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D'Angelo-Fenton v. Town of Carmel

January 17, 2007

JOANN D'ANGELO-FENTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE TOWN OF CARMEL; THE TOWN OF CARMEL POLICE DEPARTMENT; LIEUTENANT BRIAN KARST, SERGEANT KENNETH SCHMITT, POLICE OFFICER PAUL O'CONNOR, PREVIOUSLY IDENTIFIED AS UNKNOWN INDIVIDUAL OFFICERS OF THE TOWN OF CARMEL POLICE DEPARTMENT; JOHN DOE OFFICERS 4-10, THE NAMES BEING FICTITIOUS AND PRESENTLY UNKNOWN, ALL OF WHOM ARE NAMED INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS EMPLOYEES OF THE TOWN OF CARMEL AND THE TOWN OF CARMEL POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND THE JOURNAL NEWS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conner, Senior D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Joann D'Angelo-Fenton brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and various state law provisions, against defendants, the Town of Carmel (the "Town"), the Town of Carmel Police Department (the "Department"), Lieutenant Brian Karst, Sergeant Kenneth Schmitt, Officer Paul O'Connor and seven unidentified officers of the Department (collectively, the "Officers")*fn1 and The Journal News (the "Newspaper"). The allegations against the Town Defendants stem from their actions following an automobile accident in which plaintiff was involved, at which time she was alleged to have been driving while intoxicated. Following the investigation, the Newspaper issued a story about the incident, which plaintiff contends constituted defamation.*fn2 Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6).

Specifically, the Town Defendants contend that: (1) they are entitled to qualified immunity for their good faith, official actions; (2) plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim fails as a matter of law because no criminal proceeding was commenced against her; (3) plaintiff's arrest was lawful because it was supported by probable cause; (4) plaintiff fails to state a claim for conspiracy under 28 U.S.C. § 1985 because she fails to allege class-based discrimination; and (5) plaintiff's state law claims are meritless and should be dismissed for the same reasons that their federal claims must fail. The Newspaper argues that it is immune from suit for defamation pursuant to N.Y. CIV. RIGHTS LAW § 74.*fn3 Because the Town Defendants have submitted sixteen exhibits in support of their motion to dismiss, which, although instructive, could not be considered when ruling on such a motion, we noticed the parties that the Court would treat the motion as one for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56, and invited them to submit additional relevant materials for our consideration.*fn4 For the reasons that follow defendants' motions are granted.

BACKGROUND

On January 9, 2005, plaintiff was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident, in which she crossed over the double yellow line into oncoming traffic, striking the guardrail and causing another vehicle to impact her own.*fn5 Emergency medical and police personnel responded to the accident. (Am. Complt. ¶¶ 17-19.) Although plaintiff was seated in the driver's seat with her seatbelt fastened, she told responding emergency medical technician Laura Smith that she was not the driver of the vehicle. (Smith Aff.) Smith, who first examined plaintiff, stated that she detected the scent of alcohol on plaintiff's breath. (Id.) Smith related this concern to a paramedic at the scene, Edward Campion, who instructed the ambulance driver to notify police. (Id.; Campion Aff. at 2.) Plaintiff admitted to Campion that she had consumed wine with dinner. (Am. Complt. ¶¶ 17-19.) Following her extrication from the vehicle, plaintiff was taken to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment. (Id.) At the hospital, defendant O'Connor, at the direction of defendant Schmitt, arrested plaintiff for driving while intoxicated. (See id. ¶¶ 33-35.) Following the arrest, O'Connor and Schmitt seized a sample of plaintiff's blood, in order to test it for the presence of alcohol. (See id. ¶¶ 35-37.) Plaintiff alleges that she did not consent to the taking of her blood. (Id.)

Following the events of January 9, 2005, plaintiff was convicted of a traffic infraction in connection with the accident, but was never prosecuted for driving while intoxicated.*fn6 (Id. at ¶¶ 28- 29; Town Defs. Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. O.) Relying upon information supplied by the Department, the Newspaper published an article about plaintiff's accident. (Am. Complt. ¶¶ 19-24.) In the article, the Newspaper indicated that plaintiff had been intoxicated and that "[p]olice had charged [plaintiff] with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor." (Id. at ¶ 19.) Both statements were false. Plaintiff subsequently filed the present Complaint.

Plaintiff now alleges widespread and pervasive wrongdoing on the part of the Town and the Department. Namely, plaintiff contends that both entities: (1) maintained official or unofficial policies of permitting the unlawful seizure of evidence; (2) failed to implement proper training and supervision protocols to ensure that police personnel comply with search and seizure law; and (3) failed to discipline or terminate officers, or take any other remedial measures to prevent recurring violations of the law, despite having received complaints about officer misconduct. (See id. ¶¶ 43-48.)

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment may be granted where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986). A fact is material only if, based on that fact, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The burden rests on the movant to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the court resolves all ambiguities and draws all permissible factual inferences against the movant.*fn7 See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. To defeat summary judgment, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The Court's role at this stage of the litigation is not to decide issues of material fact, but to discern whether any exist. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). Nevertheless, as one court explained:

[S]ummary judgment must be granted against a party in instances when such party fails to adequately establish an essential element on which it bears the burden of proof. . . . The non-moving party may not rest upon unsubstantiated allegations, conclusory assertions or mere denials of the adverse party's pleading, but must set forth and establish specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. . . .

A metaphysical or other whimsical doubt concerning a material fact does not establish a genuine issue necessitating a trial. . . . The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence supporting the non-movant's case is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.

Brooks v. Di Fasi, No. 93-CV-0197E, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11162, at *6-7 (W.D.N.Y. July 30, 1997) (citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted).

I. Plaintiff's Constitutional and Related State Tort Claims

A. False Arrest and Unlawful Search and Seizure Under § 1983 and New York State Law

The Second Circuit explained in Singer v. Fulton County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 118 (2d Cir. 1995), that to prevail on a claim for false arrest under New York law, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he was intentionally confined; (2) he was conscious of the confinement; (3) he was confined without consent; and (4) no privilege justified his confinement. "A § 1983 claim for false arrest, resting on the Fourth Amendment right of an individual to be free from unreasonable seizures, including arrest without probable cause . . . is substantially the same as a claim for false arrest under New York law. . . ." Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). Probable cause constitutes a complete defense to a claim of false arrest under both § 1983 and New York law, id., and, on at least one occasion, the Second Circuit has required that a plaintiff affirmatively plead facts giving rise to an inference that police lacked probable cause to ...


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