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HOFFMAN v. COUNTY OF DELAWARE

March 12, 1999

EDWARD F. HOFFMAN, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF DELAWARE, MICHAEL TALARICO, MARK HAMILTON, WILLIAM R. MOON, AND CRAIG WHITTEN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McAVOY, Chief Judge.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION & ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

Because this is a motion for summary judgment by the defendants, the following facts are presented in the light most favorable to Hoffman. See Ertman v. United States, 165 F.3d 204, 206 (2d Cir. 1999).

Hoffman was a police officer for the Village of Sidney (the "Village") Police Department. On January 8, 1995, Hoffman responded to a call that a child had stopped breathing. In an effort to reach the scene, Hoffman activated his siren and light bar and pulled into the oncoming traffic lane to pass a slower moving vehicle. As he did so, another vehicle came over the crest of a hill and had to steer off of the road to avoid a head-on collision with Hoffman. Hoffman also lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a "no parking" sign. Although the collision shattered his windshield and limited his visibility, Hoffman proceeded to the scene of the emergency.

Disciplinary charges were filed against Hoffman as a result of this incident. After a hearing, the hearing officer found that Hoffman: (1) drove a police vehicle in an improper, unsafe, reckless, careless, or negligent manner; (2) endangered the safety and welfare of himself and others; (3) damaged a police vehicle; and (4) failed to follow proper police department rules or regulations. Although the hearing officer recommended that Hoffman be terminated the Village opted to suspend him for ninety days without pay.

Hoffman filed a petition pursuant to N.Y.C.P.L.R. Art. 78 challenging the determination of the hearing officer. Both that determination and his suspension were upheld by the Tompkins County Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, Third Department. See Hoffman v. Village of Sidney, 235 A.D.2d 698, 652 N.Y.S.2d 346 (3d Dep't 1997).

On September 9, 1995, Hoffman informed his superiors that he was experiencing pain in his left knee and hip areas. As a result, Hoffman was disabled from work and sought Workers' Compensation benefits and benefits under N.Y.GEN.MUN. LAW 207-c. After the Village denied and/or discontinued benefits to Hoffman, a series of disputes arose between Hoffman and the Village of Sidney regarding these benefits.

On June 28, 1996, Officer J.R. Blot ("Blot") entered the Sidetrack Lounge in Sidney, New York. Hoffman also was at the Sidetrack Lounge, and he and Blot engaged in conversation. Hoffman told Blot that he was experiencing continued problems at work and that he was still out on disability. Hoffman stated that certain persons in high positions had engaged in illegal drug activities in and around the Village of Sidney. Hoffman insisted that he was aware of these illegal activities and that the people involved were "out to get him" and had instituted a course of harassment against him. In fact, Hoffman attributed his difficulties in obtaining benefits to his knowledge of the alleged unlawful activities. Hoffman apparently told Blot that the former Commissioner of Police, Charles Bessett ("Bessett"), attempted to break into his apartment to steal and/or plant evidence. Hoffman indicated that if Bessett or anyone else ever attempted to enter his apartment, they would be greeted with a shotgun.

Hoffman asserted that Investigators Charles and Chandler, Assistant District Attorney Davis, and Bessett were involved in these unlawful drug activities. Hoffman believed that Whitten, although not directly involved in the drug activity, refused to take any action. Hoffman apparently stated that he would like to meet up with "these guys" in a men's room, that he would use physical force upon them, and that the coroner might need to be called. Hoffman insists, however, that he only stated that he would like to "punch them out." Hoffman believed these individuals had systematically destroyed his life over a fifteen year period.

Blot became concerned that Hoffman was overly consumed with this alleged conspiracy against him. He also noted that Hoffman had been drinking excessively and that he maintained numerous firearms in his apartment. Blot, therefore, contacted Whitten and the Delaware County Department of Social Services Crisis Intervention Officer/Part-Time Deputy Sheriff, Mark A. Hamilton. Hamilton discussed the matter with Defendants Commissioner of the Delaware County Department of Social Services William H. Moon and County Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Talarico.

Based on the discussion with Blot, Talarico and Moon advised that further investigation was warranted. Thus, Hamilton and Officer J.J. Bowie ("Bowie") were sent to assess Hoffman's mental health. Hamilton met with Hoffman at the Community Lounge, a bar located in the same building in which Hoffman resided. Hamilton told Hoffman about his conversation with Blot and that he was performing an assessment pursuant to N.Y. MENTAL HYG. LAW § 9.41.*fn2 He also offered Hoffman mental health and/or social services to assist him in resolving his anger, frustration, and hostility.

Hoffman denied having an alcohol problem, but did not deny making threats against or expressing hostility towards certain Village officials. Hoffman reiterated his belief that his troubles with the Village stemmed from an incident in 1987 involving Deputy Gritman, Investigator Charles, Assistant District Attorney Davis and former Police Commisioner Bessett. At one point in time during the conversation, Bowie reached into his shirt pocket to retrieve a cellular phone. In response, Hoffman got very excited, exhibited a certain degree of nervousness or paranoia, and questioned whether Hamilton and Blot were recording their Conversation. Hoffman was quieted after being reassured that the device was only a cellular telephone.

According to Hamilton:

  it became apparent that Mr. Hoffman believes that
  whatever occurred in 1987 has dramatically through a
  conspiracy of all the aforementioned persons, directly
  influenced the direction of his police career and
  created the conflict that he is now embroiled with . . .
  the Village. Mr. Hoffman indicated that he spends
  time in writing up notes and making voluminous records
  on his present and past conflicts associated with this
  conspiracy and his present job

  difficulty. Hoffman declined to accept any mental
  health or social services.

