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Chodkowski v. City of New York

September 11, 2007

MICHAEL CHODKOWSKI AND KRYS CORSO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, MICHAEL RAMA, JOSE RODRIGUEZ, ANDREW OLIVER, AND STEVEN BOBBETT, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MEMBERS OF THE NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, KERRY CHICON, AN ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, IN HER INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, 199 BOWERY RESTAURANT GROUP, LLC, EDWARD BRADY, BRENDAN SPIRO, AND ROBERTO SUAREZ, DEFENDANTS



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court are three motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by the various defendants in this suit for compensatory and punitive damages. The underlying facts of this suit stem from an alleged rape which occurred in a night club in Manhattan. The resulting police investigation is alleged to have entailed a civil rights violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985 as well as various state law negligence claims. The Court grants the motions to dismiss with respect to the federal claims, and dismisses the remaining state claims.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

On July 16, 2004, plaintiffs Corso and Chodkowski went to the BLVD/Crash Mansion night club, which is owned by defendant 199 Bowery Restaurant Group, LLC ("199 Bowery"). At the club, the plaintiffs met a waitress, Emmy Kirkley, with whom they began drinking and flirting. Ms. Kirkley consumed alcohol with the plaintiffs and placed a marijuana cigarette down her blouse which she then asked the plaintiffs to retrieve. Eventually, Ms. Kirkley invited the plaintiffs to a room in the club with a plaque on its door named the "Screw Room."

Plaintiffs allege that this behavior by Ms. Kirkley, drinking with patrons and acting in a sexually suggestive manner, though contrary to state law and written club policy, was encouraged by club management.

In the Screw Room, Ms. Kirkley smoked marijuana, engaged in some sexual behavior with plaintiff Corso, and eventually became ill. Plaintiffs attempted to seek help for Ms. Kirkley, but she and her co-worker, defendant Roberto Suarez, discouraged plaintiffs from doing so. Suarez tended to Ms. Kirkley with the door to the Screw Room closed. Eventually another BLVD/Crash Mansion employee, Joseph Osorio, made his way into the Screw Room after being barred from entering by defendant Suarez, and was told by Suarez that everything was fine.

Some five to ten minutes later, Mr. Osorio told defendant Brendan Spiro, BLVD/Crash Mansion's manager, what he observed in the Screw Room. Defendant Spiro went to the Screw Room and after seeing Ms. Kirkley in her inebriated state called the police and asked the club's bouncers to keep plaintiff Chodkowski there. Spiro told the police that "something bad" had happened. Plaintiff Corso fled the club, fearing that any incident would result in his losing his job.

Defendant Steven Bobbett, a New York Police Department detective, arrived at the club shortly after defendant Spiro placed the 911 call. Mr. Osorio told defendant Bobbett that he had seen defendant Suarez in the Screw Room with plaintiffs and that defendant Suarez told him everything was okay. Mr. Osorio informed defendant Bobbett that he had not seen anything of a sexual nature when he was in the Screw Room and had seen defendant Suarez while he was there.

Defendant Bobbett spoke to defendant Suarez, who stated that he had initially been barred from entering the Screw Room by plaintiff Chodkowski. When defendant Suarez was able to enter the Screw Room, he reported that he had interrupted the rape of Ms. Kirkley.*fn2

Plaintiff Chodkowski told defendant Bobbett that he had been ministering to Ms. Kirkley and that no rape had occurred. Defendant Bobbett arrested Chodkowski at the club and brought him to the police stationhouse.

Upon police arrival Ms. Kirkley initially stated that she did not know what happened to her. She then told the police that she became unconscious after one drink. Then she reported that she became paralyzed and was unable to resist plaintiffs' advances. Finally she reported that she had consumed three drinks and could recall certain details of the evening, including being groped and fondled. Medical personnel dispatched to the scene to treat Ms. Kirkley found her to be alert and oriented. Later examination that same night at Beth Israel Hospital found no evidence of rape or any forced sexual assault. The next day (after plaintiff Chodkowski had been arrested), Ms. Kirkley informed the police that plaintiff Chodkowski was not involved in any sexual assault, but that her one drink had incapacitated her.

