The warrant was returnable before the Town Court of Italy.
At 3:10 a.m. on March 18, 1994, Jefferson County Sheriff's Dispatcher
Debra L. Mahon received a teletype on the New York State Police
Information Network ("NYSPIN") from the Yates County Sheriff's
Department. The teletype was directed to "APB ATTN JEFFERSON CO SO,"
marked as a "File 5," and noted that Plaintiff was wanted on a warrant
for violating N.Y. VEH. & TRAF. LAW § 1192 and that bail had been set
at $800 cash.
Mahon contacted Jefferson County Sheriff's Department Sergeant Larry
Jobson who was on road patrol and asked him to contact her. Jobson then
telephoned Mahon. Nahon told Jobson she had received a "File 5" teletype
for Plaintiff's arrest and gave Jobson Plaintiff's address. Jobson later
radioed Mahon stating that he could not locate that address.
Mahon performed a driver's license search to locate an address and
telephone number for Plaintiff. Mahon then telephoned Plaintiff,
explained to Plaintiff that Jobson was on his way to talk with him, and
asked Plaintiff for directions to his home. Mahon did not inform
Plaintiff that Jobson would be executing an arrest warrant. Jobson
requested that Deputy Gould respond to the residence to assist him as
At 3:52 a.m., the Yates County Warrant Office faxed the arrest warrant
for Plaintiff along with the information and supporting deposition of
VanAmburg to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.
Jobson arrived at Plaintiff's residence and telephoned Mahon to confirm
that Plaintiff was the person named in the "File 5" teletype. Mahon
confirmed Plaintiff's identity and advised Jobson that she had a
facsimile copy of the arrest warrant. It is undisputed that neither
Jobson nor Gould had seen the arrest warrant and supporting documents at
the time they arrested Plaintiff. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff
was arrested before or after Jobson telephoned Mahon.
At 4:08 a.m., Mahon sent a "warrant locate" over the NYSPIN advising
the Yates County Sheriff's Department that Plaintiff had been arrested
and the active file on the warrant could be canceled. The warrant locate
indicated that Plaintiff was to be arraigned before Justice Outwater,
Town Justice of the Town of Watertown.
Jobson then drove Plaintiff to the Town of Watertown to be arraigned.
Gould drove to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department to obtain copies
of the arrest warrant and supporting documents faxed by Yates County.
Gould then brought the documents to the court and returned to road
patrol. Jobson first saw the arrest warrant and supporting documents at
the arraignment. Plaintiff was arraigned and posted bail posted of $800
cash. Plaintiff was tried in the Town of Italy on the charges against him
and found by a jury to be not guilty.
Plaintiff then commenced the instant action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights and asserting state law claims of false arrest,
malicious prosecution, and violations of various provisions of the New
York Criminal Procedure Law. Plaintiff has since discontinued this action
as against the Yates County Defendants. Presently before the Court are
the Jefferson County Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to
FED. R. Civ. P. 56 seeking dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety and
Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment seeking a determination of
liability as a matter of law.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
This Court has set forth the applicable standard for summary judgment
in numerous reported decisions, see, e.g., Hoffman v. County of
Delaware, 41 F. Supp.2d 195 (N.D.N Y 1999), aff'd, 205 F.3d 1323 (2d
Cir. 2000), and need not restate it here.
The Court will apply the standards set forth in those decisions
to the pending motions.
B. Constitutional Violation
Plaintiff contends that his constitutional rights were violated because
an officer of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department improperly
arrested him on a warrant issued by a Town Justice for the Town of
Italy, County of Yates. Plaintiff does not argue that the warrant was
improperly issued. Rather, he contends that N.Y. CRIM. PRO. LAW §
120.70(2)(b) forbids the Jefferson County Defendants from executing it
because a local criminal court had not endorsed it.
Indeed, § 120.70(2) provides that:
A warrant of arrest issued by a . . . town court
may be executed: (a) In the county of issuance or
in any adjoining court; or (b) Anywhere else in the
state upon the written endorsement thereon of a
local criminal court of the county in which the
arrest is to be made.
It is undisputed here that Yates County does not adjoin Jefferson County
and, thus, § 120.70(2)(a) does not apply here. Similarly, there is
no dispute that the warrant at issue here was not endorsed by a local
criminal court in Jefferson County. Accordingly, the Jefferson County
Defendants executed the warrant in violation of § 120.70.
Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not been deprived of a
constitutionally protected right because: (1) a violation of the New York
Criminal Procedure Law is not a right protected by the Fourth Amendment;
(2) Plaintiff was arrested pursuant to a facially valid warrant; and (3)
regardless of any procedural defects in the execution of the warrant, the
arrest was based on probable cause. Alternatively, Defendants argue that
they are entitled to qualified immunity because they reasonably relied
upon a warrant that was valid on its face.
