White v. County of Suffolk et. al.
ORDER: Based on the foregoing (Please See Order For Further Details), Plaintiff's 61 motion to amend the complaint to add Defendants John Peterson and James McGuiness is granted. Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint to add Defendant Odette Hall and the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office is denied, as is Plaintiff's motion to add allegations seeking declaratory relief. So Ordered by Magistrate Judge James M. Wicks on 7/14/2021. (Ortiz, Grisel)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
7/14/2021 10:54 am
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
LONG ISLAND OFFICE
CV 20-1501 (JS) (JMW)
COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE
DEPARTMENT, RONALD TAVARES, MICHAEL
MILAU, SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S
OFFICE, DARRYL LEVY, LAURA NEWCOMBE,
THOMAS SPOTA, JOHN DOES 1-10,
WICKS, Magistrate Judge:
Plaintiff Samuel White (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and
1985 asserting due process and equal protection violations, along with claims of false arrest,
malicious prosecution, denial of a fair trial, failure to intervene, conspiracy and failure to train or
supervise against the County of Suffolk, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the
Suffolk County Police Department, Ronald Tavares, Michael Milau, John Does 1-10, Daryl
Levy, Laura Newcombe, Thomas J. Spota III, Timothy Sini, Helen Wong, and the Suffolk
County Medical Examiner Crime Lab (collectively, “Defendants”). Before the Court is
Plaintiff’s motion, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 15(a), for leave to
amend the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s motion is granted in part, and
denied in part.
Plaintiff’s original complaint was filed on March 21, 2020. (DE 1.) On July 22, 2020,
Plaintiff filed an amended complaint asserting twenty-one claims against thirteen defendants
arising out of his arrest and prosecution in Suffolk County between 2016 and 2019. See
Amended Complaint, DE 36. The following facts are taken from the Amended Complaint and
are assumed true for purposes of this motion. 1 On May 25, 2016, Plaintiff was approached by
a man, E.R., threatening Plaintiff and telling him he was going to steal his jewelry. Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 1, 4, pages 19, 20. A fight ensued, and Plaintiff fled the scene. Id. at ¶10.
According to Plaintiff, he went to the police department to report the incident, where he was
then arrested. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14, 26. Plaintiff alleges that the police and the Suffolk County
District Attorney’s Office fabricated a case against him in an effort to charge him with
manslaughter. Id. at ¶¶ 25-27. Following a jury trial, Plaintiff was acquitted. Id. at ¶ 57.
Plaintiff asserts claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, denial of a fair trial, failure to
intervene, conspiracy and failure to train or supervise, along with claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1983 and 1985 asserting due process and equal protection violations arising out of these
On August 28, 2020, Defendants Timothy Sini, Daryl Levy and Laura Newcombe filed
a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (DE 55.) On August
28, 2020, Defendant Thomas Spota also filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (DE 56.) On March 25, 2021, the Court administratively
terminated both motions to dismiss without prejudice to renew, pending the decision on the
instant motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint filed on September 23, 2020.
(DE 3/25/2021; DE 61.) Plaintiff has attached the Proposed Second Amended Complaint (or
“PAC”) which adds four additional parties to the case; John Peterson, a Suffolk County Police
The paragraphs in the Proposed Second Amended Complaint are non-consecutively numbered and, in some cases,
more than one paragraph has the same number. Thus, the Court shall refer to the Proposed Amended Complaint
with reference to paragraph and page number. The Court shall refer to unnumbered pages in Plaintiff’s memoranda
by reference to ECF page numbers. Counsel for Plaintiff is respectively reminded that, for ease of reference, each
page of any document filed with the Court is to be numbered, and each paragraph in a complaint is to be
consecutively numbered throughout the complaint, rather than numbered within each section.
detective, James McGuinness, a Suffolk County Police detective, Odette R. Hall, medical
examiner, and the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office, and also focuses areas of
specific declaratory relief pleaded and contemplated in the Original Complaint. See
Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion For Leave to Amend Its Pleading (“Pl.
