Aragon v. Jane Doe 1 et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION re: 44 MOTION to Dismiss 34 Amended Complaint and 43 Second Amended Complaint filed by City of New York: Rodolfo Aragon ("Plaintiff"), acting pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action again st the State of New York ("New York"), the City of New York ("City"), and the Department of Corrections and Correctional Supervision ("DOCCS", and collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ( "Section 1983"). Plaintiff alleges that the conditions of his confinement at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center ("Bantum") amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff further claims fals e imprisonment as a result of an unlawful conviction in state court. The City brings the instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") and Second Amended Complaint ("Sec. Am. Compl.") pursuant to Fede ral Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth above, the City's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint and Second Amended Complaint is GRANTED. The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that any appe al from this Order would not be taken in good faith, and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for the purpose of an appeal. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962). The Clerk of the Court is respectfully directed to terminate the motion, Doc. 44, to mail a copy of this Opinion and Order to Plaintiff, and to close the case. (Signed by Judge Edgardo Ramos on 6/22/2017) (jwh)
DATE FILED: 6/22/2017
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
OPINION AND ORDER
– against –
STATE OF NEW YORK, CITY OF NEW YORK,
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES,
Rodolfo Aragon (“Plaintiff”), acting pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action
against the State of New York (“New York”), the City of New York (“City”), and the
Department of Corrections and Correctional Supervision (“DOCCS”, and collectively,
“Defendants”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”). Plaintiff alleges that the
conditions of his confinement at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center (“Bantum”) amount to
cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff further claims
false imprisonment as a result of an unlawful conviction in state court. The City brings the
instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) and Second Amended
Complaint (“Sec. Am. Compl.”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the
reasons set forth below, the City’s motion to dismiss is hereby GRANTED.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND 1
Liberally construed, Plaintiff alleges that he was subject to unconstitutional conditions of
confinement at Bantum on Rikers Island starting on October 22, 2014. Compl., at 2.
Specifically, Plaintiff claims that he was “forced to live in inhumane conditions” due to “insects,
ants, roaches, lead poisoning, asbestos, etc.” and a “lack of vitamins and food, [and] nonprivacy.” Am. Compl., at 1. As a result, Plaintiff states he suffers from “external and internal
f[u]ngus and [rashes] to body,” infections to his lungs and throat as well as mental anguish. Am.
Compl., at 1–2.
On October 22, 2014, Plaintiff requested to be moved from Bantum due to these
conditions, but was ignored by two prison officials. Compl., Doc. 1-1, at 2. Plaintiff alleges to
have requested medical attention on October 22, 2014 due to his exposure to the “inhumane
conditions,” and claims to have submitted medical grievances on October 23, 2014. Compl.,
Doc. 1-2, at 1.
In addition, Plaintiff seeks damages based on a false imprisonment claim resulting from
an unlawful conviction in state court. Sec. Am. Compl., at 2. Plaintiff claims that he was falsely
imprisoned based on “Defendant’s guidelines, practices, patterns and procedures,” without any
further explanation. Id.
Plaintiff filed the instant action on December 8, 2014 against Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2,
Bantum, and Rikers Island. Compl. On March 20, 2015, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims
against Bantum because it is not an entity that can be sued. Doc. 13. The Court instructed the
The following facts, accepted as true for purposes of the instant motion, are based on Plaintiff’s allegations in his
Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 1), Am. Compl. (Doc. 34), Sec. Am. Compl. (Doc. 43), and Plaintiff’s Opposition
Memorandum to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (“Opp. Mem.”) (Doc. 48). See Koch v. Christie’s Int’l PLC, 699
F.3d 141, 145 (2d Cir. 2012); Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 122 n. 1 (2d. Cir. 2013) (“[a] district court deciding a
motion to dismiss may consider factual allegations made by a pro se party in his papers opposing the motion.”).
Clerk of the Court to replace Bantum with the City of New York pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 21. Id.
