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Runio v. County of Suffolk

October 9, 2007

JULIANA RUBIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF SUFFOLK AND FRANK WRIGHT, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND PERSONAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Platt, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

Plaintiffs Juliana Rubio ("Rubio") and Dianna Yu ("Yu")move pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) for summary judgment*fn1 against defendant Frank Wright ("Wright") on plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as on plaintiffs' State law tort claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. For the following reasons, the Court enters summary judgment on liability for each plaintiff on their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims. The Court also enters summary judgment for the plaintiffs on their claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery. The Court dismisses plaintiffs' claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress.*fn2

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Plaintiff Rubio alleges that on December 27, 2000, defendant Wright, while on duty as Suffolk County Police Officer, stopped plaintiff for allegedly failing to use her car's headlights. (Compl. at ¶¶ 6-7)*fn3 . Wright administered several sobriety tests on plaintiff, the last of which plaintiff purportedly failed. (Compl. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff asserts that "abusing his authority as a police officer...Wright...then placed plaintiff in handcuffs and forced her into his car...then drove plaintiff...[to] a vacant parking lot" where he asked plaintiff to disrobe "or go to the station and get arrested." (Compl. at ¶ 10). Wright "had plaintiff disrobe and remove all of her clothing and then stand outside without her clothes in the below freezing temperatures for approximately 15 minutes while he shined his flashlight on her naked body." (Compl. at ¶ 11). Wright made comments to plaintiff, then "had Plaintiff put her clothes back on, drove her back to her car, ordered her to remain silent and not disclose or speak about his actions, threatened her that she was to remain at that location, and that if she did not follow his instructions that (sic) he would seek her out and have her arrested." (Compl. at ¶ 12).

Plaintiff asserts that as a result of Officer Wright's actions, plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer inter alia "severe emotional distress, mental anguish, fear, anxiety, shock, and humiliation, and was compelled to seek medical and psychological aid, treatment and attention, permanent damage to reputation and standing in the community, loss of comfort, support, extreme mental and emotional harm and stress, impairment of earning power, and other injuries not yet fully ascertained." (Compl. at ¶ 15).

Plaintiffs Yu, Deon and Torres brought similar allegations against defendant Wright. Wright was indicted and arraigned before this Court on March 27, 2002. Wright pled guilty to four instances of acting in an unconstitutional manner toward plaintiffs Deon, Yu, Rubio and Torres and was sentenced to five years in prison for the violations (among other punishments).

DISCUSSION

I. The 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claim

Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims on the ground that Wright's guilty plea collaterally estops him from litigating that claim. Having reviewed the record in this case, the Court grants summary judgment on liability for all plaintiffs based on collateral estoppel principles.

Under the collateral estoppel doctrine, "a judgment in a prior proceeding bars a party and its privies from relitigating an issue if, but only if: (1) the issues in both proceedings are identical, (2) the issue in the prior proceeding was actually litigated and actually decided, (3) there was full and fair opportunity to litigate in the prior proceeding, and (4) the issue previously litigated was necessary to support a valid and final judgment on the merits." N.L.R.B. v. Thalbo Corp., 171 F.3d 102, 109 (2d Cir. 1999). "[A] criminal conviction, whether by jury verdict or guilty plea, constitutes estoppel ... in a subsequent civil proceeding as to those matters determined by the judgment in the criminal case." United States v. Podell, 572 F.2d 31, 35 (2d Cir. 1978). "[A] guilty plea is an admission of all the elements of a formal criminal charge." McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466 (1969).

To establish liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "a party must prove that he or she was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or by the laws of the United States and that the person or persons depriving the party of the right acted under color of state law." Ruggiero v. Krzeminski, 928 F.2d 558, 562-63 (2d Cir. 1991). However, to obtain compensatory damages under § 1983, (which apparently the plaintiffs here seek) a party "must prove more than a mere violation of his constitutional rights. He must also demonstrate that the constitutional deprivation caused him some actual injury." McCann v. Coughlin, 698 F.2d 112, 126 (2d Cir. 1983). "Absent a showing of causation and actual injury, a plaintiff is entitled only to nominal damages." Miner v. City of Glens Falls, 999 F.2d 655, 660 (2d Cir. 1993). The plaintiff bears the burden of proof on all the elements of the § 1983 claim. Ruggiero at 562; Miner at 660 (observing that "[i]n this Circuit, the burden is normally on the plaintiff to prove each element of a § 1983 claim, including those elements relating to damages."). In the prior related criminal proceeding before this Court, defendant Wright pled guilty to four counts of the Indictment that charged him with the following with respect to each plaintiff:

Count One: "On or about January 1, 2001, within the Eastern District of New York, the defendant FRANK WRIGHT, while acting under color of laws of the State of New York, did knowingly and willfully deprive Jane Doe Number 1 [Angelina Torres] ... of a right secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to wit: the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by one acting under color of law, by arresting [Angelina Torres] and, without lawful justification, compelling her to disrobe, resulting in bodily injury to her." (Title 18, United States Code, Sections 242 and 3551 et seq.)

Count Two: "On or about December 27, 2000, within the Eastern District of New York, the defendant FRANK WRIGHT, while acting under color of the laws of the State of New York, did knowingly and willfully deprive [Julianna Rubio] ... of a right secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to wit: the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by one acting under color of law, by arresting [Julianna Rubio] and, without lawful justification, compelling her to disrobe, resulting in bodily injury to her." (Title 18, United States Code, Sections 242 and 3551 et seq.)

Count Three: "On or about October 29, 2000, within the Eastern District of New York, the defendant FRANK WRIGHT, while acting under color of the laws of the State of New York, did knowingly and willfully deprive [Diana Yu] ... of a right secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to wit: the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by one acting under color of law, by detaining [Diana Yu] and, without lawful justification, exposing her genital ...


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