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Kelsey v. City of New York

December 18, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge


Plaintiffs Valerie Kelsey and Theodore Goddard bring this action on behalf of themselves and the estate of Curtis Goddard, alleging, inter alia, claims for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a pendent wrongful death/negligence claim under state law. Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons stated below, summary judgment is granted as to plaintiffs' claim alleging violation of § 1983. Further, with the dismissal of the federal claim from the instant lawsuit, the Court exercises its discretion to decline jurisdiction over the remaining state claim arising in negligence, and, thus, dismisses that claim without prejudice.


The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. On August 15, 2002, Curtis Goddard ("Goddard") arrived at and entered an apartment on Beach Channel Drive ("the apartment"), a residence at which Maria Buffamante ("Buffamante") lived with her children. (See Defs.' Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("Defs.' 56.1 Stmt."), ¶¶ 7, 11.) Goddard lived occasionally at the apartment as well, as Buffamante's boyfriend. (See Pls.' Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("Pls.' 56.1 Stmt."), ¶ 7; see also Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 9.) On the previous day, August 14, 2002, Buffamante had informed Goddard that their relationship was over. (See Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 10(a); see also Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 10.) At the time Goddard entered the apartment, it was occupied by Buffamante, her children, and her friends Tyisha Safford, Leonar Jesus Espinal and an individual known as "Blue." (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 8.) After Goddard entered the apartment, Buffamante, Espinal and "Blue" asked Goddard to leave the premises. (See id., ¶ 12.) Goddard refused, and brandished a firearm.*fn1 (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 13; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 13(b).)

New York City Police Department Sergeant George Kallas and Police Officers Thomas Marrone, Michael Sykora, Cory Fink, Martin Halligan, and Paul Bernal responded to a call regarding a dispute with a firearm at the apartment. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 5.) As the officers arrived at the apartment, "Blue" informed them that there was an individual with a gun inside the apartment. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 14; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 14.) Although it is disputed whether or not the police officers knocked on the apartment door, it is undisputed that the door was opened by Espinal, and the occupants of the apartment, save Goddard, ran out. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 15; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 15.) The officers entered the apartment, and observed Goddard run towards the kitchen.*fn2 (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 16.)

The officers attempted to arrest Goddard in the kitchen, who resisted and refused to be handcuffed. (See id.., ¶ 17.) The officers were eventually successful in restraining and handcuffing Goddard. (See id., ¶ 22.) The officers searched Goddard and seized a sock filled with ammunition, a ski mask, his gun, and a razor blade.*fn3 (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶¶ 22-23, 28; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶¶ 22-23, 28.)

Goddard was escorted out of the apartment with his hands cuffed behind his back. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 24.) As he was being escorted out of the apartment, Goddard attempted to grab Officer Barnal's gun, while exclaiming "shoot me, kill me." (See id., ¶ 25.) Officer Marrone held Goddard until he was able to confirm that Officer Bernal had control of his gun. (See id., ¶ 26.) Goddard was brought out into the hallway, and was positioned facing the wall, approximately four to five feet from a stairwell door. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 27; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 27(a)). While placed facing the wall, Goddard was surrounded by Officers Sykora, Fink, Hallagan and Bernal in a semi-circle. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 29.) Sergeant Kallas instructed the officers to physically hold onto Goddard. (See id., ¶ 30.) Pursuant to that order, Officer Sykora held onto Goddard while he was stood against the wall. (See id., ¶ 32.)

Sergeant Kallas requested that the Emergency Services Unit and an ambulance respond to the scene to assist with an emotionally disturbed person (EDP). (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 31; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 31.) Kallas and Lieutenant Marron then went down the hall to interview the occupants of the apartment. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 39.) After approximately five minutes, Goddard was turned around, so that he faced the surrounding officers. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 33.) Officer Sykora spoke to Goddard to ascertain what had happened prior to the arrival of the police at the apartment. (See id.) The parties agree that Goddard was relatively calm, although plaintiffs point to evidence in the record indicating that he was sweating and fidgety. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 34; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 34.) Officer Sykora released his physical hold on Goddard. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 35.) Goddard then made a sudden move at Sykora, and Officer Fink pushed Sykora out of the way, in order to prevent contact. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶¶ 36-37; see also Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶¶ 36-37.) Goddard proceeded to escape from the officers, and ran towards the stairwell door. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 37.) According to defendants, Officer Shawline Senior was standing next to the stairwell door, and attempted to grab Goddard as he ran through the stairwell door, but failed.*fn4 (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 38.)

Sykora, Fink, Bernal, Halligan, Marrone, Lindner and Marron immediately chased after Goddard as he ran up the stairway to the rooftop of the building, while rear-cuffed. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 42.) Officer Sykora observed Goddard lean over a fence on the roof, and then twist his body so that he fell off the rooftop. (See id., ¶ 44.) Goddard died as a result of injuries he assumed from the fall. (See Okoli Decl., Ex. O.)

The New York Police Department investigated the incident, and disciplined Officer Sykora for failing and neglecting to safeguard a prisoner, resulting in the loss of the prisoner. (See Pls.' 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 54.) The report noted that Sykora was responsible for securing Goddard, and that the circumstances warranted him physically holding on to Goddard. (See Okoli Decl., Ex. M.) Further, the report noted that it was Sykora's duty to maintain physical control of Goddard, since he was the one holding Goddard when Kallas gave him the order to not let go of him. (See id.) The same report investigated the actions of Fink, Kallas, Marrone, Halligan, Bernal, Linder, Senior and Marron, but found that discipline was not warranted as to those officers. (See id.)

Valerie Kelsey and Theodore Goddard, the co-administrators of Curtis Goddard's estate, filed the instant action, against the City of New York and the individual officers mentioned above, alleging causes of action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, based upon the following: (1) deliberate indifference to Goddard's safety needs; (2) the failure by the City to train and supervise the defendants; (3) the use of excessive force when handcuffing Goddard; and (4) a conspiracy by the defendants to not recapture Goddard after his escape from custody and/or a conspiracy to let Goddard fall from the rooftop. In addition, the complaint alleged a pendent claim for negligence arising under state law.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. In plaintiffs' opposition papers, they explicitly abandoned all claims except "1) damages for wrongful death based upon defendants' deliberate indifference to his safety needs, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 2) damages for the wrongful death of the decedent due to the negligence of the individual defendants." (Pls.' Opp. Br., at 2.)

The case was re-assigned to the undersigned from the Honorable Carol B. Amon on February 10, 2006. The Court held oral argument on the instant motion as to the two remaining claims on August 11, 2006.


Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court may not grant a motion for summary judgment unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Globecon Group, LLC v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 434 F.3d 165, 170 (2d Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the burden of showing that he or she is entitled to summary judgment. See Huminski v. Corsones, 396 F.3d 53, 69 (2d Cir. 2005). The court "is not to weigh the evidence but is instead required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party, and to eschew credibility assessments." Amnesty America v. Town of West Hartford, 361 F.3d 113, 122 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986) (stating that summary judgment is unwarranted if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."). Once the moving party has met its burden, the opposing party "must do more than simply show ...

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