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Palmenta v. Blank

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 20, 2018

MATTHEW BLANK, et al., Defendants.



         On March 20, 2018, Scott Palmenta, an inmate currently confined at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution in Uncasville, Connecticut, brought a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in state court against New Canaan Police Officers Matthew Blank and Ronald Bentley, Sergeant Peter Condos, and New Canaan First Selectman Kevin Moynihan for various federal and state constitutional deprivations and state law violations. He is suing Moynihan only in his official capacity and the remaining defendants in both their individual and official capacities. On June 26, 2018, the defendants removed the action from state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) because the United States District Court has original jurisdiction over all claims arising under the United States Constitution and can exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. See Pet. for Removal [Doc.#1] (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367(a)). For the reasons set forth below, I dismiss Palmenta's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under 18 U.S.C. § 1915A, I must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Nevertheless, it is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         II. Factual Allegations

         Palmenta's complaint alleges the following facts. On November 16, 2016, Officer Blank arrested Palmenta for attempted burglary of a motor vehicle and attempted larceny without probable cause. Compl. [Doc.#1-1] at 2. Despite repeated requests, the New Canaan Police Department (“NCPD”) never identified for Palmenta the name of the victim whose property he allegedly attempted to burglarize. Id. Officer Bentley, who was also present during the arrest, pointed his handgun toward Palmenta's head, despite the fact that Palmenta had complied with all officer demands. Id. at 3. Shortly thereafter, Palmenta was handcuffed and placed in a police squad car. Id. None of the officers read Palmenta his Miranda rights until later in the evening. Id. Nevertheless, the officers questioned Palmenta and used his oral responses in their police reports. Id.

         When he arrived at the NCPD station, Sergeant Condos verbally threatened Palmenta that he would spend years in prison if he did not confess to the burglary and larceny charges. Compl. p. 3. Palmenta maintained that he was innocent of the charges. Id. Condos then proceeded to explain to Palmenta that his DNA was at the park where the crimes occurred and that he had been seen on camera entering several motor vehicles, but Palmenta claimed that he had never been to that park. Id. at 4. Palmenta offered to provide Condos with two samples of his DNA to prove his innocence, and Condos accepted. Id. After providing the samples, Palmenta asked Condos to seal them in his presence to ensure that they did not become contaminated, but Condos told Palmenta to “fuck off.” Id. Despite Palmenta's requests, Condos never provided him with a waiver form for the DNA sample. Id.

         A review of the Connecticut judicial website reveals that Palmenta pleaded guilty on March 22, 2017 to attempt to commit criminal mischief, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-117, and attempt to commit criminal trespass, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-109. State v. Palmenta, No. S20N-CR-16-0143408-S, He received a sentence of six months' imprisonment. Id. On April 28, 2017, he pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-103, and received a seven-year prison sentence, which was later modified to one year of imprisonment. State v. Palmenta, No. S20N-CR16-0190101-S, All three convictions arose from Palmenta's arrest on November 16, 2016. Palmenta did not appeal or seek any post-conviction relief in state court from his convictions.

         III. Analysis

         Palmenta claims that the defendants violated his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, retaliation, and unreasonable search. He is also raising state constitutional claims and tort claims of defamation and libel. However, because his constitutional claims would necessarily impugn the validity of his state convictions, the complaint must be dismissed.

         In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), the Supreme Court held 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, [title] 28, [section] 2254.” For example, claims of malicious prosecution and false arrest both require as an element that the criminal proceeding terminated in the plaintiff's favor. Poventud v. City of New York, 750 F.3d 121, 130 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Smith-Hunter v. Harvey, 95 N.Y.2d 191, 195 (2002)); Jaynes v. Walkley, No. 3:15-cv-01420 (VAB), 2016 WL 1573442, *3 (D. Conn. Apr. 19, 2016); Torres v. Town of Bristol, No. 3:13-cv-1335 (SRU), 2015 WL 1442722, *5 (D. Conn. Mar. 27, 2015). Thus, neither of those claims accrue unless and until there is an acquittal or other favorable termination. See Poventud, 750 F.3d at 131. “[A]ny final termination of a criminal proceeding in favor of the accused, such that the proceeding cannot be brought again, qualifies as a favorable termination for purposes of a malicious prosecution action.” Id. (quoting Smith-Hunter, 95 N.Y.2d at 195).