Mem.”). By order dated October 2, 2020, the Honorable Joanna Seybert referred Plaintiff’s
motion for decision, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a), to the then-assigned Magistrate Judge,
the Honorable Arlene R. Lindsay. (DE 10/2/2021). On July 8, 2021, Judge Lindsay recused
herself, and this case was then reassigned to the undersigned. (DE 73.)
Opposition to Plaintiff’s motion to amend was filed by the County of Suffolk, Timothy
Sini, Daryl Levy, Laura Newcombe, Ronald Tavares, Michael Milau, Helen Wong, Odette
Hall, John Peterson and James McGuinness (the “County Defendants”). The County
Defendants do not object to that portion of the Plaintiff’s motion seeking to add defendants
John Peterson and James McGuinness. The County Defendants do object to amending the
complaint to add Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Odette R. Hall, on the grounds that (1) the
complaint does not sufficiently allege facts to plausibly state a claim as required by Rule 8, (2)
she is entitled to absolute immunity and (3) to the extent Plaintiff claims that Hall testified
falsely at trial and caused a violation of his rights, she would be entitled to absolute testimonial
immunity. In addition, Defendants argue that Plaintiff should not be permitted to amend the
complaint to add a claim against the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office because the
Medical Examiner's Office is an administrative arm of the municipality and thus lacks the
capacity to be sued. Finally, the County Defendants argue that Plaintiff should not be
permitted to amend the complaint to clarify his request for declaratory relief because Plaintiff
is not entitled to declaratory relief for past actions. See Suffolk County Defendants’
Memorandum of Law in Opposition to the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend His Complaint. (“Def.
Mem.”) at 1.
Standard of Review
Under Rule 15(a), “[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within:
(A) 21 days after serving it, or (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is
required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion
under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier.” Rule 15(a)(2). “In all other cases, a party
may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The
court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Id.
However, Plaintiff seeks to add new parties. While Plaintiff fails to cite Rule 21, when a
proposed amendment seeks to add new parties, the propriety of the proposed amendment is
governed by that Rule which provides that “[o]n motion or on its own, the court may at any
time, on just terms, add or drop a party.” Rule 21; see Addison v. Reitman Blacktop, Inc., 283
F.R.D. 74, 79 (E.D.N.Y. 2011); Savine-Rivas v. Farina, No. 90-CV-4335 (CPS), 1992 WL
193668, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 1992) (because the new complaint sought "to add not just new
claims or updated facts[,] but also new parties[,]" along with Rule 15(a), Rules 20(a) and 21
were also involved).
In deciding whether to allow Plaintiffs to amend the complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a), or
to permit the addition of new defendants under Rule 21, “courts apply the same standard of
liberality afforded to motions to amend pleadings under Rule 15.” Addison, 283 F.R.D. at 79
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Thus, leave to amend a complaint . . .
‘should be denied only because of undue delay, bad faith, futility, or prejudice to the non-
moving party, and the decision to grant or deny a motion to amend rests within the sound
discretion of the district court.’” Id. (quoting DeFazio v. Wallis, No. 05–CV–5712 (ADS)
(ARL), 2006 WL 4005577, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2006)).
Here, the County Defendants argue that the amendment is futile. An amendment is futile
if the proposed claim could not withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). IBEW Local
Union No. 58 Pension Trust Fund and Annuity Fund v. Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, 783 F.3d
383, 389 (2d Cir. 2015). The Supreme Court clarified the appropriate pleading standard in
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), in which the court set forth a two-pronged approach to
be utilized in analyzing a motion to dismiss. District courts are to first “identify [ ] pleadings
that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id.
at 679. Though “legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be
supported by factual allegations.” Id. Second, if a complaint contains “well-pleaded factual
allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give
rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. “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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’
but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a [d]efendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678
(citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556-57 (2007) (internal citations omitted)).
Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend 2
A. Claims Against Odette Hall
The County Defendants oppose Plaintiff’s motion to amend to add claims against Odette
Hall on the grounds that the Proposed Second Amended Complaint fails to satisfy Rule 8 with
Plaintiff’s motion to amend to add Defendants John Peterson and James McGuinness is unopposed, and therefore
respect to Hall because the allegations against Hall “consist of nothing more than unsupported
blanket assertions of alleged misconduct without reciting facts to support such claims.” Def.
Mem. at 3. In addition, the County Defendants argue that the claim against Hall is improper on
the grounds of absolute immunity. Id. Finally, the County Defendants contend that to the extent
Plaintiff claims that Hall testified falsely at trial and caused a violation of his rights, she would
be entitled to absolute testimonial immunity. Id. at 4.
1. Rule 8
The County Defendants argue that “[t]he proposed amended complaint fails to
sufficiently allege facts to plausibly state a claim” because “[t]he allegations against Dr. Hall . . .
consist of nothing more than unsupported blanket assertions of alleged misconduct without
reciting facts to support such claims.” Def. Mem. at 3. In response, Plaintiff contends he has
offered more than threadbare conclusions by alleging that
Hall fabricated evidence and ignored exculpatory evidence, including specifically
evidence of medical or therapeutic mistake, misadventure and/or malpractice, and
did so consistently with the custom and conspiracy discussed in detail in the
complaint. During her investigation, she intentionally ignored evidence which
showed causes/manners of death other than that which she falsely reported to
inculpate plaintiff. Hall’s conclusions were the critical part of the death
investigation and a material part of the initiation of the prosecution and trial of
this plaintiff, as she knew they would be.
Pl. Reply Mem. at 4.
Plaintiff relies on Davis-Guider v. City of Troy, No. 17-CV-1290 (FJS) (DJS), 2019 WL
1101278 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 8, 2019) to support his position that these allegations are sufficient to
assert a claim against Hall. The Court disagrees. In Davis-Guider, the Court relied on
Plaintiff’s allegations “that Defendant Sikirica made no mention in his report that other
individuals performed C.P.R. for a significant period, despite having received the emergency
room records, which confirmed that EMTs and hospital staff continued to administer C.P.R. for
a significant period after Plaintiff had stopped, or that V.D. seemed ill prior to Plaintiff finding
her in an unresponsive state and that Plaintiff found V.D. unresponsive before he or anyone else
administered C.P.R.” Id. at *4. The Court then concluded that “[a]ccepting the allegations in
Plaintiff's complaint as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently pled facts to state a
plausible claim that Defendant Sikirica violated his right to a fair trial.” Id. at *7.
Plaintiff here has not alleged a fact omitted from Hall’s report, or a single fact supporting
his claim that Hall did not report on medical or therapeutic mistake, misadventure and/or
malpractice, indeed, Plaintiff has not specifically identified anything in the report was false or
misleading. Plaintiff alleges nothing more than the conclusion that Hall “specifically ignored
exculpatory information during the autopsy tending to prove a cause and manner of death other
than her purported conclusions” without offering any facts relating to the supposed “exculpatory
information.” See PAC ¶ 63 at page 34. A pleading that only "tenders naked assertions devoid
of further factual enhancement" will not suffice. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations
and alterations omitted). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to assert
claims against Odette Hall is denied, without prejudice.
2. Absolute Testimonial Immunity
The County Defendants also argue that “to the extent the plaintiff claims that Dr. Hall
testified falsely at trial and caused a violation of his rights, she would be entitled to absolute
testimonial immunity.” Def. Mem. at 4, citing Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356 (2012). The
Supreme Court has held that trial witnesses, including government officials, have absolute
immunity with respect to any § 1983 claims arising from that testimony, even if it is alleged that
such testimony was perjured. See Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 335-36 (1983) (affirming
dismissal of § 1983 claims arising from police officers' perjured testimony during trial). "The
rationale behind this rule of absolute immunity is that potential civil liability is not needed to
deter false testimony before the grand jury or at trial because other sanctions—such as a
prosecution for perjury, which is a serious criminal offense—provide a sufficient deterrent."
