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June 23, 2000


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



Plaintiffs sue defendant Town of New Paltz Police Department (Department) and three police officers (designated in the caption as "John Does 1, 2 and 3" and hereinafter referred to as "police officers") employed by the Department as of September 17, 1998, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York common law.

The Department moves for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Plaintiffs cross move for leave to serve an amended complaint to add police officers Steven Osarczuk, Robert Knoth and Karl Baker as defendants in the place of John Does 1, 2 and 3.



In their complaint, filed April 22, 1999, plaintiffs claim that on September 16-17, 1998, they were socializing with friends in the Village of New Paltz. In the early morning of September 17, 1998, uniformed police officers arrested plaintiffs for trespass, although, according to plaintiffs, they did not violate any law. Plaintiffs claim that the police officers detained them for more than three hours without probable cause and treated them in a disrespectful and abusive manner. On October 20, 1998, the criminal charges against all three plaintiffs were dismissed.

Plaintiffs assert that commanding officers of the Department witnessed and condoned the improper conduct of the police officers, thus demonstrating that it is Department policy to engage in arrests and detentions without probable cause. Plaintiffs claim that this policy, which allegedly arises from the Department's view of New Paltz as "a party town populated by numerous college age persons," resulted in injury to plaintiffs, who were subjected to wrongful arrest and imprisonment and incurred the expense and inconvenience of defending themselves against baseless charges. Plaintiffs further claim that defendants acted maliciously and "in a manner which civil society needs to deter."

Plaintiffs set forth causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming deprivation of their Fourth Amendment rights*fn1 by the police officers in falsely arresting and detaining them and by the Department in failing properly to train, supervise, and discipline the officers and in having a policy of violation of individuals' rights. Plaintiffs also assert New York common law claims of false arrest, wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution against all defendants. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

Facts on this motion

The Department's affidavits and statement of undisputed facts under Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) demonstrate the following. On September 17, 1998, plaintiffs were arrested and charged with trespassing in violation of N.Y.Penal Law § 140.05, based on the sworn information of George Gutierrez, the manager of the Griffon Bar in New Paltz, New York, stating that plaintiffs knowingly entered or remained unlawfully upon the premises of the bar. The arrest reports, two signed by Knoth and one by Osarczuk, state that plaintiffs returned to the Griffon Bar after being told to leave by the management as a result of an altercation involving plaintiff Ethan W. Mason. Each plaintiff was given an appearance ticket returnable in the Justice Court on October 13, 1998, and on the return date each entered a plea of "not guilty."

On October 20, 1998, Ulster County Assistant District Attorney Paul O'Neill moved to dismiss the three criminal cases "in the interests of justice," citing difficulty in communicating with the complaining witness. In an affidavit, O'Neill states that the motion to dismiss was not based on an evaluation of the merits of Gutierrez' complaint or the plaintiffs' individual guilt or innocence. On the same date, Justice Jonathan Katz, Town of New Paltz Justice Court, granted the People's application to dismiss "in the interests of justice." See N.Y.Crim.Proc.Law § 170.40

In their response to this motion, plaintiffs cite portions of their own depositions as evidence that they were arrested on grounds other than Gutierrez' complaint and that the trespass charge was a pretext. Their version of events, set forth in their brief on this motion (citations to depositions omitted), is as follows:

Plaintiffs further dispute O'Neill's assertion that the cases were dismissed on grounds not reflecting plaintiffs' innocence. Plaintiffs argue that "since the accusatory instrument was utterly defective on its face and the complaining witness did not respond to the assistant district attorney's correspondence to prepare for trial, the question for the jury is whether the circumstances surrounding the dismissal reflected their innocence."


Department's motion to dismiss based on failure to ...

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