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PRAVDA v. CITY OF ALBANY

February 11, 1997

FRANK PRAVDA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ALBANY, NEW YORK; COUNTY OF ALBANY, NEW YORK; CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ALBANY; ALBANY COUNTY LEGISLATURE; CITY OF ALBANY POLICE DEPARTMENT; ALBANY COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; ALBANY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; ALBANY COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT; CITY OF ALBANY COURT; ALBANY COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH BOARD; E. DAVID DUNCAN, Albany City Court Judge; JOHN DALE, Chief of Police; GERALD D. JENNINGS, Mayor of City of Albany; 610 GUERRO, 550 MILLER, 418 FOX, MAX TANNER, Officer; EDWARD W. SZOSTAK, JOHN J. FAHEY, Former Commissioner of Mental Health; MICHAEL J. HOBLOCK JR., Former County Executive; FRANK MUIA; 814 LONDON; 105 FORKEUTIS; STEVEN DEHART; JAMES CAMPBELL, JOHN DOES # 1- # 17, AND JANE ROE, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCULLIN

 Introduction

 This is a pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that various individuals, government entities, and government officials violated his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also claims that the Defendants entered into a conspiracy to violate his rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(2) & 1985(3). Finally, Plaintiff asserts state law claims for assault, battery, and negligence. *fn1"

  The Defendants in this case can be divided into three groups, (1) the City of Albany Defendants, *fn2" (2) the County of Albany Defendants, *fn3" and (3) Frank Muia. *fn4" In their Answer, the City of Albany Defendants assert a cross-claim against the County of Albany Defendants, and Defendant Frank Muia asserts a cross-claim against the City of Albany and County of Albany Defendants in his Answer.

 Factual Background

 This action arises out of Plaintiff's arrest and subsequent detention for six days in the Albany County Correctional Facility. Plaintiff was arrested on September 20, 1994, following a heated dispute with Defendant Muia over a parking spot. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Muia bent Plaintiff's car radio antenna in retaliation for Plaintiff taking a parking spot Muia was saving for another car. Defendant Muia, however, claims that he grabbed Plaintiff's antenna as Plaintiff drove over Muia's foot.

 Following an investigation by Defendant Guerrero, a Police Officer employed by the City of Albany, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree. Plaintiff claims he was arrested and prosecuted without probable cause. Plaintiff also claims that the City of Albany Police Officers involved in his arrest, and County of Albany Corrections Officers involved in his subsequent detention, threatened Plaintiff with physical harm and used excessive physical force against him. Plaintiff seeks two hundred million dollars in compensatory damages and sixty million dollars in punitive damages.

 Discussion

 There are four motions presently before the Court: (1) Plaintiff's motion to disqualify the undersigned judge from presiding over this action, (2) a motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiff's claims by the County of Albany Defendants, (3) a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's excessive force and state law claims, and for summary judgment on Plaintiff's false arrest and malicious prosecution claims and Defendant Muia's cross-claims, by the City of Albany Defendants, *fn5" and (4) a motion for summary judgment by Defendant Muia on Plaintiff's claims against him. The Court will address these motions seriatim.

 I. Disqualification

 The Court will first address Plaintiff's motion to disqualify the undersigned judge from presiding over this action. Plaintiff seeks the undersigned's recusal on two grounds. First, Plaintiff argues that the undersigned must recuse himself from this action because his office opposed Plaintiff in a civil action Plaintiff brought against the United States while the undersigned was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York. Second, Plaintiff argues that the undersigned harbors a personal bias against Plaintiff because the undersigned dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Duncan, DeHart, and the Albany City Court during a motion calendar held in Syracuse on March 21, 1996.

 Motions for recusal are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 455, and are committed to the sound discretion of the district court. United States v. Lovaglia, 954 F.2d 811, 815 (2d Cir. 1992). Section 455(a) states that a judge shall disqualify himself if his "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." In addition, a trial judge must disqualify himself if "he has served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, adviser, or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion on the merits of the particular case or controversy." 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(3); see also, United States v Gypsum, 835 F.2d 1323 (10th Cir. 1988) (involving trial judge who was a former United States Attorney) (emphasis added).

 As stated, Plaintiff's first argument is that the undersigned should recuse himself because his office opposed Plaintiff in a civil action Plaintiff brought while the undersigned was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York. In order for Plaintiff's first argument to succeed, the prior representation must have involved the same proceeding or matter presently before the Court. The prior proceeding was a civil rights lawsuit against the President of the United States and various other defendants. The proceeding presently before the Court is completely unrelated to that matter, making § 455(b)(3) inapplicable. Furthermore, there is no basis to conclude that the undersigned's impartiality or judgment has been or will be effected or inhibited in any way by his prior service as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York. Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff's first argument lacks merit.

