July 2015:  This post is a demonstration of our transparency in the way we operate our business.2014 GreatLawyers NY Supreme Courthouse

A sample civil rights complaint.  This pleading alleges a claim for excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as a claim for retaliation, in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

 

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
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JUSTIN TONAWANDA,

                     Plaintiff,                                                   COMPLAINT

                     -against-                                                   JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

VILLAGE OF ST. AUGUSTINE;

TIMOTHY SANDERS, Individually;

BRIAN MOORE, Individually; and

GARY CARTER, Individually;

                    Defendants.

———————————————————————-x

The Plaintiff, JUSTIN TONAWANDA, by his attorneys, Martin & Colin, P.C., for his complaint against the defendants herein, respectfully alleges:

INTRODUCTION

  1. This is an action for equitable relief and for redress for the violation of rights guaranteed to the plaintiff by state and federal laws, including: (a) damages for deprivations by defendants acting under color of State law of plaintiff’s rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed by the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 USC 1983 and 1988; (b) damages for deprivations by defendants of plaintiff’s rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed by Article I Sections 8, 9 and 11 of the New York State Constitution; and (c) damages based upon common law claims in tort.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

  1. The jurisdiction of the Court is invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331 and 1343(a)(3). The Court also has supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1367(a) over the state and local law claims alleged herein because they are so related to the federal claims that they form part of the same case or controversy.
  2. Venue is proper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1391 because all of the material acts and injuries alleged herein occurred within the Southern District of New York. Such acts include practices and conduct violative of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  In addition, venue is proper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1391 because, upon information and belief, defendants’ residence and/or principal place of business is in this judicial district.

THE PARTIES

  1. Plaintiff JUSTIN TONAWANDA is a male, Hispanic, Puerto-Rican-American citizen of the United States, domiciliary of the State of New York and a resident of the County of Westchester.
  2. At all times relevant herein, the plaintiff was an employee of the Village of St. Augustine Department of Buildings and a volunteer fireman of the Village of St. Augustine.
  3. Defendant VILLAGE OF ST. AUGUSTINE is a municipal corporation duly existing by reason of and pursuant to the laws of the State of New York.
  4. Defendant TIMOTHY SANDERS, who is sued personally and in his individual capacity, at all times relevant to this complaint was a police officer employed by the Village of St. Augustine.
  5. Defendant BRIAN MOORE, who is sued personally and in his individual capacity, at all times relevant to this complaint was the Mayor of the Village of St. Augustine. The defendant Moore made the hiring and firing decisions of the Village department where plaintiff was employed and was the policy maker who formulated, implemented and/or ratified the unconstitutional and unlawful policies referred to infra.
  6. Defendant Gary Carter, who is sued in his individual and official capacities, at all times relevant to this complaint was the Superintendent of the Department of Buildings of the Village of St. Augustine. The defendant Carter made the hiring and firing decisions of the Village department where plaintiff was employed and was the policy maker who formulated, implemented and/or ratified the unconstitutional and unlawful policies referred to infra.
  7. Upon information and belief, the defendants prefer to violate the rights of individuals who are among the most vulnerable in society: individuals who are foreign born or who are the children of immigrants because of their unfamiliarity with American discrimination laws and their lack of experience complaining about government officials.
  8. Each of the defendants on prior occasions has violated the rights of other individuals in a manner similar to the one alleged herein.
  9. It is the custom, pattern or practice of the defendants to violate an individual’s rights in the manner set forth herein.
  10. The violation of individual rights as set forth herein is constant and widespread throughout the municipal government.
  11. Throughout the conduct, the defendants utilized their actual and apparent authority over the individuals to carry out the violations of the individual’s rights guaranteed by the constitution, statutory and common law.
  12. The municipal defendant knew about the deprivation of individual rights by the individual defendants or should have known about it.
  13. Prior to the events referred to in this complaint, similar complaints were made against defendant Timothy Sanders.
  14. Prior to the events referred to in this complaint, similar complaints were made against defendant Brian Moore.
  15. Prior to the events referred to in this complaint, similar complaints were made against defendant Gary Carter.
  16. At all relevant times, the municipal defendant staffed its police department with officers, including Defendant Sanders, who were unsupervised, undisciplined, inadequately trained and wholly unsuited to perform as police officers.
  17. At all relevant times, the defendants knew, or should have known, that police officers, including Sanders, exhibited out of control, violent, aggressive behavior toward members of the public.
  18. At all relevant times, the municipal defendant hired or retained employees, including the individual defendants, who abused their authority.
  19. At all relevant times, the municipal defendant hired or retained employees, including the individual defendants, who retaliated against employees for, among other things, exercising their constitutional rights to petition for redress, to petition for redress, for accessing the courts and for speaking out about matters of public concern.
  20. At all relevant times, the municipal defendant hired or retained employees, including the individual defendants, who intentionally engaged in differential treatment of individuals that was irrational, wholly arbitrary and in pursuit of personal or political goals.
  21. At all relevant times, the municipal defendant knew, or should have known, that employees were abusing their authority to carry out personal or political vendettas against employees and members of the public.
  22. At all relevant times, the defendants knew, or should have known, that staffing a municipality with employees, including defendant Sanders, who were unsupervised, undisciplined, inadequately trained and wholly unsuited to interact with the public would pose an excessive risk that members of the public would be subjected to out of control, violent, aggressive behavior.
  23. At all relevant times, the defendants knew, or should have known, that staffing a municipality with employees, including all the individual defendants, who were unsupervised, undisciplined, inadequately trained and wholly unsuited to interact with the public would pose an excessive risk that members of the public would be subjected to out of control, violent, aggressive behavior.
  24. At all relevant times, the defendants knew, or should have known, that failing or refusing to take corrective measures against employees, including the individual defendants, who retaliated against individuals, acted arbitrarily and in furtherance of personal or political vendettas, or who were undisciplined, inadequately trained and unsuited to engage the general public would result in repeated incidents of violations of individual rights protected by the constitution, statutory and common law.
  25. At all relevant times, the defendants failed to adopt policies or procedures that would have prevented the violations of individual rights alleged herein, including but not limited to additional training and supervision.

