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Stokes v. City of New York

May 3, 2007

HEATHER STOKES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, DETECTIVE BUSKEY, SHIELD # 238, KWAYERA ARCHER-CUNNINGHAM, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Heather Stokes ("Stokes") brings this action, alleging claims for violations of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as pendent state claims, arising from her arrest on March 4, 2004, at her residence in Brooklyn, New York, for Criminal Impersonation in the Second Degree and Forgery in the Third Degree. Stokes contends that defendant Detective Mark Buskey ("Buskey") entered her residence without a warrant, arrested her without probable cause, and utilized excessive force during the arrest. As a result, Stokes asserts claims for unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest, excessive force, and false imprisonment in connection with her arrest and subsequent detention.

Defendants City of New York and Buskey (collectively, "the defendants") move for summary judgment on all claims pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is (1) denied as to the unreasonable search and seizure claim because a disputed issue of material fact exists as to whether Buskey had consent to enter the residence; (2) granted as to the false arrest and false imprisonment claims based upon the existence of probable cause as a matter of law; (3) granted as to the excessive force claim because no force was used during the arrest other than a routine handcuffing and pat-down and, thus, there is no cognizable constitutional injury; (4) granted as to the municipal liability claim; and (5) granted as to the pendent state claims.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Facts

The facts described below are taken from the parties' depositions, declarations, affidavits, exhibits and respective Local Rule 56.1 statements of facts. Upon consideration of a motion for summary judgment, the Court shall construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Capobianco v. City of New York, 422 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 2001).

Buskey was employed as a Detective for the New York City Police Department during the time period of the incident alleged in the complaint. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.) (hereinafter "Defs.' 56.1")*fn1 Sister Kwayera Archer-Cunningham ("Archer-Cunningham") is the founder and director of the Ifetayo Cultural Arts Facility ("Ifetayo"), a non-profit organization. (Id. ¶ 2.) Stokes was employed by Ifetayo from approximately October 2003 through February 5, 2004, when she was terminated. (Id. ¶ 3; Ex. D, at ¶¶ 4-5.)

On February 13, 2004, Archer-Cunningham called the 70th Precinct of the NYPD to report that a check in the amount of approximately $431 (hereinafter, "the Check") from Ifetayo had been cashed by Stokes without an authorized signature. (Ex. D, at ¶ 4.) According to Archer-Cunningham, she was the only person authorized to sign checks on behalf of Ifetayo on the account on which the Check was drawn, and she did not sign the Check that was cashed by Stokes. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)

On or about February 15, 2004, Buskey was assigned to handle the complaint made by Archer-Cunningham. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 7.) On February 17, 2004, Buskey called Archer-Cunningham and left her a message. (Id. ¶ 8.) On February 20, 2004, Archer-Cunningham spoke with Buskey about the Check, and told him that Stokes had cashed the Check issued by Ifetayo and that Archer-Cunningham did not sign the front of the check as the payor, even though the check purportedly contained her signature. (Ex. D., at ¶¶ 7-8.) Archer-Cunningham also provided Buskey with a copy of the Check. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 11.) Upon receiving a copy of the Check, Buskey brought it to the location where the Check had been cashed. (Id. ¶ 12.) The check-cashing establishment provided Buskey with a copy of the photo identification card used by the person who had cashed the check. (Id. ¶ 13.) The name on the photo identification card was Heather Stokes, which matched the name provided by Archer-Cunningham. (Id. ¶ 14; Ex. C, at 44-45.) According to Buskey, he then contacted the New York City Police Department Legal Bureau and the District Attorney's Office, informed them of the information he had obtained, and was told he had probable cause to arrest Stokes. (Ex. C, at 59, 64-65; Ex. J.)

In mid-February 2004, Buskey called Stokes, told her that there was an open complaint against her, and asked her to come to the precinct. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 17-18.) Stokes told Buskey that she was not going to take care of any business over the phone and hung up. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 19.)

According to Stokes, on March 4, 2004, she was in her home in Brooklyn, New York, when Buskey entered the residence without a warrant to arrest her. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-13.) Stokes testified that the following events took place once Buskey was in the residence: Buskey called for back-up during the arrest and, as a result, over one dozen police officers arrived at Stokes' home. (Ex. 1, at 150.) According to plaintiff, Buskey's partner was shocked when he called for back-up and asked Buskey what he was doing. (Id., at 49-50.) Stokes did not resist arrest, was placed in handcuffs, and was physically searched by Buskey. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 22; Ex. 1, at 149, 152-53.) Stokes is not claiming any physical injuries as a result of the arrest, but rather is claiming that the arrest resulted in emotional trauma. (Ex. 1, at 183.)

B. Procedural History

On January 3, 2005, Stokes filed the instant action against the City of New York, Buskey, and Archer-Cunningham.*fn2 This case was reassigned to the undersigned on February 10, 2006. On January 5, 2007, defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. Oral argument was held on February 16, 2007.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standards for summary judgment are well-settled. 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 as to any 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 Am. v. Town of West Hartford, 361 F.3d 113, 122 (2d Cir. 2004); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (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 that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 160 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)). As the Supreme Court stated in Anderson, "[i]f the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted). Indeed, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties" alone will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Id. at 247. Thus, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere conclusory allegations or denials, but must set forth "concrete particulars" showing that a trial is needed. R.G. Group, Inc. v. Horn & Hardart Co., 751 F.2d 69, 77 (2d Cir. 1984) (internal quotations omitted). Accordingly, it is insufficient for a party opposing summary judgment "merely to assert a conclusion without supplying supporting arguments or facts." BellSouth Telecomms., Inc. v. W.R. Grace & Co., 77 F.3d 603, 615 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal quotations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979). Section 1983 provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. For claims under section 1983, a plaintiff must prove "that (1) the challenged conduct was attributable at least in part to a person who was acting under color of state law and (2) the conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States." Snider v. Dylag, 188 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir.1999) (citation omitted).

Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. Specifically, defendants assert the following bases for their motion: (1) Buskey had probable cause to arrest Stokes and, in any event, is entitled to qualified immunity; (2) Stokes did not provide any evidence with which to prove excessive force; (3) Stokes cannot identify any unlawful policies or practices of the City that could have led to her arrest; and (4) Stokes cannot prove any cognizable state claims. The Court will examine each of Stokes' claims in turn - the unreasonable search ...


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