Gadreault v. Bent et al
ORDER DISMISSING 7 Amended Complaint; plaintiff may file a motion for leave to file Second Amended Complaint by 3/16/2021. Signed by Judge William K. Sessions III on 2/16/2021. (law)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF VERMONT
RAYMOND R. GADREAULT,
JUDGE ROBERT BENT, JENNIFER
BARRETT, PHIL DANIELSON,
WALTER SMITH, RICHARD
BERLANDY, and DEBRA MUNSON,
Case No. 2:20-cv-83
ORDER DISMISSING AMENDED COMPLAINT
Self-represented Plaintiff Raymond R. Gadreault, proceeding in forma pauperis, timely
filed an Amended Complaint in which he alleges violations of his civil rights by Defendants
Vermont Superior Court Judge Robert Bent, Vermont States Attorneys Jennifer Barrett and Phil
Danielson, Vermont State Police (“VSP”) Trooper Richard Berlandy, Lieutenant Walter Smith,
and VSP Officer Debra Munson. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s Amended
Complaint (Doc. 7) is dismissed for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
Allegations of the Amended Complaint
Plaintiff asserts that Judge Bent violated his civil rights under the United States
Constitution, including his Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendment rights, and that
“allowing immunity for [Judge] Bent is a travesty of justice.” (Doc. 7 at 1.) He alleges his rights
were violated when Judge Bent denied Plaintiff an attorney, remanded him to custody, and set an
excessive bail of $75,000. As a result of the excessive bail amount, Plaintiff spent over two
months in jail “miles from [his] home and unable to see family.” (Id.) He further alleges Judge
Bent stated “that his mind has declined so he has no idea what he is doing.” (Id.)
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With regard to the law enforcement defendants, Plaintiff alleges: Defendant VSP Trooper
Berlandy “outright lied in his affidavit, and then when he arrested me never reading me my
rights” (Doc. 7 at 2); Defendant Smith “was derelict in his duties allowing Trooper Berlandy to
get away with his actions” (id.); and Defendant VSP Officer Munson “committed perjury at my
bail hearing stating she was only at the home for 8 minutes when in real[i]ty it was over 31
minutes” (id.). He asserts the law enforcement Defendants “came to my home to arrest me, . . .
knocked on the door, . . . and instead of waiting for me to open the door they pounded thr[ough]
it with a battering ram.” (Id.)
With regard to the Vermont States Attorneys defendants, Plaintiff alleges prosecutors
Defendants Barrett and Danielson “took part in this by persecuting [sic] me [in] Orleans County
Court.” (Doc. 7 at 2.)
Conclusions of Law and Analysis
Standard of Review
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, “the court shall dismiss [a] case [filed in forma pauperis] at any
time if the court determines that . . . the action (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a
claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is
immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The court is required to read a selfrepresented plaintiff’s complaint liberally and to hold it “to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted); see also Harris v. Miller, 818 F.3d 49, 56-57 (2d Cir. 2016) (per
curiam) (noting district courts must afford “special solicitude” to a self-represented litigant
including reading the complaint liberally and construing it to raise the strongest arguments it
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All complaints, however, must contain “sufficient factual matter . . . to state a claim”
for relief that is “plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal
quotation marks omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (listing required contents of a pleading
that states a claim for relief). In determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court must
“accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint” and decide whether the complaint
states a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “The plausibility standard is not akin
to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully.” Id. While “special solicitude” is required, self-represented litigants
nevertheless must satisfy the plausibility standard set forth in Iqbal. See Harris, 818 F.3d at 56;
Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 68, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true
all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678.
A complaint must also comply with the applicable standards of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. Under Rule 8, a complaint must contain a short and plain statement of the grounds
for the court’s jurisdiction, and a short and plain statement of the claim showing an entitlement
to relief; also, each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. A
complaint that fails to comply with Rule 8 should be dismissed, as it “presents far too heavy a
burden in terms of defendants’ duty to shape a comprehensive defense and provides no
meaningful basis for the Court to assess the sufficiency of the claims.” Gonzales v. Wing,
167 F.R.D. 352, 355 (N.D.N.Y. 1996).
As the court has explained, judicial officers are immune from liability for damages for
“acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction.” Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967).
