United States District Court, S.D. New York
November 9, 2005.
LUIS RIVERA, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF NEW YORK and OFFICER NAPOLITANO, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENISE COTE, District Judge
OPINION & ORDER
Luis Rivera ("Rivera") alleges that his arrest by Captain
Richard Napolitano ("Napolitano") of the New York City Police
Department violated Rivera's constitutional rights giving rise to
damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Rivera also
alleges claims under state law for false imprisonment and false
arrest. In his amended complaint, filed on August 20, 2004
("Complaint"), Rivera names both Napolitano and The City of New
York ("City") as defendants. Following the close of discovery, on
August 25, 2005, the defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the
following reasons the motion is granted.
There is little dispute as to the facts in this action. The
following facts are either undisputed or taken in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.*fn1 Rivera is an Hispanic male.
On December 4, 2003 he was conducting a field investigation for
his employer, Lefrak City Rental. At 4:40 p.m., Rivera was
sitting in a car parked in front of 150-15 59th Street in
Flushing, NY, waiting for an appointment.
Napolitano came upon Rivera's car while on patrol with police
officer Chenet. The area Napolitano patrolled included 59th
Avenue in Flushing, which had been victimized by numerous
burglaries over the previous month. As part of his patrol duties
Napolitano checked the license plates of cars in the street to
investigate whether any of them were reported as stolen or had
been involved in any criminal activity.
The officers observed the defendant sitting alone in a car for
approximately fifteen minutes. Napolitano then ran a computer
check on the license plate of the car which revealed both that
the car was registered to a Luis Rivera and that a man named Luis
Rivera was wanted on a previous arrest in the Bronx for Driving While Intoxicated ("DWI"). Based on that information
Napolitano approached the car and asked for Rivera's driver's
license. Rivera told Napolitano his name and gave him his
license. Over the course of their conversation, Napolitano also
learned that Rivera did not live in the neighborhood and that he
had previously lived in the Bronx.
Napolitano then checked Rivera's license against the
information he had received on the outstanding warrant. The date
of birth on Rivera's license matched the date of birth on the
warrant. At that point Napolitano informed Mr. Rivera that he had
to bring him to the precinct on the outstanding DWI warrant.
Rivera protested and said that he did not have an outstanding
warrant for DWI. Napolitano explained that based on the
information he had in front of him, he had to bring Rivera to the
precinct where he could investigate the claim that he was not the
individual wanted for the DWI. Rivera was then handcuffed and
transported by Napolitano to the 109th Precinct.
Upon arriving at the precinct Rivera was placed in a cell while
the outstanding warrant was investigated. The investigation took
approximately an hour and revealed the outstanding warrant was
not for the plaintiff. Upon discovering the mistake Rivera was
released from his cell, his arrest was voided and he was
transported back to his car.
Rivera alleges that his arrest was without justification and
was motivated by the fact that he was an Hispanic man in a
predominantly Asian neighborhood. He further alleges that the
incident was part of a pervasive and widespread practice of the
New York Police Department. Discussion
Summary judgment may not be granted unless all of the
submissions taken together "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 moving
party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a material
factual question, and in making this determination the court must
view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247
(1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
When the moving party has asserted facts showing that the
non-movant's claims cannot be sustained, the opposing party must
"set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial," and cannot rest on the "mere allegations or denials"
of the movant's pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); accord Burt
Rigid Box, Inc. v. Travelers Property Cas. Corp., 302 F.3d 83,
91 (2d Cir. 2002).
A. Section 1983
To sustain a cause of action under Section 1983 Rivera must
show that his arrest was made under the color of state law and
that it deprived him of a "right secured by the Constitution or
laws of the United States." Palmieri v. Lynch, 392 F.3d 73, 78
(2d Cir. 2004). It is not contested that Napolitano was acting
under the color of state law, the only question is whether Rivera
suffered a violation of his constitutional rights. The
allegations in the Complaint support two possible violations. First, by alleging that his arrest was intentional and without
probable cause, Rivera pleads a claim for a violation of his
Fourth Amendment rights. Lennon v. Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 423 n.
2 (2d Cir. 1995) (locating the constitutional right to be free
from false arrest in the Fourth Amendment). Second, by alleging
that his arrest was motivated by race discrimination, Rivera
claims a violation of his right to the equal protection of the
laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
To establish a claim for false arrest under Section 1983 a
plaintiff must show that "the defendant intentionally confined
him without his consent and without justification." Escalera v.
