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GONCALVES v. INVESTIGATOR REYNOLDS

November 15, 2001

JOSEPH SANTO'S GONCALVES, JR., PLAINTIFF,
V.
INVESTIGATOR REYNOLDS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, United States District Court Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Joseph S. Goncalves, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint asserts a claim under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution against Investigator Reynolds*fn1, arising out of defendant's preparation and prosecution of a felony complaint against plaintiff in November 1997. Defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56. Plaintiff has cross-moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

FACTS

The underlying facts are largely undisputed. Plaintiff, who is currently an inmate in the Collins Correctional Facility in Collins, New York, was at all times relevant to this action detained at the Yates County (New York) Jail ("the Jail"). Plaintiff's detention followed his arrest on October 28, 1997 by officers of the Yates County Sheriff's Department ("the Sheriff's Department"), for certain felony drug and weapons offenses, as well as several violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. On that same date, Judge Danny M. Hibbard of the Penn Yan Village Court ordered plaintiff to be held without bail, based on plaintiff having two previous felony convictions. Defendant's Ex. D.

On November 9, 1997, plaintiff was involved in a fight with Robert Yonge, an inmate at the Jail. Yonge suffered a fractured nose in the fight.

As a result of this altercation, officers of the Sheriff's Department undertook an investigation of what had occurred. They took statements from plaintiff, Yonge, and another inmate, Derrick Hankins, who had witnessed the fight. The officers also took photographs of Yonge and of the scene where the fight took place.

The information that was gathered by these officers was then forwarded to defendant, who is an investigator with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Sheriff's Department. Based on that information, on November 20, 1997, defendant prepared a felony complaint, which he filed with the Penn Yan Village Court, charging plaintiff with one count of Assault in the Second Degree, N Y Penal L. § 120.05(7). Defendant's Ex. J. Defendant states that he undertook these actions at the direction of the Yates County District Attorney's office. Defendant's Affidavit ¶ 16. On November 24, 1997, defendant also prepared and filed an arrest report for the same assault charge. Defendant's Ex. K.

Following plaintiff's arraignment on November 24, on December 8, 1997, Judge Hibbard ordered plaintiff to be held for Grand Jury, based on Judge Hibbard's finding that reasonable cause existed that plaintiff had committed the offense charged. Defendant's Ex. L.

On January 30, 1998, the assault charge was presented to the Grand Jury, which subsequently issued a "No Bill" terminating the charge. On February 6, 1998, Yates County Court Judge W. Patrick Falvey issued a Sealing Order of No Indictment on the assault charge.

Throughout this time period, plaintiff remained detained at the Jail. Although plaintiff alleges that he was detained on the assault charge, and that the pendency of the assault charge "demolish[ed] the plaintiff's chances of bail on his previous charge[s]" stemming from his October 28 arrest, there is no evidence to suggest that plaintiff would have been freed on bail had it not been for the assault charge, particularly since the order directing that he be held without bail was entered prior to the fight with Yonge.

Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action on November 30, 2000. The complaint asserts a claim of false arrest, based on plaintiff's allegation that he acted in self-defense when he struck Yonge. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages totalling five million dollars.

DISCUSSION

Defendant contends that the complaint must be dismissed on the ground that Reynolds's actions are protected by absolute prosecutorial immunity. Plaintiff responds that this doctrine does not shield defendant from liability because Reynolds is not a district attorney, or even an attorney at all, but a criminal investigator.

It is well established that "in initiating a prosecution . . ., the prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under § 1983." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). The purpose of this immunity is to avoid having the prosecutor feel "constrained in making every decision by the consequences in terms of his own potential liability in a suit for damages." Id. at 424-25. See also Day v. Morgenthau, 909 F.2d 75, 77 (2d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 821 (1992); Schloss v. Bouse, 876 F.2d 287, ...


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