Okongwu v. County of Erie et al
DECISION AND ORDER DISMISSING with prejudice Plaintiff's due process claims, claims of false arrest and false imprisonment, claims of malicious prosecution against all Defendants except the County of Erie, claims of conspiracy and RICO violation s, and failure to intervene and protect; GRANTING in part Plaintiff's 14 Motion for Service consistent with this Decision and Order; DIRECTING the Clerk of Court to cause the United States Marshal to serve copies of the Summons, 13 Second A mended Complaint, and this Order upon Defendant County of Erie without Plaintiff's payment therefor, unpaid fees to be recoverable if this action terminates by monetary award in Plaintiffs favor; DIRECTING the Clerk of Court to terminate all ot her Defendants as parties to this action; DIRECTING, that, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(g), the Defendant is to answer the Second Amended Complaint. Signed by William M. Skretny, United States District Judge on 6/21/2017. (MEAL) - CLERK TO FOLLOW UP - Copy mailed to Plaintiff.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
EMEKA DOMINIC OKONGWU,
COUNTY OF ERIE, et al.,
Plaintiff, Emeka Dominic Okongwu, proceeding pro se, has filed a Second
Amended Complaint (Docket No. 13) as directed by this Court and now moves for the
issuance of a summons (Docket No. 14). For the reasons discussed below, the majority
of Plaintiff's claims are dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B); one may
proceed to service.
Plaintiff was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket No. 3).
Section 1915(e)(2)(B) of 28 U.S.C. therefore requires the Court to conduct an initial
screening of the Second Amended Complaint.
In evaluating the Second Amended
Complaint, the Court must accept as true all of the factual allegations and must draw all
inferences in Plaintiff’s favor. See Larkin v. Savage, 318 F.3d 138, 139 (2d Cir. 2003)
(per curiam); King v. Simpson, 189 F.3d 284, 287 (2d Cir. 1999). While “a court is
obliged to construe [pro se] pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights
violations,” McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004), pleadings
submitted pro se must still meet the notice requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure. Wynder v. McMahon, 360 F.3d 73 (2d Cir. 2004). “Specific facts are
not necessary,” and the Plaintiff “need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the
. . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93,
(2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted)); see also Boykin v. Keycorp, 521 F.3d 202, 213
(2d Cir. 2008) (discussing pleading standard in pro se cases: “even after Twombly,
dismissal of a pro se claim as insufficiently pleaded is appropriate only in the most
unsustainable of cases”).
Generally, the Court will afford a pro se plaintiff an
opportunity to amend or to be heard prior to dismissal “unless the court can rule out any
possibility, however unlikely it might be, that an amended complaint would succeed in
stating a claim.” Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (quoting Gomez v. USAA Federal
Savings Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 796 (2d Cir. 1999) (per curiam)).
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To state a valid claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must allege that the challenged conduct (1) was
attributable to a person acting under color of state law, and (2) deprived the plaintiff of a
right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
Whalen v. County of Fulton, 126 F.3d 400, 405 (2d Cir. 1997) (citing Eagleston v.
Guido, 41 F.3d 865, 875-76 (2d Cir. 1994)).
Plaintiff states that he and Doris Agbala had twin daughters in 1984, and that he
became the sole caretaker of the two girls when she returned to her home country of
Nigeria due to health concerns. (Docket No. 13, p. 4). Plaintiff was accused of sexual
abusing his daughters in a Family Court proceeding in 1988. (Id. p. 5). Plaintiff alleges
that he was cleared, but due to a finding of “negligence” the girls were placed in foster
care and he was granted regular visitation.
