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Matthews v. City of New York

March 27, 2006

KEVIN MATTHEWS & CEDRIC MATTHEWS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, N.Y.C. POLICE OFFICER KEVIN ROYALL, SHIELD # 301, N.Y.C. POLICE OFFICER PRIOR, SHIELD # 10243, N.Y.C. POLICE OFFICER MCTIERSON, SHIELD # 8257,AND N.Y.C. POLICE OFFICER "JOHN DOE" EACH BEING SUED INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sifton, Senior Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Kevin Matthews ("Kevin") and Cedric Matthews ("Cedric")*fn1 brought this action against Officers Kevin Royall, Clarence Prior, and Daniel McTiernan, in their individual and official capacities, alleging claims for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs claimed violations of their rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution to be free from excessive force, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. Plaintiffs also alleged pendent state law claims against the defendants for assault and battery, malicious prosecution, and false arrest.*fn2 On July 15, 2005, after a one-week trial, a jury rendered a verdict for plaintiff Kevin Matthews and against defendant Kevin Royall for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The jury awarded plaintiff Kevin Matthews $2 in economic damages for false arrest, and $3,000 in economic damages and $500 in punitive damages for malicious prosecution. The jury also rendered a verdict for plaintiff Cedric Matthews and against defendant Daniel McTiernan for assault and battery, and awarded $3,500 in economic damages and $1,000 in punitive damages. The jury rendered a finding for defendants on all other claims.

Presently before the Court are the following motions: (1) Defendant Royall moves pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P."), for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff Kevin Matthews' claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence to support a verdict against him; (2) Defendant Royall moves, in the alternative, for judgment as a matter of law on the basis of qualified immunity; (3) Defendant McTiernan moves for an order setting aside the portion of the jury's verdict which granted plaintiff Cedric Matthews $3,500 in economic damages; (4) Defendants Royall and McTiernan move for an order vacating the award of punitive damages against them; and (5) Defendants Royall and McTiernan move for an order that plaintiff Cedric Matthews is not a prevailing party entitled to attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. For the reasons discussed below, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

On June 28, 2001, at approximately 5:30 p.m., in Brooklyn New York, plaintiff Kevin Matthews entered the Church Avenue station of the New York City subway system. Kevin testified at trial that he used an unlimited use metrocard to enter the station, but Officer Prior testified that he saw Kevin walk through the service gate without using his metrocard. Kevin testified that he was waiting for his brother, Cedric Matthews, and a friend to meet him at the station, when a man approached him and asked him why he jumped the turnstile. When asked during trial to identify the man, Kevin Matthews pointed at Officer Prior. Kevin testified that Officer Prior was not in uniform at the time, nor was a badge or gun visible. He further testified that he told Officer Prior that he had not jumped the turnstile, and that he told Officer Prior that he had used his metrocard and that he could check it by swiping it at the turnstile. Kevin testified that Officer Prior refused the check the card. Instead, Kevin testified that Officer Prior began pushing him into a corner using his forearm. He repeatedly asked him why he jumped the turnstile, and when Kevin explained that he did not jump the turnstile, he asked him why he came in through the exit gate. A witness, Sheila Noel, also testified at trial that Kevin Matthews repeatedly stated that he had not jumped the turnstile, and that Officer Prior could check his metrocard. She also testified that she witnessed him asking for Officer Prior's badge number. Another witness, Josue Barjon, also testified that Kevin Matthews repeatedly asked for Officer Prior's badge number. Officer Royall testified that he never saw Kevin Matthews enter the station without paying, although he mistakenly signed a criminal complaint saying that he did.

Officer Prior, however, testified that when he asked Kevin why he went through the service gate, Kevin responded that he had a metrocard and that Officer Prior should get out of his face. He further testified that he asked Kevin for his metrocard, and Kevin threw the metrocard in his face, but then put it away and refused to let Officer Prior check it. Officer Prior testified that he only asked Kevin for the card once, "because after that, he started cursing and carrying on; get the fuck out of my face you fucking pussy. I don't talk to fucking cops. I'm going to kick your fucking ass." Witnesses Sheila Noel and Josue Barjon testified that they did not hear Kevin Matthews curse. Officer Prior further testified that when Kevin asked him for his badge, he showed it to him. Officer Royall testified that he remembered Kevin saying "check my metrocard," and he does not remember hearing any officer asking Kevin for his metrocard.

Kevin testified that Kevin's brother, Cedric Matthews, and a friend entered the station and asked what was going on. He testified that Officer Prior, not knowing who they were, "[got] into it with them." He told them to "mind their f'g business." Cedric Matthews testified that when he entered the station, he saw Officer Prior holding Kevin up against the gate at the station. He testified that he asked what was going on, and was told to mind his own business. Kevin further testified that he asked Officer Prior for his badge number, but that he refused to give it to him. Instead, Officer Prior responded with numbers such as "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8."

Kevin testified that while Officer Prior was pushing him against the wall, Officer Royall approached them. He asked what was going on, and then he put himself between Officer Prior and Kevin. Cedric also testified that he saw Officer Royall put himself between Officer Prior and Kevin. Kevin testified that he showed him his badge, and he told Kevin not to worry--that if he had really paid, then everything would be okay.

