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Cornelio v. State

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 24, 2017

THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT, ALARIC FOX, in his official capacity as Commander of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, MATTHEW GARCIA, JOHN DOE, and JANE DOE, Defendants.



         Plaintiff James P. Cornelio brings this litigation pro se alleging three 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims that: (1) the enforcement of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-257(c) against Plaintiff was unconstitutional because the statute is impermissibly vague, violating Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, (2) an injunction is necessary to enjoin the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry Unit ("SORU") from further violations of the provisions of the statute or to require SORU to modify its enforcement of the statute, and (3) he was maliciously prosecuted in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Doc. 1. Plaintiff invokes this Court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief. Id.

         Defendants appearing in this action, the State of Connecticut, Alaric Fox, a commander of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which maintains SORU, and Matthew Garcia, a SORU officer, have moved to dismiss each of Plaintiff's claims. Doc. 13.

         This Ruling resolves that motion, and also addresses two pending subsequent motions filed by Plaintiff.

         I. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Plaintiff must set forth claims with sufficient factual allegations, accepted as true, that "state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, (2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court is guided by "'[t]wo working principles'" in applying this standard. Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). First, all factual allegations in the Complaint must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in Plaintiff's favor. See Id. The Court need not credit "legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (internal quotation marks omitted). Second, "a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief" will survive a motion to dismiss and "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         "Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is appropriate when 'it is clear from the face of the complaint, and matters of which the court may take judicial notice, that the plaintiff's claims are barred as a matter of law.'" Associated Fin. Corp. v. Kleckner, 480 F.App'x 89, 90 (2d Cir. 2012) (summary order) (quoting Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d 82, 86 (2d Cir. 2000)). To reiterate, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, claims must be supported by factual allegations that are 'enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level' and with 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" In re Aggrenox Antitrust Litig., No. 3:14-md-2516, 2016 WL 4204478, at *2 (D. Conn. Aug. 9, 2016) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570). Even under this standard, however, the Court must liberally construe pro se pleadings and hold them to a less rigorous standard of review than pleadings drafted by an attorney. See Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 213-14, 216 (2d Cir. 2008). Moreover, pro se pleadings and briefs must be read "to raise the strongest arguments they suggest." Bertin v. United States, 478 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Generally, a Court may not consider any "matters outside the pleadings" when resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) ("If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56."). The Second Circuit has detailed what a district court may consider at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage:

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint. Where a document is not incorporated by reference, the court may nevertheless consider it where the complaint relies heavily upon its terms and effect, thereby rendering the document integral to the complaint. However, even if a document is integral to the complaint, it must be clear on the record that no dispute exists regarding the authenticity or accuracy of the document. It must also be clear that there exist no material disputed issues of fact regarding the relevance of the document.

DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable LLC, 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the Court may properly consider the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's Complaint, Exhibits A-L ("Ex."), and Defendants do not challenge the Court's consideration of these documents.

         II. Background[1]

         Plaintiff is a sex offender required to register pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-253 (Doc. 1, at 1), a statute whose provisions are included in an act of the Legislature "commonly referred to as Megan's Law, " State v. T.R.D., 286 Conn. 191, 196 (2008). As a registered sex offender, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-257(c), Plaintiff is required to sign and return a statement mailed by SORU to his known home address every ninety days. Id. at 1-2. The statute provides that:

the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection shall verify the address of each registrant by mailing a nonforwardable verification form to the registrant at the registrant's last reported address. Such form shall require the registrant to sign a statement that the registrant continues to reside at the registrant's last reported address and return the form by mail by a date which is ten days after the date such form was mailed to the registrant. The form shall contain a statement that failure to return the form or providing false information is a violation of section 54-251, 54-252, 54-253 or 54-254, as the case may be. Each person required to register under section 54-251, 54-252, 54-253 or 54-254 shall have such person's address verified in such manner every ninety days after such person's initial registration date. In the event that a registrant fails to return the address verification form, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection shall notify the local police department or the state police troop having jurisdiction over the registrant's last reported address, and that agency shall apply for a warrant to be issued for the registrant's arrest under section 54-251, 54-252, 54-253 or 54-254, as the case may be. The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection shall not verify the address of registrants whose last reported address was outside this state.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-257(c).

