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Korthas v. City Of Auburn

June 9, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCURN, Senior U.S. District Court Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Paul Korthas ("Korthas") brings this civil rights action against the City of Auburn, Police Chief Giannotta, Officer Major, Officer Hutchings, Sergeant McLoughlin, Lieutenant Emmi, Captain Neagle, and John Does I, II, and III (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Korthas seeks redress for alleged violations of his civil rights secured to him by certain Amendments of the United States Constitution, enumerated below, in the form of general damages, punitive damages, and legal costs and expenses, including reasonable attorneys' fees. The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1343(a)(3).

Currently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 30, the "Motion") pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P."). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background

The following undisputed facts are taken from the parties' Local Rule 7.1(f) Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute (Dkt. No. 30, Attachment No. 1) and from the complete record. For the purpose of this Motion, the Court accepts facts undisputed by the parties as true, and resolves disputed facts in favor of Korthas, the non-moving party, where the record supports his allegations.

Korthas is learning disabled. On March 23, 2002, Korthas was employed at Northeast Foods in Auburn, NY. That same date, Ralph Cooper ("Cooper") was also employed by Northeast Foods, as Korthas' supervisor. Korthas and Cooper were involved in an incident wherein Cooper reprimanded Korthas for his work performance and called Korthas a "retard." As a result of Cooper's comment, Korthas was upset and crying. Korthas requested that fellow employee Lori White ("White") file a grievance against Cooper on Korthas' behalf.*fn1

Korthas left work on March 23, 2002 without incident, believing that corrective action would be taken against Cooper for his comment toward Korthas. White never followed up on the incident, nor did she file a grievance. When Korthas returned to work on Tuesday, March 26, 2002, he learned that no corrective action had been taken against Cooper. Joseph Sherman ("Sherman") and Robert Blauvelt ("Blauvelt") were also employees of Northeast and were working that day. Korthas related to Sherman that Cooper had called Korthas a retard, and that he, Korthas, was hurt, and no one had a right to call him a retard. Korthas also told Sherman that White had not filed a grievance against Cooper as he had requested. (Dkt. No. 30, Attachment No. 1.)

In the course of the conversation between Korthas and Sherman, which purportedly lasted a couple of minutes, Korthas was "playing with" (opening and closing) a folding knife with a three to four inch blade. (Korthas Dep. pp. 45-46.) Blauvelt allegedly came on the scene when Korthas and Sherman were talking, or shortly thereafter. (Korthas Dep. pp. 45-47.) Sherman and Blauvelt swore in subsequent affidavits that Korthas stated his intention to use the knife on Cooper. (Sherman Aff. ¶ 6; Blauvelt Aff. ¶ 6.)

After the conversation concluded, Blauvelt contacted White, and informed her of the alleged threats made by Korthas. White contacted her supervisor, Ron Wawrszack, who in turn notified his supervisor, Bill Bos. (White Aff. ¶¶ 5-7.) Bos, who was off-premises at a meeting, states that he was informed by Wawrszack that Korthas was waving a knife and threatening other employees. Upon returning to the plant, Bos telephoned the Auburn Police Department to request assistance "because an employee named Paul Korthas was waving a knife and threatening employees." (Bos. Aff. ¶ 6.)

Korthas attempted to leave work at noon on March 26, 2002, at the end of his shift. By this time, officers from the Auburn police department had arrived at Northeast. Bos stated that when two officers arrived on the scene, Korthas came into view, and Bos identified Korthas as "the guy that we were referring to." Bos then "observed the officer approach Paul Korthas, place him against the wall and proceed to handcuff him." (Bos Aff. ¶¶ 3-10.)

Korthas was handcuffed by Officer Major, and a knife was taken from Korthas' pocket. (Korthas Dep. at 52, 56; Major Aff. ¶¶ 9-10.) Korthas was first taken to a conference room located on the Northeast premises. (Korthas Dep. at 52.) He was later taken to the Auburn police station and charged with Harassment in the Second Degree. An information/complaint was signed later that day by Blauvelt, accusing Korthas of threatening Blauvelt with a knife after an argument. (Dkt. No. 34, Attachment No. 2.)

On March 27, 2002, Korthas was arraigned in Auburn City Court on the charge of Harassment in the Second Degree, and entered a plea of not guilty. The charge of harassment was subsequently dismissed by the court on May 20, 2002. (Dkt. No. 30, Exhibit C.)

In Korthas' response to the Local Rule 7.1(f) statement, he admits the above facts and alleges the following: while he admits being handcuffed by only one officer, he states that he was initially grabbed by four or five officers. As Korthas reached for his time card, the police grabbed his arms without warning and pushed him ...

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