Matthews v. City of N.Y., 889 F. Supp.2d 418, 439 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (citing Rehberg v. Paulk,
132 S. Ct. 1497, 1505-07 (2012)). Plaintiff argues that this rule does not apply to Hall because
she is a complaining witness. Pl. Reply Mem., at 8. “Although there is a well-established
exception to the doctrine of absolute testimonial immunity ‘insofar as [an official] performed
the function of a complaining witness,’ Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 131 (1997); see also
Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 340-41 (1986), that exception does not extend to testimony
delivered at trial.” Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 390 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing
Vakilian v. Shaw, 335 F.3d 509, 516 (6th Cir. 2003) (distinguishing between an officer's role as
a "complaining witness" and a "testifying witness"); Spurlock v. Satterfield, 167 F.3d 995, 100304 (6th Cir. 1999) (distinguishing between testimonial and pre-trial conduct)); see also Paulin v.
City of Beacon, No. 17-CV-5105 (KMK), 2019 WL 4274211, at *5 n.4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 10,
2019) (“‘[w]itnesses, including police officers, are absolutely immune from liability based on
false testimony at trial’”) (quoting Murray v. Guzman, No. 19-CV-1959, 2019 WL 1745744
(CM), at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 17, 2019)); Horn v. City of New Haven, No. 18-CV-1502 (JAM),
2019 WL 3006540, at *4 (D. Conn. July 9, 2019) ("Although the complaint alleges that [the
witness] lied during his trial testimony, the law is clear that [the witness] has absolute immunity
for his trial testimony”). Thus, to the extent Plaintiff’s claims against Hall arise out of her
testimony at his trial, those claims would be barred by absolute testimonial immunity. 3
The County Defendants also argue that “[t]he claim against Dr. Hall should be dismissed on grounds of
absolute immunity.” Def. Mem. at 3. "Absolute immunity is accorded to judges and prosecutors functioning in
their individual capacities and, under certain circumstances, is also extended to officials of government agencies
'performing certain functions analogous to those of a prosecutor' or judge." Wetzel v. Town of Orangetown, No. 06-
B. Claims Against the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office
Next, Defendants argue that “[t]he claims alleged in the amended complaint against the
Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office must be dismissed because the ME's Office is an
administrative arm of the County and is not a suable entity.” Def. Mem. at 5. Plaintiff’s sole
response is that “[w]hether any entity named in plaintiff’s pleadings is a distinct entity
susceptible to suit, is a question of fact.” Pl. Reply Mem. at 10. The Court disagrees.
"[U]nder New York law, departments . . . that are merely administrative arms of a
municipality do not have a legal identity separate and apart from the municipality and
cannot sue or be sued." See Fanelli v. Town of Harrison, 46 F. Supp. 2d 254, 257 (S.D.N.Y.
1999) (deciding on a motion to dismiss that a police department is an administrative arm of the
municipal corporation and, as such, "cannot sue or be sued”); see also Melendez v. Nassau
County, No. 10-CV-2516 (SJF) (WDW), 2010 WL 3748743 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2010)
(dismissing claims against Nassau County Sheriff's Department Division of Correction and the
Nassau County Correctional Center because both “are administrative arms of Nassau County,
and therefore are not suable entities”).
In Gill v. City of New York, No. 16-CV-3219 (LDH) (SJB), 2018 WL 10215985
(E.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2018), the Court held that the City medical examiner’s office, as well as the
FDNY, are “organizational subdivisions of the City of New York lacking independent legal
existence—therefore, they are not suable entities.” Id. at 2018 WL 10215985, *3. Similarly,
CV-6117, 2010 WL 743039, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2010). The allegations set forth in the complaint (PAC ¶ 63,
page 34; ¶ 65, page 35), do not establish whether Hall was acting in a prosecutorial role or an investigative role and
therefore the Court cannot determine as a matter of law that Hall is entitled to absolute immunity. See, e.g., Ying Li
v. City of New York, 246 F.Supp. 3d 578, 644 (E.D.N.Y. 2017) (“Based on the allegations in the Complaint, the
Court cannot find, as a matter of law, that [medical examiner] was acting in a prosecutorial role rather than an
investigatory one”). The Court need not reach this issue, however, since Plaintiff’s proposed amendment to add
Defendant Dr. Hall is futile for the reasons set forth above with regard to Rule 8 and absolute testimonial immunity.
here, the Court denies Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to the extent Plaintiff seeks to
assert claims against the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office, because the medical
examiner’s office is an administrative arm of Suffolk County and not an entity subject to suit.