 In his second argument, Plaintiff argues that the undersigned must disqualify himself from this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 455(a) and 455(b)(1), because he believes the undersigned harbors a personal bias against the Plaintiff. Plaintiff's argument is grounded in his belief that this Court surreptitiously dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Duncan, DeHart, and the Albany City Court in his absence.

 In order to determine whether this Court's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, the Court must ask whether a reasonable person, knowing all the facts, would conclude that the trial judge's impartiality could reasonably be questioned. United States v. Pitera, 5 F.3d 624, 626 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). The facts relating to Plaintiff's first argument are as follows: On February 7, 1996, then Defendants in this action, the Albany City Court and Albany City Court Judge E. David Duncan, filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity and absolute judicial immunity, respectively. The motion was made returnable March 21, 1996, in Syracuse. However, the Notice of Motion served on Plaintiff by the Attorney General for the State of New York indicated that the motion was returnable in Albany. On February 27, 1996, then Defendant Steven DeHart, the insurance adjuster at Plaintiff's insurance company that handled the personal injury claim Defendant Muia lodged against Plaintiff, filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's § 1983 claim should be dismissed because he did not act under color of state law or conspire with anyone acting under color of state law. DeHart also argued that Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) and § 1985(3) were deficient because Plaintiff does not allege that any of the Defendants in this action acted with any class-based invidious discriminatory animus. DeHart's motion was made returnable on April 11, 1996, in Albany. Plaintiff's papers in opposition to both motions were filed February 27, 1996. *fn6"

 Rule 7.1(h) of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure for the Northern District of New York gives the judges of this Court the discretion to dispose of matters without oral argument. Upon reading the moving and opposition papers submitted in connection with the two motions, the Court was fully satisfied that it could resolve both motions without oral argument. While the error in the Attorney's General's Notice of Motion was unfortunate, it does not render the Decision and Order of this Court invalid in any way, and it certainly does not demonstrate that the undersigned harbors any personal bias or prejudice against the Plaintiff. Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiff's second argument in support of his motion for disqualification also lacks merit. Plaintiff's motion for recusal is therefore DENIED.

 II. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings by the County of Albany Defendants

 Next, the Court will address the County Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiff's claims. When considering the County Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court must accept all the allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. Sheppard v. Beerman, 94 F.3d 823, 827 (2d Cir. 1996). The Court will not dismiss Plaintiff's claims unless it appears beyond doubt that Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). When reviewing the submissions of a pro se plaintiff, the Court must read the plaintiff's papers liberally, and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments they suggest. Soto v. Walker, 44 F.3d 169, 173 (2d Cir. 1995).

 The Court will divide Plaintiff's claims against the County Defendants into the following three categories in order to more efficiently evaluate the County Defendants' motion: (A) Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) and § 1985(3), (B) Plaintiff's excessive force claims, and (C) Plaintiff's state law claims.

 A. Plaintiff's Section 1985(2) and Section 1985(3) Claims

 In his seventeenth cause of action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Edward W. Szostak, the Superintendent of the Albany County Correctional Facility, James Campbell, the Sheriff of the County of Albany, John J. Fahey, the Commissioner of the Albany County Department of Mental Health, and Michael J. Hoblock, Jr., the County Executive for the County of Albany, conspired to violate Plaintiff's rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2), clause 2, and § 1985(3).

 It is well settled that a plaintiff attempting to establish a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2), clause 2, or § 1985(3), must demonstrate that the Defendant under consideration acted with class-based invidiously discriminatory animus. Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, 113 S. Ct. 753, 758, 122 L. Ed. 2d 34 (1993) (quoting Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102, 29 L. Ed. 2d 338, 91 S. Ct. 1790 (1971)); see also, Herrmann v. Moore, 576 F.2d 453, 456-58 (2d Cir. 1978) (dismissing claims under both 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) and § 1985(3)).

 In this case, Plaintiff makes conclusory allegations that the Defendants conspired to violate Plaintiff's rights because Plaintiff is allegedly "poor and disadvantaged." Plaintiff has not alleged any racial or other traditionally cognizable class based discriminatory animus. In fact, Plaintiff does not make any allegations in his complaint that could conceivably be construed to support these claims. Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to support his claims under either § 1985(2) or § 1985(3), and the County Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings must be granted with respect to Plaintiffs § 1985(2) and § ...


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