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Little v. City of New York

May 15, 2007

JOSEPH LITTLE, PLAINTIFF
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, POLICE OFFICER DOUGLAS STRONG, SHIELD NO. 22185, 2 UNKNOWN DETECTIVES, 1 UNKNOWN SERGEANT, 2 UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS, GUSTAVO BLAIN, SHIELD NO. 01588, AND OTHER UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS WITH THE NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Plaintiff Joseph Little brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of New York and police officers Douglas Strong and Gustavo Blain. He asserts, inter alia, claims for false arrest and false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, and violations of due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Strong and Blain now move for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff opposes the motion, and moves for additional discovery under Rule 56(f). For the following reasons, plaintiff's Rule 56(f) application is denied, and defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

1. The Complaint

On September 24, 2004, plaintiff filed this complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of New York, Officers Douglas Strong and Gustavo Blain, and various other unnamed police officers.

Plaintiff has never moved to amend the complaint to include the unnamed police officers, and thus, they are no longer part of this action as the applicable statute of limitations appears to have expired. Moreover, on February 23, 2007, the parties entered into a stipulation and order dismissing all claims against the City of New York. (See Stipulation and Order, February 23, 2007). Accordingly, the only remaining defendants in the case are Officers Strong and Blain.

2. Discovery

On August 19, 2005, at a pretrial conference, I set January 20, 2006 as the date for the completion of all discovery. By letter dated January 19, 2006, plaintiff requested a 90-day extension for discovery. Plaintiff's counsel stated that the extension was needed because she had discovered the identity of some of the unknown parties, and wished to discuss with defendants' counsel the possibility of amending the complaint to add the parties. She also cited certain family obligations for the delay in discovery. I extended the discovery cut-off to April 21, 2006.

By letter dated April 18, 2006, plaintiff's counsel once again wrote to the Court asking to adjourn the conference set for April 21st so that plaintiff could amend the complaint to include certain unnamed officers. The letter also included a request to extend discovery for another 90 days. I did not adjourn the conference, and asked the parties to appear for the conference set for April 21, 2006. At that conference, the parties informed me that documents had been exchanged, but that no depositions had taken place. I once again extended the discovery cut-off to June 30, 2006.

By letter dated June 23, 2006, plaintiff's counsel wrote the Court requesting another 90-day extension for discovery. Plaintiff's counsel provided the following reasons:

(1) the underlying events took place in 2001, and thus the parties were having difficulty retrieving files for plaintiff's case; (2) the parties anticipated that they would need to conduct ten to twelve depositions, which would require more time; and (3) in response to a subpoena from plaintiff for certain discovery documents, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office responded by asserting work product privilege as to the requests relating to Hashiem Henry, but it consented to producing certain files relating to plaintiff. Although I did not grant the full 90-day extension, I nevertheless extended the discovery cut-off to August 11, 2006.

By letter dated July 25, 2006, plaintiff's counsel again wrote the Court asking for yet another extension for discovery. Plaintiff's counsel argued that the District Attorney's Office had not yet turned over all the documents she had requested, especially the police officer affidavits used in support of the line-ups that were conducted in which plaintiff had participated. In response, I denied plaintiff's request for an extension of the discovery cut-off, but I provided that plaintiff could move to compel the District Attorney's Office to comply with the prior subpoena, and that this matter could be resolved past the discovery cut-off. The request for additional discovery was renewed at the August 11, 2006 conference. I again denied the request.

At the conference, however, I asked defendants' counsel to contact the District Attorney's Office about producing the documents relating to People v. Hashiem Henry. On October 12, 2006, the District Attorney's Office forwarded 662 pages of documents to defense counsel (the Law Department), some of which purportedly were subject to privilege. Defendants produced about 180 pages relating to the three crimes for which plaintiff was arrested and charged for -- and objected to the rest as privileged. The objections by the District Attorney's Office were relayed to plaintiff, and plaintiff did not challenge its position on the matter. To date, there remain some audiovisual materials that have not yet been produced, which plaintiff has requested in his Rule 56(f) application.

3. The Instant Motions

On November 28, 2006, plaintiff filed this motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff opposed the motion, but did not submit a counter-statement to Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts. Rather, plaintiff claims that additional information is required before he can proffer a counter-statement. (Dwyer Affirmation ¶¶ 1, 3). Accordingly, he has requested an extension of discovery under Rule 56(f), which I discuss below.

Plaintiff's attorney has submitted, however, an affirmation (the "Dwyer Affirmation"), which includes alleged facts that contradict defendants' version of the facts. The Dwyer Affirmation is supported by the following exhibits, some of which I summarize below:

Exhibit A: Excerpts from a transcript of Officer Strong's deposition, and a copy of a photograph of the plaintiff taken on the date of his arrest -- September 25, 2001.

Exhibit B: Assistant District Attorney Amy Schwartz's affirmation and reply affirmation in support of a line-up order in the case of People v. Hashiem Henry.

Exhibit C: Officer Denny Acosta's affidavit in support of a search warrant for 503 West 177th Street, Apt. #4C, dated November 13, 2001.