Defendant detectives Jose Rodriguez and Andrew Oliver conducted further investigation at BLVD/Crash Mansion. These two defendants interviewed a second club manager, Edward Parilla, who told the defendants that he saw Ms. Kirkley drinking with the plaintiffs and that she appeared comfortable with them, and smoked marijuana with plaintiffs.

Defendant detective Michael Rama of the Special Victims Unit spoke to other members of plaintiffs' party the night of the incident. Richard DeLorenzo and Charles Collins informed defendant Rama that Ms. Kirkley had indeed been drinking and flirting with the plaintiffs, and had smoked marijuana.

Defendant Rama arrested plaintiff Corso on July 17, 2004, after speaking to Corso at the stationhouse and after Corso signed a statement which was consistent with, albeit much more detailed than, plaintiff Chodkowski's recollection of events. Plaintiff Corso's statement included a description of the groping that he and Ms. Kirkley engaged in, which stopped immediately once Ms. Kirkley became ill.

Defendant Kerry Chicon, an Assistant District Attorney in New York County, prosecuted plaintiffs in their criminal trial.

Plaintiffs were initially charged with one count each of Rape in the First Degree and Sexual Abuse in the First Degree. The criminal complaints were subscribed to by defendant Rama. The Grand Jury returned an indictment on December 6, 2004, charging each plaintiff with two counts of Rape in the First Degree and 8 counts of Sexual Abuse in the First Degree. On April 25, 2005, the rape charges were reduced to Attempted Rape in the First Degree. ( See Chicon's Br. at p. 11.) Plaintiffs later filed a motion to suppress evidence in the case, including their written statements to the police. This motion was denied. After a three week trial by jury, on September 27, 2005, the plaintiffs were acquitted of all charges against them. Plaintiffs allege that they accrued over $200,000 in legal fees and expenses, lost income, suffered damage to their reputation, and suffered unspecified other damages.

Plaintiffs allege that during the police investigation, unidentified police officers learned that BLVD/Crash Mansion had security cameras in the main bar area where Ms. Kirkley and plaintiffs began drinking and flirting. Plaintiffs believe the video, never obtained by either party to the criminal trial and never viewed by either party, would confirm their version of events as related to activities prior to entering the Screw Room (where there are no security cameras). Plaintiffs contend that had the police looked at the security tapes the night of the incident, they would have known Ms. Kirkley was lying about the events that preceded her drunken illness, and therefore not believed her version of events.

Plaintiffs argue that in spite of the potentially exculpatory evidence available on the surveillance video, the defendants continued to detain plaintiff Chodkowski and arrested plaintiff Corso. Later efforts to obtain the video tapes by plaintiffs during their criminal trial proved unsuccessful. Plaintiffs contend that the denial resulted from efforts of defendant Chicon in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy to deprive plaintiffs of their civil rights as the videos contained exculpatory footage.*fn3

The defendants can be grouped into three categories: (1) The "municipal defendants" (defendant Chicon, the City of New York, Bobbett, Rama, Rodriguez, and Oliver); (2) the "private defendants" (Spiro, Suarez, 199 Bowery); and (3) Edward Brady, a former manager and co-owner of BLVD/Crash Mansion.

Plaintiffs allege that defendant Chicon falsely arrested them and also engaged in a conspiracy with the other defendants to falsely arrest and imprison the plaintiffs in violation of their constitutional rights. ( See Mot. to Dismiss Hr'g Tr. 3.) The municipal defendants also allegedly falsely arrested plaintiffs, as well as maliciously prosecuted them, and conspired to do the same. Plaintiffs further contend that the City of New York engaged in a pattern and practice of violating the rights of people like plaintiffs (the "Monell" claim). As to the private party defendants, plaintiffs contend that defendants Spiro, Brady, and Suarez falsely arrested them, and also conspired to do so. Defendants Spiro and Suarez are alleged to have maliciously prosecuted plaintiffs, and also conspired to do the same.*fn4 Defendant 199 Bowery is the subject of a suit under New York State tort law. Plaintiffs allege that 199 Bowery and its managers (Spiro and Brady) along with defendant Suarez, negligently maintained a policy which encouraged the waitresses at BLVD/Crash Mansion to drink and flirt with customers. This policy, coupled with back rooms with sexually suggestive names, made it foreseeable that false allegations of rape would occur at the club. 199 Bowery and defendants Spiro and Brady are also alleged to have negligently hired, supervised, and trained their employees pursuant to New York law.

