff in accordance with Rule 77(d)(l) of the Federal Ru les of Civil Procedure. The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal from this Order would not be taken in good faith and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for the purpose of any appeal. CM to pro se plaintiff. Ordered by Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein on 9/30/2013. (Florio, Lisa)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
CORY COPELIN, #373223,
-againstSUFFOLK COUNTY, JOHN SCHULTZ,Deputy
SheriffInvestigator, #252, SGT. ROBERT
STARKE, Deputy Sheriff Investigator, WILLIAM
WEICK, Deputy Sheriff Investigator,
IN CLERK'S OFFICE
U S DISTRICT COURTED N y
SEP 3 0Z013
LONG ISLAND OFFICE
FEUERSTEIN, District Judge:
On June 3, 2013, incarcerated prose plaintiff Cory Copelin ("plaintiff') filed a civil rights
complaint in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against defendants,
Suffolk County ("the County") and Deputy Sheriff Investigators John Schultz ("Schultz"),
Sergeant Robert Starke ("Starke") and William Weick ("Weick") (collectively, "the individual
defendants"), accompanied by an application to proceed in forma pauperis. Since plaintiffs
financial status, as set forth in his declaration in support of his application to proceed in forma
pauperis, qualifies him to file the complaint without prepayment of the filing fees, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a)(l), the application to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. However, for the
reasons set forth below, plaintiffs claims against the County are sua sponte dismissed for failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) (ii) and
Plaintiff alleges that on February 29,2012, he and Patricia Newell ("Newell") were
staying at the Marriott Residence Inn, located at 25 Middle Avenue, Holtsville, New York, when
they were "subjected to the warrantless breaking and [e]ntering of temporary residence by" the
individual defendants; "forced to strip naked and bendover [sic] and cough in the presence of'
the individual defendants; and then "cuffed and dragged into hallway in presence of other
officers." (Statement of Claim attached to the Complaint ["Stat. of Claim"],~~ (I )-(2)).
According to plaintiff, Starke told him "his life was over," then all of his jewelry was removed
from his "wrist and room" and Starke said: "we'll take this[.]" (Stat. ofC1aim, ~ IV(3)).
As a result of "[i]tems" found in an overnight bag and a "small amount" of narcotics
found in a water bottle in the refrigerator, and "based on the statement of Peter Cornell who was
arrested on [d]rug poss[ession] in Coram N.Y. [e]arlierthat day," plaintiff was charged with
criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminal possession of a controlled
substance in the third degree. (Stat. of Claim,~~ IV(4)-(5)). Plaintiff was arraigned in district
court on all of the charges and was "malicously [sic] prosecuted for approx[imately] 14 [months]
* * *."
(Stat. of Claim, ~ IV (6)). Plaintiff alleges that he was denied due process and his right to
a speedy trial as a result of being "held in custody a number of months on [f]alse and [f]raudulent
documents." (Stat. of Claim, ~ IV (7) ).
On May 8, 2013, "all charges pertaining to this incident were dismissed in the [i]nterest of
* * *."
(Stat. of Claim,~ IV(8)). Plaintiff alleges that the individual defendants "carried
All material allegations in the complaint are assumed to be true for the purposes of this
order, see,~ Rogers v. City of Troy. New York 148 F.3d 52, 58 (2d Cir. 1998) (in reviewing a
pro se complaint for sua sponte dismissal, a court is required to accept the material allegations in
the complaint as true), and do not constitute findings of fact by the Court.
out these acts in individual and [p ]rofessional capacity and were hired and trained by Suffolk
County." (Stat. of Claim,~ IV(8)).
Plaintiff asserts claims for false arrest, assault, battery, "malicious arrest," "[i]ntentional,
[r]eckless infliction of [e ]motional [d]istress," "[g]ross [n ]egligence in supervising subordinates"
and excessive force. (Compl., ~ IV.A). As injuries, he claims only mental anguish and that
"Mental Health Treatment being Sought." Id. Plaintiff seeks: (a) to recover compensatory,
"monetory [sic]" and punitive damages, as well as damages for "constitutional injury," in the
amount of ten million dollars ($10,000,000.00) each, for a total damages award offorty million
dollars ($40,000,000.00); and (b) an order of protection against all defendants. (Compl. ~ V.)
Standard of Review
Under both the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and the in forma
pauperis statute, 29 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), a district court must dismiss acomp1aint if it 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. §§ 1915A(b) and
1915(e)(2)(B). See Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636,639 (2d Cir. 2007) (finding both Section 1915
and Section 1915A to be applicable to a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis).
