Turner v. Boyle, 3:13–cv–616 (SRU).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
Writing for the CourtSTEFAN R. UNDERHILL, District Judge.
Citation116 F.Supp.3d 58
Parties Harold TURNER, Plaintiff, v. Timothy BOYLE, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 3:13–cv–616 (SRU).,3:13–cv–616 (SRU).
Decision Date15 July 2015

116 F.Supp.3d 58

Harold TURNER, Plaintiff,
Timothy BOYLE, et al., Defendants.

No. 3:13–cv–616 (SRU).

United States District Court, D. Connecticut.

Signed July 15, 2015.

116 F.Supp.3d 67

Harold C. Turner, North Bergen, NJ, pro se.

Matthew G. Wapner, McCarter & English, Newark, NJ, Philip Miller, Attorney General's Office, Hartford, CT, for Defendant.


STEFAN R. UNDERHILL, District Judge.

This case arises from the State of Connecticut's arrest and prosecution of the pro

116 F.Supp.3d 68

se plaintiff, Harold Turner, after he published to his website commentary denouncing two Connecticut legislators for their purported role in "infringing on the constitutional rights" of the Catholic Church and encouraging his readership to "take up arms" and "put down by force" those legislators. Turner was prosecuted for several crimes under Connecticut law and ultimately acquitted.

After his acquittal, Turner filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey a complaint against eight Connecticut state employees asserting six types of claims: (1) conspiracy to deprive Turner of his constitutional rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 ; (2) criminal conspiracy to deprive Turner of his constitutional rights, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 ; (3) malicious prosecution; (4) common law malicious prosecution; and (5) tortious1 interference with business relations. Turner v. Boyle, No. 2:12–cv–7224 (D.N.J. Nov. 21, 2012) (doc. 1). U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler then transferred Turner's case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), for lack of personal jurisdiction (doc. 30), and the case was assigned to me (doc. 31).

The defendants move to dismiss Turner's amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, I grant the defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety and with prejudice.

I. Standard of Review

The court must liberally construe the pleadings of pro se plaintiffs. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) ("[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers."); Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir.2011) (internal citations omitted). Materials submitted by a non-moving pro se plaintiff are interpreted to "raise the strongest arguments [those materials] suggest." Bertin v. United States, 478 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir.2007) (internal citations omitted).

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court may consider "only the facts alleged in the pleadings, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the pleadings and matters of which judicial notice may be taken." Samuels v. Air Transp. Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir.1993). Nevertheless, a pro se party's status does not relieve him of the burden of alleging sufficient facts upon which a recognized legal claim can be based, Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 781 F.2d 24, 29 (2d Cir.1986), nor does it exempt a party from "compliance with relevant rules of ... substantive law." Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir.1983). The "duty to liberally construe a plaintiff's complaint" is not "the equivalent of a duty to re-write it." 2 Moore's Federal Practice § 12.34(4)(a), at 12–72.7 (2005) (internal citations omitted). When possible, the court should not dismiss an action "without leave to amend once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Branum v. Clark, 927 F.2d 698, 705 (2d Cir.1991) ; see also Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 10, 101 S.Ct. 173, 66 L.Ed.2d 163 (1980) (a pro se

116 F.Supp.3d 69

complaint "should not be dismissed [with prejudice] for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.").

A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under Rule 12(b)(1)

The party who seeks to exercise the jurisdiction of the court bears the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction. Thompson v. Cnty. of Franklin, 15 F.3d 245, 249 (2d Cir.1994). To survive a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a plaintiff must clearly allege facts demonstrating that the plaintiff is a proper party to invoke judicial resolution of the dispute. Id. Although the plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence, "until discovery takes place, a plaintiff is required only to make a prima facie showing by pleadings and affidavits that jurisdiction exists." Koehler v. Bank of Bermuda, 101 F.3d 863, 865 (2d Cir.1996).

"When considering a party's standing, [the court] ‘accept[s] as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party.’ " Thompson, 15 F.3d at 249 (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975) ). A court may refer to evidence outside the pleadings in resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir.2000). If a plaintiff has failed to allege facts supportive of standing, it is within the court's discretion to allow or to require the plaintiff to supply, by amendment to the complaint or by affidavits, further particularized allegations of fact deemed supportive of standing. Thompson, 15 F.3d at 249.

B. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is designed "merely to assess the legal feasibility of a complaint, not to assay the weight of evidence which might be offered in support thereof." Ryder Energy Distrib. Corp. v. Merrill Lynch Commodities, Inc., 748 F.2d 774, 779 (2d Cir.1984) (quoting Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636, 639 (2d Cir.1980) ).

When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, and decide whether it is plausible that the plaintiff has a valid claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678–79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ; Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555–56, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ; Leeds v. Meltz, 85 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir.1996).

Under Twombly, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and assert a cause of action with enough heft to show entitlement to relief and "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937 ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations."). The plausibility standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal obligates the plaintiff to "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief" through more than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (quotation marks omitted). Plausibility at the pleading stage is nonetheless

116 F.Supp.3d 70

distinct from probability, and "a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the claims] is improbable, and ... recovery is very remote and unlikely." Id. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (quotation marks omitted).

II. Background

The following factual allegations are set forth in Turner's Amended Complaint and its accompanying exhibits (doc. 47). Turner is a self-described "talk-radio host, media personality, and member of the press" who ran an internet radio show and website from his home in North Bergen, New Jersey. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3–4. On June 2, 2009, Turner published to his website a story about a legislative proposal in Connecticut which he stated would have barred Catholic clergy from control of church finances. Id. ¶ 4. Turner described the proposed legislation as "a direct government assault upon the Catholic Church, in absolute violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution for the United States." Id., Ex. 1 at 4 (doc. # 47–2). He continued:

It is very clear to us at the Turner Radio Network that the state of Connecticut has become tyrannical and abusive. It is actively and aggressively attempting to directly interfere with the internal governance of a church and the free exercise of religion. It is retaliating against citizens for exercising their right to petition for redress of grievances. This is tyranny and it must be put down.

While filing a lawsuit is quaint and the "decent" way to handle things, we at TRN believe that being decent to a group of tyrannical scumbags is the wrong approach. It's too soft.


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