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Chase v. Nodine's Smokehouse, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 22, 2019

NICOLE CHASE, Plaintiff,
v.
NODINE'S SMOKEHOUSE, INC., CALVIN NODINE, TOWN OF CANTON, JOHN COLANGELO, ADAM GOMPPER, MARK J. PENNEY, CHRISTOPHER ARCIERO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. 34]

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Nicole Chase brings the instant action alleging claims arising out of her arrest by the Canton Police following a complaint of sexual assault by her then-employer, Defendant Calvin Nodine. Ms. Chase brings thirteen claims against Nodine's Smokehouse and Calvin Nodine (the “Nodine Defendants”), and ten claims against the Town of Canton, Detective John Colangelo, Officer Adam Gompper, Sergeant Mark J. Penney, and Chief Christopher Arciero (the “Town Defendants”), including false arrest, malicious prosecution, denial of equal protection, denial of substantive due process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. See [Dkt. 1-1 (Notice of Removal, Att. 1 (Compl.))].

         The Town Defendants now move to dismiss all claims against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         For the purposes of the motion to dismiss, the court assumes the following facts set forth in the Complaint to be true.[1] Ms. Chase started working at Nodine's Smokehouse, Inc. (“Nodine's Smokehouse”) in or about September 2016. [Dkt. 1-1 ¶ 7]. She initially worked at the Nodine's Smokehouse factory, and later assisted with Nodine's Restaurant. Id. ¶ 28. Nodine's Restaurant opened in or about November 2016. Id. ¶ 29.

         For most of the time Ms. Chase worked at Nodine's Restaurant, Calvin Nodine, the owner, would come by the restaurant regularly but usually would not stay for very long. Id. ¶¶ 14, 30. When he was there, Mr. Nodine “would engage in inappropriate conduct that made [Ms. Chase] feel uncomfortable.” Id. ¶ 31. For example, Mr. Nodine, on more than one occasion, purposefully dropped his eye glasses on the floor and directed Ms. Chase to pick them up. Id. When she would do as directed, he would stare down her shirt. Id. Mr. Nodine would make suggestive comments and jokes. Id. He would also stare at Ms. Chase and follow her around. Id. Mr. Nodine's behavior made Ms. Chase uncomfortable, but she “put up with it because he was never around in the restaurant very long.” Id. ¶ 32.

         Mr. Nodine started spending more time at Nodine's Restaurant in April 2017. Id. ¶ 33. On May 6, 2017, Mr. Nodine was at the restaurant while Ms. Chase was working. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. That day, Mr. Nodine made multiple offensive sexual comments directed at Ms. Chase, which she ignored. Id. ¶¶ 37, 39-40. Mr. Nodine also made unwanted and uncomfortable physical contact with Ms. Chase multiple times that day, including hugging and kissing her on the cheek and later coming up behind her and squeezing her body and her buttocks. Id. ¶¶41-44. At the end of the day, Mr. Nodine pulled Ms. Chase into the men's bathroom, locked the door, and forced Ms. Chase to perform oral sex on him. Id. ¶¶ 45-46.

         After the incident, Ms. Chase texted her former general manager at Nodine's Restaurant and told him of the assault, leaving out the detail that Mr. Nodine had successfully forced her to perform oral sex on him. Id. ¶¶ 48, 101. He told her to report it to the police. Id. Ms. Chase told her mother about the assault that night as well, again leaving out the oral sex detail. Id.