See Uniform Investigative Report annexed to the Dec. 1, 1998 aff. of Frank Miller as Ex. 23. Hamilton thereafter contacted all concerned parties and warned them of Hoffman's threats.

Based upon the information provided by Hamilton and Blot, on July 18, 1996 at approximately 10:00 a.m., Talarico issued a "pick-up order" pursuant to N.Y. MENTAL HYG.LAW § 94.5*fn3 Defendant William Masters, a Supervising Social Worker for Delaware County, and Talarico, also wrote a report supporting the issuance of the pickup order. The report indicated that Hoffman appears:

  obsessionally fixated and dwells upon his report of a
  conspiracy originating in 1987, . . . sees himself
  persecuted by the Village, . . . is thought to be a
  serious abuser of alcohol, if not alcohol dependent,
  . . . is known to have collected a substantial
  arsenal, . . . [has] seclud[ed] himself and
  retreat[ed] from normal interaction with other
  people, . . . does not allow anyone up the stairs to
  knock on his apartment door, . . . [and that] he has
  spoken to various individuals about obtaining sand
  bags in which to barricade his room.

The report concluded that "[because he is seriously angry within the framework of unrealistic delusions, because he feels threatened and may have barricaded his apartment, . . . and because he has a drinking problem, the increasing tension between he and his employer and the world in general are seen as meriting a serious evaluation for dangerousness." The pick-up order stated that it was based upon information provided by Hamilton, who was believed to be a police officer with the County Sheriffs Department. Moon also applied to have Hoffman involuntarily admitted to a hospital pursuant to N.Y.MENTAL HYG.LAW § 9.27*fn4, although Hoffman was ultimately admitted pursuant to N.Y.MENTAL HYG.LAW § 9.39*fn5 or arguably in the alternative, N.Y.MENTAL HYG. LAW § 9.37.*fn6

Later that day, Hoffman was stopped on Interstate 88 by the New York State Police. The State Police contacted the County Sheriff's Office. Hamilton and Blot arrived on the scene and took Hoffman into custody and transported him to the A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital Crisis Center for observation. At the time he was taken into custody, Hoffman had two loaded pistols in the front seat of his car, two long arms in the trunk, and a knife. Thereafter, and as a result of the issuance of the pick-up order, Delaware County Court Judge Robert L. Estes issued an order suspending Hoffman's license to possess or carry pistols or revolvers and requiring him to deliver all his pistols and revolvers to the Delaware County Sheriff. The order was served on Hoffman at A.O. Fox. Memorial Hospital.

Hoffman consented to have Officer Kent Lewis retrieve the pistols from his apartment. Hoffman claims that he only gave permission for Officer Lewis to enter his apartment. Nonetheless, Hamilton, Blot, Lewis and Sergeant Tiska secured Hoffman's handguns from his apartment and retrieved an additional four handguns from his sister's home.

In conformance with the requirements of N.Y. MENTAL HYG.LAW § 9.39, the need for Hoffman's immediate hospitalization was confirmed by staff physician Shivaji Bhonslay prior to admission. Dr. Bhonslay certified that he personally examined Hoffman and opined that he had a mental illness for which immediate inpatient care and treatment in a hospital is appropriate. Bhonslay further opined that Hoffman posed a substantial risk of physical harm to other persons as manifested by homicidal or other violent behavior by which others were placed in reasonable fear of serious physical harm. See Ex. "A" annexed to the Nov. 25, 1998 Aff. of Senta B. Siuda. At approximately 6:00 p.m. on July 18, 1996, Hoffman was examined by Dr. Lavin, who confirmed Hoffman's need for immediate hospitalization. See id.

In further compliance with Article 9 of the N.Y. Mental Hyg.Law, Dr. Arnold Bulove, a member of the hospital's psychiatric staff, certified that Hoffman was in need of inpatient, involuntary care on July 19, 1996. See id. Dr. Bulove found that Hoffman may be delusional. Hoffman was ultimately diagnosed with adjustment reaction/transient situational disorder. Hoffman was released on July 23, 1996 after Dr. Lava determined that he no longer posed a threat to either himself or others.

On August 20, 1996, the Village filed charges against Hoffman pursuant to N.Y.CIVIL SERV.LAW § 75 alleging that Hoffman: (1) threatened one or more persons; (2) failed to follow the directives of the commissioner of police; (3) was unfit for duty as a police officer; (4) violated the police department rules and regulations; and (5) violated the police department manual. A hearing was held at which Hoffman denied making any threats of serious physical harm or death. Hoffman contended that he did not threaten anybody, but that "the Worse thing I ever say about [them] is I would like to punch [them] out, but I never do."

The hearing officer concluded that "[t]he credible evidence is clear and convincing beyond doubt that Officer Hoffman made certain statements to J.R. Blot at the Sidetrack Lounge on June. 28, 1996 which threatened the lives of certain present or former public officials." The hearing officer sustained charges 1, 2, and 4 and dismissed charge 5. The Village withdrew charge 3. The Village Board adopted the hearing officer's recommendation that Hoffman be terminated effective January 27, 1997.

Hoffman then commenced an Article 78 petition in Supreme Court, Delaware County, challenging his termination from the Village police department. The court found that:

  [a]fter a careful review of the hearing transcript and
  exhibits, it is abundantly clear that substantial
  evidence supports the determination of the Hearing
  Officer. . . . Finally, given the nature of the
  conduct and the position of public trust formerly held
  by petitioner, the penalty imposed by the Hearing
  Officer is not excessive.

On July 24, 1997, Hoffman commenced the instant action against the Village, the County of Delaware, Masters, Talarico, Hamilton, Moon, and Whitten asserting causes of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state law causes of action. The defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R.Civ.P. 56 seeking dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment ...


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