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Garlington v. Clifford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 10, 2017

DR. ERNEST C. GARLINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
SUSAN CLIFFORD and COLDWELL BANKER REAL ESTATE AGENCY, Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT AND MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER

          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge.

         Dr. Ernest C. Garlington (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against Susan Clifford and Coldwell Banker Real Estate Agency (“Coldwell Banker”) (collectively, the “Defendants”). ECF No. 1. He previously filed two ex parte motions for a temporary restraining order, ECF No. 9; ECF No. 10, which the Court denied without prejudice to renewal because neither motion attached a memorandum of law explaining why Dr. Garlington was entitled to the requested relief. ECF No. 11. On June 26, 2017, Dr. Garlington filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 12. On August 4, 2017, Ms. Clifford filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. ECF No. 24.

         On August 7, 2017, Dr. Garlington filed a motion for leave to amend his Amended Complaint, attaching a proposed Second Amended Complaint. ECF No. 29. The proposed Second Amended Complaint seeks to add several additional defendants to this case: Susan O. Storey, Brian Carlow, John Day, Theodore Koch III, David DeRosa, and Bruce McIntyre (collectively, the “Public Defender Defendants”). Each of these parties is, according to the proposed Second Amended Complaint, either affiliated with the Office of the Chief Public Defender in Hartford, Connecticut or had been appointed as a Special Public Defender in Dr. Garlington's underlying state court criminal or habeas corpus proceedings. See Second Amend. Compl. at 4-5, ECF No. 29-1. Dr. Garlington has also filed a renewed motion for a temporary restraining order against Defendants and the Public Defender Defendants. ECF No. 30.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Dr. Garlington's motion for leave to amend his Amended Complaint, ECF No. 29. The Court also DENIES Dr. Garlington's renewed motion for a temporary restraining order, ECF No. 30.

         I. MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND COMPLAINT

         Because Dr. Garlington is litigating this case pro se, the Court must afford him “special solicitude, ” including in procedural matters. See Ruotolo v. I.R.S., 28 F.3d 6, 8 (2d Cir. 1994) (providing that district court “should have afforded [pro se plaintiffs] special solicitude” and “had an obligation to make certain that the [plaintiffs] were aware of and understood the consequences to them of their failure to comply with the Local Rules”). As Dr. Garlington prepared his proposed Second Amended Complaint pro se, the Court construes his pleadings “liberally” and interprets them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006). Despite the special solicitude that the Court must show Dr. Garlington out of consideration for his pro se status, however, his proposed Second Amended Complaint must still meet the “pleading standards otherwise prescribed by the Federal rules of Civil Procedure.” Suares v. Verizon Commc'ns Inc., No. 11-CIV-5050 (LAP), 2012 WL 4571030, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Under Rule 15, when a party is no longer entitled to amend his pleading as a matter of course he “may amend [his] pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave, ” but the “court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Evid. 15(a)(2). “Where it appears that granting leave to amend [a complaint] is unlikely to be productive, however, it is not an abuse of discretion [for the district court] to deny leave to amend. One appropriate basis for denying leave to amend is that the proposed amendment is futile. An amendment to a pleading is futile if the proposed claim could not withstand a motion to dismiss” under Rule 12(b)(6). Lucente v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp., 310 F.3d 243, 258 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Nwachukwu v. Liberty Bank, No. 3:16-cv-704 (CSH), 2016 WL 3647837, at *2 (D. Conn. July 1, 2016) (“Although leave to amend must be freely given under ordinary circumstances, denial is proper where the proposed amendment would be ‘futile.' An amendment is considered ‘futile' if the amended pleading fails to state a claim or would be subject to a successful motion to dismiss on some other basis.”).

         Before allowing Dr. Garlington leave to file the Second Amended Complaint, the Court first considers whether the new allegations in the Second Amended Complaint state a claim and would survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under 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.” Official Comm. of Unsecured Creditors of Color Tile, Inc. v. Coopers & Lybrand, LLP, 322 F.3d 147, 158 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted). When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, and decide whether it is plausible that the plaintiff has a valid claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007). A claim is facially plausible if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, a complaint must offer more than “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion [s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57. 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 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Dr. Garlington's proposed Second Amended Complaint intends to adds claims against the Public Defender Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(2) and (3) (“Section 1985(2)” and “Section 1985(3)”, and 42 U.S.C. § 1986 (“Section 1986”). See Second Amend. Compl. at 3. As the Court explains below, because the Second Amended Complaint fails to state these claims against the Public Defender Defendants and would not survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), it would be futile to grant Dr. Garlington's current motion for leave to amend his pleading. See Lucente, 310 F.3d at 258. The Court will therefore deny Dr. Garlington's motion for leave to amend his Complaint.

         A. Section 1983

         1. Heck v. Humphrey

         All of the claims that Dr. Garlington raises in his proposed Second Amended Complaint are concerned with challenging the validity of his underlying state court criminal conviction and sentence, as they all center on allegations that the judge presiding over his criminal proceeding and the subsequent habeas proceedings had a financial conflict of interest. See generally Second Amend. Compl. The Supreme Court has explained that such allegations do not state a Section 1983 claim:

We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a [Section 1983] plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under [Section 1983].

Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). Thus, whenever a “a state prisoner seeks damages in a [Section 1983] suit, ” the Court must first “ consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Id. at 487; see also Covington v. City of New York, 171 F.3d 117, 124 (2d Cir. 1999) (“In Heck, the Court held that [Section 1983] actions, like civil tort actions, are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments. In order to protect against such collateral attack against state convictions or ...


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