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Hartline v. Gallo

September 30, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, Senior District Judge


Plaintiff Stacy Hartline ("Plaintiff") filed suit against the above-captioned Defendants regarding incidents that occurred following her being pulled over by Southampton Village police on January 6, 2003. Plaintiff alleged (1) violations of her Fourth Amendment rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) conspiracy to violate her Fourth Amendment rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985; (3) assault and battery; (4) negligent hiring; and (5) violations and conspiracy to violate her rights under Article I, § 12 of the New York State Constitution, requesting damages in excess of one million dollars. Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment on the issue of liability as to each of her claims and Defendants cross-move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion.


The following summary of facts is drawn from the parties' Local 56.1 statements, and the parties' submissions. The facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Plaintiff is a resident of Southampton, New York. At all times relevant to the present suit, Defendants Anthony Gallo ("Officer Gallo"), Darren Gagnon ("Officer Gagnon"), and Marla Donovan ("Officer Donovan") were residents of Suffolk County, New York, and were employed by the Incorporated Village of Southampton ("Southampton") as police officers for the Village of Southampton Police Department ("Southampton Police"). Defendant Jim Sherry ("Sherry") was the Police Chief of Southampton. Gallo, Gagnon, Donovan, and Sherry are all being sued in both their individual and official capacities (hereinafter, collectively, "Individual Defendants").

On January 6, 2003, at approximately 10:00 AM, Plaintiff was pulled over while driving her truck through Southampton. Officer Gallo indicated that he was pulling her over because her truck was missing its license plate. Officer Gallo approached and stood beside her vehicle. Plaintiff opened the door, rather than rolling down the window, because the window regulator was broken. As Plaintiff was reaching toward her glove compartment to retrieve her license and registration, Officer Gallo observed on the floor of her vehicle a green stem that he recognized as marijuana. Officer Gallo then asked Plaintiff if there was any other marijuana in the vehicle, and she informed him that he "could possibly find a roach or two in the truck." (Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 5; Pl.'s Reply to Def.'s Numbered Statements-Corrected by Plaintiff ¶ 5.) Plaintiff also admitted that there were marijuana seeds in a container in her truck. Plaintiff states that she was then handcuffed while Officer Gallo conducted a search of the vehicle. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstatement ¶ 8.) Officer Gallo found a container with marijuana and roaches in the truck, in addition to a metal pipe and a pipe bowl.

After retrieving these items from the vehicle, Officer Gallo drove Plaintiff to the police station. At this point, the parties' accounts diverge, primarily with regard to the sequence of the events. The core facts, however, are the same.

According to Defendants, Officer Gallo processed the arrest paperwork upon arrival. (Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 9.) He inventoried her possessions at 10:37 AM, at which time he found $1,300 in case in her possession. (Id. ¶ 11.) Approximately one half hour later, Plaintiff was searched by Officer Donovan, a female. Sergeant Gagnon advised Officer Donovan to "make sure she doesn't have anything on her." (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff, who was wearing multiple layers of clothes, was taken into a cell, where Officer Donovan conducted the search. Plaintiff was first instructed to lift her shirt and "flip" her bra, but she was never completely topless. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff was then instructed to remove her thermal underwear and lower her underpants to the ground. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff bent forward at the waist, facing Officer Donovan but there was no body-cavity search of any sort. (Id. ¶ 18.) During the search, Officer Donovan believed that Plaintiff was acting erratically. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was then changed with possession of marijuana, was given a field appearance ticket, and released shortly thereafter. (Id. ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff tells a slightly different story. She contends that on the way to the police station she was informed that she would be strip searched. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstatement ¶ 12.) On her account, Officer Gallo did not process her paper work or inventory her possessions until after Officer Donovan had arrived and completed the search. (Pl.'s Reply to Def.'s Numbered Statements-Corrected by Plaintiff ¶ 9.) The details of the search are essentially the same, though Plaintiff reverses the order, asserting that she removed her lower garments first, then flipped her bra second. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff further contends that she was understandably nervous and upset about the arrest, but that her behavior cannot be accurately described as "erratic." (Id. ¶ 20.) After the search was finished, Officer Gallo arrived at the cell and escorted Plaintiff to the booking area at which time Officer Gallo inventoried her possessions. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstatement ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff was then returned to the cell, where she noticed a video camera in the upper corner. (Id. ¶ 20.) As she was being escorted out of the station, she observed a television monitor that appeared to show a cell. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstatement ¶ 24.) She asked if the monitor showed the cell she had just occupied, and Officer Gallo told her that it did. (Id.) Defendants deny that there was any video camera in her cell. (Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 23.)

Plaintiff subsequently brought the present suit alleging, in essence, that the strip-search was unconstitutional. Plaintiff then moved for summary judgment. Defendants counter-moved for summary judgment, asserting a number of grounds including qualified immunity and governmental immunity.


Summary judgment is generally 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 judgment as a matter of law." Viola v. Philips Med. Sys. of N. Am., 42 F.3d 712, 716 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). The party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion," and identifying those materials "it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).


Plaintiff moves for summary judgment as to each of her claims, i.e., (1) violations of her Fourth Amendment rights; (2) conspiracy to violate her Fourth Amendment rights; (3) assault and battery; (4) negligent hiring; and (5) violations and conspiracy to violate her rights under Article I, § 12 of the New York State Constitution. Defendants cross-move for summary judgment, asserting defenses of: (1) qualified immunity relating to the first and second causes of action against Officers Gallo and Donovan, Sergeant Gagnon, and Police Chief Sherry; (2) Plaintiff's failure to establish a policy or custom that caused a deprivation of rights, relating to the first and second causes of action against Southampton; and (3) governmental immunity regarding the third and fourth causes of action. The Court the claims in turn.

I. Violations and Conspiracy to Violate Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Rights

The First Cause of Action alleges that Defendants engaged in a "wrongful strip search and body cavity search of the plaintiff" that constituted a violation of and a conspiracy to violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, pursuant to § 1983. (Am. Compl. ¶ 46.)*fn1 Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Defendants lacked "reasonable suspicion" to conduct the search, and that Defendants did not use the least intrusive means possible. (Pl.'s Mem. at 8, 12.) Defendants counter-move that the claims against the Individual Defendants should be dismissed because they are deserving of qualified immunity, and the claims against Southampton and Southampton Police should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to establish that the search was done pursuant to a policy or custom.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable" searches and seizures. The essential purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to impose a standard of "reasonableness" upon the exercise of discretion by government officials, in order to safeguard individual privacy against arbitrary governmental intrusions. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653-54 (1979); Phaneuf v. Fraikin, 448 F.3d 591, 595 (2d Cir. 2006). "A court required to rule upon the qualified immunity must consider . . . this threshold question: Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right? This must be the initial inquiry." See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). "If no constitutional right would have been violated were the allegations established, there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity." Id. It is only if a constitutional right has been violated that the court must determine whether a defendant would nevertheless be entitled to qualified immunity. See Stephenson v. Doe, 332 F.3d 68, 77 (2d Cir. 2003) ("As a general matter, ...

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