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Schloss v. Bouse

decided: May 30, 1989.

LOIS SCHLOSS AND OSMOND BENSCHOP, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
PATROLMAN BOUSE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A POLICE OFFICER OF THE VILLAGE OF CATSKILL, PATROLMAN WADHENOLO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A POLICE OFFICER OF THE VILLAGE OF CATSKILL, PATROLMAN ADSIT, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A POLICE OFFICER OF THE VILLAGE OF CATSKILL, SEYMOUR MEADOW, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF GREENE COUNTY, DANIEL LALOR, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF GREENE COUNTY, THE VILLAGE OF CATSKILL POLICE DEPARTMENT, THE CITY OF HUDSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, DET. SGT. JULIUS BRENNER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN OFFICER OF THE CITY OF HUDSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER JOEL HOLLENBECK, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN OFFICER OF THE CITY OF HUDSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER GARY WALLACE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN OFFICER OF THE CITY OF HUDSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER FRANK ABITABILE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN OFFICER OF THE CITY OF HUDSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, THE CITY OF HUDSON AND BERTHA HEATH, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from so much of a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York as dismissed claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on ground of prosecutorial immunity. Affirmed.

Kearse and Winter, Circuit Judges, and Leval, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Kearse

KEARSE, Circuit Judge

Plaintiffs Lois Schloss and Osmond Benschop appeal from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Lee P. Gagliardi, Judge, dismissing their suit seeking damages from various defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) in connection with an allegedly unlawful arrest and detention. On appeal, plaintiffs challenge only so much of the judgment as reflects a prior order of the district court, Con. G. Cholakis, Judge, granting the motion of defendant Daniel Lalor, an assistant district attorney for Greene County, New York, for summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs' claim against him on the ground of absolute immunity. Plaintiffs claimed that Lalor had prolonged their detention and threatened to prosecute them solely for the purpose of coercing them to execute releases in favor of the arresting authorities, and they contend on appeal that the court erred in dismissing this claim on the ground of absolute immunity because these are not prosecutorial functions. For the reasons below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

For the purposes of his motion for summary judgment, Lalor did not dispute plaintiffs' version of the events leading to their lawsuit. Plaintiffs' version, together with facts they have not contested, is as follows.

On March 12, 1984, a woman in the Village of Catskill, New York, complained to Catskill police that a man and a woman had attempted to rob her at gunpoint on the main street of Catskill and had entered a vehicle and left the area. The complainant furnished the police with a detailed and accurate description of plaintiffs' car, including the number on the license plate. Catskill police radioed that information to neighboring communities including the City of Hudson, New York.

A short time later, as plaintiffs were driving from Catskill toward Hudson, they were stopped by Hudson police officers. Plaintiffs were arrested and turned over to the Catskill police. A search failed to reveal any weapon.

Plaintiffs repeatedly protested their innocence, and upon learning the identity of the complainant, they informed the Catskill police that she had a history of mental illness and a reputation for fabricating stories. At some point, it became apparent to the police officers that in fact plaintiffs had committed no crime and that no crime had been committed. Eventually, the officers took plaintiffs to the office of assistant district attorney Lalor.

In Lalor's office, plaintiffs were asked to sign releases in favor of the various police agencies and municipalities. Both Lalor and the officers threatened that if plaintiffs refused to sign the releases, they would not be released from custody but instead would be taken to the county jail and prosecuted on criminal charges. Plaintiffs signed the releases.

Plaintiffs commenced the present action seeking damages from, inter alios, the arresting officers and the municipalities in July 1984; originally the district attorney, rather than Lalor, was made a party; Lalor was added as a defendant in December 1985. Though Lalor disputed plaintiffs' version of the events in which he was involved, he moved for summary judgment contending that he was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity even assuming plaintiffs' version was accurate.

In December 1987, the district court granted Lalor's motion from the bench, ruling that "the action performed by assistant District Attorney Lalor was performed within the function of Mr. Lalor's prosecutorial aspect of his responsibility and therefore comes within the immunity provided to him by law." Eventually, a final judgment was entered after all of the defendants either had had the claims against them dismissed or had entered into settlement agreements. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION

On appeal, Schloss and Benschop contend principally that the district court should have rejected Lalor's absolute immunity defense as a matter of law because coercion of releases is not the type of conduct to which such immunity is accorded. In the context of the ...


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