companion cases stemming from an incident involving their respective arrests. The sister, her adult son and her brother, were meeting at the siblings' mother's home for dinner when the sister's son was pulled over by police for a traffic violation, just as he reached the residence in question. An argument ensued, and the police ultimately entered the residence and arrested the son, his mother, and her brother. The brother, a disabled man, was assaulted by the police and suffered a fractured nose. All charges were dismissed and the jury awarded him $ 60,186 in light of the injuries suffered. The son was charged with disorderly conduct and was released after three hours in custody and awarded $ 750. The mother was arrested, the charges were dropped, and the jury awarded her $ 2724. As can be readily inferred, physical injury dictates larger awards, as in Donaldson v. City of Mt. Vernon, 1996 WL 641926 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1996), in which the plaintiff was getting out of his vehicle to purchase coffee when the police held guns to his head and demanded identification. After he told them his name and address but that he had left his wallet at home, he reached down to pick up his keys. In response, the police placed him in a choke hold, kneed him in his back and arrested him. The plaintiff suffered cervical injury and the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff totaling $ 97,500, which the court reduced to $ 55,000.
As with physical injury sustained, when the actions taken by the police constitute particularly egregious wrongs, the verdicts escalate. See Coleman v. City of New York, 1990 WL 461940 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1990)(A "Good Samaritan" Male Black passerby came upon a Caucasian female sprawled on the hood of a parked car with two Caucasian males standing alongside her, outside of a disco. Believing she was being molested, he called 911 and returned to the scene to intervene on her behalf. A struggle ensued and he was injured. When the police arrived the assailants told the police that he was molesting the women. He was arrested on rape charges, even though he informed the police that he initially called 911 to report the incident, and he was kept in a prison ward hospital for four days before being released. No formal charges were ever filed against him. The jury awarded $ 165,000 as payment for four days of lost freedom and humiliation); Navarez v. City of New York, 1988 WL 373269 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1988)(The plaintiff was present when a riot broke out and was arrested and subsequently released. He went to the precinct to discover the name of the arresting officer and was arrested again. The jury awarded a $ 30,000 total verdict for the combined false arrests); Malte v. New York, 125 A.D.2d 958, 510 N.Y.S.2d 353 (4th Dep't 1986), appeal denied, 69 N.Y.2d 607, 514 N.Y.S.2d 1024 (1987)(The plaintiff, a school teacher, was falsely arrested in front of his students and peers. The teacher was strip searched, incarcerated for ten hours and was represented as a child beater by the police on television. The court reduced a $ 125,000 verdict for false arrest to $ 35,000); Orndorff v. De Nooyer Chevrolet, Inc., 117 A.D.2d 365, 503 N.Y.S.2d 444 (3d Dep't 1986)(affirming an award of $ 50,000 for false arrest where the plaintiff, a major in the Air Force Reserves and a respected corporate employee, was handcuffed, strip searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held in custody for twelve hours all the while wrongly ridiculed in the newspaper for stealing a car).
When the damages are limited to the time detained, as in the case sub judice, the awards are demonstrably less. See Holdsclaw v. City of New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 1993 WL 247041 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1993)(The plaintiff was falsely arrested by Port Authority Police for trespassing after he refused to show his bus ticket, and then refused fingerprinting after not being allowed to read the fingerprint card. He was held in jail for one and one-half days and the jury returned a verdict in the amount of $ 10,000); Peponakis v. City of New York, 1992 WL 677670 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1992)(The plaintiff received a jury award of $ 50,529 for emotional distress for being falsely arrested and held in an unsanitary jail for one night without food or water); Kiryako v. State of New York, 1992 WL 552784 (N.Y. Ct. Claims 1992) (plaintiff was falsely arrested by an abusive off duty state trooper without justification and was held at the police barracks for an unnecessary amount of time and received an award of $ 3250); Clark, Pro Ami v. State of New York, 1991 WL 529136 (N.Y. Ct. Claims 1991)(black youth arrested in arcade store by state troopers because he fit the description of a shoplifter, received a $ 6000 award); Temple v. State of New York, 1993 WL 520449 (N.Y. Ct. Claims 1991) (plaintiff was wrongly arrested