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Ramos v. City of New York

October 5, 2006

OCTAVIO RAMOS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, POLICE OFFICER TIMOTHY STANLEY, AND POLICE OFFICER FRANK BENITEZ, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Octavio Ramos brought this action against the City of New York, its police department, and the two individual police officers who arrested him on September 18, 1998, in connection with a dispute between Ramos and his building superintendent over whether the superintendent could enter Ramos's apartment during a building inspection. Defendants now move for dismissal of the Amended Complaint with prejudice under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was arrested on September 18, 1996, by defendants Timothy Stanley and Frank Benitez, officers of the New York City Police Department. His Amended Complaint alleges that the arrest in question took place at an apartment on West 170th Street in Manhattan and that it was based upon false accusations, but sets forth virtually no other facts relating to the arrest. The remaining background facts are therefore drawn principally from an opinion by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court in the state criminal proceedings that followed plaintiff's arrest.*fn1 See People v. Ramos, 3 Misc. 3d 127(A), 2004 WL 906594 (1st Dep't 2004).

Plaintiff, the president of a tenants' association in his apartment building, had arranged for a City housing inspector to visit his mother-in-law's apartment on the date in question. When the building's superintendent, Victor Cassanova, sought to enter the apartment along with the inspector, plaintiff refused to let him in, either pushing him away or blocking his entry by extending his arm across the door. Id. Cassanova complained to the police, who arrested plaintiff. Plaintiff was convicted of second-degree harassment, see N.Y. Penal Law § 240.26, and resisting arrest, see N.Y. Penal Law § 205.30, on January 21, 2000. The Appellate Division overturned his conviction on April 12, 2004, holding that:

Whatever incidental physical contact may have occurred during this rapidly escalating, housing-related dispute was not shown beyond a reasonable doubt to have been actuated by defendant's intent to "harass, annoy or alarm" (Penal Law § 240.26) the complainant. Also infirm is the defendant's conviction of resisting arrest, there being no reasonable cause to authorize defendant's arrest on a violation harassment charge involving events which took place outside the presence of the arresting officer. Nor can the People be heard to argue that defendant's September 18, 1998 arrest was predicated upon a misdemeanor menacing charge stemming from an unrelated incident that allegedly occurred two months earlier, a theory unsupported by the credible trial evidence and inconsistent with the jury charge as given.

People v. Ramos, 2004 WL 906594, at *1. The latter incident is not mentioned in the Amended Complaint, but plaintiff's brief argues that the officers' decision to arrest him was based on the superintendent's statement that plaintiff had hit the superintendent on the chest and threatened him with a crowbar on June 18th, 1998. (Pl. Opp. 11.)

Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court on March 23, 2005, and an Amended Complaint on May 4, 2005, both setting forth claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution on the basis of this arrest. On February 28, 2006, plaintiff by stipulation withdrew his claim for assault and battery, as well as all claims against defendant New York City Police Department.

DISCUSSION

Courts assess a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), accepting the allegations contained in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Greco v. Trauner, Cohen & Thomas, L.L.P., 412 F.3d 360, 363 (2d Cir. 2005). The complaint may not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle him to relief. Id. When adjudicating a motion to dismiss, the "issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Bernheim v. Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).*fn2

I. Municipal Liability

Defendants argue that plaintiff's claims against the City of New York should be dismissed because the Amended Complaint fails to allege facts that could support a finding of muncipal liability under § 1983. In Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), the Supreme Court held that a municipality is a "person" within the meaning of § 1983 and can incur liability pursuant to the statute. Id. at 690. Claims against a municipality under § 1983 may proceed, however, only if "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers" or is conducted "pursuant to governmental 'custom' even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decisionmaking channels." Id. at 690-91.

Plaintiff has alleged no relevant facts concerning a policy or custom underlying his treatment. Instead, he argues that the allegedly unconstitutional conduct itself demonstrates that the City failed to train its officers in a way that would have prevented it. This argument is circular, and if accepted would give rise to municipal liability in every § 1983 case. The complaint identifies no particular training practice that led to plaintiff's arrest; in fact, the Amended Complaint never mentions the conduct of any city official other than the arresting officers. Plaintiff asserts that "it would have been more appropriate for the police officers to issue a 'desk appearance ticket' (DAT) to plaintiff instead of making an arrest." (Pl. Opp. 18.) Even if this were so, it hardly implicates a custom or practice of any City agency.*fn3 Nor does plaintiff make any assertions of fact regarding municipal customs or practices that might have led to his allegedly ...


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