It is axiomatic that district courts are required to read pro se complaints liberally, see
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (quoting Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106,97 S.Ct. 285,50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)); Sykes v. Bank of Americ!J, 723
F.3d 399,403 (2d Cir. 2013), and to construe them "to raise the strongest arguments [that they]
suggest." Walker v. Schult, 717 F. 3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013) (quotations and citations
omitted). Moreover, at the pleadings stage of the proceeding, the Court must assume the truth of
"all well-pleaded, nonconclusmy factual allegations in the complaint." Harrington v. Countv of
Suffolk. 607 FJd 31,33 (2d Cir. 2010); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,678-79, 129 S.
Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009).
Nevertheless, a complaint must plead sufficient facts "to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Com. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955,
1974, 167 L. Ed.2d 929 (2007). The pleading of specific facts is not required; rather a complaint
need only give the defendant "fair notice of what the
* * * claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests." Erickson, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. at 2200 (quotations and citation omitted); see also
Anderson News, LLC v. American Media. Inc, 680 F .3d 162, 182 (2d Cir. 20 12), cert. denied !2y
Curtis Circulation Co. v. Anderson News,
133 S. Ct. 846, 184 L. Ed. 2d 655 (2013)
(accord). "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation ofthe
elements of a cause of action will not do."' Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting
Twombly. 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked
assertion[ s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement."' Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557,
127 S.Ct. 1955); see also Gallop v. Cheney, 642 F.3d 364, 368 (2d Cir. 2011) (accord). The
plausibility standard requires "more than a sheer possibility that defendant has acted unlawfully."
Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949; see also Wilson v. Merrill Lynch & Co .. Inc, 671
FJd 120, 128 (2d Cir. 2011) (accord).
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides, in relevant part:
"[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ... subjects, or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation
of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the party injured .... "
To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege(!) that the challenged
conduct was "committed by a person acting under color of state law," and (2) that such conduct
"deprived [the plaintiff] of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of
the United States." Cornejo v. Bell, 592 F.3d 121, 127 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Pitchell v. Call!m,
13 F.3d 545,547 (2d Cir. 1994)); see also Rehberg v. Paulk, 132 S. Ct. 1497, 1501-02, 182 L.
Ed. 2d 593 (2012).
"(A) municipality can be held liable under Section 1983 if the deprivation of the plaintiff's
rights under federal law is caused by a governmental custom, policy, or usage of the municipality."
Jones v. Town of East Haven, 691 F.3d 72, 80 (2d Cir. 2012). "Absent such a custom, policy, or
usage, a municipality cannot be held liable on a respondeat superior basis for the tort of its
employee." Id.; see also Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359, 179 L. Ed. 2d 417 (2011)
(holding that under Section 1983, governmental bodies are not vicariously liable for their
employees' actions); Los Angeles County. California v. Humphries, 131 S. Ct. 447, 452, 178 L.
Ed. 2d 460 (2010) ("[A] municipality cannot be held liable solely for the acts of others,~, solely
because it employs a tortfeasor." (emphasis in original) (quotations and citation omitted)); Monell
v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L.
Ed. 2d 611 (1978). To prevail on a Section 1983 claim against a municipality, a plaintiff must
show: "(!) actions taken under color of law; (2) deprivation of a constitutional or statutory right;
(3) causation; (4) damages; and (5) that an official policy of the municipality caused the
constitutional injury." Roe v. Citv of Waterbury, 542 F.3d 31,36 (2d Cir. 2008); see also Connick,
131 S.Ct. at 1359 ("Plaintiffs who seek to impose liability on local governments under Section
1983 must prove that 'action pursuant to official municipal policy' caused their injury." (quoting
Monell, 436 U.S. at 691,98 S.Ct. 2018)); Humphries, 131 S.Ct. at 452 ("[A) municipality may be
held liable when execution of a government's policy or custom ... inflicts the injury." (emphasis
in original) (quotations and citation omitted)).
"A municipal policy may be pronounced or tacit and reflected in either action or inaction."
Cash v. County of Erie, 654 F.3d 324, 333 (2d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1741, 182 L. Ed.
2d 528 (2012). "Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government's lawmakers, the
acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have
the force of law." Connick, 131 S.Ct. at 1359.
In addition, municipal liability can be established "by showing that a policymaking official
ordered or ratified the employee's actions- either expressly or tacitly." Jones, 691 F.3d at 81.
