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HERO v. CITY OF NEW YORK

United States District Court, Eastern District of New York


April 23, 2003

ALEX HERO ET ALIA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK ET ALIA, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles Sifton, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Alex Hero, Donna Papi, Peter Carosella, and Joseph Capobianco ("plaintiffs") bring this action against defendants the City of New York, various named and unnamed officials of the city police and corrections departments (collectively "city defendants"), Courier-Life Publications ("Courier-Life"), and Thomas Tracy, claiming relief for violation of plaintiffs' civil rights under the United States and New York State Constitutions, defamation, violation of N.Y.C.P.L. § 160.50, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and other state law claims. Defendants Courier-Life and Tracy (collectively, the "media defendants") now move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the submissions of the parties in connection with the present motion. They are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Only facts relevant to the present motion will be discussed.

On the morning of October 6, 2000, plaintiffs were among twelve individuals arrested at an establishment in Brooklyn.*fn1 Police had received an anonymous 911 call alleging that a person had been shot on the premises. They forcibly entered the premises after knocking and receiving no answer. Inside the establishment police searched for the victim of the alleged shooting and collected all those inside into one of several rooms. During the course of their search, police found an unspecified quantity of cocaine, a scale, several small plastic bags, and gambling devices in plain view. Plaintiffs and all others in the establishment were arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance. They were taken first to the local police precinct and then to the Brooklyn central booking facility, where plaintiffs claim they were subjected to treatment in violation of their civil rights. This treatment and the underlying arrests form the basis for plaintiffs' federal law claims against the city defendants.

On October 7, 2000, the Kings County District Attorney dismissed the charges for lack of evidence. Since the arresting officers did not record the location of each arrestee within the establishment prior to rounding them up in one room, the proximity of any particular arrestee to the contraband could not be determined sufficiently to establish any arrestee's dominion over it. Plaintiff Hero has submitted an affidavit in opposition to the present motion in which he claims not to have known that there were illegal narcotics on the premises. All plaintiffs contend that they were victims of false arrest.

Defendant Tracy is a reporter for Courier-Life, who writes a weekly column based primarily on police records. On October 9, 2000, he went to the 61st Precinct and reviewed public arrest records, coming across the records relating to plaintiffs' arrest. Using this information, Tracy composed an article entitled "Twelve Nabbed in Sheepshead Bay Drug Bust" for his weekly column, "Police Blotter." Tracy submitted the article on October 11, 2000, and it was published in two Courier-Life publications, the Bay News and the Kings Courier. The article reads as follows:

TWELVE NABBED IN SHEEPSHEAD BAY DRUG BUST: Cops from the 61st Precinct rounded up and arrested 12 people on charges of drug possession Friday, officials said.
Police said that the "dirty dozen" were found inside an Avenue Z eatery that at the time was allegedly closed to the general public but open to drug buyers.
Cops from the 61st Precinct were called to the diner, located at 2116 Avenue Z, at 5:40 a.m. on October 6. An unidentified caller had alerted 911 that someone had reportedly been shot at the location.
When police arrived, however, the people they found refused to let them inside to see if there had been a shooting inside.
But police were adamant to find this phantom gunshot victim.
After managing to get inside, cops found an undisclosed quantity of cocaine, a weight scale and several small plastic bags in plain sight, officials said. Several gambling devices were also found, officials said.
Cops charged all 12 men with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, officials said.
Those arrested included . . . Joseph Capobianco, 23, of 1846 West 3rd Street, . . . Peter Carosella, 35, of 8700 25th Avenue, . . . Alex Hero, 40, of 987 East 21st Street, . . . (and) Donna Papi, 40, of 1869 Coney Island Avenue . . .
(Hero Decl. Ex. A.) The two newspapers running this article were published on October 12, 2000, five days after the charges against plaintiffs had been dismissed. Both bore the issue date October 16, 2000. Mr. Tracy claims not to have known of the dismissal of charges against the plaintiffs prior to publication of the article.

