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Raffone v. Messina

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2017



          ROBERT N. CHATIGNY, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 against a prosecutor and witness in a forfeiture proceeding alleging due process violations and a conspiracy to violate his right to due process. Defendants have moved to dismiss arguing that plaintiff does not allege a claim on which relief may be granted. (ECF Nos. 26, 31.). I agree and therefore grant both motions.

         I. Allegations

         The operative complaint alleges the following.[1] Plaintiff was convicted of fifth degree larceny in 2015. See Raffone v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., No. FBTCV 145030086, 2015 WL 3974421 (Conn. Super. Ct. June 4, 2015). As part of this prosecution, the prosecutor, defendant Messina, sought a hearing to forfeit plaintiff's truck to the police department pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 54-33g. Plaintiff alleges that at the hearing, Messina “knowingly and willfully elicited [] false testimony” from a police officer, defendant Hine. Revised Compl. (ECF No. 1-2) at 3.

         At the hearing, Hine testified that a potential lien holder with regard to plaintiff's truck, Industrial Acceptance Corporation (“IAC”) had been contacted. Tr. (ECF No. 30-3) at 77:1-9.[2] He testified that, although IAC held the paper title to the vehicle as collateral, there was no lien on the truck. Id. at 77:22-25. Hine's testimony was false because he said IAC did not have an interest in the truck when in fact it did. Revised Compl. (ECF No. 1-2) at 3-4.

         Plaintiff alleges that three letters between Hine and IAC were unlawfully withheld preventing him from impeaching Hine's testimony. He also alleges there was a conspiracy between Messina and Hine. First Compl. (Dkt. No. FBT-CV-16-5031758-S) ¶ 2. He alleges that Hine's false testimony, as well as the conspiracy between Hine and Messina, violated due process. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Revised Compl. (ECF No. 16-1) at 2.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In reviewing a pro se complaint, the court must assume the truth of the allegations, and interpret them liberally to “raise the strongest arguments [they] suggest[].” Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when 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 (citation omitted). This standard requires the plaintiff to show “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A complaint need not allege “detailed factual allegations, ” but must contain more than an “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (internal quotation omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. Failure to Produce Letters

         Prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity for conduct “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). Accordingly, a prosecutor is immune from civil liability for initiating a prosecution and presenting the case at trial, and for his or her conduct in preparing for trial. Id. at 430. See also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 268 (1993). The immunity applies to a prosecutor's conduct at a forfeiture proceeding arising from a criminal prosecution. Craig v. Vanallen, 1:15-cv-00664 (MAD/DJS), 2016 WL 3920240, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. July 15, 2016); Nowlin v. 2 Jane Doe Female Rochester N.Y. Police Officers, No. 11-CV-712Sc, 2012 WL 1415704, at *7 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 2012). The immunity is broad, covering “virtually all acts, regardless of motivation, associated with [the prosecutor's] function as an advocate.” Dory v. Ryan, 25 F.3d 81, 83 (2d Cir. 1994). The immunity extends to claims alleging improper withholding of exculpatory evidence. Storck v. Suffolk Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 62 F.Supp.2d 927, 943 (E.D.N.Y. 1999). Accordingly, Messina is entitled to immunity for initiating and conducting the forfeiture proceeding, including her alleged failure to produce the three letters.

         B. False Testimony

         It is well-established that a witness who testifies at a hearing has immunity with regard to claims for damages based on the testimony. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 345-46 (1983). This immunity bars the claim against Hine arising from his testimony in the forfeiture proceeding.

         C. Cons ...

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