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Santos-Garcia v. Delsin

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford, Hartford

August 11, 2015

Brandon Santos-Garcia
v.
Roger Delsin et al

Filed Date August 12, 2015

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION TO DISMISS

Sheila A. Huddleston, J.

The plaintiff, Brandon Santos-Garcia, is incarcerated at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, Connecticut. He brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of his civil rights by a state marshal, Roger Delsin, who failed to serve papers on behalf of the plaintiff and returned them to the paper in untimely manner that caused the plaintiff to miss his return date, and against two members of the State Marshal Commission, Vincent Mauro, Jr. and Sarah Holbrook, who served as an oversight committee for the State Marshal Commission and recommended against imposing discipline against Delsin for his failure to serve or timely return the papers to the plaintiff. The defendants Mauro and Holbrook have moved to dismiss the action, arguing that it is brought against them in their official capacities only and that they are immune from suit in such capacity. The court agrees and, accordingly, the claims against Mauro and Holbrook are dismissed.

Relevant Facts

The plaintiff, who is self-represented, alleges the following facts that are relevant to the defendants' motion. On June 8, 2012, he delivered a civil summons and other papers in an unrelated civil matter to Delsin for service of process. Delsin failed to serve the process and returned the papers to the defendant some three weeks later in an unprofessional manner. The plaintiff claims that Delsin's actions caused him to miss his return date. The plaintiff further claims that Delsin purposefully discriminated against the plaintiff because the plaintiff had had a " previous association" with Delsin's son.

The plaintiff filed a complaint against Delsin with the State Marshal Commission, alleging that Delsin had violated various statutes and seeking a disciplinary sanction against him. On November 28, 2012, the State Marshal Commission found probable cause and referred the matter to an oversight committee composed of Mauro and Holbrook. After considering the complaint and Delsin's response, the oversight committee issued a " Proposed Final Decision" in which it recommended against discipline. The committee attributed Delsin's lapse to a " mix-up" in his office and to a number of personal matters that were affecting him at the time. It concluded that the lapse was not typical of his conduct and did not require a disciplinary response. The plaintiff opposed the proposed final decision, but it was adopted by the full State Marshal Commission on April 13, 2013. The plaintiff's untimely motion for reconsideration was denied. The plaintiff claims that while his complaint was pending at the State Marshal Commission, one of the defendants in the suit that Delsin failed to serve died, causing the plaintiff " irreversible" damage. In this action, he seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $36, 000, punitive damages in the amount of $36, 000, and costs and attorneys fees. He also seeks a declaration that the defendant's acts constituted a prohibited practice and violated the plaintiff's rights.

The plaintiff has not sued all the members of the State Marshal Commission, nor has he filed an administrative appeal pursuant to General Statutes § 4-183. He has instead sued Delsin and the two individual members of the State Marshal Commission who constituted the oversight committee. On the summons, the plaintiff identified Mauro's and Holbrook's addresses as " State Marshal Commission, 165 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106." They were not served personally or at their residential abodes. Service was made on the Office of the Attorney General for both defendants pursuant to General Statutes § 52-64, which governs service in actions against the state.[1]

Analysis

" A motion to dismiss . . . properly attacks the jurisdiction of the court, essentially asserting that the plaintiff cannot as a matter of law and fact state a cause of action that should be heard by the court . . . A motion to dismiss tests, inter alia, whether, on the face of the record, the court is without jurisdiction." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Caruso v. Bridgeport, 285 Conn. 618, 627, 941 A.2d 266 (2008).

The plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides in relevant part: " Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof 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, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." In Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989), the Supreme Court held that " neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are 'persons' under § 1983." Therefore, " state officials cannot be sued in their official capacities for retrospective relief under § 1983." Huminski v. Corsones, 386 F.3d 116, 133 (2d Cir. 2004). Because money damages are " retrospective relief, " the defendants cannot be sued for money damages under § 1983 for actions they took in their official capacities as members of the State Marshal Commission's oversight committee.

