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WOODS v. CANDELA

June 25, 1993

DARRYL J. WOODS, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH CANDELA, Defendant.


GOETTEL


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERARD L. GOETTEL

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS

 For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the facts are assumed to be as set forth in the complaint.

 On September 25, 1989, Defendant, who is a New York state trooper, stopped Plaintiff's vehicle because it matched a general description of a vehicle that had been spotted at the scene of several recent robberies. Defendant asked Plaintiff if there were any weapons in the car and Plaintiff replied that he had a nightstick under the driver's seat. Defendant testified during the subsequent criminal trial that he asked if there were any other weapons in the car and Plaintiff replied that there were none and offered to allow Defendant to search the entire vehicle.

 Defendant testified that Plaintiff agreed to allow him to search the trunk and opened the trunk for him.

 Defendant then looked again at the rear seat area, where he observed an air rifle, a green cap and a black piece of cloth with two holes. Defendant testified the Plaintiff claimed ownership of the rifle. These articles matched a description of articles used by a perpetrator of recent armed robberies in the area.

 Defendant advised Plaintiff that he was under arrest for criminal possession of the nightstick. Plaintiff denied his involvement in any robberies. At the police station, Plaintiff signed a form consenting to the previous search of his vehicle and to an additional search of the vehicle at the police station. Plaintiff was issued summonses for driving without a license and for having excessively tinted windows in his vehicle.

 The evidenced seized by Defendant was presented at a Grand Jury hearing in September or October of 1989 in which the Grand Jury charged Plaintiff with the crimes of robbery in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.

 After Plaintiff's arraignment, Plaintiff sought to suppress the evidence found in Plaintiff's vehicle as well as Plaintiff's statements to the police. The County Court denied these motions.

 Plaintiff was tried by a jury. During the trial, the evidence seized from Plaintiff's vehicle by Defendant as well as Plaintiff's statements to the police were received in evidence. Plaintiff was found guilty and sentenced on November 15, 1990 to 12 1/2 to 25 years imprisonment.

 Plaintiff appealed and on January 19, 1993, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed, dismissing the indictment against Plaintiff. In its decision, the Appellate Division found that Plaintiff's motion to suppress the evidence found in his vehicle should have been granted. Although the stop was justifiable, the Appellate Division found that the circumstances did not provide Defendant with reasonable suspicion to detain and question Plaintiff and, therefore, Defendant's inquiry as to whether Plaintiff had any weapons in the vehicle was impermissible. Furthermore, they held that the items recovered during the search should have been suppressed, since a stop for a traffic offense will not justify a search of the motorist or of the vehicle unless there are reasonable grounds for believing the motorist guilty of a crime or if the officer has a reasonable, articulable basis to fear for his own safety. The Appellate Division found that Defendant had no such reasonable suspicion nor did he express any basis to fear for his safety.

 Plaintiff was incarcerated for a period of two years and nine months.

 On May 6, 1993, Plaintiff brought claims in federal court under § 1983 for violations of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments for false arrest and malicious prosecution. Upon Defendants motion to dismiss, Plaintiff has dropped all claims except for violations of his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the governing statute of limitations. The statute of limitations applicable to civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is that provided by the forum state for general or residual personal injury claims. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 251, 102 L. Ed. 2d 594, 109 S. Ct. 573 (1989). New York Civil Practice Law and Rules states that such claims are subject to a three year statute of limitations. New York Civil Practice Law and Rules § 214(5).

 In order to decide whether the statute of limitations has run prior to the commencement of an action, the court must determine when the cause of action accrued and whether the ...


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