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Kangro v. City of Port St. Lucie

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 29, 2017



          KENNETH A. MARRA United States District Judge

         This cause is before the Court upon Defendants City of Port St. Lucie and Officer James Becker's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (DE 14). The motions are fully briefed and ripe for review. The Court has carefully considered the motions and is otherwise fully advised in the premises.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs' Olof Marcus Kangro (“Kangro”) and Kanan Sheth (“Sheth”) six-count Complaint brings claims against Officer James Becker (“Officer Becker”) and the City of Port St. Lucie (collectively “Defendants”) for false arrest, wrongful imprisonment, and malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (count one), negligence of Becker (count two), loss of consortium (count four), false imprisonment (count five), and malicious prosecution (count six). Plaintiffs' Complaint further brings a claim against the City of Port St. Lucie for negligence of the Police Department (count three).

         According to the allegations of the Complaint, on or about May 26, 2014, Kangro was dining with his family at a restaurant in the Club Med Resort in St. Lucie County, where he and his family were visiting from New York. (DE 1 ¶¶ 11-13. During dinner, Kangro's two-year-old-son “was a little rambunctious and was placed in time out.” (DE 1 ¶ 13.)

         Shortly thereafter, to the family's surprise, several police officers appeared from the Port St. Lucie Police Department, including Officer Becker. (DE 1 ¶ 14.) The officers, including Officer Becker, contacted the Florida Department of Children and Families (“FDCF”). Kangro and Sheth were detained for four hours until FDCF agents arrived. (DE 1 ¶ 15.) After meeting with Kangro and Sheth, FDCF determined that no abuse had occurred. (DE 1 ¶ 15.) Despite FDCF's findings, Officer Becker continued the detention, eventually arresting and transporting Kangro to the police station. (DE 1 ¶ 16.) Kangro was arrested and charged with a violation of section 827.03(2)3, Fla. Stat. for knowingly or willfully abusing a child, a felony. (DE 1 ¶ 18.)

         Officer Becker's arrest affidavit describes that he met with the complainants, Lisa Helton and Ryan Mattingly, and that they observed that Nikkhil Kangro was crying and acting up in a café area of the Club Med resort. (DE 1 ¶ 17.) It attests that the complainants observed Kangro as he shook the child's high chair violently, grabbed the child by the chin and shook his face back and forth while shouting loudly and threateningly, placed a cloth napkin over the child's face to muffle his crying, and threw the napkin at his face. (DE 1 ¶ 17.) It further attests that a server at the café, Elisabeth Witkowski, observed the child start to fuss after being placed in a high chair and that Kangro shook the high chair to stop him and then flicked him twice in the face with a linen dinner napkin. (DE 1 ¶ 17.) Officer Becker's affidavit describes a small bruise that he observed on the child's left cheek. (DE 1 ¶ 17.) It then describes placing Kangro under arrest, telephoning FDCF, waiting until an FDCF investigator responded and conducted an initial investigation, and transporting Kangro to St. Lucie County Jail for processing and booking. (DE 1 ¶ 17.)

         In making his arrest affidavit, Officer Becker failed to disclose all of the relevant witnesses. (DE 1 ¶ 17.) Officer Becker was investigated by the Police Department internal affairs department in connection with this arrest. (DE 1 ¶ 24.) Dr. Pereira and Abby Pereira were exculpatory witnesses that were not disclosed in Officer Becker's arrest affidavit. (DE 1 ¶ 25.) The Police Department found Officer Becker incompetent for failure to include these witnesses in his report and affidavit. ((DE 1 ¶ 25.) That investigation included statements from Dr. Pereira that he told Officer Becker that he did not see anything significant between Kangro and his child and did not specifically see Kangro rub a napkin in his child's face in an aggressive manner. (DE 1 ¶ 24.) The investigation also included a statement from Abby Pereira relating that she spoke with Officer Becker, that Kangro's child was shouting and throwing things in the restaurant, that Kangro and Sheth were disciplining him, and that she did not see either Kangro of Sheth touch the child. (DE 1 ¶ 24.) Abby Pereira was not watching Kangro and Sheth the whole time. (DE 1 ¶ 24.) Further, Abby Pereira communicated that Kangro's child had a bruise on its face from a prior fall while at a swimming pool, that she was present during the accidental fall, and that she noticed a bruise on the child's face later that day. (DE 1 ¶ 24.)

         The charges against Kangro were dismissed. (DE 1 ¶ 22.) The child welfare investigations in both Florida and New York were also dismissed. (DE 1 ¶ 22.) As a result of the charges, Kangro was prohibited from having contact with his family, was forced out of his home, and the corresponding New York agency to the FDCF conducted home visits. (DE 1 ¶ 20.)

         Further, Kangro was forced to expend monies on defense counsel and investigation into the claims. (DE 1 ¶ 23.) Finally, Kangro also expended monies in an attempt to clean up his name and remove newspaper stories placed on the internet as a result of the charges. (DE 1 ¶ 23.)

         The Complaint alleges that had Officer Becker been truthful, accurate, and complete in the arrest affidavit, by including statements from Dr. Pereira and Abby Pereira, no charges would have been brought against Kangro. (DE 1 ¶ 19.) Further, had Officer Becker relied upon the DFCF's statements that no abuse had occurred, Mr. Kangro would never have been placed in jail. (DE 1 ¶ 19.)

         Defendants moves to dismiss on the following grounds. First, addressing the Count I claim under § 1983, Officer Becker moves to dismiss Kangro's claim under § 1983 based on the defense of qualified immunity. Specifically, Officer Becker asserts that arguable probable cause existed at the time of the arrest or detention of Kangro and thus Kangro's claims for false arrest and false imprisonment are barred. Relatedly, the City of Port St. Lucie moves to dismiss Kangro's claim under § 1983 against it based on the holding in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and its rejection of government liability under § 1983 on a theory of respondeat superior. The City of Port St. Lucie asserts that the Complaint fails to specifically allege any custom of policy in this matter, fails to allege who the final policymaker was, and have failed to identify a clearly established constitutional right that was allegedly violated. As such, the City of Port St. Lucie concludes that Plaintiffs have failed to state a cause of action.

         Addressing Count II, Plaintiffs note that Count II was titled against Officer Becker but also note that Plaintiffs press liability under respondeat superior and pray for damages from both Officer Becker and the City of Port St. Lucie. Defendants urge that Plaintiffs have failed to allege the duty owed by Officer Becker, that there is no duty to have included additional information or report information to prosecutors, and that a tort for negligent arrest or negligent investigation simply does not exist. Accordingly, Defendants urge Count II to be dismissed as a matter of law.

         Similarly, Defendant City of Port St. Lucie asserts that Count III, alleging the negligence of the City of Port St. Lucie, is subject to dismissal. Defendants argue that the City of Port St. Lucie cannot be liable for negligent training as a result of its employment of Officer Becker. Defendants emphasize that the Complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action for negligent training or supervision. Further, Defendant City of Port St. Lucie asserts that the Complaint fails to plead facts sufficient to maintain a cause ...

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