The foster mother of the girls,
Defendant Ollie McNair, made new allegations of sexual abuse against Plaintiff based
on statements that she claimed the girls had made to her. (Id. p. 6). On February 1,
1994, Plaintiff was indicted, “along with two other individuals, with a slew of criminal
conducts, including but not limited to multiple counts of sexual abuse[ ] of his own twin
daughters.” (Id.). Plaintiff was later convicted. The conviction was reversed in 2010,
but Plaintiff remained incarcerated until December of 2011 when the state determined
that he would not be retried. Plaintiff states that “[h]is arrest and conviction record have
also been expunged.” (Id.).
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant McNair lied about the alleged evidence of sexual
abuse, and claims that (non-Defendant) Deborah Merriefield, identified as the then
Commissioner for the Erie County Department of Social Services, “failed to train,
supervise or discipline Ollie McNair in matters of managing and observing affairs of the
children under her ward”. (Id. p. 7).
Plaintiff next accuses Sheriff Howard of failing to properly investigate the false
allegations. (Id. p. 8). Plaintiff notes that there were allegations that blood was found
on the mattress identified as the site of the abuse, as well as “sexual abuse
paraphernalia in that basement.” (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Howard was
deliberately indifferent and as a result “falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted and
falsely imprisoned” Plaintiff.
(Id. p. 9).
Plaintiff likewise accuses then Erie County
District Attorney Sedita and Assistant District Attorneys Cooper and Bridge of coercing
and coaching the twins. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Cooper and Bridge
“knew or should have known” that the testimony of the twins concerning sexual abuse
was false. (Id. p. 10). Plaintiff accuses Assistant District Attorney Flaherty of holding
Plaintiff in jail for nearly two years, presumably referring to the time between the
reversal of Plaintiff’s conviction and the decision to end the prosecution. (Id.).
Regarding Defendant Dr. Lazoritz, Plaintiff alleges that he falsely confirmed
damage to the hymen of one of the girls, when “he knew or should have known” that the
damage existed “prior to the dates of the allegations.” (Id. p. 11).
Plaintiff alleges in purely conclusory terms that all Defendants except Leary
conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights. (Id.). Similarly, Plaintiff makes a
claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) U.S.C. §
1961 et seq. (Id.). Plaintiff’s RICO allegations consist of a repetition of his claims
against each Defendant “in the enterprise of aiding two or more corrupt organization
members to attain monetary gain in the excess of $10,000 for services to be rendered in
relation to plaintiff’s twins.” (Id.). While unspecified, this appears to refer to the money
paid to foster parent McNair.
Finally, Plaintiff sets forth allegations regarding his treatment while confined,
alleging that Defendant Leary and others failed to protect him when he was “on
numerous occasions [attacked] and brutally beaten by fellow inmates.”
(Id. p. 12).
Plaintiff provides no further details as to the alleged assaults or the year in which they
Plaintiff also alleges the loss of various documents and other items of
personal property at an unspecified time through unspecified means.
Claims Against Foster Parent McNair
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant McNair, who acted as a foster parent to Plaintiff’s
daughters, made false statements to the police about his daughters. Plaintiff appears to
concede certain corroborating facts including blood on a basement mattress and items
associated with sexual abuse, but alleges that Defendant McNair’s lies were the basis
of the prosecution against him. Plaintiff characterizes Defendant McNair as “an official
of the Erie County Department of Social Services,” but this seems to refer only to her
role as a foster parent. (Docket No. 13, p. 3, 5).
In order to recover in an action under § 1983, a plaintiff must show a deprivation
of his constitutional or statutory rights by a person acting under color of state law. West
v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982-83 (2d Cir.
1991). Therefore, it is necessary to examine whether Defendant McNair, as foster
parent to Plaintiff’s daughters, could be considered to be a person acting under color of
In order to meet this standard, a person must have exercised power
“possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is
clothed with the authority of state law.” Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317-18
(1981) (quoting United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)). Similarly, as is the
case in the context of the Fourteenth Amendment’s state action requirement, a
deprivation of a federal or constitutional right is actionable pursuant to § 1983 when the
deprivation was caused “by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State
. . . or by a person for whom the State is responsible.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co.,
457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982). “Thus, generally, a public employee acts under color of state
law while acting in his official capacity or while exercising his responsibilities pursuant to
state law." West, 487 U.S. at 50.
