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MAXWELL v. CITY OF NEW YORK

July 10, 2003

LEAH MAXWELL AND Q'NIAH NASI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, HOWARD SAFIR, FORMER POLICE COMMISSIONER OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, POLICE OFFICER MANNUZZA, SHIELD NO. 23890, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, JOHN AND JANE DOES 1 TO 6, REPRESENTING SEVERAL UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICERS AND THE COMMANDING OFFICER OF MANHATTAN CENTRAL BOOKING IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, THE FAT BLACK PUSSYCAT, JOHN DOE 7, REPRESENTING AN EMPLOYEE OF THE FAT BLACK PUSSYCAT, DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Leah Maxwell ("Maxwell") and Q'Niah Nasi ("Nasi") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") commenced this action by filing a joint complaint, dated July 23, 2001 ("Compl." or "Complaint"), asserting claims against two groups of defendants. Maxwell, independently, sues the City of New York (the "City"), Howard Safir, former Police Commissioner of the City of New York ("Safir"), in his individual and official capacity, Police Officer Mannuzza, shield no. 23890, in his individual and official capacity ("Mannuzza") (collectively, "Municipal Defendants") for violations of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as for negligence under state law. Jointly, Plaintiffs assert a state law claim of negligence against the Fat Black Pussycat (the "FBP"), a bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, and Andre Blank ("Blank") (referred to as John Doe 7 in the Complaint), a male bouncer employed at FBP, who Plaintiffs allege assaulted them. In the instant motion, Municipal Defendants move for summary judgment dismissing all claims against them. For the reasons set forth below, the Municipal Defendants' motion is GRANTED in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

On June 26, 2000, between 2:00 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., Maxwell and Nasi arrived at FBP, which is located at 130 West 3rd Street in New York City. At some point soon after arriving at FBP, Plaintiffs became involved in a dispute with Blank, who was monitoring the entrance to the bar. A physical altercation ultimately ensued from the verbal dispute between Maxwell and Blank, although Municipal Defendants and Plaintiffs dispute who initiated the violence. Both Maxwell and Blank allege that they sustained physical injuries from the altercation, and each claims that the other was the initial assailant.

Police Officer Mannuzza was alerted to this altercation by two transit police officers. Mannuzza arrived at the location, outside of FBP, with his partner, Officer Robert Jackson ("Jackson"), at approximately 3:23 a.m. At that point, Mannuzza spoke with Blank about what had happened, and Blank informed Mannuzza that Maxwell and Nasi were "being disorderly inside the [FBP] and [that] he asked them to leave." (Deposition of Sebastian Mannuzza ("Mann.Dep."), dated August 26, 2002, attached as Exh. C to the Declaration of John H. Graziadei ("Graz.Decl."), dated November 1, 2002, at 14.) Blank also told Mannuzza that Maxwell became angry at Blank for attempting to oust her and her friend and hit Blank on the head with her backpack. Id. Mannuzza testified that he observed a laceration on Blank's head, which was photographed. (See Graz. Decl. Exh. G.) Besides speaking with Blank, Maxwell and Nasi, Mannuzza interviewed two other eyewitnesses at the scene, Steve Krantz ("Krantz") and Kayode Penn ("Penn"), who Mannuzza asserts are independent observers since they were not employees of FBP nor did they have any familiarity with Blank or Plaintiffs. Krantz and Penn confirmed Blank's report, indicating that they saw Maxwell strike Blank with her knapsack.

Maxwell contests the evidence elicited by Mannuzza, arguing that Mannuzza refused to listen to her perspective or to speak to other witnesses who would have confirmed her version of the incident, and that Krantz and Penn were not objective witnesses because they were friendly with the employees of FBP. Maxwell contends that she never struck Blank and that all physical interaction between them was perpetrated by him.

Based on his observations of Blank's injury and the discussions he had with Blank and the two witnesses, Mannuzza arrested Maxwell for assault and transported her to the Sixth Precinct located at 233 West 10th Street, New York City, at approximately 3:41 a.m. Maxwell alleges that during the arrest Mannuzza used excessive force, causing injury to her head when she was pushed into the police car.

Mannuzza, Jackson, and Maxwell arrived at the Sixth Precinct at 3:45 a.m. Blank opted not to go the hospital for medical treatment. Maxwell was taken to the hospital, allegedly after numerous requests for medical attention, to treat the injuries she claimed resulted from her physical altercation with Blank. While still in the custody of the New York Police Department, Maxwell was treated at Bellevue Hospital for pains in her back and left elbow allegedly related to the injuries caused by Blank. Despite Maxwell's alleged requests, a photograph of her physical condition was not taken by Mannuzza, who also refused Maxwell's request to arrest Blank for assault. A few days later, still allegedly suffering from the physical effects of the altercation, Maxwell went to St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital for further treatment.

Maxwell alleges that she returned to the Sixth Precinct from the hospital at 7:00 a.m., although Mannuzza's memo book indicates she returned at 11:20 a.m., and Maxwell's medical records from Bellevue Hospital indicate that she received treatment at the hospital sometime after 10:00 a.m. Maxwell asserts that Mannuzza was very angry that she had insisted on going to the hospital, and indicated to her that, as punishment, he would delay processing her arrest. In addition to claiming delay in the processing of her arrest, Maxwell also alleges that Mannuzza retaliated against her for requesting medical treatment by denying her requests for necessary items from her backpack and for water and food, and by refusing to voucher her money, which she felt would endanger her in prison if kept on her person.