"Thus, a plaintiff can prevail against a municipality by showing that the policymaking official was
aware of the employee's unconstitutional actions and consciously chose to ignore them." !d. To
establish such deliberate indifference, "a plaintiff must show that a policymaking official was
aware of constitutional injury, or the risk of constitutional injury, but failed to take appropriate
action to prevent or sanction violations of constitutional rights." !d. "Deliberate indifference is a
stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious
consequence of his action." !d. (quotations and citation omitted). "[D]eliberate indifference
requires a showing that the official made a conscious choice, and was not merely negligent." !d.;
Cash, 654 F.3d at 334.
"[D]eliberate indifference may be inferred where the need for more or better supervision to
protect against constitutional violations was obvious * * * but the policymaker failed to make
meaningful efforts to address the risk of harm to plaintiffs." Cash, 654 F.3d at 334 (quotations,
alterations and citations omitted). Moreover, "[i]n limited circumstances, a [municipality's]
decision not to train certain employees about their legal duty to avoid violating citizens' rights may
rise to the level of an official government policy for purposes of Section 1983." Connick, 13 I S.
Ct. at 1359. "To satisfY [Section 1983], a municipality's failure to train its employees in a relevant
respect must amount to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the untrained
employees come into contact." Id. (internal quotations, alterations and citation omitted). "A
municipality's culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on a
failure to train." Id. "A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is
'ordinarily necessary' to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train." Id. at
To state a claim for municipal liability under Section I 983, a plaintiff must allege more
than that a municipal policy or custom exists. See Santos v. New York Citv, 847 F. Supp. 2d 573,
576 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). "Rather, a plaintiff must allege facts tending to support, at least
circumstantially, an inference that such a municipal policy or custom exists." Id.
Since the complaint is devoid of any factual allegations tending to support an inference that
a municipal policy or custom existed that caused the alleged constitutional deprivations of which
plaintiff complains, it fails to state a Section I 983 claim against the County.
White v. St.
Although the Supreme Court recognized "a narrow range of* * * hypothesized singleincident liability" based upon "an obvious need for some form of training," Connick, 131 S.Ct. at
I 36 I, this case does not fall within that narrow and "rare" range of cases, particularly because
plaintiff does not allege a complete lack of training of County deputy sheriff investigators or that
County deputy sheriff investigators had an "utter lack of an ability to cope with constitutional
situations" that existed in the hypothesized single-incident case. Id. at 1363.
Joseph's Hospital, 369 Fed. Appx. 225,226 (2d Cir. Mar.!O, 2010) (affirming sua sponte
dismissal of Section 1983 claim for the plaintiffs failure "to allege that any of the allegedly
unconstitutional actions were taken pursuant to an official policy or custom, as is required to state
a§ !983 claim against a municipality."); see generally City of Waterbury, 542 F.3d at 37-41.
Plaintiff has not alleged:(!) the existence of a formal policy which is officially endorsed by the
County; (2) actions taken or decisions made by County policymaking officials which caused the
alleged violations of his civil rights; (3) a County practice so persistent and widespread as to
practiCally have the force oflaw; or (4) any facts tending to support an inference that he was
caused constitutional injury by the failure of County policymakers to properly train or supervise
the individual defendants. Accordingly, plaintiffs Section 1983 claims against the County are
sua sponte dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(l) for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Leave to Amend
Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a party shall be given
leave to amend "when justice so requires." Nevertheless, "[!]eave to amend, though liberally
granted, may properly be denied for: 'undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the
movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice
to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc."'
Ruotolo v. Citv of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S.
178, 182,83 S.Ct. 227,9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962)); see also Burch v. Pioneer Credit Recovery. Inc,
551 F.3d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 2008). "[W]hen addressing a prose complaint, a district court should
not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint
gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Thompson v. Carter, 284 F.3d 411,416
(2d Cir. 2002) (quotations and citation omitted); see also Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170
(2d Cir. 2010). Accordingly, plaintiff is granted leave to file an amended complaint correcting
the pleading deficiencies in his claims against the County, provided that any such amended
complaint is filed on or before November 4, 2013, or the claims against the County will be
deemed dismissed with prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis is
granted and plaintiffs claims against the County are sua sponte dismissed with prejudice
pursuant to 28 U.S. C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(l) for failure to state a claim for relief
unless plaintiff files an amended complaint in accordance with this Order on or before
November 4, 2013. The Clerk of the Court shall: (I) forward copies of the summonses, the
complaint and this Order to the United States Marshal Service for service upon the individual
defendants without prepayment of fees; and (2) serve notice of entry of this Order upon plaintiff
in accordance with Rule 77(d)(l) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal from this Order
would not be taken in good faith and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for the purpose
of any appeal. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45, 82 S. Ct. 917, 8 L. Ed. 2d
s/ Sandra J. Feuerstein
Sandra J. Feuerstein
United States District Judge
September JO , 2013
Central Islip, New York
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