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Because absolute judicial immunity is not for protection of the judge, but rather “for the benefit
of the public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions
with independence and without fear of consequences,” id. (internal quotation marks omitted), it
applies to shield judges against even “allegations of bad faith or malice . . . [or] ‘because the
action he took was in error . . . or was in excess of his authority.’” Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9,
11, 13 (1991) (second omission in original) (quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356
(1978)). Immunity yields only in cases challenging “nonjudicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in
the judge’s judicial capacity,” or judicial “actions . . . taken in the complete absence of all
jurisdiction.” Id. at 11, 12.
Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Robert Bent, a Vermont Superior Court Judge,
continue to be barred by the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity. The Amended Complaint
challenges actions taken by Judge Bent in his judicial capacity. Because Plaintiff does not
plausibly allege any actions by Judge Bent performed in his personal capacity or outside the
scope of his jurisdiction, his claims are barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity.
Accordingly, Judge Bent must be dismissed as a defendant in this action because the court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction. See id. at 11 (explaining “judicial immunity is an immunity from
suit”); Miller v. Cnty. of Nassau, 467 F. Supp. 2d 308, 312 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (noting a district
court “may, sua sponte, dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, based on a
finding of judicial immunity”).
Prosecutors are also immune from “suits for damages when he [or she] acts within the
scope of his [or her] prosecutorial duties.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 420 (1976).
Prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity for those activities “‘intimately associated with the
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judicial phase of the criminal process.’” Hill v. City of New York, 45 F.3d 653, 660-61 (2d Cir.
1995) (quoting Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430). Absolute immunity from § 1983 liability covers
“virtually all acts, regardless of motivation, associated with [the prosecutor’s] function as an
advocate.” Dory v. Ryan, 25 F.3d 81, 83 (2d Cir. 1994). A prosecutor is therefore “absolutely
immune from civil liability for initiating a prosecution and presenting the case at trial.” Hill,
45 F.3d at 661. Even where there are allegations of a prosecutor’s “knowing use of perjured
testimony” or “deliberate withholding of exculpatory information” the prosecutor is not
“amenable to a civil suit for damages.” Shmueli v. City of New York, 424 F.3d 231, 237 (2d Cir.
2005) (quoting Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431 n.34). “[I]f as a result of prosecutorial misconduct, a
defendant is compelled to face prosecution, or to suffer imprisonment or pretrial detention, the
harm cannot be redressed via a § 1983 civil rights suit.” Taylor v. Kavanagh, 640 F.2d 450, 453
(2d Cir. 1981).
Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants Barrett and Danielson, Vermont States Attorneys,
are barred by the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity. The Amended Complaint alleges only that
the state prosecutor defendants “took part in” the “ongoing violation of [his] civil rights” by
“p[ro]secuting [him] in Orleans County Court.” (Doc. 7 at 2.) Because Plaintiff does not
plausibly allege any actions by these Defendants outside the scope of their prosecutorial duties,
his claims are barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. Accordingly, Defendants Barrett and
Danielson must be dismissed as defendants in this action because the court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction. See Shmueli, 424 F.3d at 237 (“Because the immunity attaches to the official
prosecutorial function and because the initiation and pursuit of a criminal prosecution are
quintessential prosecutorial functions, the prosecutor has absolute immunity for the initiation and
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conduct of a prosecution unless [she] proceeds in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.” (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted)).
42 U.S.C. § 1983
The remaining defendants are VSP Trooper Berlandy, Lieutenant Smith, and VSP Officer
Munson. Plaintiff alleges these law enforcement officers violated his civil rights in connection
with his arrest. Plaintiff does not specify if he seeks to bring his claims against these defendants
in their official or individual capacities. Plaintiff also does not specify what relief he seeks. As
with his initial Complaint, Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint also does not satisfy the basic
pleading standard of Rule 8, as contains only conclusory references to constitutional rights
having been violated and fails to make a demand for the relief sought. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s
Amended Complaint fails to state a claim against these defendants upon which relief can be
granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
Because the law enforcement officers appear to be state employees, Plaintiff could seek
to allege a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a federal statute. Under § 1983, a claimant may bring
suit against a “person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of
any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any . . . person . . . to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “The purpose
of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of
their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails.” Wyatt
v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992).