“Courts of Appeals that have examined whether foster parents are state actors
under Section 1983 have resoundingly answered in the negative.” Smith v. Gristina, 11
CV 2371 VB, 2012 WL 247017, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 6, 2012) (collecting cases).
Further, a private citizen who files a police report is not acting under color of state law.
Carrillos v. Inc. Vil. of Hempstead, 87 F. Supp. 3d 357 (E.D.N.Y. 2015).
Defendant McNair is not, by virtue of being a foster parent, considered an employee of
the County of Erie, nor did she act under color of state law by contacting the police.
Although a private actor may act under color of state law when she is a willful
participant in joint activity with the state or its agents, a “merely conclusory allegation
that a private entity acted in concert with a state actor does not suffice to state a § 1983
claim against the private entity.” Ciambriello v. County of Nassau, 292 F.3d 307, 324
(2d Cir. 2002).
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant McNair, by falsely reporting his
daughters’ allegations, “initiated this witch hunt”. (Docket No. 13, p. 8). Plaintiff then
alleges that law enforcement conducted an improper investigation and that the
prosecution used “fabricated evidence that was initially brought to the authorities by
Ollie McNair.” (Id. p. 9).
These allegations, presumed true at this stage of the proceedings, fail to
establish that Defendant McNair was a state actor subject to suit under § 1983. As
noted, Defendant McNair did not act under color of state law as a foster parent, and she
did not act under color of state law when she reported the accusation against Plaintiff –
whether true or false – to the police. Nor do Plaintiff’s allegations establish that she was
a willful participant in joint activity with the state or its agents. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant McNair lied and that the authorities based their prosecution on those lies, but
nothing further is alleged that would establish ongoing participation in the prosecution,
or otherwise support the claim that Defendant McNair operated under color of state law.
Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against Defendant McNair are therefore dismissed.
Claims Against the District Attorney and Assistant District Attorneys
Plaintiff brings claims against then District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III as well as
assistant district attorneys Bridge, Cooper, and Flaherty.
It is well-settled that
prosecutors sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are entitled to absolute immunity “from claims
for damages arising out of prosecutorial duties that are ‘intimately associated with the
judicial phase of the criminal process.’” Doe v. Phillips, 81 F.3d 1204, 1209 (2d Cir.
1996) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)). Thus, prosecutors are
“shielded from liability for damages with respect to acts performed within the scope of
[their] duties when pursuing a criminal prosecution.” Doe, 81 F.3d at 1209.
To be sure, this immunity does leave the genuinely wronged defendant
without civil redress against a prosecutor whose malicious or dishonest
action deprives him of liberty. But the alternative of qualifying a
prosecutor’s immunity would disserve the broader public interest. It would
prevent the vigorous and fearless performance of the prosecutor’s duty
that is essential to the proper functioning of the criminal justice system.
Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 427-28 (1976).
All of the claims raised by Plaintiff against the prosecutorial Defendants are
based on acts performed within the scope of their duties pursuing the criminal
prosecution against him. Plaintiff alleges that witnesses were coerced and coached in
the initial prosecution “on several occasions up until trial, to go on with the fabricated
evidence that was initially brought to authorities by Ollie McNair.” (Docket No. 13, p. 9).
Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants Cooper and Bridge “knew or should have
known” that the testimony of the two girls was “manufactured by Ollie McNair”. (Id. pp.
