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Wright v. Stephens

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 3, 2018

JEHMELL WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTHEW P. STEPHENS Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         Jehmell Wright filed this civil rights action against Matthew P. Stephens, “a Trooper employed by the Connecticut State Police and assigned to the Bethany State Police Barracks, ” alleging that Stephens maliciously prosecuted him. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 4.) Wright seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fee and costs. Stephens has moved to dismiss Wright's complaint, arguing that Wright has failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution. (ECF No. 13 at 1.) For the reasons stated below, I GRANT Stephens's motion to dismiss, but I grant Wright leave to amend his complaint.

         I. Background

         Wright makes the following factual allegations in his complaint. (ECF No. 1.) On May 2, 2013, just prior to 9:30 p.m. on Route 69 in Bethany, Connecticut, Stephens arrested Wright “without a warrant and charged him with the crime of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” (Id. at ¶ 6.) Stephens took Wright into custody “and transported him to police headquarters for booking and processing.” (Id. at ¶ 7.) Stephens prepared an official incident report. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Stephens “caused [the incident report] to be transmitted” to the State's Attorney's office in New Haven “for the purpose of causing, ” Wright to be prosecuted on the “serious criminal charge.” (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) Wright was innocent of the charge, and Stephens “knew, or should have known, that he was innocent.” (Id. at ¶ 9.) “For a considerable period of time, ” Wright was incarcerated because he could not “post the high cash bail bond” the court set. (Id. at ¶ 10.) The court set the high bond “in part[, ] because the court believed that the allegations of . . . [Stephens's] aforesaid report were probably true.” (Id.)

         On June 22, 2015, the prosecuting attorney nolled the charge against Wright “because he expressly stated to the court that he could not prove . . . [Wright's] guilt.” (Id. at ¶ 11.) “In the manner aforesaid, . . . [Stephens] deprived . . . [Wright] of his right to be free from malicious prosecution.” (Id. at ¶ 12.) On September 6, 2017, Wright filed a complaint against Stephens in this Court. (ECF No. 1.) On October 6, 2017, Stephens filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 12.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must determine whether the plaintiff has alleged “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). Under Twombly, the Court accepts as true all of the complaint's factual allegations-but not conclusory allegations-when evaluating a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572. The Court must “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.” Vietnam Ass'n for Victim of Agent Orange v. Dow Chem. Co., 517 F.3d 104, 115 (2d Cir. 2008). “When a complaint is based solely on wholly conclusory allegations and provides no factual support for such claims, it is appropriate to grant defendants['] motion to dismiss.” Scott v. Town of Monroe, 306 F.Supp.2d 191, 198 (D. Conn. 2004). For a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, “[a]fter the court strips away conclusory allegations, there must remain sufficient well-pleaded factual allegations to nudge plaintiff's claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” In re Fosamax Products Liab. Litig., No. 09-cv-1412 (JFK), 2010 WL 1654156, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 9, 2010).

         III. Analysis

         Stephens asserts three reasons that the motion to dismiss should be granted. First, he argues that Wright's allegation that, after the arrest, he was imprisoned “for a considerable period of time . . . because of his inability to post the high cash bail bond which had been set upon him by the court, ” fails to specify whether Wright was incarcerated before or after his arraignment (ECF No. 13 at 6), a critical juncture in a malicious prosecution claim. Second, Stephens argues that Wright “failed to allege any fact sufficient to support” the first element of malicious prosecution under Connecticut law, i.e., that “the defendant initiated or procured the institution of criminal proceedings against the plaintiff, ” because Wright failed to allege that Stephens played an “essential or influential role in seeking or procuring the [charge].” (Id. at 6- 7.) Finally, Stephens argues that “the mere boilerplate assertion that ‘[t]he plaintiff was innocent of the said charge and the defendant knew, or should have known, that he was innocent,' is not sufficient to state a viable claim for malicious prosecution.” (Id. at 9.)

         I agree with Stephens's first argument and grant his motion to dismiss. However, because I grant Wright leave to amend his complaint, I will also address Stephens's last two arguments.

         A. The Complaint Fails to Allege a Post-Arraignment Deprivation of Liberty

         “It is well settled that in order to prevail on a Section 1983 claim against a state actor for malicious prosecution a plaintiff must show a violation of his [or her] rights under the Fourth Amendment and establish the elements of a malicious prosecution claim under state law.” Holman v. Cascio, 390 F.Supp.2d 120, 122 (D. Conn. 2005) (citing Fulton v. Robinson, 289 F.3d 188, 195 (2d Cir. 2002)). In Connecticut,

the elements of a malicious prosecution claim are that (1) the defendant[s] initiated or procured the institution of criminal proceedings against the plaintiff[s]; (2) the criminal proceedings have terminated in favor of the plaintiff[s]; (3) the defendant[s] acted without probable cause; and (4) the defendant[s] acted with malice, primarily for the purpose other than that of bringing an offender to justice.

Turner v. Boyle, 116 F.Supp.3d 58, 84 (D. Conn. 2015) (citations and internal quotation ...


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