         The next day, May 7, 2017, Ms. Chase went with her mother to the Canton Police Department to report the assault. Id. ¶¶ 49, 60. Defendant police officer Adam Gompper met with Ms. Chase, who had her relate the details of the assault in the lobby of the Canton Police Department. Id. ¶ 64. Ms. Chase told Officer Gompper that she was not sure if she wanted to press charges at that time, and Officer Gompper told her to come back and make a written statement if she decided to pursue charges. Id. ¶ 70. Ms. Chase returned to the Police Department on Thursday, May 11, 2017, and spoke to Officer Gompper again, who typed up her statement and had her sign it. Id. ¶ 71. Ms. Chase did not specify that Mr. Nodine had forced her to perform oral sex during either of the meetings or in the written statement. Id. ¶ 101. Two other Nodine's Restaurant employees provided statements to the police corroborating Ms. Chase's account of Mr. Nodine's other behavior towards her. Id. ¶¶ 74-76.

         According to Ms. Chase's arrest warrant, Officer Gompper and Defendant Detective John Colangelo interviewed Mr. Nodine on May 18, 2017. Id. ¶ 81. Mr. Nodine had his attorney present and, while he initially denied any sexual contact with Ms. Chase, after conferring with his attorney, he told Officer Gompper and Detective Colangelo that Ms. Chase had performed consensual oral sex on him on one occasion. Id. ¶¶ 82-83. The Police Department did not update Ms. Chase following Mr. Nodine's interviews as Officer Gompper had said they would. Id. ¶ 84. After trying to reach Officer Gompper multiple times to get an update on her case, Ms. Chase was able to speak with him and he informed her that the Department was still investigating the matter. Id. ¶ 85-86.

         On June 21, 2017, Ms. Chase reported to the Police Department at their request. Id. ¶¶ 87-88. She met with Detective Colangelo, whom she was meeting for the first time, in an interview room. Id. ¶¶ 89-90. Detective Colangelo asked Ms. Chase about her story and then pressed her for more information. Id. ¶¶ 92-97. Detective Colangelo told Ms. Chase that Mr. Nodine had told them she had performed consensual oral sex on him. Id. ¶ 100. He also told her that Mr. Nodine had taken a lie detector test, leaving out that he had failed that test and then refused to take another test. Id. ¶¶ 98-99, 136. Ms. Chase felt that Detective Colangelo was being aggressive and was intimidated by him. Id. She became emotional and, despite being ashamed and uncomfortable with explaining the specifics, she told Detective Colangelo that Mr. Nodine forced her to perform oral sex and that it was not consensual. Id. ¶¶ 102-104. Thereafter, Detective Colangelo focused on Ms. Chase's prior omission of these details and questioned whether Mr. Nodine had sexually assaulted her. Id. ¶ 105.

         Ms. Chase told Detective Colangelo about the text messages she sent her former manager shortly after the assault, and Detective Colangelo asked that she provide them with copies of the messages. Id. ¶¶ 106-107. Detective Colangelo told Ms. Chase that she had made a false statement and asked if she wanted to revise her previous statement. Id. ¶¶ 108-109. While denying that her statement had been false, Ms. Chase told Detective Colangelo that she would like to revise her statement but would like to speak with a lawyer first. Id. Several days later, Ms. Chase called Detective Colangelo to try to coordinate a time to come in and amend her statement but she was unable to reach him. Id. ¶ 110. The Court infers Ms. Chase to allege that she left messages asking Detective Colangelo to call her back but he failed to return her calls.

         According to Ms. Chase's arrest warrant, Detective Colangelo signed the warrant application for the arrest of Ms. Chase for making a false statement on July 7, 2017, 16 days after he interviewed her. Id. ¶ 111. Around July 13, 2017, Ms. Chase went to the police department to drop off copies of the text messages and again asked to speak with Detective Colangelo about revising her statement, but he was not available. Id. ¶¶ 112-113. Ms. Chase thereafter emailed Detective Colangelo multiple times about revising her statement, the second time attaching revisions to be incorporated into her original statement. Id. ¶¶ 116-118. On August 10, 2017, Detective Colangelo responded to Ms. Chase's emails. Id. ¶ 119. In his response, Detective Colangelo indicated that he did not know she had wanted to give a new statement but stated that he had documented the change in her story and had provided the case to the court for review. Id. He further indicated that the case was still with the State's Attorney's office and that he hoped to have next steps shortly. Id.