Plaintiff accuses Defendants of coercion “committed during an [administrative]
part of their prosecutorial” activities. (Id. p. 10). It is true that absolute immunity does
not extend “to a prosecutor’s investigative or administrative acts”. Taylor v. Kavanagh,
640 F.2d 450, 452 (2d Cir. 1981).
However, “the falsification of evidence and the
coercion of witnesses, or the failure to drop charges until immediately before trial have
been held to be prosecutorial activities for which absolute immunity applies.” Taylor,
640 F.2d at 452 (citations omitted); see also, Deats v. Monroe County, 10-CV-6473FPG, 2014 WL 6769756, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 1, 2014). Here, Plaintiff’s allegations
clearly place blame on Defendant McNair for manufacturing evidence. The prosecutors
appear to be accused of mere negligence in failing to recognize the nature of this
evidence, and in using coercion to pursue the prosecution. Even if Plaintiff’s allegations
were read to allege the prosecutors’ full knowledge that the allegations were false and
the girls’ testimony fabricated, prosecutors have absolute immunity even where they
“conspir[e] to present false evidence at a criminal trial”. Dory v. Ryan, 25 F.3d 81, 83
(2d Cir 1994).
Thus, presuming all of Plaintiff’s factual allegations in the Second
Amended Complaint to be true, Defendants Sedita, Cooper, and Bridge remain
absolutely immune from suit. See Dory, 25 F.3d at 83 (“absolute immunity protects a
prosecutor from § 1983 liability for virtually all acts, regardless of motivation, associated
with his function as an advocate”).
Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Flaherty “held plaintiff in jail for almost 2
years” after “plaintiff’s daughters, his only witnesses had recanted their testimony”.
(Docket No. 13, p. 9). While a prosecutor may request bail, the fixing of bail is a judicial
decision. See generally N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 510.10. Thus, the allegation against
Defendant Flaherty relates to the determination whether and when to cease the
prosecution after two witnesses had recanted. The decision to continue a prosecution
or to end it is an act performed within the scope of a prosecutor’s duty in pursuing the
criminal prosecution. See Taylor, 640 F.2d at 452.
Therefore, the claims brought by Plaintiff against Defendants Sedita, Bridge,
Cooper, and Flaherty are barred by the absolute immunity enjoyed by prosecutors, and
are dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
Claims Against Sheriff Howard
Plaintiff next brings claims against Timothy B. Howard, Sheriff of Erie County,
alleging that the Defendant Howard “failed to train, supervise and/or discipline” sheriff’s
employees to avoid coercing and coaching witnesses or using “false evidence”.
(Docket No. 13, p. 9). Defendant Howard is the sole law enforcement official named as
a Defendant in the Second Amended Complaint outside the District Attorney’s Office.
The Defendant is alleged to have “received [ ] manufactured evidence of sexual abuse
and rape,” for which he “woefully failed to order proper investigation”. (Id. p. 8). As to
the blood on the mattress and “sexual abuse paraphernalia”, Plaintiff alleges that the
Sheriff’s office failed to properly secure them as evidence, if they existed. (Id.). Plaintiff
characterizes these failures as deliberate indifference.
In order to prevail on a § 1983 claim against a state actor for malicious
prosecution, “a plaintiff must show a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment,
and establish the elements of a malicious prosecution claim under state law.” Fulton v.
Robinson, 289 F.3d 188, 195 (2d Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).
“To establish a
malicious prosecution claim under New York law, a plaintiff must show that a
proceeding was commenced or continued against him, with malice and without probable
cause, and was terminated in his favor.” Fulton, 289 F.3d at 195.
Here, Plaintiff alleges that law enforcement personnel were presented with false
claims by Defendant McNair that Plaintiff’s daughters had accused him of sexual abuse.
“In general, probable cause to arrest exists when an officer has knowledge or
reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient in
themselves to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person to be
arrested has committed or is committing a crime.” Marshall v. Sullivan, 105 F.3d 47, 54
(2nd Cir. 1996) (citing Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 208 n. 9 (1979)). Even
assuming arguendo that the law enforcement officers involved failed to properly secure
the evidence from the basement, such evidence, coupled with the statements by
Defendant McNair, was more than sufficient to establish probable cause.
