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Bonilla v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 1, 2016

THOMAS SANTIAGO BONILLA, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT SEMPLE and MELODY A. CURREY, Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this case, Plaintiff, Thomas Santiago Bonilla, challenges the applicability of a “cost of incarceration” lien to the proceeds he received from the settlement of a civil lawsuit brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He argues that the Connecticut statute creating this lien is preempted by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. ¶ 24, ECF No. 3. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief from this Court to prevent Connecticut from enforcing the lien. Id. He has named as Defendants the Commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Correction (“DOC”), Scott Semple, and the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services, Melody Currey.

         Defendants now move to dismiss Mr. Bonilla's Complaint in its entirety, arguing that the Eleventh Amendment bars his claim and that his Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 18, is GRANTED.

         I. Factual Background

         Currently in DOC custody, Mr. Bonilla is serving a sixty-year sentence of imprisonment imposed in state court for murder as an accessory and felony murder. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 14, ECF No. 3.

         In October 2012, after his conviction, Mr. Bonilla initiated a lawsuit pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the three police officers who investigated and arrested him for these crimes and who worked for the City of Waterbury, Connecticut. Id. ¶¶ 9, 14-15; see also Bonilla v. Tirado, Case No. 3:12-cv-01514-RNC (D. Conn.). In this section 1983 case, he alleged claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, use of excessive force, unconstitutional search of his home, and unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Waterbury police station. Compl. ¶¶10-16, ECF No. 3; Initial Review Order 4-5, ECF No. 6 from Bonilla v. Tirado, Case No. 3:12-cv-01514-RNC (D. Conn.).[1] The Court dismissed his claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution but allowed the others to proceed to discovery against the Defendants in their individual capacities. Initial Review Order 4-5, ECF No. 6 from Bonilla v. Tirado, Case No. 3:12-cv-01514-RNC (D. Conn.).

         After discovery was completed and the Court denied two summary judgment motions brought by Mr. Bonilla and the Defendants, Mr. Bonilla agreed to settle his claims against the three officers for a payment of money. Docket Sheet from Bonilla v. Tirado, Case No. 3:12-cv-01514-RNC (D. Conn.); Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, ECF No. 3.

         Upon receiving notice of this settlement, officials from the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services demanded that Mr. Bonilla give them roughly half of the settlement proceeds under a “cost of incarceration” lien purportedly created by Connecticut General Statutes section 18-85b. Id. ¶¶ 20-22. They allegedly sent Mr. Bonilla a draft complaint and indicated that they planned to bring an action in state court to collect on the state's lien. Id. ¶ 23. As discussed in further detail below, section 18-85b(a) requires an inmate to pay a portion of the costs of his incarceration from proceeds he obtains from recoveries in civil lawsuits. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 18-85b(a).

         II. Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), 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) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. In determining whether a complaint states a plausible entitlement to legal relief, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Nechis v. Oxford Health Plans, Inc., 421 F.3d 96, 100 (2d Cir. 2005).

         Defendants' arguments regarding immunity may also implicate Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See e.g., Doe v. Connecticut, Civil Action No. 3:10cv1981 (VLB), 2011 WL 5170292, at *2 (D. Conn. Oct. 31, 2011) (finding that Eleventh Amendment immunity arguments implicate subject matter jurisdiction); see also Tiraco v. New York State Bd. of Elections, 963 F.Supp.2d 184, 191 n.6 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (observing that whether motions to dismiss raising Eleventh Amendment immunity arguments should be resolved under Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(b)(1) is unsettled in the Second Circuit). The standards of review for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and failure to state a plausible legal claim under Rule 12(b)(1) are “substantively identical.” Lerner v. Fleet Bank, N.A., 318 F.3d 113, 128 (2d Cir. 2003) abrogated on other grounds by Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1377, 1387 (2014) as recognized by Am. Psychiatric Ass'n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 821 F.3d 352, 359 (2d Cir. 2016). However, under Rule 12(b)(1), the party invoking the Court's jurisdiction has the burden to demonstrate subject matter jurisdiction exists. Id. Conversely, the movant bears the burden on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Id. This distinction does not affect the outcome in this case.

         III. Discussion

         Connecticut's “cost of incarceration” lien statute provides, in relevant portion, as follows

[i]n the case of causes of action of any person obligated to pay the costs of such person's incarceration under section 18-85a and regulations adopted in accordance with said section. . . the claim of the state shall be a lien against the proceeds therefrom in the amount of the costs of incarceration or fifty per cent of the proceeds received by such ...

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