Adeleke v. Johnson

Decision Date13 September 2022
Docket Number20-CV-5224 (MKB)
PartiesABIODUN ADELEKE, Plaintiff, v. JAMES JOHNSON and STEVEN RIPP, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York


Plaintiff Abiodun Adeleke, proceeding pro se, commenced the above-captioned action on October 29, 2020, against Defendants James Johnson and Steven Ripp, asserting violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C § 1983. (Compl. ¶¶ 30-35, Docket Entry No. 1.) Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on January 27, 2021 alleging Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violations against Johnson and Ripp. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-32 Docket Entry No. 9.) The Court construes the Amended Complaint to include causes of action under section 1983 for violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights, as well as violations of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, both substantively and procedurally, and the Equal Protection Clause. See Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (noting that courts must liberally construe papers submitted by pro se litigants “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest” (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994))).

Defendants move to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.' Mot.”), Docket Entry No. 38; Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. (“Defs.' Mem.”), Docket Entry No. 38-4),[1] and Plaintiff opposes the motion, (Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), Docket Entry No. 39). Plaintiff also moves for leave to file a second amended complaint (“SAC”) to add James Murphy as a defendant and to add search warrants as evidence to support the SAC (the “Motion”),[2] (Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File SAC (“Pl.'s Mot.”), Docket Entry No. 34; Pl.'s Letter dated Sept. 17, 2021, Docket Entry No. 48), and Defendants oppose the Motion, (Defs.' Resp. dated Sept. 8, 2021 (“Defs.' Resp.”), Docket Entry No. 47). In the SAC, Plaintiff also names John Doe and “Hemberger,” a police officer identified with Badge #6204, as Defendants, in addition to Johnson, Ripp, and Murphy. (SAC ¶ 4.)

For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss and denies Plaintiff's motion to further amend the Amended Complaint as currently filed. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint with allegations supporting his procedural due process claim within thirty days from the filing of this Memorandum and Order.

I. Background

The Court assumes the truth of the factual allegations in the Amended Complaint for the purposes of this Memorandum and Order.

a. Factual background

i. May 19, 2018 arrest

On May 19, 2018, Plaintiff was stopped by Suffolk County Police Department (“SCPD”) Officer Steven Ripp. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) Officer Ripp alleged that he was responding to a “call of trespassing within an abandoned house.” (Id.) He requested identification, and Plaintiff handed the officer his passport. (Id. ¶ 6.) After examining Plaintiff's passport, which Plaintiff identifies as a “Passport to Africa,” Officer Ripp found suboxone between the pages. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 23.) He arrested Plaintiff for “Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance - in the 7th degree,” (the May 19 Arrest”). (Id. ¶ 8.)

During processing at the police station, Officer Ripp “took notice” of Plaintiff's two cell phones, an iPhone and a smartphone with a broken screen. (Id. ¶ 9.) During the processing of Plaintiff's property, the cell phone with the broken screen “allegedly alarmed with two . . . text messages,” reading “how much for a half hour” and “how much for a short stay.” (Id. ¶ 10.) Officer Ripp then contacted Officer Johnson from the SCPD's Human Trafficking Task Force Unit “about those messages.” (Id. ¶ 11.) ii. May 29, 2018 arrest

On May 29, 2018, Plaintiff was again arrested after “allegedly failing to use the proper turn signal,” (the May 29 Arrest”). (Id. ¶ 12.) “Police Officer Hemberger” and reporting Officer John Doe processed Plaintiff and logged Plaintiff's property, finding Plaintiff in possession of four cell phones. (Id. ¶ 13.) Officer Doe then contacted Officer Johnson, who “took possession” of Plaintiff's four cell phones and provided Plaintiff “with a receipt for the property of the cell phones, without returning the four . . . cell phones to [Plaintiff].” (Id. ¶ 14.)

iii. June 11, 2018 search warrant affidavit[3]