On August 17, 2015, the Court granted the City’s request for an order to show cause on
why this action should not be dismissed for want of prosecution pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 41(b) based on Plaintiff’s failure to keep the Court apprised of his current residence.
Doc. 22. After Plaintiff failed to respond to this and two subsequent orders to show cause dated
September 4 and October 20, 2015, respectively, Docs. 22–24, the action was dismissed by the
Court without prejudice on December 2, 2015. Doc. 25.
Having received a letter from Plaintiff on December 4, 2015 explaining that he had not
responded because he had been incarcerated, Doc. 27, the Court vacated the dismissal, requested
the Clerk of the Court to reopen the case, and directed Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint.
Doc. 28. On February 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint. Doc. 34. On that same
day, the Court terminated Plaintiff’s claims against Rikers Island, Jane Doe 1, and Jane Doe 2
pursuant to Rule 21.
On March 10, 2016, the Court held an initial conference, during which Plaintiff was
granted leave to file a second amended complaint to cure the factual deficiencies in his prior
complaints. Doc. 37. The Court provided specific instructions to Plaintiff on the details to be
included in the amended pleading. 2 After receiving several extensions of time, see Docs. 41–42,
Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint on November 15, 2016. On that same day, the
Court terminated Plaintiff’s claims against the Department of Correctional Services.
Specifically, the Court advised: “If you were placed in a cell that was subject to infestation, you should indicate
precisely what facility you were in; to the extent that you can describe the cell or state which cell you were in,
indicate where you were housed; indicate the dates that this happened; indicate who, if anyone, you complained to;
indicate what their response was, if any. […] If there are particular individuals who you say you complained to and
who ignored your complaints, you need to indicate who they are because if you only sue the City, then you have a
slightly tougher case to make because then you would have to establish that the conditions under which you were
housed were part of a practice or policy or custom of the city to keep you and perhaps others in those unsafe
conditions.” Doc. 37, at 6:16–8:3.
On December 1, 2016, the City filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint
and Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Docs. 44–45. On January 20, 2017,
Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant’s motion. Opp. Mem. To date, the City has not replied
to Plaintiff’s opposition memorandum.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard
On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is required to accept as true
all factual allegations in the complaint and to draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s
favor. Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014). However, the Court is not required to
credit legal conclusions, bare assertions or conclusory allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678, 681 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive a
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain enough factual matter to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Accordingly, a plaintiff is required to support
its claims with sufficient factual allegations to show “more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. If the plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line
from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
B. Pro Se Plaintiff
The same standard applies to motions to dismiss for pro se plaintiffs. See Zapolski v.
Fed. Republic of Germany, 425 F. App’x 5, 6 (2d Cir. 2011). The Court remains obligated to
construe a pro se complaint liberally, and to interpret a pro se plaintiff’s claims as raising the
strongest arguments that they suggest. Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474
(2d. Cir. 2006). The obligation to be lenient while reading a pro se plaintiff’s pleadings “applies
with particular force when the plaintiff’s civil rights are at issue.” Jackson v. N.Y.S. Dep’t of
Labor, 709 F. Supp. 2d 218, 224 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citing McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197,
200 (2d Cir. 2004)). Nevertheless, “pro se status ‘does not exempt a party from compliance with
relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.’” Triestman, 470 F.3d at 477 (quoting Traguth
v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)). To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6), a pro se plaintiff’s pleadings still must contain “more than an unadorned, the
defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation.” Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 678. A pro se complaint that
“tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further enhancement” will not suffice. Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).
C. 42 U.S.C. § 1983
To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) defendants were
state actors or were acting under color of state law at the time of the alleged wrongful action; and
(2) the action deprived plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution or federal law. Am. Mfrs.
Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49–50 (1999). Section 1983 does not create any rights,
but merely provides “a procedure for redress for the deprivation of rights [already] established.”