Additionally, Plaintiff has set forth no allegations whatsoever that would support
the element of malice against this Defendant. This is because Plaintiff has not set forth
factual allegations that show the personal involvement of Defendant Howard in any of
the acts alleged, which is a prerequisite for liability under § 1983. See Spencer v. Doe,
139 F.3d 107, 112 (2d Cir. 1998). Instead, Plaintiff’s allegations against Defendant
Howard are that the “the deliberate indifference of Timothy B. Howard and the John and
Jane Does of the Sheriff’s office” to Plaintiff’s constitutional rights caused him to be
falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted. (Docket No. 13, pp. 8-9). (There are no
John or Jane Doe Defendants named in the Second Amended Complaint.) Accordingly,
Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Howard are dismissed with prejudice for failure to
state a claim on which relief may be granted. Plaintiff’s claims against the Erie County
Sheriff’s Department as an organization are addressed below.
Claims Against Dr. Lazoritz
Plaintiff characterizes his allegations against Defendant Dr. Lazoritz as a claim
that the doctor testified falsely. However, Plaintiff’s factual allegation is that Defendant
confirmed damage to the hymen of one of the daughters “whereas he knew or should
have known” that the damage predated the allegations against Plaintiff. (Docket No. 13,
pp. 10-11). Plaintiff alleges, therefore, no more than that the doctor’s testimony was
mistaken, or incomplete. This establishes only negligence, which is not an actionable
claim under § 1983. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31 (1986) (mere
negligence is not actionable under § 1983). The claims against Defendant Lazoritz are
therefore dismissed with prejudice.
Claims Against the City of Buffalo
It is unclear on what basis the Plaintiff makes claims against Defendant the City
of Buffalo. The Second Amended Complaint fails to set forth any allegations against
this Defendant. Therefore, all claims against the City of Buffalo are dismissed with
The Second Amended Complaint also includes claims under the Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) U.S.C. § 1961-1968, alleging that all
Defendants engaged in a “pattern of racketeering”. (Docket No. 13, p. 11). A plaintiff’s
conclusory allegation of a RICO violation, without more, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. See e.g. Barr v. Abrams, 810 F.2d 358, 363 (2d Cir. 1987). For
a plaintiff to adequately plead a claim of Racketeering:
First, he must allege that the defendant has violated the substantive RICO
statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (1976), commonly known as “criminal RICO.” In
so doing, he must allege the existence of seven constituent elements: (1)
that the defendant (2) through the commission of two or more acts (3)
constituting a “pattern” (4) of “racketeering activity” (5) directly or indirectly
invests in, or maintains an interest in, or participates in (6) an “enterprise”
(7) the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce.
Moss v. Morgan Stanley Inc., 719 F2d 5, 17 (2d Cir 1983) (citation omitted).
Plaintiff’s conclusory allegations do not meet even the preliminary requirements
of a RICO claim, alleging only that Defendants used the postal service to communicate
with each other. This fails to set forth any allegations of activities that would meet the
definition of “racketeering activity” enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1) or would
otherwise satisfy the requirements of a RICO claim.
The racketeering claims are
therefore dismissed with prejudice.
Claims Against Defendant Leary
Plaintiff makes claims against Defendant Leary and the Erie County Holding
Center for failure to intervene and protect. Plaintiff alleges that he was beaten and that
an inmate was convicted of assault for one such beating, but no further allegations are
set forth regarding the circumstances.
The Second Amended Complaint does not
include even an allegation as to the year in which the relevant events took place.
Plaintiff makes his claim under the Eighth Amendment, which requires prison
officials to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates in their
custody. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994). The assessment of whether or
not the measures taken are reasonable turns on an analysis of two factors. First, “the
inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of
serious harm.” Id. at 834. Second, the officials must be shown to have demonstrated a
deliberate indifference to the inmate’s safety.
measured subjectively, that is:
Deliberate indifference must be
[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment . . .
unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to [the]
inmate[’s] health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from
which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm
exists, and he must also draw the inference.
