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Paul v. City of Rochester

September 21, 2006

SOLON PAUL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF ROCHESTER, CORY BLANK, ORLEANS COUNTY SHERIFF DEPUTY, TON DRENNAN, ORLEANS COUNTY SHERIFF DEPUTY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Solon Paul ("plaintiff") filed this action against the City of Rochester and two Orleans County Sheriff Department deputies, Cory Black*fn1 and Tom Drennan, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state common law. The case arises out of the execution of a court-ordered search warrant that took place at 381 Lyell Avenue on December 21, 2001. Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using unreasonable force against him while being detained during the search.

Before the Court are defendants' motions for summary judgment brought pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56 (Dkts. ##23, 26). Argument on the motions was held July 18, 2006, at which plaintiff's counsel conceded that dismissal on the merits of several of the claims was warranted.*fn2 This Decision and Order addresses the remaining claims asserted by plaintiff, which are: (1) a common law battery*fn3 claim against the City, based on respondeat superior for the intentional tort of one of its officers; and (2) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against defendants Black and Drennan based on the alleged unreasonable use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Defendants argue that summary judgment is warranted because the alleged use of force during the execution of the search warrant was objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, defendants Black and Drennan argue that summary judgment is warranted because plaintiff can produce no evidence that they were personally involved in the alleged constitutional violation, and because they are entitled to qualified immunity.

For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions are granted, and plaintiff's amended complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The salient facts are not disputed. 381 Lyell Avenue was an auto service and storage garage that became the focus of a drug investigation by the Orleans County Sheriff's Department. The warrant authorized the Rochester Police Department ("RPD"), who assisted in the investigation, to search for evidence of marijuana trafficking.

Plaintiff, an innocent bystander, was at the garage to pick up car parts when the warrant was executed. Several officers from the RPD, accompanied by Black and Drennan, executed the warrant shortly after a suspect in the drug investigation ran into the building with a gun. Defendants, dressed in protective gear and face masks, entered the building and ordered all the occupants onto the ground. Plaintiff complied, and he and the other occupants were placed in handcuffs and made to lay face down on the ground for approximately 30 to 45 minutes while officers searched the garage and arrested the suspect. Plaintiff was released within an hour from the time police first entered the garage and no charges were placed against him.

Plaintiff does not dispute that he was lawfully detained during the search. He claims, however, that an unknown officer used unreasonable force to effectuate the detention. Specifically, plaintiff claims that while laying on the ground as ordered, he raised his head and moved his leg. Plaintiff claims that as the result of his movement, one of the officers ordered him to "get down," then stepped on plaintiff's ankle, knee, and back. He also claims that the same officer used a foot to push plaintiff's head into the floor. Plaintiff cannot identify which officer allegedly used force on him because the officer's face was hidden by a mask.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate 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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court's role in summary judgment is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, courts must draw inferences from underlying facts "in the light most favorable ...


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