United States District Court, D. Vermont
RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS (DOCS.
Honorable J. Garvan Murtha United States District Judge.
Ryan Lawyer (“Lawyer”) sues the State of
Vermont-Department of Public Safety (“State”),
and Drew Cota, Ben Patnode, and Derek Rolandini, both
individually and in their official capacities as Vermont
State Police (“VSP”) Troopers. (Doc. 1
(“Compl.”).) Lawyer alleges Cota, Patnode, and
Rolandini (collectively, the “Trooper
Defendants”) acted negligently and/or recklessly by
failing to conduct a thorough investigation before charging
him with felony possession of heroin. Id.
¶¶ 8-30. Lawyer alleges the State violated his
state and federal constitutional rights by failing to
supervise and train the Trooper Defendants. Id.
¶¶ 31-34. Accordingly, jurisdiction is based on the
existence of a federal question. Id. ¶ 1.
Lawyer seeks a declaratory judgment, compensatory and
punitive damages, and attorney's fees. Id. at 8.
The State and Trooper Defendants move to dismiss the
complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure
to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) and (6). (Docs. 7, 12.) Lawyer filed a response to
the motions. (Doc. 13.) Defendants collectively filed a
reply. (Doc. 16.) For the reasons discussed below, the
State's motion to dismiss is granted. The State and
Trooper Defendants, in their official capacity, are dismissed
from the action. The Court defers ruling on the motion filed
by the Trooper Defendants in their individual capacities.
following facts are assumed to be true for purposes of the
pending motions and are gleaned from the complaint. On June
27, 2014, Lawyer, a resident of East Fairfield, was arrested
for impeding a public officer and disorderly conduct after
failing to heed Trooper Cota's orders to remain in the
stopped vehicle in which Lawyer was a passenger. Lawyer, who
was intoxicated, was lodged at the VSP barracks in St. Albans
in a holding cell equipped with functional audio and video
surveillance cameras. Trooper Cota later stated under oath
that the holding cell in which Lawyer was placed was
“clean, ” i.e. had been searched for contraband
and none was found.
handcuffed to the wall and sitting on a bench in the cell,
Lawyer dislodged from the sink and opened with his foot a
package containing approximately 100 bags of heroin. Lawyer
lost interest and laid down on the bench. Trooper Rolandini
later briefly entered the cell, observing Lawyer asleep and
the heroin bags on the floor. Trooper Rolandini returned to
the cell with Troopers Cota and Patnode, roused Lawyer and
inquired about the heroin. A still-intoxicated Lawyer replied
unintelligibly. The Troopers charged Lawyer with felony
possession of heroin. In an affidavit in support of the
charge, Trooper Cota falsely averred Lawyer admitted to
concealing the heroin in his shoe.
Franklin County State's Attorney's office charged
Lawyer with two felonies, impeding a public officer and
possession of heroin, and a misdemeanor count of unlawful
mischief. He was arraigned on June 30, 2014. Lawyer's
bail was set at $10, 000, resulting in his family paying an
$1100 non-refundable commission fee to a bail bondsman. Based
on a VSP press release, local media reported Lawyer had been
arrested on these charges resulting in severe damage to his
reputation, including almost losing his longstanding
employment. Lawyer was released from custody on July 1, 2014.
On July 10, the State's Attorney dismissed the heroin
Count I, Lawyer alleges the Troopers negligently, recklessly,
or with gross negligence failed to properly investigate the
alleged criminal acts prior to preparing their affidavits and
reports and prematurely contacted the State's
Attorney's office and local media. (Compl. ¶¶
8-30.) Specifically, he alleges the Troopers failed to review
the recordings from the cell. In Count II, he alleges the
State failed to properly train or supervise the Troopers and
to properly sanction or discipline them for violations of
constitutional rights of citizens. (Compl. ¶¶
should grant a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss if it is not
authorized by statute or the Constitution to adjudicate the
plaintiff's claims. See Makarova v. United
States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). The plaintiff
bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a
preponderance of the evidence. Hamm v. United
States, 483 F.3d 135, 137 (2d Cir. 2007).
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6) tests the legal rather than the factual sufficiency
of a complaint. See, e.g., Sims v. Ortiz,
230 F.3d 14, 20 (2d Cir. 2000). The Court will grant a motion
to dismiss only if the pleader fails to show a
“plausible entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Court
must accept all facts alleged in the pleading as true and
draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the pleader.
Nat. Res. Def. Council v. Johnson, 461 F.3d 164, 171
(2d Cir. 2006). Though the court must accept as true all
factual allegations, this requirement “is inapplicable
to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[T]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.” Id.; see also
Turkmen v. Hasty, 789 F.3d 218, 233 (2d Cir. 2015).
“Plaintiffs cannot amend their complaint by asserting
new facts or theories for the first time in opposition to
Defendants' motion to dismiss.” K.D. ex rel.
Duncan v. White Plains Sch. Dist., 921 F.Supp.2d 197,
209 n.8 (S.D.N.Y. 2013).
Claims against the State and Trooper Defendants in their
State moves to dismiss Lawyer's claims against it and the
Troopers in their official capacities arguing the Eleventh
Amendment of the United States Constitution bars both federal
and state law claims against them. (Doc. 7 at 3-6.) Lawyer
does not object to the dismissal of the claims against the
Vermont Department of Public Safety and Cota, Patnode, and
Rolandini, in their official capacities as Vermont State
Police Troopers. (Doc. 13 at 5.) Accordingly, the State and
Troopers' motion to dismiss is granted and the claims
against them are dismissed.
Claims against the Trooper Defendants in their ...