Sykes v. James, 13 F.3d 515, 519 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Accordingly, a civil rights
action brought under Section 1983 will stand only insofar as the plaintiff can prove an actual
violation of his rights under the Constitution or federal law. Singer v. Fulton Cnty. Sheriff, 63
F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970)).
Liberally construing his pleadings, Plaintiff brings a conditions-of-confinement claim
under the Eighth Amendment and a false imprisonment claim against the Defendants. Compl.;
Am. Compl.; Sec. Am. Compl. 3 Plaintiff also seeks to impose liability on the City pursuant to
Section 1983. Sec. Am. Compl., at 2–3. Plaintiff raises a number of new claims in his
opposition to Defendant’s motion, including the violation of his constitutional rights under the
First, Second, Fifth, Ninth, Fifteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments. Opp.
Mem. However, even granting Plaintiff the liberal construction afforded to the submissions of a
pro se plaintiff, he does not offer any plausible support for such claims. As such, the Court
confines its analysis to the conditions-of-confinement claim under the Eighth Amendment, false
imprisonment, and the municipal liability.
A. Eighth Amendment Claim
Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the
Eighth Amendment due to the “inhumane conditions” of his confinement at Bantum. Am.
Compl., at 1; Opp. Mem., at 17. Although the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prison
settings, prisoners are entitled to “basic human needs – e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care,
and reasonable safety.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 32 (1993) (quoting DeShaney v.
Winnebago Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 199–200 (1989)). Accordingly, prison
Plaintiff has failed to plead the same claims or factual allegations in his amended pleadings as in his earlier
complaints. The City acknowledges that Plaintiff appears to treat his amended pleadings as supplements to, not
replacements of, his earlier complaints. Doc. 45, at 3. “[I]mplicit in the right of self-representation is an obligation
on the part of the court to make reasonable allowances to protect pro se litigants from inadvertent forfeiture of
important rights because of their lack of legal training.” Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983).
Accordingly, the Court liberally construes Plaintiff’s pleadings by addressing the claims and factual allegations
contained in all three of his complaints, regardless of their inconsistency.
officials are required to take “reasonable measure[s] to guarantee the safety of inmates in their
custody.” Hayes v. New York City Dep’t of Corrections, 84 F.3d 614, 620 (2d Cir. 1996). To
establish an Eighth Amendment claim based on conditions of confinement, a plaintiff must
allege two elements: (1) objectively, that the deprivation the plaintiff suffered was “sufficiently
serious” to deny “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” and (2) subjectively, that
the defendant acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind” associated with the “deliberate
indifference” to plaintiff’s health or safety. Trammel v. Keane, 338 F.3d 155, 161 (2d Cir. 2003)
(quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
i. Objective Element
To establish the objective element of an Eighth Amendment violation, a plaintiff “must
prove that the conditions of his confinement violate contemporary standards of decency.” Phelps
v. Kapnolas, 308 F.3d 180, 185 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Helling, 509 U.S. at 35–6). More
specifically, a plaintiff must show that the conditions of confinement “pose an unreasonable risk
of serious damage” to plaintiff’s health or safety. Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 125 (2d Cir.
2013) (citing Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981)). Generally, the “[n]ormal
conditions of…confinement do not constitute an Eighth Amendment violation,” but “[s]uch
confinement is not abnormal unless it is ‘without penological justification, grossly
disproportionate, or involving the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.’” Branch v. Goord,
No. 05 Civ. 6495 (WHP), 2006 WL 2807168, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2006) (quoting Smith v.
Coughlin, 784 F.2d 783, 787 (2d Cir. 1984)).
In support of its motion to dismiss, the City argues that Plaintiff has failed to provide
sufficient details to determine whether the conditions he was subject to constitute a constitutional
deprivation. Doc. 45, at 5. Despite the specific instructions provided by this Court to the
Plaintiff on the necessity to include details in his amended pleadings, see Doc. 37, Plaintiff
submits only scant factual matter to support his claim. Plaintiff solely alleges that he suffered
from “inhumane conditions” as a result of “insects, ants, roaches, lead poisoning, [and]
asbestos.” Am. Compl., at 1. However, courts have recognized that contemporary standards of
decency currently allow for some amount of exposure to vermin and asbestos in prison settings.
