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STRONG v. MONTAVA

July 27, 1999

EARL STRONG AND TARIKA STRONG, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARIA MONTAVA, FREDDY WILKENSON, JULIA WILKENSON, FREDDY WILKENSON, SR., DIANE MALLAY, AND NANCY STAUB, DEFENDANTS. EARL STRONG AND TARIKA STRONG, PLAINTIFFS, V. THE COUNTY OF NASSAU, DENNIS DILLON, AND NASSAU COUNTY POLICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wexler, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

These are consolidated civil rights lawsuits brought by plaintiffs Earl Strong and Tarika Strong against the County of Nassau and several individuals, each of whom were neighbors of the plaintiffs (the "Individual Defendants"). Briefly stated, plaintiffs' allege that their arrest and prosecution following an altercation at a block party amounted to a violation of their civil rights. The Individual Defendants are alleged to have conspired among themselves and with law enforcement officials to effectuate the false arrest and subsequent prosecution.

At a conference held on July 21, 1999, this court considered the Individual Defendants' motions for summary judgment. The court granted the summary judgment motions to the extent that they were directed to the claims of Earl Strong and denied the motions to the extent they were directed to the claims of Tarika Strong. The court indicated that a written opinion would follow detailing the legal basis for the court's rulings. This is that opinion.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background

A. The Block Party

At all relevant times, plaintiffs and the Individual Defendants were neighbors on Woodland Avenue in South Hempstead, New York. Plaintiffs Earl Strong and Tarika Strong are father and daughter. Their claims arise from events that took place on August 5, 1995, during a block party on Woodland Avenue and the ensuing prosecution of the Strongs on August 6, 1995 and thereafter. During the block party, an altercation involving Earl Strong and defendants Julia Wilkerson and her son, Freddie Wilkerson, took place. The other Individual Defendants appear to have been witnesses to the altercation. One of these individuals, defendant Nancy Staub, called for emergency police assistance.

B. The Arrest and Prosecution of Plaintiffs

Nassau County police officers responded to the call of Nancy Staub. Thereafter, Earl Strong was arrested and charged, under New York State criminal law, with assault in the third degree and harassment in the second degree. Plaintiff Tarika Strong, who was not involved in the initial physical altercation, was arrested and charged with harassment in the second degree.

The charges against Earl Strong arose out of his altercation with the Wilkersons. The crime report completed by the arresting officers states that they responded to a claim of a fight at a block party. Upon their arrival at the scene, Julia Wilkerson and Freddie Wilkerson stated that Earl Strong, while in a verbal fight with the Wilkersons, grabbed Julia Wilkerson and threw her to the ground. Freddie Wilkerson stated that when he tried to stop Mr. Strong, he too, was punched and thrown to the ground. The police officers arrested Earl Strong and the Wilkersons were taken to a local hospital by the South Hempstead Fire Department.

Tarika Strong was arrested on August 6, 1995, the day after the block party. The charge against Tarika arose out of threats she was alleged to have made to defendant Maria Montalvo. Montalvo provided police officers with sworn testimony that Tarika Strong threatened her because Montalvo gave a statement to police concerning Earl Strong's behavior at the block party. The remaining Individual Defendants also gave statements to police officials concerning the altercation at the block party. These individuals were further involved in the prosecution of the Strongs by acting as witnesses.

  C. The Outcomes of the Criminal Proceedings Against the
    Strongs

Both parties have annexed to their submissions papers detailing the criminal prosecution of Earl Strong. As noted, Mr. Strong was charged with assault in the third degree and harassment in the second degree. He was convicted on both counts after a jury trial. On appeal to the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court of the State of New York (the "Appellate Term"), the conviction on the assault charge was reversed, but the conviction on the harassment charge was affirmed.

The court digresses, here, to express its dissatisfaction, to say the least, with the submission of Mr. Strong. The judgment of the Appellate Term is a one page document setting forth the reversal of the assault conviction and the affirmance of the harassment conviction. Annexed to the Appellate Term judgment is the opinion of that court. Both Mr. Strong and Ms. Mallay appended the judgment of the Appellate Term to their papers. Mallay's submission includes the opinion of the appellate court. Mr. Strong's submission does not include the full opinion of the Appellate Term, but only the one page judgment.

When reviewing the papers and comparing the judgments submitted by Mallay and Strong, the court noted a glaring difference in the papers submitted. Mallay's judgment stated, as noted above, that the conviction on the assault charge was reversed but the conviction on the harassment charge was affirmed. These two holdings appear on two separate lines of the judgment.

The Appellate Term judgment appended to Mr. Strong's papers does not contain the last line of the judgment — the notation that the conviction on the harassment charge was affirmed. Instead, it appears that the judgment submitted by Mr. Strong was altered to delete the reference to the affirmance of the harassment charge, and thus have it appear that Earl Strong was cleared of all charges arising out of the block party incident.