On June 11, 2018, Officer Johnson provided a sworn affidavit to Judge Fernando Camacho in First District Court in Central Islip, New York, in support of a search warrant for Plaintiff's four cell phones. (Pl.'s Opp'n ¶ 8.) In the affidavit, Officer Johnson stated that on May 19, 2018, “one of [Plaintiff's] cellular telephones received numerous text messages that were visible on the home screen while the phone was locked. The visible text messages consisted of communications from multiple phone numbers inquiring about sex services.” (Id.) According to the affidavit, at an unspecified period of time, all four of Plaintiff's phones were returned to Plaintiff. (Id.) After this incident, in connection with the May 29 Arrest, Plaintiff's “cellular telephone[s] were taken as evidence and secure[d] with the [SCPD] property [s]ection.” (Id.) Judge Camacho signed the search warrant. (Id.) “Following the signing [D]efendant Johnson and a[n] Officer Popielowski responded to the SCPD computer crimes [unit] and delivered the signed search warrant, as well as [delivered] the phones to Detective Steve D'Agostino for download.” (Id.)

II. Discussion
a. Standard of review

In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must construe the complaint liberally, “accepting all factual allegations therein as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor.” Sacerdote v. N.Y. Univ., 9 F.4th 95, 106-07 (2d Cir. 2021); Vaughn v. Phoenix House N.Y. Inc., 957 F.3d 141, 145 (2d Cir. 2020) (same). A complaint must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Bacon v. Phelps, 961 F.3d 533, 540 (2d Cir. 2020) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Matson v. Bd. of Educ., 631 F.3d 57, 63 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)); Cavello Bay Reinsurance Ltd. v. Shubin Stein, 986 F.3d 161, 165 (2d Cir. 2021) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Although all allegations contained in the Complaint are assumed to be true, this tenet is “inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Vaughn, 957 F.3d at 145 (same).

b. Defendants' motion to dismiss

Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's section 1983 claims because (1) they “cannot be maintained while his conviction remains extant,” and (2) Plaintiff fails to allege any violations under either the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment. (See Defs.' Mem. 414.) i. Applicability of Heck abstention

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims “pursuant to both the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendments must be dismissed because they are barred by the United States Supreme Court's holding in Heck v. Humphrey.” (Defs.' Mem. 13.) In support, Defendants argue that since a verdict in Plaintiff's favor “would undermine the integrity of his criminal conviction,” Plaintiff may not proceed unless he succeeds in setting the conviction aside. (Id. at 13-14.) Defendants note that Plaintiff does not address the fact that he was convicted and sentenced, and that his claim arises “out of conduct related to his arrest on sex trafficking charges.” (Id. at 14.) In addition, Defendants contend that the “evidence acquired from the seizure and search (pursuant to a search warrant which is uncontested) of . . . [Plaintiff's cellular phones] was used against Plaintiff at trial,” where Plaintiff was convicted of several counts of sex trafficking and promoting prostitution in Suffolk County, resulting in a sentence of twenty-five years with postrelease parole supervision of twenty years.[4] (Defs.' Reply in Further Support of Defs.' Mot. (“Defs.' Reply”) 2, Docket Entry No. 38-13.)[5]

Plaintiff contends that the Court should deny Defendants' Heck argument because SCPD used false pretenses to unlawfully arrest him and seize his cell phones, while never indicting or convicting him of any charges based on the May 19 or May 29 Arrests. (Pl.'s Opp'n ¶ 47.)

An individual convicted of a crime may not bring a section 1983 suit that “necessarily impl[ies] the invalidity of his conviction or sentence . . . unless [he] can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 487 (1994); see also Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 17 (1998) (discussing that plaintiffs may seek damages for ‘wrong procedures, [but] not for reaching the wrong result,' [so long as that] procedural defect did not ‘necessarily imply the invalidity of' the revocation” (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 482-83, 487)); Shapardv. Attea, 710 Fed.Appx. 15, 17 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 487); Warren v. Fischl, 674 Fed.Appx. 71, 73 (2d Cir. 2017) (same). “The Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey ‘precludes the use of [section] 1983 suits for damages that necessarily have the effect of challenging existing state or federal criminal convictions.' Stegemann v. Rensselaer Cnty. Sheriff's Office, No. 20-CV-3316, 2021 WL 5492966, at *2 (2d Cir. Nov. 23, 2021) (quoting Poventud v. City of New York, 750 F.3d 121, 124 (2d Cir. 2014)). In Heck, the Supreme Court noted that a section 1983 suit “may lie” even...

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