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Ray v. City of New Haven

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 1, 2018

CURTIS RAY, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge

         This action is based on the employment termination of Plaintiff Curtis Ray (“Plaintiff” or “Ray”) by the City of New Haven (“Defendant” or “City”). Ray initially filed this case in state court and alleges the City's notice and hearing prior to his termination violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The City removed the action to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) as there is valid original jurisdiction as set forth under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Before the Court is the City's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the foregoing reasons, the motion is GRANTED. I. Background The following facts are taken from the Complaint and information relied upon by Plaintiff in bringing this suit.[1] They are assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion. Plaintiff Curtis Ray (“Ray” or “Plaintiff”) was hired as a police officer by the New Haven Department of Police Service in 2009. [Dkt. 1 (Compl.) ¶ 1]. The City of New Haven (“City” or “Defendant”) is a municipality organized under the State of Connecticut and is governed by a charter that establishes the Board of Police Commissioners (“Board”). Id. ¶¶ 2-3.

         On September 29, 2014, Ray was served with charges of certain departmental violations, and this charge sheet informed him of his termination hearing that would be held the next day. Id. ¶ 6a. Specifically, the charges listed are for violations of requirements:

• “not [to] engage in any conduct that would cause to discredit, lower or injure the morale” of the department or any individual in the department, R. 15 art. 5;
• “not [to] consort with hoodlums, criminals or other unsavory characters” unless such actions are required in policy duty, R. 15 art. 19;
• to “report immediately to . . . superior officers any information” regarding a law or ordinance violation “or any matter that should properly come to the attention of the department, ” R. 15 art. 33;
• not to “commit any act contrary to good order and discipline” including neglect of duty, R. 15 art. 35; and
• not to “engage in any act which would constitute conduct unbecoming an officer, ” R. 15 art. 38.

Id. ¶ 4(a)-(e). The violations stemmed from a telephone conversation between Ray and his barber, Richard Aquino, intercepted by wire on October 20, 2011 at approximately 9:50 PM. Id. ¶ 4. During the conversation, Mr. Aquino was informed of an “ATF2 raid” at his house and Ray responded that “he would have 2 “ATF” likely refers to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. According to the ATF's website, the ATF focuses on issues involving firearms, explosives, arson, as well as alcohol and tobacco. See Mission Areas, ATF, available at informed him if he had known about the raid.” Id. Aquino and Ray met in 2006 when they worked at Home Depot and became friends, and subsequently Ray saw Aquino every two to three weeks because Aquino is his barber.[3] Id. ¶ 5. The investigation and subsequent charges became public before the investigation was concluded. Id. ¶ 6(g).

         The hearing was conducted over two days on September 30 and October 14 of 2014. See Id. ¶¶ 4, 6a; [Dkt. 24-1 at 1:3-16]. The pre-termination hearing commenced the day after Ray received the charge sheet. [Dkt. 1 (Compl.) ¶¶¶ 4, 6a.] Ray's attorney was given a copy of the charge sheet upon entering the building for the hearing. Id. ¶ 6a. The Complaint does not allege from whom Ray's attorney received the charge sheet nor does it allege that Ray was forbidden from providing his attorney a copy of the charge sheet in advance of the hearing. The Board admitted evidence of previous charges against Ray from the State of New Jersey after which Ray was acquitted, the charges were expunged, and the New Jersey allegations did not appear on the charge sheet. Id. ¶ 6b. The Board also admitted evidence of a different telephone conversation involving Ray, which did not appear on the charge sheet. Id. ¶ 6c. Ray was denied time to prepare responses to the charges not contained in the charge sheet, which were considered by the Board. Id. ¶ 6d. During the hearing, Chief of Police Dean Esserman, who was a witness during the hearing, coached another witness, Police Lieutenant Anthony Duffy. Id. ¶ 6e. Lieutenant Duffy also testified from notes without providing copies to Ray or his counsel. Id. ¶ 6f. When Ray's counsel cross-examined Chief of Police Esserman, he refused to answer questions. Id. ¶ 6i. Ray was also prevented from questioning a witness in comparable circumstances about his treatment by the Board. Id. ¶ 6j.

         The hearing resumed on October 14, 2014. On behalf of the City, Lieutenant Anthony Duff testified on redirect examination, see [Dkt. 24-1 at 1:3-16, 4:2-6:26], and then Chief of Police Esserman testified for which Plaintiff's counsel had the opportunity to cross-examine him, see Id. at 7:2-15:13. Plaintiff then presented his own evidence in the form of witness testimony from Officer Leonardo Soto, Officer Jeffrey King, Sergeant Betsy Segui, and Lieutenant Jeffrey Hoffman. See Id. at 16:2-45:1. The City, by and through the Board, terminated Ray's employment by vote at the end of the hearing on the same day. Id. ¶ 6. The Complaint does not reference any subsequent grievances, hearings, or administrative remedies related to Ray's employment termination.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court should follow a “two-pronged approach” to evaluate the sufficiency of the complaint. Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). “A court ‘can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “At the second step, a court should determine whether the ‘wellpleaded factual allegations, ' assumed to be true, ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotations omitted).

         In general, the Court's review on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) “is limited to the facts as asserted within the four corners of the complaint, the documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and any documents incorporated by reference.” McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). The Court may also consider “matters of which judicial notice may be taken” and “documents either in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit.” ...

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