Lunn, 361 F.3d 737, 743 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Weyant v. Okst,
101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996)). "Because probable cause to
arrest constitutes justification there can be no claim for false
arrest where the officer had probable cause to arrest the
The question of whether or not probable cause existed may be
determined as a matter of law on a motion for summary judgment
"if there is no dispute as to the pertinent events and the
knowledge of the officers." Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852. In making
a determination on probable cause "courts must consider those
facts available to the officer at the time of the arrest and
immediately before it." Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156,
162 (2d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). Probable cause exists when
the arresting 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." Escalera, 361 F.3d at 743 (citation
There is no issue of disputed fact in this case on the question
of probable cause. Napolitano learned from the computer check
that there was an outstanding warrant for a Luis Rivera on an
arrest for DWI in the Bronx. After having asked to see Rivera's
license and having ascertained that he had previously lived in
the Bronx, Napolitano had information that the man in the car had
the same name and date of birth indicated on the warrant and that
he had lived in the place where the arrest had occurred.
Officers may rely on information generated from computer checks
in determining that they have probable cause to make an arrest.
See, e.g., United States v. Towne, 870 F.2d 880, 884 (2d
Cir. 1989); Vasquez v. McPherson, 285 F. Supp. 2d 334, 341
(S.D.N.Y. 2003); see also People v. Malone,
735 N.Y.S.2d 305, 306 (App.Div. 4th Dept. 2001); People v. Davis,
716 N.Y.S.2d 712, 713 (App.Div. 2nd Dept. 2000); Moscatelli v.
City of Middletown, 675 N.Y.S.2d 639, 639 (App.Div. 2nd
Dept. 1998). Rivera has not suggested that the information
generated by the computer check was in any way invalid, only that
it was not accurately applied to him. Napolitano was justified in
relying on the information generated from the computer check in
deciding that he had probable cause to make the arrest.
The fact that it was later discovered the wrong Luis Rivera had
been arrested is irrelevant to the plaintiff's claim. "The
validity of the arrest does not depend on whether the suspect
actually committed a crime; the mere fact the suspect is later acquitted of the offense for which he is arrested is irrelevant
to the validity of the arrest." Michigan v. DeFillippo,
443 U.S. 31, 36 (1979). Because probable cause is a complete defense
to false arrest, summary judgment is granted on Rivera's Section
1983 claim for a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
Rivera also asserts that the decision to arrest him was
motivated by race, a violation of his rights under the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Equal
Protection Clause mandates that all persons "similarly situated
. . . be treated alike." City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living
Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). In order to sustain his equal
protection claim, Rivera must establish that he was 1)
selectively treated compared with others similarly situated, and
2) that such selective treatment was based on an impermissible
consideration such as race. Lisa's Party City, Inc. v. Town of
Henrietta, 185 F.3d 12, 16 (2d Cir. 1999). Rivera has not
presented any evidence to establish a question of material fact
on either element. He has only presented conclusory allegations
which are not enough to survive a motion for summary judgment.
See Byrnie v. Town of Cromwell, Bd. of Educ., 243 F.3d 93,
101 (2d Cir. 2001).
To the extent Rivera has pleaded Section 1983 claims against
the City under Monell v. Department of Social Services,
436 U.S. 658 (1978), those claims require him to prove an underlying
violation of his rights. Id. at 690. Since he has failed to
show that there is a material question of fact regarding any
violation of his rights under federal law, the claims against the
City must be dismissed as well. Summary judgment is granted on Rivera's Section 1983 claims.
B. State Law Claims
Finally, Rivera alleges claims for false arrest and false
imprisonment against both defendants. Under New York law "the
tort of false arrest is synonymous with that of false
imprisonment." Posr v. Doherty, 944 F.2d 91, 96 (2d Cir. 1991).
Claims for false arrest brought under Section 1983 are
substantially the same as a state law claim for false arrest,
Jocks v. Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 134 (2d Cir. 2003), and as is
the case with Section 1983 claims, probable cause is an
affirmative defense, Broughton v. State, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 458
(1975). Because Napolitano had probable cause to arrest Rivera,
summary judgment is proper on both state law claims.
The defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. The
Clerk of Court shall enter judgment for the defendants and close
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