See Pack v. Artuz, 348 F. Supp. 2d 63, 32 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (plaintiff alleging a conditions-ofconfinement claim under Section 1983 may be exposed to “low levels of asbestos exposure” “as
reflected in the New York State Industrial Code and OSHA regulations”); Solomon v. Nassau
County, 759 F. Supp. 2d 251, 258 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (“conditions that are temporary or occasional
have been found not to constitute a sufficiently serious deprivation to sustain a Section 1983
deliberate indifference claim”); Wang v. Vahldieck, No. 09 Civ. 3783 (ARR), 2012 WL 119591
at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Jan 9, 2012) (temporary exposure to cockroaches in a dirty cell “does not rise to
the sort of conduct held repugnant to the conscience of mankind”) (internal quotations omitted).
Without offering any details to substantiate the extent of the alleged exposure, Plaintiff’s bare
allegations do not sufficiently demonstrate that the conditions he was exposed to constitute a
substantial risk of serious harm necessary to satisfy the objective element of an Eighth
Amendment violation. Pack, 348 F. Supp. 2d at 84; see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.
Therefore, Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim must be dismissed.
Determining that a plaintiff failed to satisfy the objective component of an Eighth
Amendment claim, courts may dismiss the claim without passing judgment on the subjective
component. See Martinez v. Schriro, No. 14 Civ. 3965 (KMW), 2017 WL 87049, at *5
(S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2017) (dismissing plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim solely based on
plaintiff’s failure to plead the objective element in his pleadings without analyzing the subjective
B. False Imprisonment Claim
In analyzing false imprisonment claims under Section 1983, the Second Circuit has
generally looked to the law of the state in which the arrest occurred. Jaegly v. Couch, 439 F.3d
149, 151 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Davis v. Rodriguez, 364 F.3d 424, 433 (2d Cir. 2004)).
Accordingly, to establish a claim for false imprisonment in New York, a plaintiff must allege:
(1) that the defendant intentionally confined plaintiff; (2) that plaintiff was conscious of the
confinement and did not consent to it, and (3) that the confinement was not otherwise privileged.
See Jocks v. Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 134–35 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Broughton v. State, 37
N.Y.2d 451, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 335 N.E.2d 310, 314 (N.Y. 1975)).
The Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy any of the requisite elements to
establish a cognizable claim for false imprisonment. Nowhere in his pleadings does Plaintiff
substantiate his claim with any factual allegations; he simply states that he was falsely
imprisoned. Sec. Am. Compl., at 2. Such a threadbare assertion does not state a plausible claim
to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557); see also Navarra v.
Marlborough Gallery, Inc., 820 F. Supp. 2d 477, 485 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (stating that allegations
pled upon belief must be accompanied by facts upon which the belief relies).
Furthermore, Plaintiff’s false imprisonment claim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. 477 (1994). Doc. 45, at 6. In Heck, the Supreme Court held that a complaint must be
dismissed if “judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his
conviction or sentence…unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has
already been invalidated.” 512 U.S. at 477, 486–7. Thus, to recover damages for a false
imprisonment claim under Section 1983, a prisoner must demonstrate that his conviction “has
been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal
authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court’s issuance of a
writ of habeas corpus.” Id. at 486–7.
Here, Plaintiff alleges that he was falsely imprisoned and requests relief in the form of his
“immediate release/liberty” as well as monetary damages amounting to $9.8 million dollars.
Am. Compl., at 1; Sec. Am. Compl., at 2–3. Pursuant to Heck, however, he must first
demonstrate that said conviction was already invalidated. 512 U.S. at 487. This he fails to do.
Therefore, Plaintiff is barred by Heck from seeking monetary relief under Section 1983 based on
his alleged false imprisonment.
