United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge
Robert Hutchins has filed an amended complaint pro
se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against fourteen named
defendants and an additional ten anonymous Jane and John
Does. Plaintiff's claims arise from criminal proceedings
in which he was charged with several crimes, adjudicated
incompetent to stand trial, and involuntarily committed to
the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction
Services. The named defendants include the public defenders
that represented plaintiff in the criminal proceedings, Maya
Sparks and Barry Butler, as well as several police officers
involved in the criminal charges, including John Brown,
Jeffrey Stempien, and Michael Vangroski. To the extent that
can be gleaned from plaintiff's 168 page amended
complaint, plaintiff appears to allege that defendants
violated his rights under the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth
Amendments, and committed various torts, including breach of
contract, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional
distress, and legal malpractice.
Sparks and Butler now move to dismiss this case pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) on the ground that they are not state actors
subject to liability under § 1983. Defendants Brown,
Stempien, and Vangroski move to dismiss pursuant to Rule
12(b)(2) and 12(b)(5) for lack of personal jurisdiction due
to faulty service. The remaining defendants in this case were
never served despite four extensions of time granted by this
Court for service of process. For the foregoing reasons, I
will grant defendants' motions to dismiss and dismiss
this case as to all remaining defendants.
background principles governing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss are well established. The Court must accept as true
all factual matters alleged in a complaint, although a
complaint may not survive unless the facts it recites are
enough to state plausible grounds for relief. See,
e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009); Mastafa v. Chevron Corp., 770 F.3d 170, 177
(2d Cir. 2014). Although this “plausibility”
requirement is “not akin to a probability requirement,
” it “asks for more than a sheer possibility that
a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. Because the focus must be on what facts a
complaint alleges, a court is “not bound to accept as
true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation” or “to accept as true allegations
that are wholly conclusory.” Krys v. Pigott,
749 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2014). In short, my role in
reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to
determine if the complaint-apart from any of its conclusory
allegations-alleges enough facts to state a plausible claim
Court liberally construes the pleadings of a pro se
party in a non-technical manner to raise the strongest
arguments that they suggest. See, e.g., McLeod
v. Jewish Guild for the Blind, 864 F.3d 154, 157 (2d
Cir. 2017) (per curiam). Still, a pro se
complaint may not survive dismissal if its factual
allegations do not meet the basic plausibility standard.
See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40,
790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).
under § 1983 against non-state actors
principal claims against Sparks and Butler arise under §
1983 for various violations of plaintiff's constitutional
rights. Section 1983 provides a cause of action “only
against persons acting under color of state law.”
Tapp v. Champagne, 164 Fed.Appx. 106, 108 (2d Cir.
2006). Generally, a “public defender does not act under
color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional
functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal
proceeding.” Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S.
312, 325 (1981); Tapp, 164 Fed.Appx. at 108 (same).
Sparks' and Butler's participation in the events
described in the complaint falls squarely within the
“traditional function” of a public defender as
counsel to plaintiff during the course of his criminal and
commitment proceedings. Nor has plaintiff alleged in anything
but conclusory terms that his public defenders conspired with
state actors, such that they should be deemed to be state
actors liable under § 1983. See ibid.
(rejecting a plaintiff's “wholly conclusory”
claim that public defenders “conspired with judges and
district attorneys to pursue his malicious
prosecution”); Ciambrello v. Cnty. of Nassau,
292 F.3d 307, 325 (2d Cir. 2002) (same). Accordingly,
plaintiff's § 1983 claims against Sparks and Butler
are insufficient as a matter of law and are dismissed.
Service of Process
Jeffrey Stempien, Michael Vangroski, and John Brown have
moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims for a lack of
personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) and for
insufficient service of process under Rule 12(b)(5). In order
for a federal court to exercise jurisdiction over defendants,
“plaintiff's service of process upon the defendant
must have been procedurally proper.” Licci ex rel.
Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 673 F.3d 50, 59
(2d Cir. 2012). When a defendant moves to dismiss for failure
to serve process under Rule 12(b)(5), “the plaintiff
bears the burden of proving adequate service.”
Skipp v. Connecticut Judicial Branch, 2015 WL
1401989, at *4 (D. Conn. 2015) (quoting Dickerson v.
Napolitano, 604 F.3d 732, 752 (2d Cir. 2010)).
4(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure specifies that
service may be effectuated by (1) complying with state law
regarding service; (2) delivering a copy of the summons and
complaint to the individual personally; (3) leaving a copy of
the summons and complaint at the individual's home with
someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or
(4) delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to an
agent authorized to receive service for the individual.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e).
law provides that service upon an individual may be made
either by personally delivering the necessary documents to
the individual, or by leaving them at his home. See
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-57(a). It also states that process
shall be served in a suit “against an employee of a
town, city or borough in a cause of action arising from the
employee's duties or employment, upon the clerk of the
town, city or borough, provided two copies of such process
shall be served upon the clerk and the clerk shall retain one
copy and forward the second copy to the employee.”
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-57(b)(7).
defendants John Brown and Jeffrey Stempien are police
officers employed by the Greenwich Police Department, and
defendant Michael Vongroski is a former officer of the
department. Doc. #25-1 at 2-3. The Court granted plaintiff
several extensions of time to effectuate service, the last of
which gave plaintiff until January 21, 2017, to serve
defendants. Doc. #12. Plaintiff's proof of service
indicates that copies of service for John Brown and Jeffrey
Stempien were given by a third party to Sergeant Ernest
Mulhern at the Greenwich police department on January 21,
2017. Doc. #37 at 2-3. Neither officer was on
duty on that day. The packages were left on the officers'
desks, and both discovered the packages when they reported
for duty on January 23 and January 24, respectively. Doc.
#25-1 at 7-8. Stempien alleges that the package contained a
copy of plaintiff's amended complaint but not the
summons, while Brown does not recall whether the package
contained a summons.
Vongroski, he discovered a package containing the summons and
amended complaint on the front porch of his residence on
January 23, 2017. Doc. #25-1 at 11. Plaintiff's proof of
service indicates that a copy of service was left ...