FACTS

  1. On or about April 14, 2009, plaintiff was operating a motor vehicle on Burt Avenue, a public street in the Village of St. Augustine, County of Westchester, State of New York.
  2. On or about April 14, 2009, plaintiff was stopped for a driving infraction by members of the Village of St. Augustine’s Police Department. Upon being stopped, plaintiff fully cooperated with the police officers.
  3. Despite plaintiff’s cooperation with the police officers, the defendant Sanders used extraordinary and excessive force upon plaintiff by slamming his body against the vehicle and twisting and yanking his arm behind his back.
  4. The force used by the defendant Sanders was so severe that plaintiff suffered numerous injuries including but not limited to a fractured left wrist.
  5. At no time during the incident did plaintiff resist or use force against any of the police officers present.
  6. Following these acts of police brutality committed against plaintiff, the defendant Sanders and other members of the municipal defendant’s police force, over the plaintiff’s objection, did unlawfully open and search the plaintiff’s vehicle.
  7. Following these acts of police brutality committed against plaintiff, the plaintiff reported to his supervisor, the defendant Carter, that the injuries the plaintiff received rendered him temporarily unable to report to work.
  8. The defendant Carter acknowledged to the plaintiff that he understood and advised the plaintiff that when he was ready to return to work he should advise the defendant Carter.
  9. On or about July 16, 2009, the plaintiff served a Notice of Claim on the Village Clerk. The Notice of Claim advised the Village that the plaintiff was seeking injunctive relief and compensatory damages from the Village of St. Augustine as a result of the police brutality inflicted by the defendant Sanders.
  10. Upon information and belief, all named defendants learned of the plaintiff’s filing of the Notice of Claim on or about July 16, 2009.
  11. On or about July 18, 2009, plaintiff was standing on Cortlandt Street, a public street in the Village of St. Augustine, County of Westchester, State of New York.
  12. On or about July 18, 2009, plaintiff was stopped for a violation of a municipal ordinance by members of the Village of St. Augustine’s Police Department, including the defendant Sanders. Upon being stopped, plaintiff fully cooperated with the police officers.
  13. During the plaintiff’s detention by the police officers, the defendant Sanders, without any basis in law or fact and in furtherance of a personal vendetta, alleged that he discovered plastic bags containing the controlled substance cocaine and alleged that the plastic bags belonged to the plaintiff.
  14. Without any basis in law or fact and in furtherance of a personal vendetta, the defendant Sanders took the plaintiff into custody and charged him with a felony crime.
  15. Without any basis in law or fact and in furtherance of a personal vendetta, the defendant Sanders drafted, signed under penalty of perjury and filed in the St. Augustine Justice Court a criminal complaint falsely accusing the plaintiff of a felony crime.
  16. As a result of the defendant Sanders’s false accusations, the plaintiff was incarcerated for several days and a family member was required to post bail in order for the plaintiff to be released from jail.
  17. As a result of the defendant Sanders’s false accusations, plaintiff required to retain an attorney and defend himself against criminal charges.
  18. Another St. Augustine employee holding the same position as the plaintiff was also arrested, incarcerated and charged with committing the very same crime as the plaintiff.
  19. Upon his release from jail on the same charges, the other St. Augustine employee resumed his employment immediately.
  20. On or about August 20, 2009, plaintiff left his car parked on Valley Street, a public street in the Village of St. Augustine, County of Westchester, State of New York.
  21. When plaintiff returned to his car parked on Valley Street two or three minutes later, he discovered that a parking ticket had been placed on the car by the defendant Sanders.
  22. The ticket was issued by the defendant Sanders in furtherance of a personal vendetta.
