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Doe v. Smereczynsky

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 23, 2017

JANE DOE, a minor by and through her Guardian VALERIE BOYD Plaintiff,


          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         This action arises from an arrest of Plaintiff Jane Doe by Defendant Joshua Smereczynsky, a New Haven Police officer. Smereczynsky allegedly used excessive force during Jane Doe's arrest. By and through her guardian, Valerie Boyd, Jane Doe sues Smereczynsky, the City of New Haven, and Dean Esserman (the New Haven Police Chief). Smereczynsky and Esserman are sued in both their individual and official capacities. Jane Doe asserts violations of the federal constitution and state law.

         Defendants City of New Haven and Smereczynsky have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). As more fully explained below, I grant the motion to dismiss because (i) Plaintiff fails to allege a plausible Monell claim and thus her claims against New Haven and Esserman in his official capacity fail, (ii) Plaintiff fails to allege a plausible claim that Esserman was personally involved in the alleged constitutional violation and thus her claim against him in his individual capacity fails, (iii) governmental immunity bars Plaintiff's state law claim against New Haven and Esserman in his official capacity, and (iv) Plaintiff has failed to allege a plausible state law claim against Esserman in his individual capacity.

         II. The Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff makes the following factual allegations, which the Court assumes to be true.

         A. Smereczynsky Allegations

         On March 15, 2015, at approximately 2:42 pm, Officer Smereczynsky responded to a call for service at Buffalo Wild Wings on Church Street in New Haven. (ECF No. 22 at ¶ 8.) Mr. Denardis, the Buffalo Wild Wings Manager, met Smereczynsky when he arrived. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Mr. Denardis informed Smereczynsky that three young girls (one of whom was the plaintiff), who were seated in the waiting area, “had been involved in a minor skirmish inside the restaurant.” (Id. at ¶ 9.) Smereczynsky began questioning one of the girls (not the plaintiff) about the incident. (Id. at ¶ 11.) As Smereczynsky was “interrogat[ing] one of the other girls about the incident”, Mr. Denardis interrupted Smereczynsky's questioning and “pointed at Jane Doe, saying she had maced us.” (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.) Smereczynsky “immediately ordered Jane Doe to stand and remove her hand from her jacket pocket.” (Id. at ¶ 13.) “Before Jane Doe could comply, Defendant Smerecyznsky lunged at her pocketed hand.” (Id. at ¶ 14.) “Jane Doe asked Defendant Smerecyznsky not to touch her.” (Id. at ¶ 15.) But Smereczynsky grabbed Jane Doe's left wrist and handcuffed her with the assistance of a restaurant security guard. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.)

         After handcuffing Jane Doe, Smereczynsky escorted her out of the restaurant onto the street, claiming that she had been attempting to escape. (Id. at ¶ 18.) He dragged her onto the street and pinned her against a parked sport utility vehicle while her hands remained behind her back. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Once he had her pinned, Smerecyznsky allegedly saw the handle of a knife protruding from her purse. (Id. at ¶ 22.) He then threw plaintiff onto the sidewalk, “slamming her face onto the sidewalk curb.” (Id. at ¶ 23.) Smereczynsky then recovered a “small kitchen knife from Jane Doe's purse.” (Id. at ¶ 24.) Plaintiff also alleges “[u]pon information and belief, ” that Smereczynsky did not actually see the knife before he forced her to the ground, and that the knife was inside a zipped inner pocket in her pursue. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.) “Upon retrieving the small knife from inside Jane Doe's purse, Defendant Smereczynsky and two other officers yanked her up off of the ground and escorted her to a parked patrol vehicle. She was taken to Police headquarters at Union Avenue, ” where Smereczynsky failed to offer her medical attention even after she complained to him that her face hurt. (Id. at ¶¶ 27, 29, 31.)

         B. New Haven and Chief Esserman Allegations

         Jane Doe claims that “Defendants New Haven and Esserman, failed to adequately investigate the incident and failed to amend the unwritten policies of excessive force practiced by the police department and its officers.” (Id. at ¶ 36.) Furthermore, “Defendants New Haven and Essermen were on notice that officer training, specifically in the proper uses of force to be used while executing arrests, was deficient due to a pattern of similar constitutional violations being established in prior lawsuits and excessive force complaints.” (Id. at ¶ 38.) In particular, Jane Doe asserts that “more than 34 civil lawsuits, notices of intent to sue, and or human rights violations complaints against officers for using excessive force were filed from 2008 to the date of the incident” and “more than 218 department excessive force complaints were received by the Internal Affairs Division” during the same period. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40.) Jane Doe asserts that “Defendants New Haven and Esserman failed to take any meaningful corrective action, against the unwritten policy and culture of excessive force, and thereby demonstrated a continued adherence to an approach, to wit: training, known to fail to curb the tortious and unconstitutional conduct practiced by officers. Such failure of Defendants New Haven and Esserman demonstrated a deliberate indifference to the rights of others.” (Id. at ¶ 42.) Furthermore, “Defendants New Haven and Esserman's failure to implement adequate training policies and to quash the unwritten policy of pervasive excessive force was a cause of the plaintiff's rights being violated; such failure being tantamount to a constitutional violation itself.” (Id. at ¶ 43.)

         C. Legal Claims

         Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, Plaintiff claims “[a]s a result of individual malicious acts; a failure to properly train; an adherence to unwritten policies of excessive force and inaction, and deliberate indifference the Defendants subjected the Plaintiff to:

[a]n unreasonable [s]earch and [s]eizure and false arrest, and used [u]nreasonable [f]orce in the context thereof, violating the [P]laintiff's civil rights as guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution;
[c]onduct that deprived the Plaintiff of her liberty to pursue her occupation as guaranteed under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution;
[c]onduct that violated the Plaintiff's right to equal protection of the laws as guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; and
[i]ntentional humiliation and infliction of emotional distress, in violation of the laws of the State of ...

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