         On July 8, 2015, a Connecticut Trooper, Kyle Rapp, allegedly observed Plaintiff's car roll through a stop sign and pulled him over in New Preston, CT. Doc. 1, at 2. Trooper Rapp discovered in the course of his stop that there was a warrant out for Plaintiff's arrest for failure to register for two calendar quarters, June 2014 and September 2014. Id. Plaintiff was arrested, searched, fingerprinted, photographed and jailed on that warrant until he was bailed later that evening. Id. at 2-3. On November 6, 2015, a Connecticut Superior Court Judge dismissed the two felony counts against Plaintiff related to the 2014 violations. Id. at 4.

         To present his claim in this Court, Plaintiff attached as Exhibit D to his Complaint an "Investigative Report" from 2012 that details past violations by Plaintiff but does not include a December 2009 violation-Plaintiff's alleged first violation. Doc. 1, at 3. Plaintiff alleges that the circumstances of his first violation are important to the present case. Id. In that instance, he was traveling out of state to visit relatives for Christmas and had emailed SORU to explain this (the email is attached to Plaintiff's Complaint as Exhibit E). Id. SORU responded, telling him to send something in writing detailing the address and explaining his vacation (the email response is attached to Plaintiff's Complaint as Exhibit F). Id.; Ex. F. Plaintiff sent the letter with the information requested by SORU the next day (Plaintiff attached a copy of this letter to his Complaint as Exhibit G). Doc. 1, at 3. He believed he had complied with the registration requirements, but discovered on or around February 12, 2010, while still out of the state, that SORU had forwarded three letters to Plaintiff's home regarding Plaintiff's failure to report his address and had reported the violation to the police. Id. Eventually, Plaintiff was able to satisfy the police and SORU that he continued to reside at his home in Connecticut and no warrant was sought. Id. In addition, no warrants were ever sought for the other four alleged violations listed in the Investigative Report (occurring from 2010 through 2012). Id. at 3-4.

         Plaintiff also attaches as Exhibit H the application for the arrest warrant related to his 2014 arrest. Doc. 1, at 3. Plaintiff alleges that the warrant details he was two days late in responding for the September 2014 violation and fifteen days late in responding for the June 2014 violation. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff was unaware that a warrant had been issued for almost four months. Id. at 4. Plaintiff alleges that it is critical that no warrant was ever signed for Plaintiff's first violation in 2009 or the other violations in the 2012 Investigative Report. Id. Plaintiff asserts in his Complaint that, similar to Plaintiff's previous encounters with SORU, another Connecticut defendant, the defendant in T.R.D., was deemed "in compliance with his registration responsibilities" even though he returned a violation letter nineteen days after the letter was mailed. Id. at 4 (quoting T.R.D., 286 Conn. at 196) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiff claims that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-257(c) is vague primarily because as with the T.R.D. case, a registrant may be excused from a violation so long as he subsequently provides a signed violation letter attesting to his address, even if this is after the ten day period specified by the statute. Doc. 1, at 5-6. Plaintiff asserts that the statute "is a model of clarity and straightforwardness" providing that SORU mails a letter (the "Initial Letter") every ninety days and the registrant must return the signed Initial Letter "by a date which is ten days after the date such form [the Initial Letter] was mailed to the registrant." Id. at 6 (quoting Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-257(c)). Failure to comply leads to an arrest warrant. Id. Plaintiff contends that the manner in which SORU has handled his own first violation and subsequent violations is evidence that the statute is impermissibly vague essentially because no arrest warrants issued for Plaintiff when they should have. Id.