  23. On or about April 1, 2010, the plaintiff received clearance from his physician that his wrist injury had resolved to the point that he was medically cleared to return to work.
  24. On or about April 13, 2010, the plaintiff provided a copy of his medical clearance to return back to work to the defendants.
  25. On or about April 13, 2010, the plaintiff spoke to the defendant Carter and asked to start working again. The defendant Carter told him that his lawsuit pending against the Village of St. Augustine precluded him from returning to work.
  26. On or about April 5, 2010, the plaintiff again asked the defendant Carter to start working again. The defendant Carter implied that the decision not to put plaintiff back to work was the decision of the defendant Moore.  Carter told the plaintiff that plaintiff would have to speak to the the defendant Moore.
  27. On or about April 6, 2010, the plaintiff appeared at the Village Hall office of the defendant Moore and asked for an appointment.
  28. On or about April 7, 2010, the defendant Moore’s assistant advised plaintiff that the Mayor would not be speaking to or meeting with the plaintiff at any time.
  29. The municipal defendant and its policy-makers, the Superintendent of the Department of Buildings and the Mayor, formulated, implemented and/or ratified the decision not to allow plaintiff to resume employment and the basis for it, i.e., retaliation for plaintiff speaking out and seeking redress in the court system.

AS AND FOR A FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION

(First Amendment Violation)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies and conduct of the defendants prevented or inhibited plaintiff from speaking out about matters of public concern and constituted a violation of plaintiff’s right to free speech in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful policies and acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

 

AS AND FOR A SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION

(First Amendment Violation)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The defendants’ retaliation against plaintiff for serving a notice of claim constituted a violation of the plaintiff’s access to the courts and his right to petition for redress as set forth in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

AS AND FOR A THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION

(Fourth Amendment Violation)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies and conduct of the defendants violated his right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful policies and acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

 

AS AND FOR A FOURTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(Fourteenth Amendment Violation)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies and intentional conduct of the defendants in furtherance of a political vendetta deprived the plaintiff of his right to equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful policies and acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

AS AND FOR A FIFTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(New York State Constitutional Tort)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies and conduct of the defendants prevented or inhibited plaintiff from speaking out about matters of public concern and seek remedy in the court system and constituted a violation of the plaintiff’s right to free speech in violation of Article I Section 8 of the New York State Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful policies and acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic losses including a loss of gainful employment, damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be determined at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

AS AND FOR A SIXTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(New York State Constitutional Tort)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies and conduct of the defendants constituted retaliation of the plaintiff as a result of his petition for redress, in violation of Article I Section 9 of the New York State Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful policies and acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic losses including a loss of gainful employment and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be determined at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