and detained by a state trooper at the request of a civilian and was not informed of the charges against him, received a $ 750 award); Portis v. City of Buffalo, 1990 WL 464228 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1990)(The plaintiff, a police officer, was injured when police entered her home to arrest her for reckless endangerment, for which she was later acquitted. She received a total verdict of $ 15,000, including $ 5,000 for false arrest and $ 10,000 for malicious prosecution based upon post-arraignment detention); Velez v. United States, 693 F. Supp. 51 (S.D.N.Y. 1988)(plaintiff received $ 25,000 for two days of false imprisonment after a lawful arrest); Dabbs v. State of New York, 105 A.D.2d 897, 482 N.Y.S.2d 62 (3rd Dep't 1984)(Court of Claims entered a judgment of $ 15,000 for false arrest and State appealed. The award was upheld as not excessive in light of the Court's finding that following publication of his arrest for rape, the plaintiff was unable to obtain employment as a security guard for approximately 110 weeks and had previously earned $ 135 per week, and had suffered severe humiliation and underwent several hours of prearraignment incarceration); Hallenbeck v. City of Albany, 99 A.D.2d 639, 472 N.Y.S.2d 187 (3rd Dep't 1984)(The plaintiff was wrongly arrested for traffic infractions and was handcuffed and detained for approximately three hours before being arraigned. A jury returned a verdict of $ 25,000 in compensation for the false arrest. Finding that the plaintiff was only detained for three hours and did not incur substantial physical or mental suffering, the court modified the judgment to $ 10,000); Feldman v. Town of Bethel, 106 A.D.2d 695, 484 N.Y.S.2d 147 (3d Dep't 1984)(Plaintiff, a newspaper editor attempted to audio tape record a town board meeting after being informed that it would not be allowed. He was arrested at the meeting, charged with disorderly conduct and was eventually tried and acquitted. He was awarded a verdict of $ 35,000 in compensatory damages for false arrest and malicious prosecution and $ 65,000 in punitive damages. The appellate court reduced the compensatory damage award to $ 15,000 and the punitive award to $ 1,000); Kelly v. Kane, 98 A.D.2d 861, 470 N.Y.S.2d 816 (3d Dep't 1983)(Plaintiff was arrested after being wrestled to the ground by the police, painfully handcuffed and taken to the precinct where he was fingerprinted and booked. After being released one and one-quarter hours later he was treated at the hospital for bruises. The award of $ 5,000 for false arrest was affirmed); Woodard v. City of Albany, 81 A.D.2d 947, 439 N.Y.S.2d 701 (3d Dep't 1981)(The plaintiff was wrongfully arrested to cover-up and conceal the misconduct of an off duty police officer who had assaulted the plaintiff in a tavern. The jury returned a verdict of $ 16,000 for false arrest which the appellate court found to be excessive and reduced to $ 7,500 as the plaintiff had only spent five hours in jail and did not incur any substantial physical or mental injury).
The Court is mindful that the plaintiffs did absolutely nothing wrong and has sympathy for their suffering as a result of the arrests, nonetheless, the jury's award of $ 160,000 for each plaintiff deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation and is grossly in excess of the amount which the evidence reasonably can support. The Court, having fully reviewed the trial transcript and the treatment of jury awards for false arrest arising under similar circumstances, and after taking into account the increase in the cost of living between the date of the cases being compared and the date of the jury verdict in the instant case, holds that an award of $ 15,000 for Charles Peterson and an award of $ 15,000 for Leonard Weston is consistent with the maximum reasonable verdict under the circumstances.
Therefore, unless the plaintiffs' individually file, within twenty days after the entry of this Order, a remittitur accepting judgment against defendant Nassau County in the amount of $ 15,000, the motion for a new trial will be granted, but limited to a determination of damages as defendant's liability has already been established.
Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law is denied in its entirety. Defendant's motion for a new trial as to the jury's finding that the defendant's police officers did not have reasonable cause to arrest the plaintiffs is denied. The judgment is modified by reversing so much thereof as awarded each plaintiff, Leonard Weston and Charles Peterson, $ 160,000 compensatory damages and a new trial ordered only with respect to the issue of damages unless, within twenty days after the service of a copy of the Order entered herein, plaintiff Leonard Weston and/or plaintiff Charles Peterson, shall stipulate to reduce the amount of the verdict to $ 15,000 compensatory damages, each, in which event, the judgment, as so reduced, is affirmed, without costs.
Joanna Seybert, U.S.D.J.
Dated: Uniondale, New York
February 23, 1998