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THOMAS v. COUNTY OF PUTNAM

United States District Court, Southern District of New York


May 7, 2003

RICHARD F. THOMAS, PLAINTIFF, AGAINST COUNTY OF PUTNAM, PUTNAM COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, PUTNAM COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, PAUL VELARDI, JOSEPH A. CHARBONNEAU, ROBERT LANGLEY AND MICHAEL NALBONE, DEFENDANTS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willliam C. Conner, Senior United States District Judge. Plaintiff Richard F. Thomas brings the instant action against defendants County of Putnam, Putnam County District Attorney's Office, Putnam County Sheriff's Department, Paul Velardi, Joseph A. Charbonneau, Robert Langley and Michael Nalbone.[fn1] Plaintiff claims that defendants conspired to prosecute criminal complaints against him in bad faith, with the intent of depriving plaintiff of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also asserts state law claims for false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendant Charbonneau now moves for summary judgment on the grounds that he is immune from suit under the doctrine of absolute immunity. Defendants Langley and Nalbone move for summary judgment on the grounds that they had probable cause to arrest plaintiff or, in the alternative, that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. The remaining municipal defendants move for summary judgment based on plaintiffs failure to allege that the deprivation of his constitutional rights resulted from the enforcement of a municipal policy or custom. For the reasons stated below, these motions are granted in their entirety. BACKGROUND[fn2] Plaintiff's claims against all defendants arise from. and relate to, various criminal complaints filed by Valerie Buchanan against plaintiff and the investigation and prosecution of those complaints. On November 22, 2000, Buchanan, with whom plaintiff had been having an extra-marital affair, walked into the Putnam County Sheriff's Department to report that she had just been assaulted by plaintiff. (Langley Aff. ¶ 3.) In her criminal complaint, Buchanan alleged that plaintiff had physically assaulted her when she told him that she wished to terminate their relationship. In his affidavit, Deputy Langley states that he observed numerous abrasions and areas of swelling or bleeding about the body of Buchanan and that she complained of pain. (Id. ¶ 4.) Buchanan signed an information under penalty of perjury alleging that she had been assaulted by plaintiff.[fn3] Deputy Langley then called an ambulance which responded and transported her to the Putnam Hospital Center for treatment of her injuries. According to Langley, the emergency room doctor, Dr. Norman. advised him that Buchanan's injuries were consistent with that of a person being kicked, as she had alleged plaintiff had done to her. (Id. ¶ 5.) Subsequently, Deputy Langley forwarded the information signed by Buchanan to the Town of Carmel Justice Court in order to obtain an arrest warrant for plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 7.) A warrant was apparently never issued however, as plaintiff surrendered himself at the Putnam County Sheriff's Department.[fn4] Plaintiff was processed and issued an appearance ticket to appear in Carmel Justice Court on the charge of assault in the third degree. (Id. ¶ 8.) As a result of this alleged assault, Buchanan sought and obtained an Order of Protection against plaintiff which barred him from contacting or attempting to contact Buchanan. (Velardi ¶ 9.) On January 24, 2001, Buchanan filed another criminal complaint against plaintiff, claiming that he had violated the Order of Protection. A third criminal complaint was filed alleging that plaintiff had again violated the Order of Protection by repeatedly calling Buchanan at her residence and by otherwise harassing her. (Id. ¶ 13.) For these alleged violations of the Order of Protection, plaintiff was charged with aggravated harassment and criminal contempt. All of Buchanan's various criminal complaints against plaintiff were referred to the Putnam County District Attorney's Office for investigation and possible prosecution. Although defendant Charbonneau was initially assigned to the matter, because he had previously represented Buchanan in an unrelated family court matter, application was made to the District Attorney's Office and an Order of County Court Judge Robert B. Miller was issued appointing defendant Velardi as Special Prosecutor to investigate Buchanan's criminal complaints against plaintiff. (Thomas Aff. ¶ 10.) On or about June 22, 2001, a grand jury was convened by the District Attorney's Office for the purpose of investigating various criminal complaints — including, but not limited to, Buchanan's complaints against plaintiff-and to determine whether there was probable cause to believe that criminal conduct had in fact occurred. (Velardi Aff. ¶ 19.) Following its deliberations, the grand jury declined to indict plaintiff on charges of assault, aggravated harassment and criminal contempt. Discussion I. Summary Judgment Standard Summary judgment may be granted "if the pleadings, depositions. answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, 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). The burden rests on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Ticali v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, 41 F. Supp.2d 249, 254 (e.d.n.y. 1999). A genuine factual issue exists if there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmovant for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Ticali, 41 F. Supp.2d at 254. In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the court resolves all ambiguities and draws all permissible factual inferences against the movant. See Ticali, 41 F. Supp.2d at 255. To defeat summary judgment, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The court's role at this stage of the litigation is not to decide issues of material fact. but to discern whether any exist. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). II. Deputies Langley and Nalbone A. Probable Cause Plaintiff's claims against Deputy Langley center on the charge that there was no probable cause to arrest plaintiff for the assault of Buchanan. Probable cause exists "when the officers have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a crime." Weyant v. Okst, OPINION AND ORDER

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