AS AND FOR A SEVENTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(New York State Constitutional Tort)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies and conduct of the defendants deprived the plaintiff of his right to equal protection of the laws in violation of Article I Section 11 of the New York State Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful policies and intentional acts of the defendants in furtherance of personal or political vendettas described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be determined at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

AS AND FOR A EIGHTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(New York State Constitutional Tort)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies and conduct of the defendants violated his right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of Article I Section 12 of the New York State Constitution.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful policies and acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

AS AND FOR A NINTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(Common Law Battery)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The conduct of the defendant Sanders was without plaintiff’s consent and constituted common law battery by the use of excessive force on the plaintiff.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful acts of the defendant Sanders described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

AS AND FOR A TENTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(Malicious Prosecution)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The conduct of the defendant Sanders constituted malicious prosecution because it was carried out in pursuit of a personal vendetta and without any basis in law or fact and without sufficient factual information.
  3. As a direct and proximate result of the unlawful acts of the defendants described herein, the plaintiff has incurred economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and damage to his reputation and still suffers both physical pain and suffering and psychiatric injury all to plaintiff’s damage in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements.
  4. The defendants acted willfully, maliciously and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions. Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages.

 

AS AND FOR A ELEVENTH CAUSE OF ACTION

 (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. As a direct and proximate result of the intentional acts of the defendant Sanders described herein, carried out in pursuit of a personal vendetta and without sufficient factual information, plaintiff suffered economic damage including a loss of gainful employment and was caused to become physical and psychiatric illness and continues to suffer from severe and disabling shock, distress, anguish, sorrow, depression and loss of enjoyment of life.
  3. The aforesaid physical and psychological injuries sustained by plaintiff were caused wholly by reason of the intentional, reckless and/or negligent acts of the defendant Sanders as described herein.
  4. The defendant Sanders acted maliciously and with specific intent to oppress and harm plaintiff and/or with reckless disregard of the consequences of his actions, and as a result plaintiff is entitled to damages in an amount which exceeds the jurisdictional monetary threshold of the Court, the specific amount to be proven at trial.

AS AND FOR A TWELFTH CAUSE OF ACTION

(Injunctive Relief)

  1. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation contained in the paragraphs previously set forth.
  2. The policies of the defendants are still in effect. They deprive and/or chill federal constitutional rights, state constitutional rights and state statutory rights of all similarly situated individuals.  Accordingly, the policies should be preliminarily and permanently enjoined.
  3. In order to counter the unlawful policies described herein, the named defendants and all other municipal employees must be trained and educated in order to protect the constitutional, statutory and common law rights of children.

JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

Plaintiff hereby demands trial by jury on all claims and issues so triable.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF

WHEREFORE, plaintiff respectfully requests that this Court enter Judgment:

  • Permanently enjoining defendants from enforcing their customs, policies, patterns and practices as described herein that violate constitutional rights;
  • Returning plaintiff to permanent employment at his prior employer plus an award of retroactive pay, seniority status and all other benefits attendant to the position as if he had never been retaliated against;
  • Permanently enjoining defendants from taking any further retaliatory actions against plaintiff for exercising his constitutional rights;
  • Retaining jurisdiction over this action and ordering the defendants to implement and enforce proper policies and practices including appropriate training and supervision to protect employees and individuals from infringement of their constitutional rights;
  • Awarding the full amount of compensatory damages as plaintiff April prove at trial against all defendants jointly and severally;
  • Awarding the full amount of punitive damages as the jury determines to be appropriate;
  • Awarding reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements; and
  • Granting such other and further relief as to the Court seems just and proper.

 

Dated: White Plains, New York
April 12, 2010

Yours, etc.,

MARTIN + COLIN, P.C.
Attorneys for Plaintiff

_________________________________
by:  WILLIAM MARTIN
Office + Post Office Address:
44 Church Street
White Plains, New York 10601
(914) 771-7711

The injury lawyers at Martin Colin, P.C., headquartered in White Plains, New York, handle accident claims, negligence and personal injury cases.  If you have been hurt in an accident due to the negligence of another person, our attorneys may be able to help.

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