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FAHLE v. BRASLOW

January 29, 1996

DAWN FAHLE, Plaintiff, against STEPHEN BRASLOW, individually and as Town Attorney of the Town of Babylon, New York, and BABYLON, NEW YORK, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPATT

 SPATT, District Judge:

 This lawsuit arises from the defendants' alleged violation of the plaintiffs civil rights. The plaintiff, Dawn Fahle, ("Fahle" or the "plaintiff"), seeks to hold liable the Town Attorney of the Town of Babylon, Stephen Braslow, ("Braslow" or the "Town Attorney") and the Town of Babylon (the "Town," collectively the "defendants") for her allegedly unlawful incarceration based on her failure to pay $ 1,500 in fines. The fines resulted from her violation of a local ordinance. The plaintiff filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that her incarceration abridged her due process and equal protection rights in violation of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The defendants move for summary judgment in their favor pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 contending that there are no issues of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

 I. Background

 The plaintiff is a resident of Suffolk County, New York. The defendant Stephen Braslow, is named in both his individual and official capacities as the Town Attorney for the Town of Babylon. The Town of Babylon is a municipal corporation located in Suffolk County, New York.

 On December 21, 1987, the plaintiff was convicted after a non jury trial in the District Court, Suffolk County (Floyd, J.) of two violations of Babylon Town Code Article 3 Local Law 7 ("Local Law 7") relating to barking and harboring and maintaining an excessive number of dogs. According to Fahle's deposition testimony, she was sentenced to two fines of $ 50 or fifteen days in jail and two fines of $ 750 or fifteen days in jail.

 In May 1989, the plaintiff moved to North Carolina with her dogs, causing her to miss a previously scheduled court appearance regarding the unpaid fines. As a result a warrant was issued for her arrest in June 1989. In December 1991, attorney Charles Cancellere appeared in the Suffolk County District Court on behalf of the plaintiff to have the warrant vacated so that she could return to New York.

 The plaintiff returned to New York on January 8, 1992 and appeared in the District Court (Ohlig, J.) where she was granted an extension of time to pay the fines based on her indigence. Subsequently, Fahle appeared in the district court on six more occasions and obtained similar extensions.

 On January 22, 1992, the plaintiff appeared and paid the $ 50 fines leaving the two $ 750 fines outstanding. On February 11, 1992, the district court denied the plaintiff's motion for resentencing and/or a payment schedule. On March 11, 1992, the District Court Judge sentenced the plaintiff to fifteen days incarceration.

 The plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that her constitutional due process and equal protection rights were violated by the Town of Babylon and the Town Attorney as a result of her imprisonment. The gravamen of her claim is that the defendants are liable for her allegedly unlawful incarceration in that the Assistant Town Attorney assigned to the case strongly advocating imprisonment in violation of well established law precluding such a sentence.

 In support of her position, Fahle contends that the Town Attorney, in his capacity as a "de facto assistant district attorney[]" took a position inconsistent with well settled law, as made known to the parties during a hearing before the District Court (Mitchell, J.) over four years earlier on November 2, 1987. At that hearing, Suffolk County District Judge Mitchell advised the parties that a violation of Local Law 7 does not carry a sentence of imprisonment.

 The plaintiff asserts therefore that the defendants' position at the March 11, 1992 hearing, permitting the Assistant Town Attorney to advocate a prison sentence, demonstrated a failure to train and discipline its employees, and communicated an "approval of deliberate indifference to the Constitutional rights of citizens by condoning blatant violations thereof." The plaintiff further supports her position stating that she was advised by Braslow at some point, although it is not clear when, that he would arrange for the pending matters to be "disposed of" by having the fines vacated as she was moving to another state. However, Braslow never took any such action and did not prevent her incarceration. Accordingly, the plaintiff contends that the defendants should be held liable for violating the plaintiff's civil rights. Fahle also asserts a state law claim alleging that the Town Attorney was negligent in training his subordinates.

 The defendants move for summary judgment in their favor pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

 II. Discussion

 
A. Summary Judgment Standard

 A court may grant summary judgment "only if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, presents no genuine issue of material fact," Terminate Control Corporation v. Horowitz, 28 F.3d 1335, 1352 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Cable Science Corp. v. Rochdale Village, Inc., 920 F.2d 147, 151 (2d Cir. 1990)), and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court must, however, resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Institute for ...


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