SDNY Reiterates Section 1983 / Monell Pleading Requirements

In Carpinone v. City of New York, No. 11 Civ. 2074 (PAE), the SDNY recently clarified the pleading requirements for a claim under Monell v. Dep’t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).  SDNY Judge Engelmayer dismissed plaintiff’s complaint on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

Plaintiff alleged that he was “wrongfully assaulted” by members of the NYPD while they were effectuating his arrest and that the NYPD “failed to prevent” this wrongful assault “although it could have done so in the exercise of reasonable care.”  Plaintiff initially sued the City of New York, as well as six “John Doe” NYPD officers.  The court dismissed all claims against the individual officers after plaintiff failed to comply with an order to amend his complaint to include their names.

The only claim remaining was plaintiff’s claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City.  The court summarized the legal requirements for such a claim:

Local governing bodies, such as [New York] City, may be sued directly under § 1983 only where a violation of rights resulted from the government’s policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy. … In order to demonstrate Monell liability in this Circuit, plaintiff must show, in addition to a violation of his constitutional rights: (1) the existence of a municipal policy or custom . . . that caused his injuries beyond merely employing the misbehaving officer[s]; and (2) a causal connection—an affirmative link—between the policy and the deprivation of his constitutional rights.

Plaintiff failed to allege anything that could “be construed as a municipal policy or custom that led to the violation of his constitutional rights.”  His “bare bones” allegations that the individual officers “wrongfully assaulted him” and that this assault resulted in “physical injury” were likely insufficient to satisfy the “plausibility” requirement for pleadings in federal court.   In any event, municipalities are not responsible for the torts of their employees under § 1983 through the theory of respondeat superior.

Plaintiff’s only remedy, therefore, was under Monell.  He failed here, as well:

[T]he Complaint falls far short of pleading a plausible theory of municipal liability. Plaintiff’s allegations as to the existence of a municipal policy or custom consist solely of the conclusory statement that the New York City Police Department “could have [prevented the wrongful assault] in the exercise of reasonable care” and a run-down of the legal elements of a Monell claim. Plaintiff’s Complaint is a paradigmatic pleading that contains no more than “labels and conclusions” and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action,” neither of which move the allegations in the Complaint across the line from possible to plausible. … Plaintiff offers no facts which would render plausible his allegations of a policy or custom within the New York City Police Department that was affirmatively linked to the purported constitutional violations he suffered.

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