C. Monell Liability
Plaintiff’s constitutional claims against the City are brought pursuant to Section 1983.
Sec. Am. Compl., at 3. Although a municipality cannot be held liable under Section 1983 solely
on a theory of respondeat superior, a Section 1983 claim may be brought against a municipality
if the alleged unconstitutional action was the result of an official policy, practice or custom.
Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690–692 (1978). The Second
Circuit has established a two prong test for Section 1983 claims brought against a municipality.
First, the plaintiff must prove “‘the existence of a municipal policy or custom in order to show
that the municipality took some action that caused his injuries beyond merely employing the
misbehaving [official].’” Johnson v. City of New York, No. 06 Civ 09426 (GBD), 2011 WL
666161, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2011) (quoting Vippolis v. Vill. of Haverstraw, 768 F.2d 40, 44
(2d Cir. 1985). Second, the plaintiff must establish a causal connection between the policy or
custom and the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights. Id.
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To satisfy the first prong of the municipal liability test, a plaintiff must allege the
existence of at least one of the following elements: (1) a formal policy officially endorsed by the
municipality; (2) actions taken by government officials responsible for establishing the
municipal policies that caused the particular deprivation; (3) a practice so consistent and
widespread that constitutes a custom or usage of which a supervising policy-maker must have
been aware; or (4) a failure by policymakers to provide adequate training or supervision to
subordinates to such an extent that it amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of those who
come into contact with the municipal employees. Brandon v. City of New York, 705 F. Supp. 2d
261, 276–7 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citations omitted).
The Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to meet any of the requisite elements to satisfy
the first prong of a municipal liability claim. Plaintiff submits no allegations to indicate the
existence of either a formally recognized policy or a consistent and widespread practice adopted
by the City. Further, Plaintiff neither alleges that the Bantum prison officials have policymaking
authority nor claims that the City failed to train and supervise its employees. Liberally
construing the pleadings, Plaintiff seems to allege the existence of a practice adopted by the City
solely based on Plaintiff’s alleged experience. However, a “single incident alleged in a
complaint, especially if it involved only actors below the policy-making level, does not suffice to
show a municipal policy.” DeCarlo v. Fry, 141 F.3d 56, 61 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Ricciuti v.
New York City Transit Auth., 941 F.2d 119, 123 (2d Cir. 1991)). Without offering any factual
support for his conclusory allegations, this Court cannot “infer more than the mere possibility of
misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Therefore, Plaintiff’s
claims against the City must be dismissed on this basis as well.
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D. Leave to Amend
In its motion to dismiss, the City requests that the Court deny Plaintiff any further leave
to amend his pleading due to his repeated failure to cure the factual deficiencies. Doc. 45, at 8.
Denying leave to amend is proper where the amendment would be futile or would result in undue
prejudice to the opposing party. Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 334–35 (2d Cir. 2009). An
amendment is considered futile where the plaintiff is unable to demonstrate that he would be able
to cure the defects in a manner that would survive a motion to dismiss. Hayden v. Cnty. Of
Nassau, 180 F.3d 42, 53–54 (2d Cir. 1999).
Here, Plaintiff has been afforded two opportunities to amend his complaint pursuant to
orders from this Court that contained specific instructions as to what he was required to plead for
his claims to survive. Plaintiff failed to follow the directions contained in those orders. Given
that Plaintiff’s amended pleadings suffer from the same defects as his initial complaint, leave to
file a third amended complaint would be futile. Therefore, the Amended and Second Amended
Complaints will be dismissed with prejudice.
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For the reasons set forth above, the City's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Amended
Complaint and Second Amended Complaint is GRANTED. 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 an appeal. See Coppedge v.
United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).
The Clerk of the Court is respectfully directed to terminate the motion, Doc. 44, to mail a
copy of this Opinion and Order to Plaintiff, and to close the case.
It is SO ORDERED.
Dated: June 22, 2017
New York, New York
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