DISCUSSION

28 U.S.C. § 1367 provides:

Except as provided in subsections (b) and (c) or as expressly provided otherwise by Federal statute, in any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution. Such supplemental jurisdiction shall include claims that involve the joinder or intervention of additional parties.
The limits of what comprises a single "case or controversy under Article III" are elaborated in United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715 (1966). For a state law claim to be a part of the same "case or controversy" as a federal law claim, "[t]he state and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact . . . such that (a plaintiff] would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding." Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 725; see also Lyndonville Savings Bank & Trust Co. v. Lussier, 211 F.3d 697, 704 (2d Cir. 2000) ("While the exercise of pendent jurisdiction is a favored and normal course of action, such exercise, as noted, requires a common nucleus of operative fact.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Plaintiffs here assert claims for relief in three general categories without identifying the defendant or defendants against whom they assert each claim or group of claims. Plaintiffs first claim relief for violation of their rights under the United States and New York Constitutions "to be free from false arrest, unreasonable force, an unreasonable search and strip search, retaliation for free speech, malicious prosecution, and an unconstitutional conspiracy." (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 31a.) The second group of claims asserts violation of plaintiffs' state and federal constitutional rights "to substantive and procedural due process, equal protection, and privacy." (Id. ¶ 31b.) Finally, plaintiffs assert violations of "rights under state law to be free from defamation, libel and slander, invasion of privacy, a violation of C.P.L. § 160.50, abuse of process, the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, and negligence." (Id. ¶ 31c.) Plaintiffs argue in their opposition to the present motion that the claims against the media defendants are claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. (Pls.' Mem. Law Opp. Summ. J. at 6.) They concede that "there is no independent basis for federal jurisdiction over the media defendants" but claim that supplemental jurisdiction exists because each claim asserted against the media defendants is also asserted against the city defendants.

Plaintiffs thus have three claims against both the media defendants and the city defendants: defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. Each of these claims arises under state law. The mere fact that these claims are asserted against the city defendants as well as the media defendants is not relevant to the supplemental jurisdiction inquiry, because the relevant relationship is that between supplemental claims and "claims in the action within [the Court's] original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (a) (emphasis added). There is no diversity of citizenship here; thus, all state law claims, even those asserted against the city defendants, are outside the Court's original jurisdiction. Therefore, plaintiffs must establish that their claims against the media defendants for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence arise from the same common nucleus of operative fact as their federal civil rights claims against the city defendants.

Plaintiffs do not meet this burden. Although supplemental jurisdiction is proper where the facts underlying plaintiffs' state and federal claims substantially overlap, or where presentation of the federal claim necessarily entails bringing the facts underlying the state claim before the Court, it is improper where the federal and state claims rest on essentially unrelated facts. Lussier, 211 F.3d at 704 (citing Promisel v. First Am. Artificial Flowers, Inc., 943 F.2d 251, 254 (2d Cir. 1991); Itar-Tass Russian News Agency v. Russian Kurier, Inc., 140 F.3d 442, 445-58 (2d Cir. 1998); Young v. New York City Transit Auth., 903 F.2d 146, 162-64 (2d Cir. 1990); Wigand v. Flo-Tek, Inc., 609 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d Cir. 1979)). In the present case, plaintiffs' state law claims against the media defendants and their federal civil rights claims against the city defendants rest on essentially unrelated facts. Plaintiffs do not allege that the media defendants and the city defendants conspired or otherwise acted in concert. Plaintiffs allege only that their arrest and detention violated their federal rights and that at some later point the media defendants negligently printed a defamatory story based on incomplete records of the arrests, intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the plaintiffs. The only nexus between the two sets of claims is the content of the police record of plaintiffs' arrests, upon which the allegedly defamatory story was based. Plaintiffs' federal claims are based on the facts surrounding their arrest and detention, not the version of those facts recorded in police reports; but their claims against the media defendants involve only the defendants' state of mind based on reports of the underlying incident. There is no "common nucleus of operative fact" underlying these disparate claims. See, e. g., McLaurin v. Melton, 1994 WL 739668, at *1 (S.D. Miss. 1994) ("Because plaintiff's defamation claim is completely unrelated, both factually and legally, to the § 1983 claims concerning conditions of confinement, the court cannot exercise supplemental jurisdiction over this claim."); Barnes v. Borough of Pottstown, 1993 WL 239314, at *1 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (holding that plaintiff's defamation claim did not share a "common nucleus of operative facts" with his civil rights claims stemming from his arrest; the former "would focus on plaintiff's reputation, his injuries allegedly resulting from the publications, and the conduct and state of mind of certain newspaper employees," whereas the latter "would primarily involve (police] conduct relating to the arrests and alleged theft and the police department's policies and training"). In short, plaintiffs' claims against the media defendants constitute a completely separate controversy from their federal civil rights claims against the city and city officials. Therefore, the latter claims cannot provide a basis for this Court's supplemental jurisdiction over the former. Accordingly, I must dismiss plaintiffs' claims against the media defendants for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

CONCLUSION

The motion of defendants Courier-Life and Thomas Tracy is granted and the complaint is dismissed without prejudice as to these defendants.

The Clerk is directed to furnish a filed copy of the within to all parties and to the magistrate judge.

SO ORDERED.


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