C. Plaintiff's Request for Declaratory Relief
According to the County Defendants, Plaintiff has sought to amend his complaint to seek
declaratory relief rather than the "equitable relief'' he sought in his earlier complaint, however
this proposed amendment is futile because Plaintiff is not entitled to declaratory relief for past
actions. Def. Mem. at 6. Plaintiff contends “that this relief is requested in direct conjunction
with findings of misconduct, customs, and notice relief to be made to prospective plaintiffs, and
in contemplation of using certain declarations as res judicata in future litigations.” Pl. Reply at
In the Proposed Second Amended Complaint Plaintiff seeks
Declaratory Judgment, directed to any necessary authorities where
Suffolk County, and the named defendants and agencies, have
had a custom of depriving criminal defendants of constitutional rights; and that
among the customs are acts of misconduct by police and prosecutors, including
Brady violations, withholding internal affairs records, fabricating evidence,
coercing witness statements, and presenting such false evidence to juries and
b. That this declaratory judgment may be used in future litigations to
establish a “custom” or “policy” in instances of like facts of malfeasance against
Suffolk County and the named defendants and agencies; and
c. That each defendant herein committed acts of misconduct in the course
of investigating and prosecuting this plaintiff, and a recommendation that each
individually named defendant be terminated from his/her employment in the
interest of public safety; and
d. Further making any recommendations this court deems proper and just
to address the ongoing unconstitutional deprivations of rights illustrated by the
acts and customs of the named defendants and their respective offices.
PAC ¶ 12, page 58.
“‘To establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must show (1) an injury in fact, (2) a
sufficient causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and (3) a
likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.’” Dorce v. City of New
York, No. 20-CV-1809, 2021 WL 2557786, at *8 (2d Cir. 2021) (quoting Susan B. Anthony List
v. Driehaus, 573 U.S. 149, 157-58 (2014) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted)).
To satisfy the constitutional requirement for standing, a plaintiff must "establish that 'he has
sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury as the result of the
challenged official conduct.'" Shain v. Ellison, 356 F.3d 211, 215 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting City
of L.A. v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101-02 (1983)). Plaintiff “must demonstrate a ‘personal stake in
the outcome’ in order to ‘assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of
issues’ necessary for the proper resolution of constitutional questions.” Lyons, 461 U.S. at 101
(quoting Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962)). “Abstract injury is not enough.” Id. at 101.
“Past exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding
injunctive relief . . . if unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects." O'Shea v.
Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495-96 (1974). "[P]laintiff cannot rely solely on past injuries" to have
standing to pursue such remedies, but "must establish how [they] will be injured prospectively."
Marcavage v. City of New York, 689 F.3d 98, 103 (2d Cir. 2012); see also Dorce, 2021 WL
2557786 (affirming dismissal of plaintiff’s request for declaratory relief).
Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts indicating that he is immediately in danger of
sustaining some direct injury as the result of the conduct he seeks to enjoin. Indeed, in response
to the County Defendants’ opposition to the proposed amendment regarding declaratory relief,
Plaintiff candidly admits that he is seeking this relief for “prospective plaintiffs” rather than
himself. Pl. Reply Mem. at 9. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s motion to amend is denied to the extent
it seeks to add allegations seeking declaratory relief.
Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to add Defendants
John Peterson and James McGuiness is granted. Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to
add Defendant Odette Hall and the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office is denied, as is
Plaintiff’s motion to add allegations seeking declaratory relief.
Dated: Central Islip, New York
July 14, 2021
James M. Wicks
JAMES M. WICKS
United States Magistrate Judge
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