The Benefits Of Filing Police Misconduct Cases In New York State Court

By Michael Joseph on September 10, 2014

Federal Courts were once the protectors of civil rights and liberties, however recently eight years of Bush appointed Republican appointed judges have taken it upon themselves to tighten the standards and are now looking to throw cases out. Even through Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 8 states that the complaint need only have a plain statements of the facts and numerous cases have held that civil rights cases do not have heightened pleading requirements, the Federal Courts are misinterpreting Rule 12 to impose a de facto heightened pleading requirements. Now, without the benefit of discovery, Police misconduct attorneys must plead factually specific complaints that show that the client has a plausible cause of action of face dismissal.

The Courts are now dismissing cases because they don’f find the allegations to be plausible, in violation of clearly established jurisprudence. Even more egregious, they are allowing defendants to attach documents, including complaints and police records and are taking the allegations in these documents, many of which are fabricated and deeming them true and imposing the burden on the Plaintiff to rebut the contents of these documents.

The Federal Courts are taking these actions in the face of law that states they cannot do this. Rule 12(b) does not allow courts to consider matters outside the pleadings and summarily deem them “uncontroverted”, rather, the facts must be drawn from the four corners of the complaint with all inferences construed in the Plaintiff’s favor. Even when the Court considers extraneous documents, it may look at their content to determine what they state, but may not rely on those statements for their truth in a Rule 12 motion. The court’s function under Rule 12 is to assess the complaint’s legal feasibility, not the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof. Where different inferences can be drawn from the allegations, the resolution of these differing inferences is for the jury, not Under Rule 12, a complaint that states a plausible version of the events cannot be dismissed merely because the court finds a different version more plausible. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement and a complaint has facial plausibility if it pleads facts that allow the court to infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The Court must accept Plaintiff’s allegations as true, drawing all inferences in the best light for the plaintiff, and if that light reveals a scene in which it is plausible that the defendant can be held liable, a Rule 12 motion must be denied. To avoid dismissal, a complaint must only contain enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.

A recent development in the malicious prosecution context has made filing in the New York state Courts more attractive. In a recent ruling the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has intionally adopted a more stringent interpretation of the favorable termination element. Before the New York Court of Appeals decision in Smith-Hunter, the New York Courts required plaintiffs in malicious prosecution suits to prove that the manner in which the criminal case ended was indicative of the innocence of the accused. In many cases, prosecutors who know they have meritless cases try to avoid dismissals on the merits by allowing the case to drag on too long and get dismissed on speedy trial grounds or move to dismiss the charges in the interest of justice. In a string of cases including the Smith Hunter decision the New York Courts took a more expansive view and changed the standard by holding that a dismissal of a criminal case could be considered favorable for malicious prosecution purposes if it was not inconsistent with the innocence of the accused. In a recent deicion, the Court of Appeals held that under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a malicious prosecution Plaintiff now has to prove that the conviction was indicative of innocence. This creates a split in the law where a case could qualify for malicious prosecution under State law, but not under Federal law, which is supposed to be more expansive to protect civil rights. So in a case involving malicious prosecution which ended in something other than a not guilty verdict, New York state court is now the safest place to file, although, a notice of claim will have be filed to preserve a state claim, which is not required under Federal Law. 

When possible, a civil rights case often is better off being filed in State Court, where the Courts are still giving fair readings to complaints and are not overly interpreting the standards in a twisted manner to justify dismissals of meritorious complaints. In the meantime, our New York City lawyers will continue to fight the good fight.

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