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Gauthier v. Kirkpatrick

United States District Court, Second Circuit

December 9, 2013

David Gauthier, Edward Gauthier, Plaintiffs,
v.
Troy Kirkpatrick, Barre, Vermont, Weiland Ross, Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, Newport Correctional Facility, Rick Wade, Michael Mathieu, Nicholas Fortier, Jeff Poginy, Thomas Kelly, Megan Campbell, State Trooper Leblanc, State Trooper Maurice, Bonnie Goode, and Tiffany Stark, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER (Docs. 34, 35, 49, 50)

JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiffs David Gauthier and Edward Gauthier, proceeding pro se, bring this suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution against Defendants Tiffany Stark, the City of Barre and its "municipal judges, " the "Newport Correctional Facility, "[1] and various state and municipal officials, each in their personal and official capacities. (Doc. 6 at 1-6.) Plaintiffs' claims stem from Defendants' seizure or arrest of Plaintiffs, the proceedings in David Gauthier's state court criminal case, and Plaintiffs' treatment at correctional facilities during the state court proceedings. Plaintiffs seek $6.825 million in compensatory damages and $850, 000 in punitive damages against all Defendants jointly and severally, as well as costs and attorney's fees. ( Id. at 12.)

All of the municipal Defendants have moved to dismiss. Defendants Kirkpatrick and Ross have filed a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against them, arguing that they cannot be sued in their official capacities. (Doc. 34 at 1.) These Defendants also seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against them under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985, 1986, and 1988, and under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. ( Id. ) The City of Barre has filed a separate Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for § 1983 municipal liability. (Doc. 35 at 3.)

Defendants NSCF and all of the other state officials have also moved to dismiss. Judge Howard VanBenthuysen seeks dismissal of the claims against him, asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity, absolute judicial immunity, and failure to state a claim. ( See Doc. 50-1 at 1-2.) Finally, the other state entities and officials-all of whom are represented by the Office of the Attorney General-have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against them, arguing Eleventh Amendment immunity, lack of personal involvement or failure to state a claim, absolute prosecutorial immunity, qualified immunity, and failure to state a claim of conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986. ( See Doc. 49 at 1-2.)

The Court held a hearing on the pending Motions on November 13, 2013, at which both David and Edward Gauthier appeared. All parties have consented to direct assignment to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Docs. 33, 37, 38, 41, 53, 55.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS each of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss.

Background

For purposes of the Motions to Dismiss, all facts alleged in the Complaint (Doc. 6) are accepted as true.[2] On or about January 4, 2012 at approximately 7:15 p.m., Barre police officers Troy Kirkpatrick and Weiland Ross knocked on the door of Edward Gauthier's apartment and then entered the apartment without cause or a warrant, without identifying themselves as policemen, and without Edward Gauthier's consent. Both Kirkpatrick and Ross were acting as "State employed" police officers for the City of Barre. (Doc. 6 at 5, ¶¶ 3, 6.) At no time, however, did Ross have a valid oath of office.

Kirkpatrick and Ross then "interrogated" Edward, asking him if David-who is Edward's brother-was there at Edward's apartment.[3] ( Id. at 6, ¶ 3.) David was in the bathroom and did not hear Kirkpatrick and Ross enter the apartment. David came out of the bathroom and observed Kirkpatrick and Ross standing in the kitchen.

Kirkpatrick said that he had a complaint and paperwork for David. David observed the paperwork and told Kirkpatrick that he had received the same paperwork the day before from the Sheriff's office. Kirkpatrick then took David's paperwork from the Sheriff's office and put it in his back pocket. David asked Kirkpatrick to give him his paperwork back and Kirkpatrick said that he did not have it. David pointed out that Kirkpatrick had it in his back pocket. Kirkpatrick then said, "[O]h I thought it was my paperwork, " and returned it to David. ( Id. at 7, ¶ 11.)

Kirkpatrick instructed Ross to go out to the car and get a citation book. Ross left the apartment and-over David's objection-re-entered with a citation book. Kirkpatrick then instructed Ross to write and issue to David a citation to appear in court because David would not accept their paperwork. David objected and refused the citation.

At that instant, Kirkpatrick and Ross grabbed Edward, slammed him on the counter, and handcuffed him. Ross reached out to grab David's telephone because David was recording the event. Ross then threw David on the floor and put his knee on David's back. Kirkpatrick pointed a taser at David's face and threatened to shoot. David was then handcuffed.

David objected, citing his constitutional rights. Ross slammed David onto the floor, saying, "[F]uck your constitutional rights you don't have any constitutional rights." ( Id. at 8, ¶ 18.) As he was being taken to a police car, David observed two Vermont State Troopers arriving at the scene-Defendants Leblanc and Maurice-and he told Trooper Leblanc that his constitutional rights were being violated. Trooper Leblanc responded, "[Y]ou'll have to take that up with the Judge." ( Id. at 8, ¶ 19.) While being seized, David asked Ross to lock the door to Edward's apartment. Ross would not lock the door, and as a result some of Edward's personal property was later stolen from the apartment.

