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Rivera v. City of Yonkers

January 18, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen C. Robinson, U.S. District Judge


I. Background

A. Procedural History

Christian Rivera (the "Plaintiff") filed this lawsuit against Police Officer Robert Devitt ("Devitt"), Police Officer Robert Santobello ("Santobello"), and the City of Yonkers (the "City"; collectively the "Defendants") claiming that he was assaulted and falsely detained and arrested by Devitt and Santobello on the night of November 24, 2000. Plaintiff further claims that the City failed to train and supervise its police officers in the appropriate use of force, and has failed to discipline and sanction those officers who used excessive force on prior occasions. According to Plaintiff, the collective actions of all Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In addition, Plaintiff maintains that the Defendants' actions give rise to claims under New York State law for assault and battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and prima facie tort.

Defendants made a motion for summary judgment on four grounds: (1) Plaintiff has not set forth sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the force used by Devitt and Santobello was excessive, and in any event, the officers are protected by qualified immunity in the course of carrying out their official duties; (2) Plaintiff cannot sustain a claim for unlawful arrest or malicious prosecution because he pled guilty to a crime based on the activity for which he was allegedly detailed and prosecuted unlawfully; (3) Plaintiff has not shown that the City had a custom or policy of failing to train, supervise, or discipline officers regarding use of force; and (4) Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to support his state law claims of infliction of emotional distress and prima facie tort.

For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

B. Facts

On November 24, 2000, Plaintiff and his sister, Betsy Rivera ("Rivera"), were passengers in a blue Ford Escort driven by Glen D'Ambrosio ("D'Ambrosio"), Plaintiff's brother-in-law and Ms. Rivera's husband. Def. R. 56.1 Statement at ¶1. At approximately 7:24 p.m. that evening, Devitt heard another officer's call to the police dispatcher indicating that a blue Ford Escort had been involved in a hit and run accident, and that officers were tracking the movement of the vehicle. Devitt Tr. at 15-17. Upon hearing this radio transmission, Devitt and his partner, Officer Thomas Ward ("Ward"), joined other police vehicles in a high-speed pursuit of the Ford Escort through the streets of Yonkers. During this chase, D'Ambrosio ignored the lights and siren from Devitt's and other police vehicles, collided with a series of other cars, and forced pedestrians and police officers to dive out of his erratic path. Devitt Tr. at 20-46. The pursuit ended when Devitt and Ward pulled in front of the Ford Escort while other police vehicles came up behind the car; the Ford Escort spun out, collided with the curb, and came to a stop. Devitt Tr. at 47-48; Santobello Tr. at 13. Santobello observed the end of the chase, and was present at the scene when the Ford Escort came to a stop in close proximity to Devitt's vehicle. Santobello Tr. at 13-14.

The parties' accounts of what happened next are in dispute. According to Plaintiff's sister, while Plaintiff was sleeping in the front seat of the Ford Escort, two officers grabbed his shirt and took him out of the car. B. Rivera Tr. at 20-21. Once he was out of the car, Plaintiff tried to push Devitt and threw a punch at him, and subsequently, police officers "broke [Plaintiff's] jaw, I mean, beat him." B. Rivera Tr. at 21. Ms. Rivera also testified, however, that she does not really remember how Plaintiff sustained his injuries, and that she "didn't really see much" of what happened because officers had placed her into a police vehicle. B. Rivera Tr. at 18. Further, when asked if she saw where the officers beat Plaintiff, Ms. Rivera responded: "I see flashes in my head. It's like not really there, but they're there." B. Rivera Tr. at 19.

According to Devitt's testimony, the Plaintiff exited the Ford Escort under his own power immediately after the vehicle came to a stop.*fn1 Devitt Tr. at 48, 51. Once out of the car, Plaintiff was flailing his arms and taking swings at Devitt; Devitt responded by striking Plaintiff with a single hard punch to Plaintiff's jaw. Devitt Tr. at 54-55; Santobello Tr. at 53-54. After being struck by Devitt, Plaintiff staggered and Devitt placed him in a headlock. Devitt Tr. at 55. Santobello attempted to assist Devitt in restraining Plaintiff and in the process, the three men fell to the ground and landed on a concrete curb, where the Plaintiff was ultimately handcuffed. Def. R. 56.1 Statement at ¶14. At that time, Plaintiff was bleeding from the mouth and nose area. Devitt Tr. at 71-72. Plaintiff was treated at Westchester Medical Center for a nasal fracture and a fractured jaw that required surgical repair; he also had to have several teeth removed. See Pl. Ex. 6. Devitt was treated at St. John's Hospital for pain in his hand and lower back, Devitt Tr. at 81-83, and Santobello received treatment at St. John's Hospital for a sprained finger, minor hand abrasions, and lower back pain. Santobello Tr. at 95-96.

Plaintiff was arrested that evening and charged with various crimes, including assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstruction of governmental administration. Def. R. 56.1 Statement at ¶11. On May 6, 2002, he pled guilty to obstruction of governmental administration in the second degree in full satisfaction of the charges. Def. R. 56.1 Statement at ¶12.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is warranted if "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 ...

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