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LORIA v. TOWN OF IRONDEQUOIT

October 19, 1990

SAM J. LORIA AND CATHERINE LORIA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE TOWN OF IRONDEQUOIT, IRONDEQUOIT POLICE DEPARTMENT, IRONDEQUOIT CHIEF OF POLICE, WILLIAM FREY, JOHN DOE AND JANE DOE, AND OTHER SUPERVISORS OF IRONDEQUOIT POLICE PERSONNEL, OFFICER STEPHEN GERHARDT AND OFFICER BERNARD GUINTA, ALL OF WHOM ARE SUED IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS. JEFFREY LORIA AND SUZANN LORIA, PLAINTIFFS, V. THE TOWN OF IRONDEQUOIT, IRONDEQUOIT POLICE DEPARTMENT, IRONDEQUOIT CHIEF OF POLICE, WILLIAM FREY, JOHN DOE AND JANE DOE, AND OTHER SUPERVISORS OF IRONDEQUOIT POLICE PERSONNEL, OFFICER STEPHEN GERHARDT AND OFFICER BERNARD GUINTA, ALL OF WHOM ARE SUED IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Telesca, Chief Judge.

  DECISION AND ORDER

The plaintiffs, Sam Loria, his wife Catherine, his son Jeff and his daughter-in-law Suzann, filed these two actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1985 and 1988 as the result of certain events which occurred on February 8, 1983. In their complaints, the plaintiffs allege federal causes of action for deprivations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as various pendent state law claims for assault, false arrest, malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Defendants Town of Irondequoit (the "Town"), Irondequoit Police Department ("Police Department"), Irondequoit Chief of Police William Frey, Officer Stephen Gerhardt, Officer Bernard Guinta, John Doe, Jane Doe and other Supervisors of Irondequoit Police Personnel now move for an order of summary judgment dismissing all or some of the claims against them. For the reasons discussed below, the defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

On December 31, 1982, Officer Bernard Guinta issued Jeffrey Loria a ticket for speeding. After issuing the ticket and returning to police barracks, defendant Guinta ran a routine check on Jeffrey's license and learned that it had been previously suspended for failure to pay a fine. Deposition of Bernard Guinta, October 15, 1986, at 27-30, 32. Guinta thereafter sought to ticket Jeffrey for driving with a suspended license and for failure to surrender a suspended item. When attempts to personally serve these upon Jeffrey at his home failed, Guinta decided to present the tickets at the time of Jeffrey's trial on the speeding violation.

That trial took place around 10:00 pm on February 8, 1983 in the Irondequoit Town Hall. Following the testimony of both Guinta and Jeffrey, Jeffrey was found guilty of speeding and fined $25. Immediately after the trial, Guinta took Jeffrey into a back room in the Court House to inform him of the additional charges against him. Guinta Dep. at 52; Deposition of J. Loria, at 20-21; Gerhardt Dep. at 158. The two were joined at some point by defendant Gerhardt, a police officer who had testified that night in another unrelated matter. Gerhardt was dressed in civilian clothes at the time and was carrying an off-duty .45 caliber revolver. Defendant Gerhardt's Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, ¶¶ 7, 16.

During the course of his discussions with Guinta and Gerhardt, Jeffrey disclaimed ever having received notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles that anything was wrong with his license. Despite these contentions, Guinta issued Jeffrey an appearance ticket for driving with a suspended license and Jeffrey thereafter left the room. The parties dispute whether Jeffrey was then told not to drive, although Jeffrey admits that he may have been so advised. J. Loria Dep. at 27, 30.

Defendant Gerhardt followed Jeffrey from the building and, after observing him walk to his car, returned to the small room and advised Guinta that Jeffrey was about to drive. The two then entered Guinta's assigned vehicle, radioed for assistance, and began pursuing Jeffrey with flashing lights engaged. Jeffrey had stopped at an intersection, and as he approached, Guinta turned off the flashing lights. When the light turned green, Guinta pulled his vehicle directly behind Jeffrey's, reengaged the lights, ran the spotlight across Jeffrey's mirrors and hit the siren for one cycle. Despite these actions, Jeffrey claims that he did not hear the siren and that he was otherwise unaware of the police officers' presence at the light.

Guinta and Gerhardt, along with Catherine Loria, followed Jeffrey to his parents' home where they arrived shortly thereafter. While the exact nature and sequence of the subsequent events remains in dispute, a scuffle eventually ensued during the course of which Jeffrey alleges that Gerhardt struck him on several occasions while he and Guinta were trying to handcuff him. This scuffle was interrupted by Sam Loria who, apparently alerted by the flashing lights, appeared from the garage to determine the source of the commotion. Upon seeing his son wrestling with the two officers, Sam Loria grabbed Gerhardt about the shoulders and the two fell to the ground with the elder Loria ending up on top. Gerhardt withdrew his off-duty revolver and, with his finger on the trigger, pushed it against Sam Loria's side. Defendants Town, Police Department, et. al. Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, at ¶¶ 59, 60. The gun ultimately discharged, striking Sam Loria in the right groin.

Jeffrey, Catherine and Sam Loria were thereafter charged with various offenses, including resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Catherine and Sam Loria were both "no-billed" by the grand jury and Jeffrey Loria was acquitted on all counts following a trial in Irondequoit Town court.

In their complaints, plaintiffs allege that Gerhardt and Guinta intentionally and negligently used deadly force in violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments rights, and that such conduct evidences a failure by the Town, its Police Department and its Chief of Police to properly train its officers. The defendants now raise a number of arguments in their summary judgment papers, all of which are treated below.

DISCUSSION

  1.  Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Claims Involving
      Negligent Use of Excessive Force

The initial inquiry in a § 1983 action, including those involving excessive force, focuses on two issues: (1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by persons acting under color of state law; and (2) whether the conduct deprived a person of the rights secured by the Constitution or the laws of the States. Graham v. O'Connor, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1870 (1989); Parrat v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986). While essentially conceding that they were acting "under color of state law," the defendants argue initially that plaintiffs' claims for ...


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