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Rodriguez v. Gosselin

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 13, 2018



          Christina Reiss, Dislrict Judge United States District Court.

         Plaintiff Juan Rodriguez, who is self-represented, brings this civil action against Defendant Rick Gosselin alleging Defendant Gosselin violated his civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 5). The case was removed to this court from state court in July 2017. Defendant moved to dismiss the Complaint on July 28, 2017 (Doc. 14). After opposing the motion, and successfully seeking an opportunity to file a sur-reply, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in November 2017 (Doc. 19). Defendant again moved to dismiss (Doc. 20). Following the filing of Plaintiff s opposition and Defendant's reply, [1]Defendant's second motion to dismiss is ripe for adjudication.

         I. The Allegations of the Amended Complaint.

         The facts of both the original Complaint and the Amended Complaint are substantially the same. Plaintiff alleges he attended a custody hearing in state family court on March 24, 2017. After the hearing, Plaintiff conversed with his attorney in Spanish. Defendant, an Orleans County sheriff, said: "Speak English, this is America[, ]" and made a derogatory comment about Mexicans. (Doc. 5 at 1; Doc. 19 at 2.) Plaintiff responded: "I am not Mexican. I am Puerto Rican." Id.

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated his constitutional rights to association, counsel, access to the courts, and free speech. In his original Complaint, Plaintiff sought compensatory damages of $1, nominal damages of $50, 000, and punitive damages of $50, 000. In his Amended Complaint, he now seeks nominal damages of $1, compensatory damages of $500, 000, and punitive damages of $500, 000.

         II. Conclusions of Law and Analysis.

         A document filed by a self-represented litigant must be liberally construed. Ahlers v. Rabinowitz, 684 F.3d 53, 60 (2d Cir. 2012). Plaintiff requests the court allow him to amend his Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), which requires the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). "The court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Id. Because Defendant has responded to the Amended Complaint with a motion to dismiss that is fully briefed, the court allows the amendment and considers the Amended Complaint the operative Complaint. Hancock v. Cty. of Rensselaer, 882 F.3d 58, 63 (2d Cir. 2018) ('"It is well settled that an amended pleading ordinarily supersedes the original and renders it of no legal effect[.]'") (quotingIn re Crysen /Montenay Energy Co., 26 F.3d 160, 162 (2d Cir. 2000)). Accordingly, Plaintiffs request to amend his initial Complaint is GRANTED, and Defendant's initial motion to dismiss Plaintiffs original Complaint is DENIED AS MOOT. (Doc. 14.)

         Defendant moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, arguing he is an improper defendant and Plaintiffs allegations are insufficient to state a plausible claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff responds that Defendant is a proper defendant because he is suing him in his individual and official capacities and asks that dismissal be denied.

         In adjudicating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint" and determine whether the complaint states a claim for relief that is "plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). While "lenity . .. must attend the review of pro se pleadings[, ]"/7r0 se litigants nevertheless must satisfy the plausibility standard set forth in Iqbal and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 68 (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.

         Section 1983 provides that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . ., subjects, or causes to be subjected[] ... [any] person within the jurisdiction [of the United States] to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law[] ... or other proper proceeding for redress[.]

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is "not itself a source of substantive rights" but rather provides "a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred[.]" Patterson v. Cty. of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 225 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). To prevail on 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 Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980)).

         Assuming without deciding that Defendant is a proper defendant, Plaintiffs Amended Complaint nonetheless must be dismissed. Plaintiff alleges Defendant abridged his rights to both "expressive" and "intimate" freedom of association under the First Amendment. Plaintiffs right to intimate association, however, is not implicated in this case. While "choices to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships must be secured against undue intrusion by the State because of the role of such relationships in safeguarding the individual freedom that is central to our constitutional scheme[, ]" the "personal affiliations" warranting protection are "those that attend the creation and sustenance of a family[.]" Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 617-19 (1984). Because Plaintiffs relationship with his attorney does not rise to the level of a protected personal affiliation and he does not allege Defendant intruded on his family relationships, he fails to state a claim for violation of his right to intimate association.

         Freedom of association includes the "right to associate for the purpose of engaging in those activities protected by the First Amendment-speech, assembly, petition for the redress of grievances, and the exercise of religion." Id. at 618. Individuals have a "right to join together to advocate opinions free from government interference." Boy Scouts of Am. v. Dale,530 U.S. 640, 701 (2000). The First Amendment's expressive associational right protects groups that "engage[] in 'expressive association[, ]'" and "is not reserved for advocacy groups[, b]ut to come within its ambit, a group must engage in some form of expression[.]" Id. at 648. Plaintiff must demonstrate the expressive association was pursued for "political or other goals independently protected by the [F]irst [A]mendment." Brady v. Town of Colchester,863 F.2d 205, 217 (2d Cir. 1988). Generally, individuals do not enter a professional relationship with an attorney "to convey any social or political message." Young v. N.Y.C. Transit. Auth.,903 F.2d 146, 153 (2d Cir. 1990). ...

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