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RIVERS v. O'BRIEN
January 21, 2000
TERRY RIVERS, SR., AUSTIN HART, A MINOR CHILD BY HIS GUARDIAN AND NEXT FRIEND RAYMOND HART, AND RAYMOND HART, PLAINTIFFS,
RICHARD J. O'BRIEN, JAMES H. GODFREY, JAMES PARKER AND ZANE HATHAWAY, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kahn, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for partial
summary judgment pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 56. Though Plaintiffs'
memorandum of law in opposition to defendants motion for summary
judgment is clearly in violation of the Local Rules for its
excessive length, in the interest of justice to the individual
Plaintiffs, we will accept the memorandum.*fn1 For the reasons
set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted-in-part and
The civil rights violations alleged by Plaintiffs stem from
events that occurred on September 27, 1995. On that date
defendant O'Brien, a New York State Trooper, went to the
residence of Steven Rivers to execute an arrest warrant issued by
Ausable Town Judge Head. Steven Rivers resided with his parents,
Bonnie Rivers and Terry Rivers, Sr. in Peru, New York.
Officer O'Brien arrested and handcuffed Steven Rivers, and
escorted him toward Officer O'Brien's police car when Bonnie
Rivers followed and began yelling at Officer O'Brien. Officer
O'Brien instructed Bonnie Rivers to step away from the car.
Approximately twelve troopers and a Deputy Sheriff arrived at
the Rivers' residence. Among the backup who arrived were
defendants Sergeant Parker, Sergeant Hathaway and Trooper
Godfrey. While in the house, Bonnie Rivers telephoned her brother
Raymond Hart, telling him that his son, the infant Austin Hart,
had been sprayed with pepper spray during the arrest of Steven
Rivers. Raymond Hart quickly arrived at the Rivers' residence.
Upon his arrival, Raymond Hart demanded to know who was
responsible for spraying his son. Bonnie Rivers identified
Officer O'Brien as the responsible party.
When Hart approached Officer O'Brien, the other officers,
believing that Raymond Hart meant to harm O'Brien, intervened.
The officers brought Hart to the ground and arrested him. Hart
contends that he never acted aggressively during the incident.
Plaintiffs then commenced this action, alleging a deprivation
of rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, whereby Plaintiffs were
deprived of their "right to be free from unlawful assault and
battery, unlawful arrest and detention, and defamation."
A. Summary Judgment Standard of Review
Summary judgment must be granted when the "pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,
together with the affidavits . . . 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);
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct.
2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Lang v. Retirement Living Pub.
Co., 949 F.2d 576, 580 (2d Cir. 1991). The moving party carries
the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue
of material fact. FED.R.CIV.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986);
Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir. 1999). In deciding
the motion, all facts, inferences therefrom, and ambiguities must
be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and
draw all reasonable inferences in nonmovant's favor. Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106
S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Thomas 165 F.3d at 142. A
genuine issue is an issue that, if resolved in favor of the
non-moving party, would permit a jury to return a verdict for
that party. R.B. Ventures, Ltd. v. Shane, 112 F.3d 54, 57 (2d
Cir. 1997), citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct.
When the moving party has met the burden, the nonmoving party
"must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at
586, 106 S.Ct. 1348. At that point, the nonmoving party "must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(e); Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. at
250, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at
587, 106 S.Ct. 1348. To withstand a summary judgment motion,
evidence must exist upon which a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmovant. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248-49,
106 S.Ct. 2505; Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct.
1348. Thus, summary judgment is proper where there is "little or
no evidence . . . in support of the non-moving party's case."
Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24
(2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).
Section 1983 provides a civil claim for damages against any
person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of
a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or the
laws of the United States. Section 1983 itself creates no
substantive rights, merely providing a procedure for redress for
the deprivation of rights established elsewhere. In order to
prevail on a § 1983 claim a plaintiff must establish that the
conduct of a person acting under color of state law deprived him
of a federal right. Plaintiff may fail to state a claim even if
he alleges facts which establish a deprivation of a federal right
if the defendant has immunity from liability. See Thomas v.
Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir. 1999) (emphasis added).
The doctrine of qualified immunity offers protection for police
officers and other "government officials performing discretionary
functions . . . from liability for civil damages insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct.
2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982); Thomas, 165 F.3d at 142. "This
policy is justified in part by the risk that the `fear of
personal monetary liability and harassing litigation will unduly
inhibit officials in the discharge of their duties.'" Thomas,
165 F.3d at 142, quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635,
638, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987).
Anderson v. Creighton established that "the right the
official is alleged to have violated must have been `clearly
established' in a more particularized, and hence more relevant,
sense: The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that
a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing
violates that right." Creighton, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct.
"Even where the plaintiff's federal rights and the scope of the
official's permissible conduct are clearly established, the
qualified immunity defense protects a government actor if it was
`objectively reasonable' for him to believe that his actions were
lawful at the time of the challenged act." Lennon v. Miller,
66 F.3d 416, 420 (2d Cir. 1995). The objective reasonableness test
is met — and the defendant is entitled to immunity — if "officers
of reasonable competence could ...