         However, “[n]ot every [section] 1983 claim that arises out of a criminal case requires that the underlying criminal process reach a favorable termination.” Poventud, 750 F.3d at 132. For example, a claim against a police officer for the use of excessive force during an arrest may proceed “even if the suspect is ultimately convicted of resisting arrest.” Id. Thus, “[a] plaintiff need not prove that any conviction stemming from an incident with the police has been invalidated, only a conviction that could not be reconciled with the claims of his civil action.” Id. (quoting VanGilder v. Baker, 435 F.3d 689, 692 (7th Cir. 2006)).

         In this case, Palmenta raises a number of Fourth Amendment claims, including false arrest, arrest without probable cause, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. However, Palmenta cannot prevail on any of them because he has not alleged that his criminal proceedings from the November 16, 2016 arrest terminated in his favor. “Under Connecticut law and section 1983, a plaintiff must show that the prosecution terminated in his or her favor in order to state a claim of malicious prosecution or false arrest.” Jaynes, 2016 WL 1573442, *3; see also Poventud, 750 F.3d at 130 (malicious prosecution claims require as element that proceeding terminated in favor of accused); Torres, 2015 WL 1442722, *5 (granting summary judgment on false arrest and false imprisonment claims for failure to show that criminal proceedings terminated in claimant's favor); Marshall v. U.S. Postal Inspection Service, No. 3:08-cv-1889 (JCH), 2016 WL 10571889, *5 (D. Conn. Nov. 7, 2016) (“Wrongful arrest or prosecution, if proven, would invalidate any conviction resulting from that arrest or prosecution”); Cartier v. Lussier, No. H-88-739 (AHN), 1990 WL 308156, *5 n.4 (D. Conn. Oct. 4, 1990) (claim of arrest without probable cause not recognized under Connecticut law; rather, it is element of malicious prosecution claim), overruled on other grounds, 955 F.2d 841 (2d Cir. 1992). Because the record in this case shows that Palmenta pleaded guilty to the charges stemming from the November 16, 2016 arrest, and he has not alleged otherwise, his Fourth Amendment claims are subject to dismissal under Heck.

         Palmenta argues that Heck does not apply to his claims because his six-month sentence for the attempted criminal mischief and attempted criminal trespass expired on September 22, 2017, and therefore, he no longer has the option of pursuing habeas corpus or any other form of post-conviction relief in state court. Compl. at 6. The Second Circuit has not fully addressed the issue whether there exists an exception to Heck when the claimant brings a section 1983 action at a time when he is longer in custody. See Teichmann v. New York, 769 F.3d 821, 825 (2d Cir. 2014); Opperisano v. P.O. Jones, 286 F.Supp.3d 450, 459-60 (E.D.N.Y. 2018). “[N]o Circuit court, including the Second Circuit, has yet to allow unfettered access to section 1983 claims solely because of a present inability to obtain habeas relief.” Opperisano, 286 F.Supp.3d at 460 (emphasis in original; citing Teichmann, 769 F.3d at 830). Many courts in this Circuit have permitted such claims when the claimant either was unable to pursue habeas relief, despite due diligence, or was in custody for too brief a period of time to pursue habeas relief as a matter of law. See Id. at 459-60. In this case, it appears that Palmenta's sentences for the convictions stemming from the November 16, 2016 arrest have expired. However, he fails to explain why he never sought any relief in state court either by way of direct appeal or habeas corpus. Although his term of imprisonment for the crimes may have ...

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