The plaintiff argues that he intended to sue the defendants in both their official and individual capacities. His complaint, however, does not support his argument. " [T]he fact that the state is not named as a defendant does not conclusively establish that the action is not within the principle which prohibits actions against the sovereign without its consent." Spring v. Constantino, 168 Conn. 563, 568, 362 A.2d 871 (1975). To determine whether a suit against a state officer is, in effect, one against the state that cannot be maintained without its consent, a court must consider whether " (1) a state official has been sued; (2) the suit concerns some matter in which that official represents the state; (3) the state is the real party in interest against whom relief is sought; and (4) the judgment, though nominally against the official, will operate to control the activities of the state or subject it to liability." Id.

All of these factors are present in this case. Members of the State Marshal Commission are state officials. General Statutes § 4-141 defines " state officers and employees" to include " every person elected or appointed to or employed in any office, position or post in the state government, whatever such person's title, classification or function and whether such person serves with or without remuneration or compensation . . ." Members of the State Marshal Commission are appointed to serve as such state officers pursuant to General Statutes § 6-38b. This suit concerns actions in which the defendants Mauro and Holbrook represented the state, that is, their actions as members of the oversight committee for the State Marshal Commission. The state is the real party interest where damages are sought for injuries allegedly caused by state officials in carrying out their specific duties and equitable relief is sought to declare the validity of their actions. See Somers v. Hill, 143 Conn. 476, 480, 123 A.2d 468 (1956). Finally, the judgment, though nominally against the officials, will operate to control the activities of the State Marshal Commission or subject the state to liability. Consequently, the court concludes that the suit is brought against the defendants Mauro and Holbrook in their official capacities only.

The plaintiff further contends that he can seek declaratory relief against these defendants under the exception to sovereign immunity that allows actions for declaratory and injunctive relief where a state official has exceeded his statutory authority. The defendants, citing federal law applying the Eleventh Amendment and the federal Declaratory Judgment Act, argue that the declaratory relief sought by the plaintiff is retrospective in nature and therefore barred. As the defendants argue, the Supreme Court and the Second Circuit have rejected § 1983 claims seeking a declaration that a state official violated a plaintiff's rights in the past without alleging an ongoing violation of those rights. See Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 73, 106 S.Ct. 423, 88 L.Ed.2d 371 (1985) (affirming denial of retrospective declaratory relief where effect of such relief would have " much the same effect as a full-fledged award of damages or restitution by the federal court" because principles of res judicata would compel a state court to find liability); Ward v. Thomas, 207 F.3d 114, 119-20 (2d. Cir. 2000) (declaratory relief not available where it would constitute a " partial 'end run' around the Eleventh Amendment's bar on retrospective awards of monetary relief"). The defendants' brief does not adequately address whether the reasoning of the federal decisions apply with equal force to § 1983 actions brought in state court, although it is certainly consistent with the underlying principles relating to the exceptions to the doctrine of sovereign immunity for declaratory and injunctive relief. See Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 317, 828 A.2d 549 (2003) (" We have excepted declaratory and injunctive relief from the sovereign immunity doctrine on the ground that a court may fashion these remedies in such a manner as to minimize disruption of government and to afford an opportunity for voluntary compliance with the judgment . . . A money judgment, however, is directly enforceable . . ."). Nevertheless, the court agrees with the defendants that the complaint does not avoid the bar of sovereign immunity by its claim for declaratory relief in this case.

In the first place, the plaintiff's complaint does not seek declaratory relief that can reasonably be construed to relate to defendants Mauro and Holbrook. His request for declaratory relief seeks a " declaratory judgment declaring that the defendant's acts described herein constitutes prohibited practices in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. Vol. Sec. 6-32 and the State Marshals Commissions regulations sec. 6-38-6, (1), (4), (20)." General Statutes § 6-32 sets forth the duties of a state marshal in serving process.[2] There is no claim that Mauro or Holbrook are state marshals who had any obligation to serve process; indeed, by law, state marshals are not permitted to serve as voting members on the State Marshal Commission. See General Statutes § 6-38b(a). The regulations of the State Marshal Commission to which the plaintiff refers similarly govern the conduct of a state marshal, not the State Marshal Commission.[3] The request for declaratory relief is, in effect, a request that the court overrule the finding of the State Marshal ...


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