         The Complaint alleges that the Assistant State's Attorney signed the warrant application on August 30, 2017, after Ms. Chase's many attempts to revise her statements and after Detective Colangelo finally acknowledged those requests and represented to Ms. Chase that he had documented the change. Id. ¶ 121. The warrant was signed by the court on September 6, 2017. Id. ¶ 122. On September 8, 2017, Detective Colangelo arrested Ms. Chase for making a false statement in violation of Connecticut General Statute §53a-57b and she was thereafter arraigned on the charge. Id. ¶¶ 123, 126. On November 6, 2017, the State's Attorney's Office entered an unconditional nolle prosequi and the case was dismissed. Id. ¶ 127.

         On April 10, 2018, Ms. Chase filed this lawsuit in Connecticut Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford. Case No. HHD-CV-17-5049825-S. On April 20, 2018, the Town Defendants-the Town of Canton, Detective Colangelo, Detective Gompper, Sergeant Penney, and Town of Canton Chief of Police Christopher Arciero-removed the case to federal court. See [Dkt. 1].

         Ms. Chase's Complaint alleges violations of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act for harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, and aiding and abetting; violations of Title VII for harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation; negligent infliction of emotional distress; intentional infliction of emotional distress; intentional and/or reckless assault and battery; negligent assault and battery; invasion of privacy; false imprisonment; intimidation based on bigotry or bias; and malicious prosecution against the Nodine Defendants. [Dkt. 1-1 ¶¶ 140-219]. It also alleges false arrest; malicious prosecution; denial of equal protection; denial of substantive due process; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the Town Defendants. Id. ¶¶ 220-279. On July 24, 2018, the Town Defendants moved to dismiss the claims against them. [Dkt. 34 (Mot. Dismiss)].

         Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

         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.” Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993); Patrowicz v. Transamerica HomeFirst, Inc., 359 F.Supp.2d 140, 144 (D. Conn. 2005).

         Discussion

         A. § 1983 Official Capacity Claims (Counts 15, 18, and 21)

         The Complaint brings three claims against the individual Town Defendants (Colangelo, Gompper, Penney, and Arciero) in their official capacities-Count 14 for § 1983 false arrest, Count 18 for § 1983 malicious prosecution, and Count 21 for § 1983 denial of equal protection. Suits against municipal officials in their official-capacities are tantamount to suit against the municipality itself. Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978); Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991). “Because the real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official, ‘the entity's policy or custom must have played a part in the violation of federal law.” Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25 (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985); Monell, 436 U.S. at 694).

         In order to impose liability on a local government under § 1983, a plaintiff “must prove that ‘action pursuant to official municipal policy' caused their injury.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 691). Thus, in order for Counts 14, 18, and 21 to stand, the Complaint must allege that a municipal custom or practice caused the deprivation of Ms. Chase's rights.

         “Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government's lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.” Id. at 61. “To show a policy, custom, or practice, the plaintiff need not identify an express rule or regulation.” Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 226 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Sorlucco v. New York City Police Dep't, 971 F.2d 864, 870-71 (2d Cir. 1992)). For example, it may be enough where “a discriminatory practice of subordinate employees was ‘so manifest as to imply the constructive acquiescence of senior policy-making officials.'” Id. (quoting Sorlucco, 971 F.2d at 871). Additionally, “[a] policy, custom, or practice may also be inferred where ‘the municipality so failed to train its employees as to display a deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of those within its jurisdiction.'” Id. (quoting Kern v. City of Rochester, 93 F.3d 38, 44 (2d Cir. 1996)).