Reluctant to believe, based only on the parties' submissions, that a judgment had been altered, the court further investigated the matter by contacting the Appellate Term to obtain a copy of that court's judgment concerning Mr. Strong's criminal case. The judgment subsequently forwarded by the Appellate Term confirmed this court's suspicions that Mr. Strong had attempted to defraud this court by presenting an altered document in support of his position.*fn1 The court is satisfied that it would be wholly justified in dismissing Mr. Strong's case in its entirety based solely on the fraud attempted to be perpetrated on this court. This ultimate sanction is not, however, necessary, because Mr. Strong's case, as discussed below, is otherwise dismissible on the merits.

  D. The Opinion of the Appellate Term Regarding Mr. Strong's
    Case

The Appellate Term opinion states that the assault conviction against Earl Strong was reversed on the ground that the accusatory instrument was jurisdictionally defective for failure to properly allege the requisite element of physical injury. However, the jury was found to have properly convicted Earl Strong of harassment and the conviction on that charge was affirmed. Specifically, the Appellate Term found that the evidence established that Earl Strong initiated the altercation with his neighbors when he was prohibited from driving his car onto the street. See People v. Strong, 179 Misc.2d 809, 689 N.Y.S.2d 341 (App. Term 1999). More specifically, the state court appellate opinion indicates that Earl Strong "displayed a belligerent and hostile attitude toward his neighbors which was clearly manifested in his unprovoked physical confrontation with a defenseless 62 year old woman." Id.

E. Tarika Strong's Criminal Case

While the court has been provided, as described above, with documents clearly outlining the criminal prosecution of Earl Strong, the documents regarding the prosecution of Tarika Strong are more sparse. What is clear to the court is that Tarika Strong's arrest for harassment took place after Maria Montalvo swore to a complaint stating that Ms. Strong threatened Ms. Montalvo the day after the arrest of Earl Strong. Ms. Montalvo's statement was corroborated by that of defendant Diane Mallay which states that she observed Tarika Strong screaming threats at Maria Montalvo.

It is also clear that Tarika Strong was convicted of the harassment charge and the conviction was reversed on appeal. The reversal of Tarika Strong's conviction states only that the People "failed to establish that defendant's conduct was anything more than en emotional outburst, and thus the conviction must be reversed." People v. Tarika Strong, No. 95-1747 NCR (App.T. Jan. 27, 1998).

Not surprisingly, there is nothing in the opinion to substantiate the claim set forth in the Strongs' papers that the Appellate Term specifically found that Tarika Strong's constitutional rights were violated. Nonetheless, it is clear (unless the court has been provided with another altered document) that Tarika Strong's conviction was reversed on appeal.

F. The Eviction of the Strongs

The court has been provided with state court papers indicating that plaintiff Earl Strong and his wife Lilly Strong, who had apparently rented their house on Woodland Avenue, were evicted from their home. A judgment of the Civil Term of the First District Court, Nassau County, dated February 22, 1996, states that the Strongs' landlord filed a Notice of Petition for unpaid rent and a trial was held. The judgment granted possession of the home rented by the Strongs to the owner of the premises and ordered the Strongs to pay a money judgment in the amount of $3,110. See Wilson v. Strong, No. SP 07031/95 (District Ct.Nassau County February 22, 1996).

II. Plaintiffs' Complaint

Plaintiffs' complaint against the Individual Defendants details plaintiffs' version of the events of August 5, 1995 and plaintiffs' subsequent arrests and prosecutions. Construing the pro se complaint liberally, it appears that plaintiffs seeks to allege a conspiracy, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, to deprive plaintiffs of their constitutional rights. Although not specifically stated, the conspiracy alleged took place between and among the Individual Defendants and Dennis Dillon, the District Attorney of Nassau County. An act in furtherance of the conspiracy is alleged in the form of a meeting that allegedly took place between the Individual Defendants and the Nassau County District Attorney on the day after the block party. The alleged object of the conspiracy was to have plaintiffs falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted and driven from their homes.

According to plaintiffs, Dennis Dillon knew that no crime was committed by the Strongs and they were nonetheless arrested and falsely charged and prosecuted. The Individual Defendants are alleged to have met with Dennis Dillon on the day after the block party at the office of the District Attorney. At that meeting, it is alleged that the District Attorney encouraged the Individual Defendants to fabricate charges and swear to false statements about the Strongs so that they could be falsely prosecuted. All acts of the Individual Defendants, some of whom are white and others of whom are African-American, are alleged to have been motivated by the fact that plaintiffs are African-American and for this reason alone, the Individual Defendants did not want plaintiffs living in their neighborhood.*fn2

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Principles

A. Motion to Dismiss and Summary Judgment Standards

Presently before the court are motions to dismiss as well as motions for summary judgment. Specifically, each Individual Defendant has moved to dismiss. Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment.

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for failure to state a claim, is properly granted only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Harsco v. Segui, 91 F.3d 337, 341 (2d Cir. 1996); Bernheim v. Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996). When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court can consider only the facts as set forth in the complaint or documents attached thereto. When considering the facts pled, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint. All reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Hamilton Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, Inc. v. Hamilton College, 128 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1997). A complaint should not be dismissed "simply because a plaintiff is unlikely to succeed on the merits." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974).

To obtain summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the party seeking summary judgment must demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue of any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 ...


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