David asked Ross to be taken before a judge immediately, but Ross told him he would have to wait in jail overnight because there was no judge available that late at night. David was taken to the Barre police department, and Ross put him in a cell. David spent the night in jail, and was taken before Judge Howard VanBenthuysen the next morning.

Although it is not entirely clear from the Complaint, it appears that Judge VanBenthuysen ordered David jailed pre-trial. The Judge told David he was going to jail, and gave no time limit. The Complaint alleges that the charges in the criminal case have since been dismissed, but that David spent three months and a day in jail (presumably as a pre-trial detainee). Plaintiffs allege a variety of errors with the criminal proceedings, including denial of counsel and denial of a speedy trial, some of which Plaintiffs seem to attribute to Deputy State's Attorney Megan Campbell as the "Prosecuting Attorney." ( Id. at 3.) State's Attorney Thomas Kelly was not present during David's court appearance.

The Complaint also alleges that David spent four days in jail in St. Johnsbury, and that while he was there the jailors told him that if he did not sign certain paperwork he would not be given any food.[4] David asserts that he signed the paperwork under duress for fear of starvation. David was then transferred to the Northeast State Correctional Facility ("NSCF") in Newport, where he spent 88 days. While at NSCF, for three weeks, David was denied medication that was prescribed by the Washington County Mental Health Facility. He also suffered starvation because he is allergic to fish but was denied a special diet. The Complaint is in some instances unclear about what happened to which Plaintiff, but at the November 13, 2013 hearing, Edward stated that he, too, was incarcerated and denied medication.

Plaintiffs have also included Bonnie Goode, the administrator of the Vermont Sex Offender Registry, as a Defendant in this case. According to Plaintiffs, Goode was presented with papers from the Maine Sex Offender Registry instructing her to remove David from the Vermont Sex Offender Registry, apparently because David had completed his requirement to remain on the Maine Registry for ten years. Goode, however, decided not to remove David from the Vermont Registry.

Analysis

I. Standard of Review

At the outset, the Court notes that some of the named Defendants seek dismissal not only under Rule 12(b)(6), but also under Rule 12(b)(1) on immunity grounds. As the Second Circuit has noted, the distinction is potentially significant because in evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a court may resolve disputed factual issues by reference to evidence outside the pleadings. State Emps. Bargaining Agent Coal. v. Rowland, 494 F.3d 71, 77 n.4 (2d Cir. 2007). Here, however, the Defendants seeking dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) have not presented affidavits or evidence that they contend should be considered in resolving any factual issue. The Court therefore constrains its review to the documents permissible under Rule 12(b)(6).

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Absolute Activist Value Master Fund Ltd. v. Ficeto, 677 F.3d 60, 65 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Although the Court must "accept as true all factual statements alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, " McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007), a plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Indeed, "[c]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to [defeat] a motion to dismiss." Achtman v. Kirby, McInerney & Squire, LLP, 464 F.3d 328, 337 (2d Cir. 2006) (alterations in original) (quotation marks omitted).

Where, as here, the plaintiffs are proceeding pro se, courts are obligated to construe the pleadings liberally. See, e.g., Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008); McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). Nevertheless, a pro se plaintiff's complaint must state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013).

Plaintiffs have filed no written opposition to the Motions to Dismiss, but their failure to respond in writing does not warrant dismissal; the Court is still required to review the Motions and determine whether the Complaint is sufficient to state a claim on which relief can be granted. McCall v. Pataki, 232 F.3d 321, 322-23 (2d Cir. 2000).

II. Kirkpatrick and Ross's Motion for Partial Dismissal

Defendants Kirkpatrick and Ross move to dismiss all of Plaintiffs' claims against them in their official capacities, and further move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985, 1986, and 1988. They also seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

A. Official-Capacity Claims

Kirkpatrick and Ross argue that Plaintiffs' claims against them in their official capacities must be dismissed as redundant to Plaintiffs' claims against the City of Barre. (Doc. 34 at 5.) The Court agrees. "A claim asserted against an individual in his official capacity... is in effect a claim against the governmental entity itself, rather than a suit against the individual personally, for official-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'" Lore v. City of Syracuse, 670 F.3d 127, 164 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55 (1978)). Here, Plaintiffs have also named as a defendant the City of Barre-the principal for whom Kirkpatrick and Ross were working as agents. Plaintiffs' claims against Kirkpatrick and Ross in their official capacities are therefore duplicative of the action against the City. See Nolen v. City of Barre, Vt., No. individual Barre City officials in their official capacities as duplicative of the action against the City). Plaintiffs' claims against the City of Barre are discussed in Part III, infra.

