United States District Court, D. Connecticut
JAMES P. CORNELIO, Plaintiff,
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.
RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND MOTION TO
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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.
Ruling resolves that motion, and also addresses two pending
subsequent motions filed by Plaintiff.
Standard of Review
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
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).
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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