Id. at 837. Plaintiff states in a conclusory fashion that Defendant failed to protect him
from harm and showed deliberate indifference, but the allegations are devoid of facts
that would support his claims and set forth no basis to conclude that Defendant was
aware of a substantial risk of harm. Moreover, there are no allegations that would
establish Defendant Leary’s personal involvement of in a constitutional violation. See
Spencer, 139 F.3d at 112.
Accordingly, all claims against Defendant Leary are
dismissed with prejudice. 1
Plaintiff further alleges, in conclusory terms, that he lost items of property while
confined. The allegation of deprivation of property implicates a plaintiff’s Fourteenth
Amendment right to due process and equal protection of the laws. Again, Plaintiff does
not provide facts in support of this claim or the year in which the alleged deprivations
occurred. At his most specific allegation, Plaintiff claims that the Erie County Holding
Center failed to turn over items of property when he was released.
It well-recognized that:
an unauthorized intentional deprivation of property by a state employee
does not constitute a violation of the procedural requirements of the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy for the loss is available.
Because Plaintiff’s allegations are devoid of facts, it is unclear whether his claims pertain to time while he was a
sentenced prisoner or a pre-trial detainee. Even under the more protective due process standard of the Fourteenth
Amendment applicable to non-sentenced prisoners, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim. Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d
17 (2d Cir. 2017).
Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984). New York provides such a remedy in
§ 52 of the New York County Law. Assuming that Plaintiff was deprived of property
within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, the deprivation was not without due
process of law because New York provides an adequate post-deprivation remedy. Love
v. Coughlin, 714 F.2d 207, 208-09 (2d Cir. 1983). Because Plaintiff had an adequate
remedy under state law, the claims regarding the conversion of his property are
dismissed with prejudice.
False Arrest and Imprisonment Claims
In New York State, Section 1983 claims have a three year statute of limitations
pursuant to New York’s CPLR § 214(2). 2 Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 251 (1989);
see also Jewell v. County of Nassau, 917 F.2d 738, 740 (2d Cir. 1990). False arrest
and imprisonment claims accrue upon the commencement of a criminal prosecution.
Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 389 (2007) (“a false imprisonment ends once the victim
becomes held pursuant to [legal] process—when, for example, he is bound over by a
magistrate or arraigned on charges”). As alleged in the Second Amended Complaint,
Plaintiff was indicted on February 1, 1994. (Docket No. 13, p. 6) The three year period
for the false arrest and imprisonment claims therefore expired at least 17 years before
Plaintiff filed his Complaint on October 8, 2014.
(See Docket No. 1) Accordingly,
Although the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, and must generally await a defense motion, dismissal is
appropriate when the facts supporting the statute of limitations defense are set forth in the papers that a plaintiff
submits. See Leonhard v. United States, 633 F.2d 599, 609 n.11 (2d Cir. 1980)); see also Pino v. Ryan, 49 F.3d 51,
53 (2d Cir. 1995) (noting that, for purposes of an initial review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, a court may find that a
complaint is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory if an affirmative defense, such as the statute of
limitations, "appears on the face of the complaint").
because the statute of limitations has long since expired, Plaintiff’s claims for false
arrest and imprisonment are dismissed.
Claims Against the County of Erie
Read generously, Plaintiff’s allegations in the Second Amended Complaint lay
blame not only on Defendant Howard, but also on the Erie County Sheriff’s Department
generally for failure to properly train its employees. (Docket No. 13, pp. 8-10). Plaintiff
alleges that unnamed Sheriff’s Deputies actively took part in his prosecution and that his
alleged malicious prosecution was a product of the failure of Defendant Erie County to
properly train and monitor its employees. Plaintiff further alleges that the malicious
prosecution was a violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.