To state a claim under § 1983, a Plaintiff must demonstrate two
essential elements: (1) that Defendants acted under color of state law,
and (2) as a result of Defendantts actions, Plaintiff suffered a denial
of her federal statutory rights, or her constitutional rights or
privileges. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Annis v. County of
Westchester, 136 F.3d 239, 245 (2d Cir. 1998). There is no question here
that the Defendants, employees of Jefferson County, were acting under
color of state law. The central issue is whether Defendants' actions
caused Plaintiff to be denied a federal statutory or constitutional right
Defendants are correct in noting that arrests in violation of state law
do not necessarily violate the Fourth Amendment. See Abbott v. City of
Crocker, Mo., 30 F.3d 994, 997 (8th Cir. 1994); United States v. Smith,
9 F.3d 1007, 1014 (2d Cir. 1993); United States v. Pforzheimer,
826 F.2d 200 (2d Cir. 1987); see also Cooper v. California, 87 S.Ct.
788, 790 (1967) ("[T]he question here is not whether the search was
authorized by state law. The question is rather whether the search was
reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Just as a search authorized by
state law may be an unreasonable one under that amendment, so may a
search not expressly authorized by state law be justified as a
constitutionally reasonable one."). The question is whether there has
been a violation of a federal right, which here is claimed to be the
Fourth Amendment. See United States v. Scopo, 19 F.3d 777, 785 (2d
Cir.), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 207 (1994)
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and
seizures. See U.S. CONST. ANEND. IV; see also Townes v. City of New
York, 176 F.3d 138, 145 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 120 S.Ct. 398 (1999);
Gudema v. Nassau County, 163 F.3d 717, 721 (2d Cir. 1998). "Absent
exigent circumstances . . ., the warrantless
entry of law enforcement officers into the private home of a
suspect, for the purpose of making an arrest supported by probable
cause, is barred by the Fourth Amendment." United States v. Deutsch,
987 F.2d 878, 883 (2d Cir. 1993) (internal quotations and
citation omitted); Payton v. New York, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1374 (1980).
Defendants do not contend that exigent circumstances were present
here and they would be hard pressed to do so; thus, absent some
other exception, it would have been improper to arrest Plaintiff in his
home absent a warrant regardless of whether they acted with probable
cause. Moreover, Defendants do not argue that any exceptions to the
warrant requirement, such as consent, apply here. See Payton, 100 S.Ct.
at 1374. Rather, Defendants contend that the arrest was reasonable
because they acted pursuant to a warrant.
Indeed, Defendants acted on a warrant and Plaintiff does not now
question whether the warrant was supported by probable cause. The warrant
was signed by a town justice, provided for execution "forthwith,"
identified the person to be arrested, and stated the criminal statutes
Plaintiff was alleged to have violated. See United States v. Moore,
742 F. Supp. 727, 748 (N.D.N.Y. 1990), aff'd, 968 F.2d 216 (2d Cir.),
cert. denied, 113 S.Ct. 480 (1992). The warrant also contained the
elements set forth at N.Y. CRIM. PROC. LAW §§ 120.10(2); 120.20(1);
120.30(1); 120.50. Thus, the warrant was facially valid and Plaintiff
does not contest otherwise.
There were, however, problems with the warrant's execution under state
law. The New York State Constitution provides that "[t]he legislature may
provide . . . that processes, warrants and other mandates of town,
village and city courts . . . may be served and executed in any part of
the county in which such courts are located or in any part of any
adjoining county." N Y CONST. ART. 6, § 1(c). Pursuant to this
constitutional provision, the N.Y. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE LAW provides that
"[a] warrant of arrest issued by a city court, a town court or a village
court may be executed . . . [i]n the county of issuance or any adjoining
county." N.Y. CRIM. PROC. LAW § 120.70(2)(a). To be executed in any
other location within the state, as was done here, the warrant must be
endorsed by a local criminal court, which was not done here. See N Y
CRIM. PROC. LAW §§ 120.70(2)(b), 120.60; see also Titus v. Hill,
134 A.D.2d 911 (4th Dep't 1987) ("Since there must be strict compliance
with the requirements for the issuance of a warrant of arrest, this
warrant is invalid on its face."). The warrant at issue here plainly
stated on its face that it was directed to "any Police Officer of the
Yates County Sheriff's Department" and that it could only be "executed in
the County of issuance or adjoining County." Thus, under state law, the
warrant was improperly executed.
Notwithstanding this violation of state law, a survey of federal cases
reveals that the execution of the warrant by the Jefferson County
Defendants did not encroach upon Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. In
this regard, the instant matter is similar to United States v. Gilbert,
942 F.2d 1537 (llth Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 112 S.Ct. 1510 (1992),
wherein federal agents and municipal police officers executed a search
warrant directed to the sheriff. Although a state statute provided that
the warrant could only be executed by the officers mentioned therein, the
Eleventh Circuit noted that "constitutional considerations, rather than
the demands of state law, direct our resolution of this issue." Id. at
1541. The court continued to state that:
We may agree that state authority did not empower
these municipal officers to execute this particular
warrant. State authority, however, clearly empowered
them to execute warrants at the location at issue in
this search. . . . [W]e find no reason why we should
hold the . . . failure to designate [the municipal
officers] on the search warrant to be an error
of constitutional proportion. The state, after all,
empowered both to make searches of this sort at this
location, and would have permitted them to make this
search if [the warrant had been drafted]. . .
according to the state's requirements. More
importantly, the error implicated none of the
interests that the Fourth Amendment protects.
Id. at 1541. As Judge Tjoflat stated in his concurring opinion, "[t]his
case does not require an analysis of the niceties of state . . . law on
persons authorized to execute a search warrant. Instead, this case
presents a straightforward fourth amendment issue. . . . This search was
conducted pursuant to a search warrant issued by a neutral and detached
magistrate. . . . Moreover, the warrant was clearly issued on probable
cause." Id. at 1542.