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Cumberbatch v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

December 5, 2006

JAMES P. CUMBERBATCH AND DAVID D. CUMBERBATCH, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, THE CITY OF NEW YORK, OFFICER POLIGOW, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A POLICE OFFICER OF THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, OFFICER SANTIAGO, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A POLICE OFFICER OF THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, JOHN DOES, INDIVIDUALLY AND THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICERS AND PORT AUTHORITY POLICE OFFICERS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara S. Jones, United States District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Jaime and David Cumberbatch ("Jaime" and "David") allege that they were assaulted, battered, falsely arrested and later deprived of needed medical care in connection with a law enforcement incident. In their complaint, they alleged 38 causes of action against the above-captioned defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state law. Some of those claims and defendants have already been dismissed. The remaining defendants, which include The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Port Authority"), Brett Poligow ("Officer Poligow"), and William Santiago ("Officer Santiago"), now move for summary judgment as to the remaining claims against them. For the reasons below, the motion is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

A. The Parties

Plaintiffs Jaime and David are African-American males who, at the time of the incidents at issue, were 19 and 21 years of age, respectively.

Defendant Port Authority is a joint agency of New York and New Jersey created for the purpose of developing the port of New York. N.Y. Unconsol. L. § 6451. It operates, inter alia, the Port Authority Bus Terminal ("Terminal") in New York City. It also operates a police force ("PA Police"). Officer Poligow and Officer Santiago (collectively, the "Officers") were at all relevant times officers of the PA police. Certain additional, yet unidentified, PA Police officers are also named as "John Doe" defendants (collectively with Officers Poligow and Santiago, the "PA Officers").*fn1

B. The Incident at Issue

Plaintiffs alleged in their Complaint and testified in their respective depositions as follows. On November 4, 2001, Plaintiffs and a friend named Yachob Swinton ("Swinton") drove to the Terminal so that David could buy bus tickets which he and Swinton would use to return to Penn State University, where the two were enrolled. They arrived at the Terminal shortly before 10:00 p.m. Jaime, who was driving, stopped the car at the curb near the Terminal, and remained in the car while David entered the Terminal to buy bus tickets.

Officer Poligow soon approached the car and told Jaime that he was in a no standing zone, but could park across the street. Jaime drove a short distance down the block, made a U-turn, and remained there until another officer directed him to move, as he was now in a bus lane. Jaime then made another U-turn and stopped his car for a third time, now back on the same side of the street where he had dropped David off, although further down the street.

Jaime waited a few minutes and then drove back up the block to where he expected his brother to exit the Terminal, which was also at or near the spot from where he originally was told to move. There were approximately four or five other cars parked there as well. Jaime saw David waiting at the door, and called to him. Officer Poligow then approached again, said in substance "Didn't I tell you to move before?" and asked for Jaime's license and registration.

Jaime provided the requested documents to Officer Poligow. As he began to write a summons, the wind blew documents out of the Officer's hands. Jaime left the car to retrieve the papers, but Officer Poligow told him to return to the vehicle, saying to Jaime, "You don't need them anyway."

After Jaime returned to the car, Officers Poligow and Santiago rushed towards Jaime and grabbed him, and he stood up. When Jaime asked what the problem was, the officers said "you're under arrest." When Jaime asked what for, he never received a response, but Officer Poligow referred to Jaime as a wise guy and called for back up on his walkie-talkie. Shortly after, several police officers appeared, who, along with Officers Poligow and Santiago, pulled and jumped on Jaime, even though he was not resisting. At some point during the melee, Jaime was hit several times with fists and batons, kicked in the groin, and repeatedly sprayed in the eyes with pepper-spray.

Meanwhile, David asked Officer Poligow "what are you arresting my brother for?" Officer Poligow then hit David in his chest several times, tackled David over the concrete barrier, handcuffed him, flipped him back over the barrier, and slammed him down to the street. Several other PA Police officers then kicked David, whereupon his friend, Swinton, told the officers that David had a bad left leg. In response, the officers kicked David even harder, tauntingly asking him, "Where's your pride now?"

Once Plaintiffs were subdued, their hands were cuffed behind their backs and they were dragged and thrown into a PA Police van. As the van drove to the PA Police Precinct (the "Precinct"), Jaime "cried out" in pain from the mace. At the Precinct, Jaime was handcuffed to a bench, where Plaintiffs claim his continued requests for medical attention were met with a reply by an officer that "they wanted him to 'marinate.'" Despite his frequent requests for medical attention, Jaime received none until at least an hour after the incident.

The brothers were taken from the Precinct to New York Police Department Central Booking, where they were held. Jaime was charged with Trespass*fn2 under N.Y. Penal Law § 140.05, a violation. David was charged with Disorderly Conduct under N.Y. Penal Law § 240.20, also a violation.*fn3 They were arraigned and then released on their own recognizance. The brothers soon after sought medical attention at a hospital's emergency room.

Jaime and David claim that during the incident they received physical injuries, including bruises to their faces, abrasions and lacerations, some of which have caused permanent scars. Both brothers claim to have suffered pain in their heads, faces, backs, arms, and legs, as well as "persistent" pain in their ribs, legs, and back. In addition to physical injuries, Plaintiffs claim that they have suffered emotional injury, pain and suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment as a result of the incident.

Ultimately, the brothers accepted adjournments in contemplation of dismissal ("ACDs") of the charges against them.*fn4

The charges were dismissed on April 20, 2002.

2. The PA Officers' Version

While the Court must accept Plaintiffs' version of the events as true for purposes of this motion, it bears noting that Officers Poligow and Santiago provided a very different account of the material events than that provided by Plaintiffs. According to the Officers' deposition testimony, after Jaime provided his identification and registration information, Jaime taunted the Officers with words and repeatedly exited the vehicle in disregard of the Officers' commands that he remain inside. They perceived his actions as both threatening and a disturbance to the peace, and so determined to arrest him. The Officers also assert that Jaime resisted arrest, and that escalating force was necessary to restrain him. Such force included strikes to Jaime's limbs and the use of pepper-spray to his eyes.

Also according to Officer Poligow, David resisted his orders that he "stand back" while Jaime was being apprehended. When David did not back up, Officer Poligow perceived him as a threat. Officer Poligow then used what he believed to be appropriate force against David, including pushing and punching him in the chest, dragging him to the ground, and handcuffing him.

The Officers also testified that the Plaintiffs were afforded timely and sufficient medical assistance.

C. The Complaint

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on February 3, 2003 ---almost 15 months after the incident in question. The Complaint asserted the following 38 causes of action, sounding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn5 and New York State laws:

1. The § 1983 Claims

* Assault through the use of objectively unreasonable force (claims 1 and 5, as against the PA Police Officers);*fn6

* Denial of medical treatment (claims 2 and 6, as against the PA Police Officers);

* Arrest without probable cause (claims 3 and 4, as against the PA Police Officers);

* Conspiracy to fabricate and fabrication of a claim of the events leading up to the arrests, resulting in false imprisonment (claims 7 and ...


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