B. Conspiracy Claims Under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986

The three subsections of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 proscribe conspiratorial activity that interferes with the following five categories of activities: "(a) the performance of official duties by federal officers; (b) the administration of justice in federal courts; (c) the administration of justice in state courts; (d) the private enjoyment of equal protection of the laws' and equal privileges and immunities under the laws'; and (e) the right to support candidates in federal elections." Kush v. Rutledge, 460 U.S. 719, 724 (1983). The civil remedy for a violation of any of the three subsections of § 1985 is found at the end of § 1985(3). Id. Kirkpatrick and Ross maintain that § 1985(1) and (2) do not apply to the facts alleged in the Complaint, and that Plaintiffs fail to allege an essential element to a claim under § 1985(3)-namely, class-based invidious discriminatory animus. (Doc. 34 at 6-8.)

Section 1985(1) proscribes conspiracies that interfere with the performance of official duties by federal officers. See Kush, 460 U.S. at 724. The Complaint in this case contains no allegations that Kirkpatrick and Ross engaged in such a conspiracy. Section 1985(2) prohibits conspiracies that interfere with the administration of justice in state and federal courts. See id. Here, the Complaint alludes to a court proceeding in that Kirkpatrick and Ross were attempting to deliver a complaint and paperwork to David. However, the alleged facts do not suggest that Kirkpatrick and Ross were acting to obstruct that proceeding or any other court proceeding by, for example, intimidating a party, witness, or juror. To the extent that David was a party to the proceedings described in the paperwork, the Complaint does not allege or suggest that the force used or other actions taken by Kirkpatrick and Ross did deter or were designed to deter David from attending court or testifying, or to retaliate for having testified.

Section 1985(3) proscribes conspiracies that interfere with the right to support candidates in federal elections, and that interfere with the private enjoyment of "equal protection of the laws" and "equal privileges and immunities under the laws." Id. at 724. Here, the Complaint does not suggest any attempt to interfere with Plaintiffs' right to support candidates in federal elections. However, the Complaint does allege violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits state action that abridges citizens' privileges and immunities or denies the equal protection of the laws. Thus Plaintiffs are presumably alleging a conspiracy under § 1985(3)'s "deprivation" clause, its "hindrance" clause, or both. See Jenkins v. Miller, No. 2:12-CV-184, 2013 WL 5770387, at *22 (D. Vt. Oct. 24, 2013) (distinguishing those two clauses of § 1985(3)).

In order to state a claim under either the deprivation clause or the hindrance clause, a plaintiff must allege that the conspiracy was motivated by invidiously discriminatory intent. See id. at *23, *29 (citing Libertad v. Welch, 53 F.3d 428, 448 (1st Cir. 1995)). The Complaint in this case lacks any allegations of class-based discrimination underlying Kirkpatrick and Ross's actions, and thus fails to state a claim under § 1985(3). See Posr v. Court Officer Shield No. 207, 180 F.3d 409, 419 (2d Cir. 1999); Lucas v. New York City, 842 F.Supp. 101, 104 (S.D.N.Y. 1994) (dismissing complaint for failure to state a claim under § 1985(3) because it was "devoid of any allegation of a class-based, invidious discriminatory animus'") (quoting Tuaha Mian v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Sec. Corp., 7 F.3d 1085, 1088 (2d Cir. 1993)); see also Young v. Suffolk Cnty., 705 F.Supp.2d 183, 208 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (same; citing Lucas).

In sum, Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under any of the provisions of § 1985. As a result, Plaintiffs' claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1986 must also fail. See Brown v. City of Oneonta, N.Y., 221 F.3d 329, 341 (2d Cir. 2000) ("[A] § 1986 claim must be predicated on a valid § 1985 claim.") (quoting Mian v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Sec. Corp., 7 F.3d 1085, 1088 (2d Cir. 1993) (per curiam)); Posr, 180 F.3d at 419 ("[N]o § 1986 claim will lie where there is no valid § 1985 claim.") (citing Gagliardi v. Vill. of Pawling, 18 F.3d 188, 194 (2d Cir. 1994)). And the Court need not consider Kirkpatrick and Ross's alternative argument that Plaintiffs' claim under § 1986 is time-barred under that statute's one-year limitations period. ( See Doc. 34 at 8.)

C. Section 1983 Claims

Federal law provides a civil claim for damages against "[e]very person who, under color of any statute... of any State... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws." 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). "Section 1983 itself creates no substantive rights; it provides only a procedure for redress for the deprivation of rights established elsewhere." Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir. 1999) (citing City of ...


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