Wrobleski v. Miller, 3:19-CV-0876 (GLS/ML)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
Writing for the CourtMIROSLAV LOVRIC, United States Magistrate Judge
PartiesJESSICA WROBLESKI, Plaintiff, v. INVESTIGATOR AMANDA MILLER, Binghamton Police Precinct, Individual and Official Capacities; INVESTIGATOR CARL PETERS, Binghamton Police Precinct, Individual and Official Capacities; BINGHAMTON POLICE PRECINCT; and CITY OF BINGHAMTON, Defendants.
Docket Number3:19-CV-0876 (GLS/ML)
Decision Date02 December 2019

JESSICA WROBLESKI, Plaintiff,
v.
INVESTIGATOR AMANDA MILLER, Binghamton Police Precinct, Individual and
Official Capacities; INVESTIGATOR CARL PETERS, Binghamton Police Precinct,
Individual and Official Capacities; BINGHAMTON POLICE PRECINCT;
and CITY OF BINGHAMTON, Defendants.

3:19-CV-0876 (GLS/ML)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

December 2, 2019


APPEARANCES:

JESSICA WROBLESKI
Plaintiff, Pro Se
190 Henry Street, 1st Floor
Binghamton, New York 13901

OF COUNSEL:

MIROSLAV LOVRIC, United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER and REPORT-RECOMMENDATION

The Clerk has sent this pro se complaint together with an application to proceed in forma pauperis filed by Jessica Wrobleski ("Plaintiff") to the Court for review. (Dkt. Nos. 1 and 8.) For the reasons discussed below, I grant Plaintiff's in forma pauperis application (Dkt. No. 8), recommend that Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) be dismissed in its entirety and with leave to amend her equal protection and due process claims against (1) Defendants Miller and Peters in their individual capacities, and (2) Defendants Miller and Peters in their official capacities to the extent that Plaintiff seeks prospective, non-monetary relief, but without leave to amend (1)

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Plaintiff's claim pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA"), and (2) Plaintiff's equal protection and due process claims against (a) Defendants Miller and Peters in their official capacities to the extent that Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, and (b) the Binghamton Police Precinct.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff commenced this action by the filing of a Complaint, which was delivered to prison authorities for mailing on July 15, 2019. (Dkt. No. 1 at 13.)

Construed as liberally1 as possible, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that her civil rights were violated by Defendants Amanda Miller, Carl Peters, the Binghamton Police Department Precinct, and the City of Binghamton (collectively "Defendants"). (See generally Dkt. No. 1.). More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on November 7, 2015, she was at the Binghamton Police Department as part of an investigation for an alleged felony assault, when she was interviewed by Defendant Miller and Defendant Peters in a room that had an "older styled camera in the corner ceiling area." (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that she was not informed and did not know if the camera in the room worked or was recording her. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she was "charged and stripped nude to the panty and bra in the interrogation room by [Defendant] Miller . . . [w]hile the interrogation room camera recorded." (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that in May 2016, her attorney, Michelle Coleman, "revealed to [her] that the strip search was recorded" and that copies of the search were "passed around to case staff." (Id.) In response, Plaintiff alleges that she contacted the Internal Affairs division of the Binghamton Police Department but that to date, she has not received any response. (Id.)

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Plaintiff alleges that she "filed a full civil rights complaint to the DOJ who processed and escalated [her] civil rights complaint . . . [and] assigned [the complaint] to Debra Murphy[,] . . . [who] called [her] in 12-2016 [to inform her] that the investigation wasn't complete [but] that a finding was made of discriminatory practices against [her] race, gender, religion, [and] protected classes by [the] Binghamton Police Dept[artment]." (Id.)

Plaintiff asserts the following three causes of action: (1) violation of the equal protection clause pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C § 1983, (2) discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and (3) violation of PREA. (Id. at 3.) For relief, Plaintiff seeks "injunctive [relief] to redact that part of the CD from all copies passed around; in evidence" and monetary and punitive damages in the amount of $550,000.00. (Id. at 5.)

For a more complete statement of Plaintiff's claims, refer to the Complaint. (Dkt. No. 1.)

Plaintiff also filed an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Dkt. No. 8.)

II. PLAINTIFF'S APPLICATION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS

When a civil action is commenced in a federal district court, the statutory filing fee, currently set at $400, must ordinarily be paid. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). A court is authorized, however, to permit a litigant to proceed in forma pauperis status if a party "is unable to pay" the standard fee for commencing an action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1).2 After reviewing Plaintiff's in

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forma pauperis application (Dkt. No. 8), the Court finds that Plaintiff meets this standard. Therefore, Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis is granted.3

III. LEGAL STANDARD FOR INITIAL REVIEW OF COMPLAINT

"Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

In order to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must contain, inter alia, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The requirement that a plaintiff "show" that he or she is entitled to relief means that a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (emphasis added) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 [2007]). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . requires the . . . court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. . . . [W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (internal citation and punctuation omitted).

"In reviewing a complaint . . . the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). However, "the tenet that a court

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must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

Courts are "obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009); see also Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam) (reading the plaintiff's pro se complaint "broadly, as we must" and holding that the complaint sufficiently raised a cognizable claim). "[E]xtreme caution should be exercised in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and [the] parties . . . have had an opportunity to respond." Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983).

The Court, however, also has an overarching obligation to determine that a claim is not legally frivolous before permitting a pro se plaintiff's complaint to proceed. See, e.g., Fitzgerald v. First East Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363 (2d Cir. 2000) (holding that a district court may sua sponte dismiss a frivolous complaint, notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff paid the statutory filing fee). "Legal frivolity . . . occurs where 'the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory [such as] when either the claim lacks an arguable basis in law, or a dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the complaint." Aguilar v. United States, 99-MC-0304, 99-MC-0408, 1999 WL 1067841, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 1999) (quoting Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 [2d Cir. 1998]); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) ("[D]ismissal is proper only if the legal theory . . . or factual contentions lack an arguable basis."); Pino v. Ryan, 49 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1995) ("[T]he decision that a complaint is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory for purposes of dismissal under section 1915(d), may be based upon a defense that appears on the face of the complaint.").

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IV. ANALYSIS

In addressing the sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint, the court must construe her pleadings liberally. Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008). Having reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint with this principle in mind, I recommend that all causes of action be dismissed.

Plaintiff brings this action against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To state a valid claim under § 1983, the plaintiff must allege that the challenged conduct (1) was attributable to a person acting under color of state law, and (2) deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Whalen v. Cnty. of Fulton, 126 F.3d 400, 405 (2d Cir. 1997) (citing Eagleston v. Guido, 41 F.3d 865, 875-76 (2d Cir. 1994)). Thus, § 1983 does not create any independent substantive right, but rather "provides a civil claim for damages" to "redress . . . the deprivation of [federal] rights established elsewhere." Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir. 1999).

In addition, Plaintiff brings one claim pursuant to PREA, which was enacted in 2003 "to address the problem of rape in prison by creating a commission to study the issue and develop national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction and punishment of prison rape." Amaker v. Fischer, 10-CV-0977A, 2014 WL 4772202, at *14 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2014).

A. Claims Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

1. Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for a § 1983 action accruing in New York is three years. See Shomo v. City of...

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