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Lewis v. City of New Haven

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2017

SCOTT T. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW HAVEN, et al, Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge

         On August 15, 2016, the plaintiff, Scott Lewis, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging, inter alia, that unconstitutional policies implemented by the defendants, the City of New Haven and Nicholas Pastore acting in his official capacity as the Chief of New Haven's Police Department during the relevant period (collectively, "the City"), [1] permitted Lewis to be wrongfully prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated in violation of his constitutional rights, (doc. 1) The complaint also seeks indemnification and direct-action claims against the City for the related alleged misconduct of its employees, see Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 7-465 and 52-571. On November 15, 2016, the City filed a motion to dismiss, in whole or in part, all of the claims against it. (doc. 39)

         For the following reasons, the City's motion is denied in substantial part.

         I. Standard of Review

         A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May Be Granted

         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 Distribution 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 plaintiffs, and decide whether it is plausible that plaintiffs have a valid claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (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; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 ("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 (quotation marks omitted). Plausibility at the pleading stage is nonetheless 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 (quotation marks omitted).

         II. Background

         The following allegations asserted in the complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion to dismiss, (doc. 1) Lewis primarily alleges that he was framed for two murders by Vincent Raucci, a Detective for the New Haven Police Department ("NHPD"), acting at the behest of Frank Parise, an organized-crime figure and drug dealer. See Id. at ¶¶ 39-43. Lewis was initially arrested on April 15, 1991, id. at¶ 102; re-arrested on September 12, 1994, id. at¶ 106; and found guilty of the murders on May 10, 1995, id. at ¶ 115. After a key witness recanted his statements and another NHPD officer testified about misconduct during the investigation, however, Lewis's habeas petition for release was granted on December 16, 2013, and he was released from custody on February 26, 2014. See Id. at ¶¶ 169-75; see also Lewis v. Comm 'r of Corr., 975 F.Supp.2d 169 (D. Conn. 2013), aff'd by Lewis v. Comm 'r of Corr., 790 F.3d 109 (2d Cir. 2015). On August 5, 2015, all charges against Lewis were formally dismissed. Compl. at ¶177.

         Lewis alleges that his arrest, conviction, and incarceration were obtained by Raucci through a concerted campaign to fabricate or coerce witness statements, see Id. at ¶¶ 45-58, 71-80, 81-88, and to suppress an alternative credible lead, see Id. at ¶¶ 89-98. He alleges that several other NHPD officers were either actively involved in or witnessed Raucci's misconduct. See Id. at ¶¶ 48, 59-70, 76-78, 84. One of those officers informed his supervisor about the misconduct in 1991, before Lewis was convicted, but the supervisor did not intervene. See Id. at ¶¶ 67-70.

         Pastore and other supervising officers were aware of Raucci's misconduct in the investigation before Lewis was convicted, but failed to intervene. See Id. at ¶ 163 (alleging that Pastore admitted to Lewis that he knew Lewis was innocent and that Raucci was corrupt); see also Id. at ¶ 69 (alleging that another supervisory officer knew at the time of the investigation that Raucci was "troublesome"). Pastore and other supervising officers were also aware that Raucci had engaged in other misconduct before, during, and after Lewis's conviction. See Id. at ¶¶ 136-49. Other officers had witnessed Raucci attempt to plant drugs on a suspect in the late 1980s, id. at ¶ 136, and interact with Parise without any legitimate police purpose, id. at ¶ 138. One officer informed Pastore on multiple occasions that Raucci was corrupt. Id. at ¶ 139. In 1995, prior to Lewis's conviction, an internal investigation determined that Raucci had hit a suspect in the face with a gun and lied about the incident. Id. at ¶ 144. Pastore was also aware that Raucci had engaged in a similar pattern of coercing witness statements in murder investigations before and shortly after Lewis was convicted. Id. at ¶¶ 139-142. And prior to Lewis's conviction, Pastore was aware that Raucci was using illegal drugs. Id. at ¶¶ 145-47. Pastore took no steps to discipline Raucci for any of that conduct, nor did he intervene in the investigation.

         In 1996, Raucci was suspended and eventually resigned after an NHPD internal investigation determined that he had accepted overtime pay for work he did not perform. Id. at ¶ 148. The City failed to investigate Raucci's prior work for years after he was disciplined and resigned from the Department. An independent FBI investigation into Raucci indicated that Raucci had ties to Parise, an ongoing drug problem, and that other officers had repeatedly witnessed him engaging in misconduct. Id. at ¶ 159. In addition, the FBI obtained statements from key witnesses in Lewis's case indicating that Raucci had coerced their incriminating testimony. Id. at ¶ 160-61. On the basis of the FBI report, on May 12, 1999-four years after Lewis was convicted-John DeStefano, Jr., then-Mayor of New Haven, formally requested that the investigation into the murders for which Lewis was convicted be reopened. Id. at ¶ 167. The NHPD declined to do so. Id. at ¶ 168.

         In addition to alleging knowledge of Raucci's ongoing misconduct, including with respect to Lewis, the complaint alleges that the City failed to adequately supervise or discipline numerous other officers engaged in misconduct throughout the 1980s and 90s. See Id. at ¶¶ 120- 30. It identifies two instances when a jury found that an NHPD officer knowingly filed a false report, id. at ¶¶ 120, 122; one instance of an NHPD officer admitting that he omitted and misquoted witness statements, id. at ¶ 121; two instances of witnesses testifying that other NHPD officers had subjected them to the same coercive interrogation techniques used by Raucci to frame Lewis, id. at ¶¶ 123, 124; an officer subject to fourteen complaints between 1986 and 1993 without discipline, id. at ¶ 129; an officer arrested for charges related to the suppression of evidence and hindering an investigation, id. at ¶ 130, and one instance when an officer found by internal investigations to have fabricated evidence and made racially-charged threats of violence in the 1980s was not seriously disciplined, and was in fact promoted by Pastore in the 1990s, id. at ¶ 126. In the latter case, the officer was eventually arrested for and convicted of corruption-related charges in the mid-2000s. Id.

         The complaint also alleges that NHPD had a "long-standing pattern of concealing exculpatory information." Id. at ΒΆ 131. It identifies at least eight cases between 1984 and 1992 in which a state court found that the NHPD ...


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