Municipalities are considered “persons” for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but a
local government such as the County of Erie generally cannot be held liable under
§ 1983 unless the challenged action was performed pursuant to a municipal policy or
custom. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Municipalities are not subject to § 1983 liability solely
on the basis of a respondeat superior theory. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S.
115, 121 (1992); Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. To hold a municipality liable in a § 1983
action, a plaintiff is required to plead and prove three elements: (1) an official custom or
policy that (2) causes the plaintiff to be subjected to (3) a denial of a constitutional right.
Zahra v. Town of Southold, 48 F.3d 674, 685 (2d Cir. 1995) (citations and quotations
omitted); see Gottlieb v. County of Orange, 84 F.3d 511, 518 (2d Cir. 1996) (“In order to
establish the liability of a municipality in an action under § 1983 for unconstitutional acts
By contrast, Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim could not be brought, and did not accrue, until the
prosecution was terminated in Plaintiff’s favor, which he alleges took place in December 2011. Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484 (1994).
by a municipal employee below the policymaking level, a plaintiff must show that the
violation of his constitutional rights resulted from a municipal custom or policy.”).
Although the failure to train is not itself an independent constitutional violation,
Monell can also be the basis for liability where a municipality fails to properly train its
employees. As the Second Circuit has noted, “Monell does not provide a separate
cause of action for the failure by the government to train its employees; it extends
liability to a municipal organization where that organization’s failure to train, or the
policies or customs that it has sanctioned, led to an independent constitutional
violation.” Segal v. City of New York, 459 F.3d 207, 219 (2d Cir. 2006) (emphasis in
Here, Plaintiff alleges that employees of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department,
either prior to or in conjunction with Erie County Assistant District Attorneys, took part in
his prosecution by, inter alia, influencing Plaintiff’s daughters to falsely implicate Plaintiff
and his co-defendants.
While these employees are not themselves individual
Defendants in this action, Plaintiff’s allegations, presumed to be true at this stage of the
proceedings, could establish the independent constitutional violation required by Monell.
If these violations were in turn shown to be the product of a failure to train on the part of
Erie County, Defendant’s liability could be established. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claim of a
failure to train on the part of Defendant County of Erie, and the resulting alleged
malicious prosecution, may proceed to service at this early stage. Plaintiff’s Motion for
Service (Docket No. 14) is therefore granted in part. 4
In allowing these claims to proceed and directing a response to them, the Court expresses no opinion as to whether
Plaintiff’s claims can withstand a properly filed motion to dismiss or for summary judgment.
For the reasons set forth above, some of Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B). All claims against Defendants McNair, Sedita,
Cooper, Bridge, Flaherty, Howard, Lazoritz, the City of Buffalo, and Defendant Leary
are dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff’s claims under RICO, due process claims, claims
of false arrest and false imprisonment, conspiracy, all claims regarding a failure to
intervene or protect, and all claims regarding loss of property while incarcerated are
dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff’s claims of malicious prosecution are dismissed
against all Defendants except the County of Erie, and those claims arising from the
alleged failure to train employees of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department may proceed
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, that Plaintiff’s due process claims, claims of false
arrest and false imprisonment, claims of malicious prosecution against all Defendants
except the County of Erie, claims of conspiracy and RICO violations, and failure to
intervene and protect are hereby dismissed with prejudice;
FURTHER; that the Motion for Service (Docket No. 14) is GRANTED in part
consistent with this Decision and Order;
FURTHER, that the Clerk of Court is directed to cause the United States Marshal
to serve copies of the Summons, Second Amended Complaint (Docket No. 13), and this
Order upon Defendant County of Erie without Plaintiff’s payment therefor, unpaid fees to
be recoverable if this action terminates by monetary award in Plaintiff’s favor;
FURTHER, the Clerk of Court is directed to terminate all other Defendants as
parties to this action;
FURTHER, that, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(g), the Defendant is directed to
answer the Second Amended Complaint.
/s/William M. Skretny
William M. Skretny
United States District Judge
June 21, 2017
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