In order to assert a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff “must allege (1) ‘that some person has
deprived him of a federal right,’ and (2) ‘that the person who has deprived [the plaintiff] of that
right acted under color of state . . . law.’” Velez v. Levy, 401 F.3d 75, 84 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting
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Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980)). Section 1983 provides a statutory remedy for
violations of the federal Constitution and other federal laws. See Patterson v. Cnty. of Oneida,
375 F.3d 206, 225 (2d Cir. 2004) (stating the statute is “not itself a source of substantive rights”
but rather provides “a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred”) (internal
quotation marks omitted). The statute occupies a position of “primacy” in providing a “basis for
securing redress for constitutional violations.” Pauk v. Bd. of Trustees of City Univ. of N.Y.,
654 F.2d 856, 865 (2d Cir. 1981).
Suits against state actors in their official capacity “generally represent only another way
of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent” and “[a]s long as the
government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in
all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham,
473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Hafer v. Melo,
502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (“Suits against state officials in their official capacity therefore should be
treated as suits against the State. . . . [T]he only immunities available to the defendant in an
official-capacity action are those that the governmental entity possesses.”).
Although Plaintiff does not specify the type of relief he seeks, a claim for monetary
damages against a state law enforcement officer for actions in his or her official capacity would
be barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Eleventh
Amendment provides that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to
extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by
Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend.
XI. The Supreme Court has interpreted the Eleventh Amendment to bar private suits for
retrospective relief against a state in federal court, absent consent to suit by the state or valid
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congressional abrogation of this immunity. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 754 (1999) (“Our
sovereign immunity precedents establish that suits against nonconsenting States are not properly
susceptible of litigation in courts, and, as a result, that [t]he entire judicial power granted by the
Constitution does not embrace authority to entertain such suits in the absence of the State’s
consent[.]”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v.
Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984) (“[A]n unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in
federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another state.”) (internal quotation
marks omitted); Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 17 (1890) (“Undoubtedly a state may be sued by
its own consent[.]”).
Neither waiver nor abrogation applies in a § 1983 claim against a state official in federal
court. See 12 V.S.A. § 5601(g) (establishing Vermont has not waived its sovereign immunity);
Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67 (1989) (holding in enacting § 1983, Congress
did not abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment). Accordingly,
Plaintiff cannot assert claims against a state official in his or her official capacity in federal court.
See McGinty v. New York, 251 F.3d 84, 90 (2d Cir. 2001) (noting a court may raise sua sponte
state sovereign immunity as a bar to federal subject matter jurisdiction).
Leave to Amend
Because Plaintiff has already been granted an opportunity to amend his complaint, the
court will not grant leave to amend sua sponte. However, Plaintiff may file a motion for leave to
file an amended complaint. See Dolan v. Connolly, 794 F.3d 290, 295 (2d Cir. 2015) (directing
that district courts should not dismiss the claim of a self-represented party 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.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
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Plaintiff is advised that a proposed Second Amended Complaint must be titled “Second
Amended Complaint” and include all of Plaintiff’s factual allegations in their entirety and must
set forth all the claims he has against all defendants and all the relief he seeks; reference back to
the original Complaint or Amended Complaint is insufficient. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); D. Vt.
L.R. 15(b). Equally important, a proposed pleading must comport with the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, including setting forth short and plain statements of each claim as required by
Rule 8, and doing so in numbered paragraphs as required by Rule 10.
Plaintiff’s efforts may be aided by use of the E-Pro Se program, an interactive web
application that aids the user in preparing a complaint, available on the court’s website at
https://www.vtd.uscourts.gov/e-pro-se. For further reference, Plaintiff may consult the Court’s
Representing Yourself as a Pro Se Litigant Guide, available at www.vtd.uscourts.gov/sites/
For the reasons discussed above, and having conducted the review required under
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 7) is DISMISSED under
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Plaintiff may file a motion for leave to file a Second Amended
Complaint no later than March 16, 2021. Should Plaintiff fail to file a motion to amend, this
case shall be closed.
Dated at Burlington, in the District of Vermont, this 16th day of February 2021.
/s/ William K. Sessions III
William K. Sessions III
District Court Judge
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