Exhibit D: Affidavits from several witnesses to the September 25, 2001 robbery, including Rosa Peguero, Darlenes Candelario, Denny Candelario, Leonidas Dominguez, Reney Torres, Mercedes Batista, and Loures Ortiz; and an additional affidavit from Ricardo Garcia, a private investigator retained by plaintiff's counsel to conduct an investigation relating to this case.

Exhibit E: A sworn handwritten statement from Adalgisa Rodriguez, the female victim of the September 25, 2001 robbery, which describes the robbery and states that she did not identify plaintiff as the perpetrator. The statement is in Spanish, but a translation was subsequently provided to the Court.

Exhibit J: A copy of the Sprint report related to the September 25, 2001 robbery.

Exhibit K: Excerpts from a transcript of plaintiff Joseph Little's deposition.

Exhibit L: Another handwritten statement by Adalgisa Rodriguez, the female victim of the September 25, 2001 robbery. The statement is dated September 25, 2001, and provides a very brief description stating that she was robbed by a tall, black man and that she did not know anything else. The statement is written in Spanish, and translated version is attached.

Exhibit N: A copy of the emergency services report generated from the September 25, 2001 robbery.

Exhibit O: New York Police Complaint reports for crimes that occurred between August 17, 2001 to September 9, 2001.

Exhibit P: Samples of photos of line-ups in which plaintiff participated.

I have, for purposes of this motion, treated the Dwyer Affirmation and its accompanying exhibits as plaintiff's Rule

56.1 counter-statement. See Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 73 (2d Cir. 2001) (district court has broad discretion to overlook a party's failure to comply with local rules, including Rule 56.1). Thus, where there is a conflict in fact between defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement and the Dwyer Affirmation, I resolve the conflict in favor of plaintiff -- but only where plaintiff has provided admissible evidence to support his version of the facts.

C. The Facts

First, I provide a brief summary of the relevant facts as alleged in the complaint. Second, I provide a more detailed version of the facts based on the evidence submitted by both parties.

1. Summary of the Complaint

On September 25, 2001, at approximately 8:30 a.m., plaintiff Joseph Little was in his apartment at 511 West 177th Street, Apartment #5C, when three police officers knocked on his door. (Compl. ¶¶ 17-18). After plaintiff opened the door, the police officers threw him against the wall in the hallway, and handcuffed him. (Id. ¶ 20). As a result of these actions, plaintiff suffered injuries to his arms, back, face, and torso. (Id. ¶ 21).

When plaintiff asked the officers what was happening, one of them responded by saying, "Shut the hell up you black bastard, we got you now." (Id. ¶ 23). As the plaintiff was being led towards the elevator, he saw a group of about six or seven officers with shields and helmets enter his apartment. (Id. ¶ 24).

After plaintiff was led outside his building, a Hispanic police officer told him that he had been chasing plaintiff from 178th Street. (Id. ¶ 27). He then said that plaintiff had run through an alley, jumped over a fence, ran up a fire-escape to the roof, and then went over the roof to the next building. (Id.). Plaintiff responded by saying that the officer was not chasing him, and that the officer had the wrong man. (Id.).

Plaintiff was searched and made to take off his boots, but no property belonging to the victim was found. (Id. ¶ 29). Plaintiff was then arrested and brought to the 33rd Precinct. (Id. ¶ 30).

As plaintiff sat in a cell in the precinct, some of the detectives suggested that they could work out a deal. (Id. ¶ 31). The detectives mentioned that they had a lot of robberies on plaintiff, but plaintiff repeatedly told them that they had the wrong man. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33). The detectives then told plaintiff that he was looking at "25 to life." (Id. ¶ 34).

Plaintiff was subsequently charged with six other robberies, but none of the cases was ultimately presented to the grand jury. (Id. ¶ 35).

On October 10, 2001 -- while still detained --plaintiff was formally re-arrested by Officer Gustavo Blain, and charged with two separate counts of robbery alleged to have occurred on August 17 and September 9, 2001, respectively. (Id. ¶ 36). After spending two more months in jail with no grand jury presentation as to any of the cases, plaintiff was finally released. (Id. ¶ 37).

On January 16, 2002, the first case that plaintiff was arrested for was dismissed. (Id. ¶ 38). On January 29, 2002, the second case that plaintiff was arrested for was dismissed. (Id. ¶ 39).

2. Facts Derived from the Evidence

a. Officer Strong's Chase

On the morning of September 25, 2001, Strong was on patrol in the vicinity of 500 West 178th Street, when he observed a woman screaming in the doorway of a nearby building. (Def. Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 2-3).*fn1 When asked by Strong what had happened, the woman responded by saying that she had just been robbed, and directed Strong to the back entrance of the building. (Id. ¶ 4).

There, Strong saw a person running through the alley, and he began chasing the individual between buildings, through back alleys, over a wall, and up a fire escape to the roof of a building. (Id. ¶ 5; Scharfstein Decl. Ex. D at 46, 60-63).*fn2 He lost sight of the person as he climbed the roof of the building. (Def. Rule 56.1 ¶ 7). Upon reaching the rooftop, Strong saw a rooftop door closing. (Id. ¶ 8). Strong never saw the person's face. (Id. ¶ 6).

Strong proceeded to enter the building, where he then heard a door from the fifth floor slam. (Id. ΒΆ 9). As he reached the fifth floor, he heard the sound of locks click ...


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