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Richardson v. City of Providence

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

October 30, 2018

CITY OF PROVIDENCE, by and through its treasurer, James J. Lombardi, III, alias; EMILIO MATOS, alias, in his individual and official capacity as a Providence Police officer; the STATE OF RHODE ISLAND; and JOHN DOES 1-10, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants.



         Before the Court is Defendant State of Rhode Island's Motion to Dismiss and for Judgment Pursuant to Rule 54(b) (ECF No. 12) (“State's Motion”). Plaintiff opposed that Motion (ECF No. 15) and the State filed a Reply (ECF No. 17). For the reasons stated herein, the State's Motion is granted.

         I. Factual Background

         This case arises out of the 2013 arrest and indictment of Plaintiff due to his suspected involvement in a deadly home-invasion robbery. Plaintiff claims that he was arrested despite the fact that he did not match the description of the perpetrator and that the complaining witness was not credible. (Compl. ¶¶ 29-30, 37-38, ECF No. 1.) After his arrest on October 10, 2013, Providence Police officers executed a search warrant on Plaintiff's home, during which Plaintiff alleges they “found no evidence of any kind connecting [him] to the home invasion.” (Id. ¶¶ 56-57.) Additionally, Defendant Matos allegedly made comments to Plaintiff's wife throughout the investigation indicating that he believed Plaintiff was innocent. (Id. ¶ 62.)

         Plaintiff was held at the Adult Correctional Institution (“ACI”) for approximately ten months before he received a bail hearing on July 7, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44, 71.) At the conclusion of the bail hearing, Plaintiff was ordered to be released to community confinement. He was not ultimately released, however, because, the next day, the Attorney General filed an indictment against Plaintiff for various crimes related to the home-invasion robbery. (Id. ¶¶ 71, 76.) Shortly thereafter, on July 23, 2014, Plaintiff was released to home confinement, where he remained until May 11, 2015, when the charges against him were dismissed. (Id. ¶¶ 78-79, 84.)

         On May 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint alleging three counts of malicious prosecution against all Defendants arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Rhode Island Constitution, and Rhode Island common law. The Complaint alleges that Defendants continued to detain Plaintiff and investigate his involvement in the home- invasion robbery despite their “actual and constructive knowledge . . . that there was no probable cause to connect [Plaintiff] to this crime.” (Id. ¶ 82.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys' fees, a declaratory judgment that Defendants violated his constitutional rights, and injunctive relief requiring the “City and State to properly train, supervise, and discipline their agents relative to the a) constitutionally protected rights of individuals . . . b) the duty to continue to investigate where a purported eye witness identification lacks credibility; and, c) the duty to cease continued detention and prosecution” in the absence of probable cause. (Id. at 17.) Defendant State of Rhode Island (“the State”) moved to dismiss the Complaint, alleging that it is not a “person” subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that it is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity for all remaining counts.

         II. Applicable Law

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must “accept the well-pleaded facts as true, viewing factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Rederford v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 589 F.3d 30, 35 (1st Cir. 2009). However, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' . . . 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 570 (2007)). Accordingly, in judging the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must “differentiate between well-pleaded facts, on the one hand, and bald assertions, unsupportable conclusions, periphrastic circumlocution, and the like, on the other hand; the former must be credited, but the latter can safely be ignored.” LaChapelle v. Berkshire Life Ins., 142 F.3d 507, 508 (1st Cir. 1998) (quotations omitted).

         III. Arguments

         The State argues that the Complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for three reasons. First, the State is not a “person” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and therefore cannot be sued under that statute. (See State's Motion 6.) Second, “Plaintiff's claim against the State is based solely on the alleged actions taken by the Department of the Attorney General while functioning as a prosecutor; such a claim cannot proceed because of absolute prosecutorial immunity.” (Id. at 1.) And third, “the principles of prosecutorial independence which support [absolute prosecutorial] immunity, coupled with sensitivity to separation of powers concerns and the reluctance of the federal courts to interfere with state criminal process, counsel against any injunctive relief in these circumstances.” (Id. at 10-11 (quoting Harrington v Almy, 977 F.2d 37, 42 (1st Cir. 1992).) The State also asks that judgment enter in its favor pursuant to Rule 54(b), which provides that “the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b).

         Plaintiff concedes that the State cannot be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that Count I must therefore be dismissed as against the State. As to Counts II and III, he contends that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has not yet “squarely determined” whether prosecutorial immunity protects the State from “damages under the State Constitution or common law for malicious prosecution.” (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Opp'n 10, ECF No. 15-1.) In support of this point, he argues that the Rhode Island General Assembly clearly intended to extinguish prosecutorial immunity when it enacted the Governmental Tort Liability Act, R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-31-1, et seq., which eradicated sovereign immunity. (Id. at 11.)

         Alternatively, Plaintiff contends that, even if the State is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity, such immunity would apply “only narrowly to actual prosecutorial functions” and not to the investigative actions prior to Plaintiff's indictment on July 8, 2014. (Id. at 15, 17.) He also contends that the non-prosecutorial actions of the John Doe defendants and of Defendant Matos “may be imputed to the State” and that prosecutorial immunity would not extend to those actors. (Id. at 17.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that a Rule 54(b) judgment is inappropriate here because “there is simply no special or compelling reason to enter the rare and disfavored Rule 54(b) certification.” (Id. at 21.)

         IV. Analysis

         A. Viability of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims Against the State The parties agree that the State cannot be liable for damages or injunctive relief in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the State is not considered a “person” under that statute. (See State's Motion 5-6; Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Opp'n 10.) Accordingly, Plaintiff's § 1983 claim against the State must be dismissed. See 42 U.S.C. §1983; Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police,491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (“[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.”); Johnson v. Rodriguez,943 F.2d 104, 108 (1st Cir. 1991) (“It is settled beyond peradventure . . . that neither a state agency nor a state official acting in his official capacity may be sued for damages in a section 1983 action.”); Nicolas v. Rhode Island, 160 F.Supp.2d 229, 232 (D.R.I. 2001), aff'd, 37 Fed.Appx. 3 (1st Cir. 2002) (“[A] § 1983 suit can not be ...

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