         The Complaint alleges that there are “Law Enforcement Standards . . . as to methods and procedures for the investigation and interview of victims of sexual assault” and that “[t]hese standards are intended to overcome the longstanding stereotypical assumption about sexual assault and negative judgments made about victims of sexual assault when they report the crime.” [Dkt. 1-1 ¶ 61]. The Complaint further alleges that Defendants failed to follow any of these standards in handling Plaintiff's case. Id. ¶ 62. Plaintiff's Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss suggests that those two paragraphs, in addition to the facts set forth regarding the officers' failure to meet those standards in Ms. Chase's case, are enough to satisfy the pleading standards for a Monell claim for Counts 14 and 18. See [Dkt. 43 at 31].

         With respect to the denial of equal protection claim, Count 21, the Complaint alleges that the Town of Canton Police Department “maintained longstanding discriminatory practices against women, ” noting that there were no women police officers in the department at the time of Ms. Chase's arrest and that the department provided inadequate training and inadequate oversight of its officers. Id. ¶¶ 249, 252-255. Additionally, it alleges that the department “was riddled with stereotypical assumptions about women who report crimes of violence against men” and that this resulted in “discrimination and hostility towards female victims of crimes of violence against men.” Id. ¶¶ 254, 259.

         Aside from these mostly conclusory allegations, Ms. Chase provides no factual allegations supporting the existence of a municipal policy or practice outside the facts regarding her own experience. But facts alleging a single instance of misconduct or mishandling of a complaint do not suffice to state a Monell claim. Newton v. City of New York, 566 F.Supp.2d 256, 271 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (“[A] custom or policy cannot be shown by pointing to a single instance of unconstitutional conduct by a mere employee of the State.”); see also City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 831 (1985) (“To infer the existence of a city policy from the isolated misconduct of a single, low-level officer, and then hold the city liable on the basis of that policy, would amount to permitting precisely the theory of strict respondeat superior liability rejected in Monell.”).

         The Complaint includes no alleged statements or reports that this kind of misconduct occurs with regularity in the department's handling of claims of sexual assault against women or that there has been any observation that training for handling such cases is lacking. Nor does she support her claim with other instances of officers of the department bringing unsupported false statement charges, or the like, against other women who had made sexual assault complaints. Cf. Graham v. County of Erie, No. 11-cv-605S, 2012 WL 1980609, at *5-6 (W.D.N.Y. May 31, 2012) (denying motion to dismiss where plaintiff demonstrated “a pattern of documented shortcomings, ” which included multiple instances of misconduct recorded by a DOJ investigation); Bertuglia v. City of New York, 839 F.Supp.2d 703, 738 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (denying motion to dismiss where the “Amended Complaint point[ed] to over fifteen cases where City prosecutors allegedly committed misconduct, and allege[d] the existence of many more such cases in the form of unpublished opinion”); Bektic-Marrero v. Goldberg, 850 F.Supp.2d 418, 431 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (denying motion to dismiss where plaintiff supported allegations with a DOJ report regarding systemic failures in the jail's provision of medical care to inmates).

         None of Ms. Chase's allegations regarding the existence of a municipal policy or practice of mishandling claims brought by women against men for sexual assault include actual factual support. The Complaint includes only conclusory statements about there being discriminatory practices and inadequate training and oversight. To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff “cannot merely allege the existence of a municipal policy or custom, but must allege facts tending to support, at least circumstantially, an inference that such a municipal policy or custom exists.” Triano v. Town of Harrison, 895 F.Supp.2d 526, 535 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). “[N]aked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement” do not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The fact that there were no female police officers in the department at the time of Ms. Chase's arrest along with the specific factual allegations supporting the claim that the officers mishandled her own case do not plausibly lead to an inference that a municipal policy or practice existed.

         As such, Ms. Chase has failed to sufficiently plead liability on the part of the Town of Canton for the § 1983 claims, including the claims against the individual officers in their official capacities, and Counts 15, 18, and 21 are therefore DISMISSED. These dismissals are without prejudice to filing an amended complaint within fourteen days after the date of this decision setting forth factual support for the conclusory claims alleged.

         B. False Arrest & Malicious Prosecution (Counts 14, ...


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