At about 1:20 p.m. on June 26, 2000, Maxwell was taken to the holding cell at the Criminal Court Building at 100 Centre Street, New York City ("Manhattan Central Booking"). Maxwell alleges that the inhumane conditions of the holding cell at Manhattan Central Booking, which she was forced to endure for approximately eight hours, violated her due process rights. Specifically, Maxwell alleges that the cell, which was approximately 10 feet by 20 feet, was extremely crowded, contained one unusable toilet filled with feces, and was infested with rodents and roaches as well as garbage and refuse. Furthermore, Maxwell complains that the cell was extremely hot and there was no ventilation, causing her to feel faint. When Maxwell asked for asthma medicine, the guards allegedly refused to provide the medicine to her. Maxwell also alleges that Safir was aware of the holding cell conditions and that no corrective measures were taken to cure these conditions.

II. DISCUSSION

A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion for summary judgment should be granted where "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); see also Rodriguez v. Hahn, 209 F. Supp.2d 344, 346 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). The role of the Court is not to resolve issues of fact but, rather, "to determine as a threshold matter whether there are genuine unresolved issues of material fact to be tried." Gibson v. Am. Broad. Cos., 892 F.2d 1128, 1132 (2nd Cir. 1989). "As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

The moving party bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter that "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party "must support with specific evidence his assertion that a genuine dispute as to material fact does exist," id., 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, and "may not rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation," Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 1998). The opposing party's showing of a genuine dispute must be grounded in concrete evidence sufficient to support a reasonable jury's rendering a verdict in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). ("The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient."); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). All ambiguities and reasonable inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be resolved in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See United States v. One Tintoretto Painting Entitled "The Holy Family With Saint Catherine and Honored Donor", 691 F.2d 603, 606 (2d Cir. 1982) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)).

B. FALSE ARREST

Maxwell argues that because Mannuzza did not act reasonably before arresting her, probable cause for her arrest did not exist; and therefore, the arrest was false and improper. Municipal Defendants counter that since the undisputed facts support a finding of probable cause to arrest Maxwell, any claim for false arrest must be rejected as a matter of law.

When an arrest is made without a warrant, for the arrest to be proper the police officer must be able to establish probable cause. See Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 241-246, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983); United States v. Ceballos, 812 F.2d 42, 50 (2d Cir. 1987); Raysor v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 768 F.2d 34, 39-40 (2d Cir. 1985). Here, if probable cause existed for Mannuzza to arrest Maxwell, the arrest was privileged and Maxwell's claim of false arrest is defeated.

Probable cause is determined on the basis of the totality of the circumstances. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 230-232, 103 S.Ct. 2317. Probable cause exists "`when the arresting officer has knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been committed by the person to be arrested.'" Singer v. Fulton County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 118 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting O'Neill v. Town of Babylon, 986 F.2d 646, 650 (2d Cir. 1993) and Calamia v. City of New York, 879 F.2d 1025, 1032 (2d Cir. 1989)). "The amount of evidence required to establish probable cause to arrest need not reach the level of evidence necessary to support a conviction . . . but it must constitute more than rumor, suspicion, or even a strong reason to suspect." United States v. Fisher, 702 F.2d 372, 375 (2d Cir. 1983) (internal quotations omitted). Probable cause requires a probability of criminal activity, not an actual showing of criminal activity. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 244 n. 13, 103 S.Ct. 2317. Moreover, probable cause may exist when the officer acts on the basis of mistaken information, as long as it was reasonable for him to rely on that information in making the arrest. See Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98, 102 (2d Cir. 1994).

In this case, according to Maxwell, Mannuzza relied on Blank's accusations and allegedly failed to properly consider Maxwell's perspective on the events that had transpired at FBP. However, Mannuzza also spoke with two eyewitnesses, Penn and Krantz, who, at the time in question, Mannuzza would have had no reason to suspect were not neutral third-parties, since they indicated that they did not know either Blank or Maxwell and were not employees of the FBP. These two witnesses attested to having observed the altercation and identified Maxwell as having assaulted Blank with her knapsack. Identification by neutral eyewitnesses has been determined to suffice for a finding of probable cause by an arresting officer. See Singer, 63 F.3d at 119 (concluding that an unequivocal identification of a suspect by an eyewitness is sufficient to provide probable cause); Carson v. Lewis, 35 F. Supp.2d 250, 260 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (noting that eyewitness identification of a suspect provides probable cause even where it is based upon mistaken information, as long as the arresting officer reasonably relied upon that information.)

Although the existence of probable cause is predominately factual in nature, often making such an inquiry proper for jury consideration, where the pertinent events and the knowledge of the officers is not disputed, summary judgment is proper. See Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852 ("The question of whether or not probable cause existed may be determinable as a matter of law if there is no dispute as to the pertinent events and the knowledge of the officer."); Murphy v. Lynn, 118 F.3d 938, 947 (2d cir. 1997). Here, the pertinent facts are not disputed. It is uncontested that Officer Mannuzza arrived at the scene after having been notified that certain ...


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