punitive damages are unavailable against a municipality. The Gowanda defendants also seek attorney's fees and costs under § 1988 (Item 38).
These grounds for summary judgment, as well as the Gowanda defendants' request for attorneys' fees, are discussed in turn below.
I. Summary Judgment.
Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, discovery materials, and affidavits on file "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In reaching this determination, the court must assess whether there are any material factual issues to be tried while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Coach Leatherware Co., Inc. v. AnnTaylor, Inc., 933 F.2d 162, 166-67 (2d Cir. 1991). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., supra, 477 U.S. at 248; see Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849, 116 L. Ed. 2d 117, 112 S. Ct. 152 (1991).
Once the moving party has met its burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must come forward with enough evidence to support a jury verdict in its favor, and the motion will not be defeated merely upon a "metaphysical doubt" concerning the facts, or on the basis of conjecture or surmise. Bryant v. Maffucci, supra (citing Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986)). In order to avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party is under the obligation "to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of [its] case with respect to which [it] has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Burke v. Bevona, 931 F.2d 998, 1001 (2d Cir. 1991). "Entry of summary judgment indicates that no reasonable jury could return a verdict for the losing party." Coach Leatherware, Inc. v. AnnTaylor, Inc., supra, 933 F.2d at 167. Stated slightly differently, "when no rational jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight, there is no genuine issue of material fact and a grant of summary judgment is proper." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Services, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).
II. 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
In order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, , 114 S. Ct. 2364, 2372, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1994); Channer v. Mitchell, 43 F.3d 786, 787 (2d Cir. 1994). "A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983." Heck v. Humphrey, supra; see also Dawkins v. City of Utica, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17235, 1994 WL 675047, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. November 28, 1994).
Thus, when a plaintiff seeks damages in a § 1983 action based on allegations that the governmental conduct resulting in his conviction and sentence was unlawful, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily implicate the validity of his conviction or sentence. Heck, supra. If it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. However, if the district court determines that the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to proceed in the absence of some other bar to the suit. Id., 512 U.S. at , 114 S. Ct. at 2372-73.
The holding in Heck "dovetails with established law in the Second Circuit, which also incorporates common law rules into Section 1983 analysis to hold that a valid conviction will bar a Section 1983 plaintiff from asserting federal claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution." Powers v. Sickler, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4735, 1995 WL 146272, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. March 31, 1995)(citing Cameron v. Fogarty, 806 F.2d 380, 387-88 (2d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1016, 95 L. Ed. 2d 501, 107 S. Ct. 1894 (1987)).
In this case, the record before the court clearly demonstrates that judgment in favor of plaintiffs on their claims against any of the defendants would necessarily implicate the validity of James Dill's conviction upon entry of a guilty plea to the charge of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. Because a valid conviction is conclusive evidence of probable cause, all of plaintiffs' claims question the validity of James Dill's conviction. See Powers v. Sickler, supra, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4735, 1995 WL 146272, at *5; see also Roesch v. Otarola, 980 F.2d 850, 853-54 (2d Cir. 1992)(holding that requirement that § 1983 plaintiff receive favorable termination applies equally to claims of false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution). In other words, recovery on plaintiffs' § 1983 claims, or on their claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, or malicious prosecution, would presume that plaintiffs were stopped by defendants Rupp and Castellano without probable cause, and that the charge of driving with a suspended license (later reduced to driving without a license) was therefore invalid. See Dawkins v. City of Utica, supra, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17235, 1994 WL 675047, at *3.
Thus, in order to succeed on their § 1983 claims based on the allegedly unlawful conduct of defendants Rupp and Castellano, plaintiffs must show that James Dill's conviction has been reversed, expunged or somehow otherwise invalidated. Because they cannot make such a showing, summary judgment is appropriate dismissing plaintiffs' claims for damages under § 1983.
In addition, in order to hold a municipal entity liable under § 1983 for the alleged unconstitutional actions of its officials, the plaintiff must plead and prove (1) an official policy or custom that (2) causes the plaintiff to be subjected to (3) a denial of a constitutional right. Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978); Batista v. Rodriguez, 702 F.2d 393, 397 (2d Cir. 1983). The mere assertion that the municipality or entity has such a custom or policy is insufficient "in the absence of allegations of fact tending to support, at least circumstantially, such an inference." Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d 94, 100 (2d Cir. 1993).
The amended complaint in this case alleges that a policy can be inferred from the failure of the Village of Gowanda (through defendant Lazar, as mayor) or the police department (through defendant Lazar, as commissioner) to take disciplinary action against Castellano for his allegedly unconstitutional stop of plaintiffs. This assertion is insufficient to impose municipal § 1983 liability on the Village of Gowanda or the Gowanda Police Department.
Furthermore, in order to impose § 1983 liability on defendant Lazar, plaintiffs must show that Lazar was personally involved in the purported unconstitutional conduct. Green v. Bauvi, 46 F.3d 189, 194 (2d Cir. 1995). As stated by the Second Circuit:
A defendant may be personally involved in a constitutional violation within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in several ways. The defendant may have directly participated in the infraction . . .. A supervisory official, after learning of the violation through a report or appeal, may have failed to remedy the wrong . . .. A supervisory official may be liable because he or she created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed such a policy or custom to continue . . .. Lastly, a supervisory official may be personally liable if he or she was grossly negligent in managing subordinates who caused the unlawful condition or event.