United States District Court, E.D. New York
February 9, 2004.
TIMOTHY COYLE, Plaintiff, -against- SUSAN COYLE, individually, PAMELA OLSEN, Detective/Agent, individually and in her official capacity as an officer of the Nassau County Police Department, STEVEN DEGRAZIANO, Lieutenant, individually and in his official capacity as an officer of the Nassau County Police Department, THE NASSAU COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT, and THE COUNTY OF NASSAU, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SPATT, District Judge Page 2
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Timothy Coyle ("Coyle" or the
"plaintiff") commenced this action against his former wife Susan Coyle,
Detective Pamela Olsen ("Detective Olsen"), Officer Steven Degraziano
("Officer Degraziano"), the Nassau County Police Department ("Police
Department"), and the County of Nassau ("County"), alleging claims for
false arrest and abuse of process. Pending before the Court is a motion
to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
("Fed.R. Civ. P.") by Detective Olsen, Officer Degraziano, the Police
Department, and the County (collectively, the "County defendants"). For
the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted.
The following facts are taken from the complaint which the Court
construes as true in deciding the present motion. Although not entirely
clear from the complaint, it appears that based on a separation or
divorce agreement, the plaintiff and his former wife Susan Coyle were
required to transfer their two minor children to each other inside the
Eighth Precinct, Police Department for purposes of visitation. On October
4, 2002, the plaintiff met Susan Coyle in front of the precinct to
pick up his children. At that time, the plaintiff asked Susan Coyle if
she had informed the childrens' two schools to place him on the schools'
Emergency Notification List. In response, she stated, "this is not the
time or the place for these discussions." The plaintiff then asserted,
"if you don't put me on the school's Emergency Notification List, I will
prepare a motion tomorrow." She responded by stating "do what you think
is best." In the complaint, Coyle explains that the "motion" was
referring to an Order To Show Cause Motion to compel Susan Coyle to place
his name on the Emergency Notification List.
After the plaintiff left the precinct's parking lot with the children,
Susan Coyle walked into the Police Department and filed a Domestic
Incident Report and a
Supporting Deposition, both of which are annexed to the complaint. In
the Supporting Deposition, she stated:
My husband Timothy Coyle was outside of the Station
House waiting when I pulled up. We are supposed to
exchange the children inside of the Police Station.
When I proceeded to return to my car after giving him
the children, my husband Timothy Coyle began a verbal
argument with me about the children. When I told him
that this was not the time or place for these
discussions he stated "I will do something tomorrow."
The subject stated this in a threatening tone. I fear
for my safety. I feel threatened by this remark. The
subject Timothy Coyle is in violation of order #
2002N02022 Index #0-4878-02 issued on 05/06/02 in
effect until 11/06/02 by Judge Julianne Eisman Nassau
County Family Court. I want my husband Timothy Coyle
arrested for violating the order of protection. The
above information is true and accurate as I
know it to be. P.O. Carlo Maltempi is writing
this statement on my behalf.
The top of the Supporting Deposition stated that "any false statement
made in this deposition is punishable as a class A misdemeanor pursuant
to Section 210.45 of the Penal Law." According to Coyle, Detective Olsen
and Officer Degraziano "had no probable cause to believe that plaintiff
committed a criminal act and no arrest warrant had been issued for
plaintiff." In addition, the plaintiff states the Susan Coyle initiated
the arrest to restrict his access to their children.
The next day, when he dropped off his two children inside the precinct,
several police officers directed the plaintiff to go to the second floor
of the precinct to talk to detectives. Coyle informed the officers that
he could not talk to the detectives because he was in a hurry. Two
officers, who are not identified in the complaint, blocked the exit of
the precinct and told Coyle that he had no choice but to go see the
detectives. Shortly thereafter, Coyle was arrested and charged with
violating New York State Penal Law Section 215.50(3) for Criminal
Contempt in the Second Degree for violating the Order of Protection
issued on behalf of Susan Coyle.
The plaintiff claims that Detective Olsen was the arresting officer and
that Officer Degraziano signed the paperwork approving the arrest. When
he was arrested, the plaintiff was handcuffed and fingerprinted. Officer
Degraziano directed other police officers from the Police Department to
transport the plaintiff to the Nassau
County Central Booking facility where he was eventually booked and
forced to spend a night in a Nassau County jail.
On June 24, 2003, the plaintiff appeared for a hearing before Nassau
County Court Judge Claire Weinberg. At the hearing, Susan Coyle testified
on behalf of the prosecution. When asked by the plaintiff's counsel "what
did Mr. Coyle mean when he stated `I will do something tomorrow,'" she
answered, "I don't know." The plaintiff was found not guilty as to the
charge of Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree.