Defendant Chicon argues that she is either absolutely immune from suit, or has qualified immunity which bars any finding of liability against her for any of plaintiffs' claims. The municipal defendants argue that they have qualified immunity from suit and that plaintiffs are unable to show that they were maliciously prosecuted. The private defendants argue that, since they are not state actors, they cannot be liable for any constitutional violation, and that state law claims should be dismissed because the necessary elements to support a tort law claim under federal law are not present.

For the reasons set forth below, all claims against defendant Chicon and the municipal defendants are dismissed. The federal claims against all private defendants are dismissed. The state law claims are therefore dismissed for lack of federal jurisdiction.

II. STANDARD FOR MOTION TO DIMSISS UNDER RULE 12(b)(6)

A court reviewing a complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) will consider all material factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lee v. Bankers Trust Co., 166 F.3d 540, 543 (2d Cir.1999). The complaint will be dismissed "only where it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Thomas v. City of New York, 143 F.3d 31, 36-37 (2d Cir.1998). The court is not limited to the four corners of the complaint; it may also consider "documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference, ... matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or ... documents either in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit." Brass v. American Film Technologies, Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir.1993).

III. CLAIMS AGAINST THE MUNICIPAL DEFENDANTS

A. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY OF DEFENDANT CHICON AND THE MUNICIPAL DEFENDANTS ON THE ALLEGATION OF FALSE ARREST*fn5

Both defendant Chicon and the municipal defendants correctly argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity from suit on the allegations of false imprisonment of plaintiffs. Furthermore, the Court finds that there was probable cause to arrest, which nullifies any claim for false arrest.

Plaintiffs' claim for false arrest and imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is predicated on the "Fourth Amendment right of an individual to be free from unreasonable seizures, including arrest without probable cause." Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir.1996). Plaintiffs alleging false arrest must show that "the defendant[s] intentionally confined [them] without [ ] consent and without justification." Id. A warrantless arrest supported by probable cause is permissible under the Fourth Amendment. Probable cause to arrest is therefore a complete defense to the charge of false arrest. Id. ("The existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes justification and is a complete defense to an action for false arrest, whether that action is brought under state law or under § 1983.") (internal citations omitted). Plaintiffs also must show the personal involvement of an individual defendant for there to be a damages award for a constitutional violation under § 1983. See Provost v. City of Newburgh, 262 F.3d 146, 154 (2d Cir.2001).

"Probable cause is not a particularly demanding standard." United States v. Solomonyan, 452 F.Supp.2d 334, 343 (S.D.N.Y.2006). Probable cause merely "requires an officer to have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been committed by the person to be arrested." Panetta v. Crowley, 460 F.3d 388, 395 (2d Cir.2006) (internal citations omitted). Probable cause is determined by looking at what facts the officer had available at the time of, and immediately prior to, arrest. ( See Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 162 (2d Cir.2002) ("when determining whether probable cause exists courts must consider those facts available to the officer at the time of the arrest and immediately before it.") Probable cause determinations look to the totality of the circumstances. Id. "When making a probable cause determination, police officers are entitled to rely on the allegations of fellow police officers." Id. (internal citations omitted). If one investigating officer has probable cause for arrest, this collective knowledge is shared with the others.

Additionally, information obtained from informants or witnesses to the event in question can be enough to support a finding of probable cause. "It is well-established that a law enforcement official has probable cause to arrest if he received his information from some person, normally the putative victim or eyewitness," Martinez v. Simonetti, 202 F.3d 625, 634 (2d Cir.2000), unless the circumstances ...


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