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Houghton v. Culver

September 21, 2006

JAMES R. HOUGHTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LIEUTENANT DANIEL CULVER, OF THE ORLEANS COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, James R. Houghton, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He asserts Fourth Amendment claims for false arrest, unlawful search, and excessive force against defendants Lieutenant Daniel Culver, Deputy Erin Fuller, and Deputy Ken Strickland ("the officers"), all of whom were at all relevant times employed by the Orleans County Sheriff's Department. Defendants have moved for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Some of the relevant facts are set forth in a prior Decision and Order of this Court, familiarity with which is assumed, that granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion to dismiss. Houghton v. Cardone, 295 F.Supp.2d 268 (W.D.N.Y. 2003). The record has been fleshed out somewhat since then, however, so a brief recital of the facts--as viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the nonmoving party--is again warranted.*fn1

Early in the evening of September 1, 2000, plaintiff was in the garage of his home in the Town of Ridgeway, near the Village of Medina, New York. There was an open fire in plaintiff's back yard where plaintiff was burning some brush.

At about 6:15 p.m., Deputy Fuller arrived and told plaintiff that there had been a complaint about the fire and that plaintiff had to put it out. Plaintiff responded that he lived outside the Medina village limits and there was no fire ordinance in the Town of Ridgeway. Apparently Fuller satisfied himself that no unlawful activity was occurring, because he left. A short while later, plaintiff poured some water on the fire and put it out, although it continued to smolder.

About two hours later, two sheriff's cars arrived, containing the defendants. Fuller walked over to plaintiff, who had come out to the area in front of his garage, and said that he had come to see whether plaintiff had put out the fire. Plaintiff responded that he had.

Fuller then asked if he could go into plaintiff's back yard and check. Plaintiff said no. Plaintiff testified that this was a "heated conversation," "because the first [visit from Fuller] got things rolling," and plaintiff was annoyed that defendants were "checking in on [him]." Dkt. #39-7 at 8. Plaintiff had also drunk several beers by this point. Id. at 3, 7.

Plaintiff told Fuller that plaintiff would "break his fucking neck if Fuller went back there." Dkt. #39-7 at 9. Fuller asked if that was a threat, and plaintiff "looked at him, [like] take it the way you want to take it." Id. Fuller then told plaintiff that he was under arrest for obstruction of justice and told him to turn around.

Plaintiff turned around, and Fuller began putting handcuffs on him behind plaintiff's back. After Fuller had cuffed one of plaintiff's hands, plaintiff turned around to face Fuller, and began stating, "This ain't right," when Fuller sprayed him in the face with pepper spray. Dkt. #39-7 at 11.

Plaintiff ran into the garage, as Fuller yelled at him to get on the ground. Plaintiff did so, and put his hands behind his back. Fuller came over and finished handcuffing plaintiff, giving plaintiff another "quick shot" of pepper spray as plaintiff was lying there. Dkt. #39-7 at 15.

Plaintiff was then led over to one of the sheriff's vehicles. He testified that he did not resist going into the car, but that "[n]ext thing [he] kn[e]w, [he was] pinned in the door," with "one officer holding the door shut" and the other two "sticking their hands in there pepper spraying" him. Dkt. #39-7 at 17-18.

Plaintiff was subsequently arraigned on charges of second-degree assault, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, and harassment. Plaintiff remained in jail for three days before he was able to post bail. The charges were eventually dismissed when the grand jury returned a "no bill."

DISCUSSION

I. False Arrest

To establish a false arrest claim under § 1983, plaintiff must show that: (1) defendants intended to confine plaintiff; (2) plaintiff was conscious of the confinement; (3) plaintiff did not consent to the confinement; and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged. Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98, 102 (2d Cir. 1994); Donovan v. Briggs, 250 F.Supp.2d 242, 249 (W.D.N.Y. 2003). Here, the only dispute centers on ...


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