Kevin testified that eventually, other officers arrived and surrounded him and his brother. He testified that the officers told them to leave, but he refused because he had paid his fare and because he still wanted Officer Prior's number because he had assaulted him. He testified that while the officers had them surrounded, Officer Prior was still trying to "get to" him. Eventually, the other officers told him to go downstairs and get on the train. Again, Kevin refused because he still wanted Officer Prior's badge number. Moreover, Kevin testified that he was afraid to go downstairs because he saw that there were more police officers there with guns.

Kevin testified that the officers hit him, punched him, and sprayed him with mace. Witness Josue Barjon also testified that he saw the officers hitting Kevin and Cedric Matthews. Kevin identified Officer Prior as one of the officers hitting him. Barjon testified that he saw a lot of people running out of the station with their noses covered due to the mace. A witness, Cauliene Thompson, also testified that she saw officers kicking and punching Kevin Matthews, and that they sprayed something that got into her eyes and her daughters eyes.

Kevin testified that he handed his card to someone in the crowd because he was afraid that if he gave it to a police officer, the card would "disappear" and there would be no proof that he paid his fare. Witness Barjon testified that Kevin handed him the metrocard during the altercation, and that Kevin yelled out his phone number while handing him the card. Cedric also testified that the officers hit them and put them on the floor where they handcuffed and kicked them. Cedric further testified that his hand was stepped on and that he was sprayed with mace before being taken away by the officers. Cassandra McCoy, the transit employee sitting inside the ticket booth at the station, testified that she did not see any police officers hitting anyone or spraying anyone with mace.

Officer Prior testified that he asked Lieutenant Murray, his supervisor who was present during the altercation, whether he had seen Kevin Matthews go through the gate, but Officer Murray responded that he had not. Officer Prior further testified that Officer Murray eventually gave the order to arrest Kevin and Cedric Matthews, and that Officer Royall was the arresting officer for both. He further testified that both Kevin and Cedric resisted arrest. Officer Murray testified that he was supervising Officers Royall and Prior on the day of the arrest, and that he authorized Officer Royall to arrest Kevin and Cedric Matthews.

By all accounts, a crowd had gathered around the officers and the Matthews brothers, and some individuals in the crowd began yelling words such as "abuse, abuse!"

Cedric testified that while they were being arrested, he was coughing as a result of having been sprayed with mace. He testified that Officer McTiernan grabbed him by the hair, told him not to spit on him, and called him an "f'ing animal". He further testified that Officer McTiernan punched him in the side and back of the head multiple times.

Kevin testified that he was handcuffed and taken to a hospital, after which he was taken to the police precinct where he spent a couple days. Cedric also testified that he was taken to a hospital for a few hours, after which he spent a few days in the precinct. Kevin and Cedric testified that they sustained injuries as a result of the Officers' actions, and that all criminal charges against them were dismissed.

Witness Barjon testified that after Kevin and Cedric Matthews were arrested, he called the number Kevin had given him, and he reached their older brother, Sheldon. Sheldon Matthews came to the transit authority station and picked up the metrocard.

James A. Eastman, an employee of the New York City Transit Authority, testified that he ran a report on the metrocard, and that the report showed that the card had been used at the Church Avenue station some time between 5:30 and 5:36 p.m. on June 28, 2001.

Dr. Ronald Paytner, an expert witness, testified that the records from the hospital where Kevin and Cedric Matthews were seen after the arrest diagnosed Kevin with a chemical conjunctivitis, multiple soft tissue trauma, and multiple abrasions. He also testified that the ambulance report for Cedric Matthews indicated symptoms in the right hand, headache, and back soreness. He testified that the hospital report for Cedric Matthews indicated a diagnosis of multiple soft tissue trauma, back strain, and contusion of the lower lip. Cedric Matthews also testified that he made subsequent hospital visits as a result of the injuries sustained that day.

On July 15, 2005, after a 6-day trial, the jury rendered the following verdicts: (1) the jury found for plaintiff Kevin Matthews and against defendant Kevin Royall for false arrest and awarded $2 in economic damages; (2) the jury found for plaintiff Kevin Matthews and against defendant Kevin Royall for malicious prosecution and awarded $3,000 in economic damages; (3) the jury awarded $500 in punitive damages against defendant Royall; (4) the jury found for defendant Kevin Royall on all other claims against him; (5) the jury found for defendant Clarence Prior on all claims against him; (6) the jury found for plaintiff Cedric Matthews and against defendant Daniel McTiernan for assault and battery and awarded $3,500 in economic damages; (7) the jury awarded $1,000 in punitive damages against defendant McTiernan; and (7) the jury found for defendant McTiernan on all other claims against him.

Upon conclusion of the trial, defendants made a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law. I reserved decision. Presently before the Court are defendant Royall and McTiernan's renewed Rule 50 motions. Specifically, defendant Royall moves for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff Kevin Matthews' claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence to support a verdict against him and, in the alternative, for judgment as a matter of law on the basis of qualified immunity. Defendant McTiernan moves for an order setting aside the portion of the jury's verdict which granted plaintiff Cedric Matthews $3,500 in economic damages. Defendants Royall and McTiernan also move for an order vacating the award of punitive damages against them. Finally, defendants Royall and McTiernan move ...


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