The plaintiff contends that Susan Coyle "continued and encouraged the
criminal proceeding against the plaintiff by failing to honor a
STIPULATION OF SETTLEMENT (hereinafter Stipulation) in Her Divorce
Action," dated January 15, 2003, which stated, in part, that "[a]ny and
all District Court actions in which either party is a defendant shall be
discontinued provided the District Attorney consents to the
discontinuance." According to the plaintiff, Susan Coyle intentionally
failed to notify the District Attorney regarding this provision of the
Stipulation and participated as a witness against the plaintiff to ensure
that the District Court action would not be discontinued.
On July 7, 2003, the plaintiff commenced this action, asserting claims
for false arrest and abuse of process, in violation of the Fourth and
A. Standard of Review
In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must
liberally construe the claims, accepting all the factual allegations as
true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.
Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002). "The
issue to consider is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail
but whether [he] is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims."
Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien, 56 F.3d 375, 378 (2d Cir. 1995)
(citation omitted). Dismissal is proper only if the plaintiff can prove
no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to
relief. See King v. Simpson, 189 F.3d 284, 286 (2d Cir. 1999).
In making this determination, the Court is mindful that the plaintiff's
pro se status means that his submissions should be held "`to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Hughes
v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9, 66 L.Ed.2d 163, 101 S.Ct. 173 (1980) (quoting
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 30 L.Ed.2d 652, 92 S.Ct. 594
(1972)). The Court recognizes that it must make reasonable allowances so
that a pro se plaintiff does not forfeit rights by virtue of his lack of
legal training. See Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983).
Indeed, courts should "read the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff liberally
and interpret them `to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'"
McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280
(2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.
1994)). Nevertheless, pro se status "`does not exempt a party from
compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.'"
Traguth, 710 F.2d at 95) (quoting Birl v. Estelle, 660 F.2d 592, 593 (5th
B. The Claims for False Arrest
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff may bring an action for a violation
of his constitutional rights. In this case, the plaintiff raises a
Section 1983 false arrest claim, in violation of his Fourth Amendment
right to be free from unreasonable seizure, and state law false arrest
claim. Coyle asserts these false arrest claims on the ground that the
County defendants lacked probable cause to arrest him.
A Section 1983 claim for false arrest "is substantially the same as a
claim for false arrest under New York law." Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845,
855 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Singer v. Fulton County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110,
118 (2d Cir. 1995)). To maintain a claim for false arrest under either
theory, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendants intentionally
confined the plaintiff; (2) the plaintiff was aware of the confinement; (3)
the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement; and (4) the confinement
was not justified or privileged. Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852 (citing
Broughton v. New York, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 335 N.E.2d 310
(1975)); see also Posr. v. Doherty, 944 F.2d 91, 97 (2d Cir. 1991).
An arrest is justified if the facts set forth in the complaint
demonstrate that the
arresting officer had probable cause to believe that the suspect had
committed a crime. Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98, 192 (2d Cir.
1994). That the plaintiff was found not guilty has no bearing on his
false arrest claim. See Singer v. Fulton County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 118
("a favorable termination of the proceedings is not an element of [the]
tort [of false arrest]"). Probable cause to arrest exists when an officer
has "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." Jocks v. Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 134 (2d Cir. 2003)
(internal quotations and citations omitted). An arresting officer may
rely on the report of a victim of a crime. See Loria v. Gorman,
306 F.3d 1271, 1290 (2d Cir. 2002).
Here, the plaintiff states that the County defendants "had no probable
cause to believe that plaintiff committed a criminal act and no arrest
warrant had been issued for plaintiff." In deciding this motion, the
Court assumes that the County defendants knew only what the complaint
states they saw and heard. In addition, the Court notes that the crucial
inquiry here is not whether Coyle committed a criminal act, but turns on
whether Susan Coyle's accusation provided the County defendants with
probable cause to believe that the plaintiff violated the Order of
In the complaint, the plaintiff states that he and Susan Coyle were
required to exchange their two children in the precinct for purposes of
visitation. The plaintiff
asserts that, on October 4, 2002, he and his former wife had a dispute
when their two kids were being exchanged. The plaintiff further states
that he told Susan Coyle that he should be placed on the children's
School Emergency Notification List. She responded by stating "this is not
the time or place for these discussions." In response, the plaintiff
asserted "if you don't put me on the school's `Emergency Notification
List," I will prepare a Motion tomorrow." Based on this verbal exchange,
Susan Coyle filed a Domestic Incident Report and a Supporting Deposition
with the Police Department. Significantly, the plaintiff annexed to his
complaint a copy of the supporting deposition which stated, in part:
When I told him that this was not the time or
place for these discussions he stated "I will do
something tomorrow." The subject stated this in a
threatening tone. I fear for my safety. I feel
threatened by this remark. The subject Timothy
Coyle is in violation of order #2002N02022 Index
#0-4878-02 issued on 05/06/02 in effect until
11/6/02 by Judge Julianne Eisman Nassau County
Family Court. I want my husband Timothy Coyle
arrested for violating the order of protection.