         Plaintiff also takes issue with the violation letters (a "Notice of Violation Letter" and a "Final Notice of Violation Letter") sent to him (and the defendant in the T.R.D. case) because these are not mentioned in the statute. Doc. 1, at 6. Plaintiff essentially believes that replying to a violation letter should mean a registrant is in compliance with the statute and that no violation has occurred. See Id. Moreover, the letters refer to an "investigation" of registrant's violation and it is unclear to Plaintiff what that means. Id. Plaintiff asserts that even a minimal investigation, including a "simple phone call, " would have uncovered that he was still living at his home address in 2014. Id. at 6 & n.7. He alleges that the statute and investigation do not protect the public-which is the intent of the registration statute- and instead only punish the offender and registrant for late mail. Id. at 7.

         Plaintiff also alleges that the statute's plain language was violated in his specific case because SORU, not local law enforcement, sought the arrest warrant. Doc. 1, at 7-8. Plaintiff believes that this combined with SORU's focus in the Investigative Report on a three strikes policy provides additional support that SORU intends to use the statute as a punishment on Plaintiff, which is contrary to the statute's regulatory purpose. Id. at 8. Plaintiff, however, is clear that he is not bringing any Eighth Amendment claim for cruel and unusual punishment. Id. Rather, Plaintiff focuses on the fact that the statute "is a muddled mess confusing everyone and everybody both subject to and tasked with enforcing it." Id. As an example of this confusion, Plaintiff attaches Exhibits I and J, his correspondence with SORU regarding what he should do to stay in compliance with the statute. Id. at 8-9. A Lieutenant in SORU responded to Plaintiff's inquiries by referring him only to the applicable statutes. Id.; see also Ex. J. Plaintiff argues that the statute, as drafted, does nothing to help those offenders seeking to comply with the law and the Lieutenant's referral was disingenuous. Doc. 1, at 9-10.

         Plaintiff's second claim seeks an injunction enjoining SORU from further violating the statute, or in the alternative, an injunction seeking to modify and explain how the statute is to be enforced. Doc. 1, at 11. Plaintiff requests that the Court order that the statute be enforced on a consistent basis and not in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner. Id. Plaintiff seeks clarity on how to comply with the statute going forward. Id.

         Plaintiff's third claim is against the officers of SORU, including Garcia and conceivably Fox as well as other unidentified Does, for maliciously prosecuting him in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Doc. 1, at 11-12. Plaintiff alleges that he relied on the manner in which SORU enforced his prior violations and SORU's officers should have known that violations cannot be enforced in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that SORU officers knew he resided at his registered address and actively misled Plaintiff. Id. The procedural vehicle for this claim is also 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 1.

         Plaintiff believes SORU had become vindictive and punitive in their enforcement of the statute without notice to him. Doc. 1, at 11-13. Plaintiff emailed SORU (attached as Exhibit K to Plaintiff's Complaint) five days prior to his traffic stop complaining about an improperly delivered letter for a violation from June 2015. Id. at 13. Plaintiff notes that he complained about the consequences of the error-that there could be a warrant out for his arrest unbeknownst to him-in the email and that SORU did not inform him there was already a warrant outstanding for his arrest. Id. Instead, SORU informed him, in a response attached as Exhibit L to Plaintiff's Complaint, that because they had in fact received the signed Initial Letter in the initial 10-day period no violation occurred. Id.; see also Ex. L. Plaintiff recounts all of the consequences that occur as a result of an arrest warrant issuing and states that the SORU officers were wholly ignorant of these possible consequences, or even sought to inflict them on Plaintiff. Doc. 1, at 13. In a footnote, Plaintiff offers additional allegations that the evidence will show that SORU "manipulated the relative lack of awareness and disengagement of, or downright misled, the State's Attorney and the Judge who signed off on the warrant sought by SORU for Plaintiff's arrest." Id. at 14 n.36.

         III. ...

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