The above information is true and accurate as I
know it to be.
In addition, Susan Coyle signed this deposition knowing that any
false statement would be punishable as a misdemeanor pursuant to Section
210.45 of the New York Penal Law. On the following day, the police
arrested Coyle for Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree for violating
the Order of Protection against the plaintiff.
Even construing the complaint broadly, the Court finds that the
complaint does not set forth any allegations indicating that the County
defendants had any reason to
doubt the veracity of Susan Coyle's accusation. The complaint is devoid
of any allegations denying the existence of an Order of Protection. In
addition, nothing in the complaint suggests that the police had reason to
believe that Susan Coyle was an unreliable witness. Therefore, because
the arrest was prompted by a deposition from a complaining witness who
had an Order of Protection issued on her behalf, the Court finds that the
County defendants had probable cause to arrest Coyle. Accordingly, the
motion to dismiss the false arrest claims against Detective Olsen and
Officer Degraziano is granted.
C. The Claims for Abuse of Process
In addition, Coyle brings this action to redress a Fourteenth Amendment
violation predicated on an abuse of process claim. The plaintiff also
asserts a state abuse of process claim. An abuse of process claim under
Section 1983 is also governed by state law. Cook v. Sheldon, 41 F.3d 73,
80 (2d Cir. 1994 (citing Raysor v. Port Authority of New York and New
Jersey, 768 F.2d 34, 39 (1985)). In order to make out a claim for abuse
of process, three essential elements must be show: (1) a regularly issued
process (civil or criminal); (2) an intent to do harm without excuse or
justification; and (3) use of process in a perverted manner to obtain a
collateral objective. Id. (citing Curiano v. Suozzi, 63 N.Y.2d 113, 116,
469 N.E.2d 1324, 480 N.Y.S.2d 466, 468 (1984)).
Nothing in the complaint suggests that process was used maliciously by
County defendants after it was instituted. The complaint does not
address any impermissible action on behalf of the County defendants
throughout the course of his prosecution. In addition, the complaint does
not allege that they used the process to obtain a collateral objective.
As such, the Court finds that the complaint does not state a viable claim
for abuse of process. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss the abuse of
process claims against Detective Olsen and Officer Degraziano is granted.
D. Municipal Liability
The plaintiff names the Nassau County Police Department and the County
of Nassau as defendants in his complaint. A municipal body may not be
held liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional acts of its employees
absent allegations that such acts are attributable to a municipal
custom, policy or practice. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs.,
436 U.S. 658, 690-94, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978); see also Pembaur v.
Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 478-79, 108 S.Ct. 1292 (1986); Jeffes v.
Barnes, 208 F.3d 49, 57 (2d Cir. 2000) (noting that a municipality
"cannot properly be held liable . . . unless the `injury was inflicted by
[its] lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to
represent official policy'"), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 813, 121 S.Ct. 47
(2000); Ricciuti v. New York City Transit Auth., 941 F.2d 119, 123 (2d
Having concluded that the plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged that
his constitutional rights were violated, the Court finds that there can
be no cognizable claim against the municipal defendants. Dodd v.
Norwich, 827 F.2d 1, 8 (2d Cir.
1987) (holding that a constitutional violation by an individual defendant
is required to maintain a claim against the municipality). Moreover, the
complaint cannot reasonably be interpreted to have included allegations
concerning an underlying municipal policy or custom which deprived the
plaintiff of a constitutional right. Thus, the plaintiff's claims for
municipal liability also fail against the Police Department and the
E. Leave to Amend
The Court cannot "rule out any possibility, however unlikely it might
be, that an amended complaint would succeed in stating a claim." Gomez
v. USAA Fed. Sav. Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 796 (2d Cir. 1999) (per curiam).
Accordingly, the plaintiff shall be granted leave to file an amended
complaint within thirty days from the date of this Order.
Based on the foregoing, it is hereby
ORDERED, that the County Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint
against them is GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED, that the plaintiff shall be permitted to file an amended
complaint within thirty days of the date of this Order; and it is further
ORDERED, that if the plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint
within the time prescribed above, the Clerk of the Court is directed to
amend the caption
eliminating Detective Olsen, Officer Degraziano, the Police Department,
and the County as defendants in this case.
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