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Kneitel v. Danchuk

December 17, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholas G. Garaufis, District Judge


Pro se Plaintiff Michael Kneitel ("Kneitel" or "Plaintiff") brought the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights during the course of arresting and prosecuting Plaintiff. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Cosmo Lubrano ("Lubrano") and Joseph Orrico ("Orrico") for searching and seizing his automobile survived Defendants' motion for summary judgment. By Memorandum & Order dated March 24, 2004 ("March 24, 2004 M&O") (Docket Entry #3), the court (1) dismissed Plaintiff's claims concerning false arrest, malicious prosecution, Miranda violations, and prosecutorial misconduct, and (2) dismissed the claims against Defendants Michael Danchuk ("Danchuk"), Salvatore VanCasteren ("Van-Casteren"), Luis Pepe ("Pepe"), Avery Mehlman ("Mehlman"), and Charles Hynes ("Hynes"). Subsequently, by Memorandum & Order dated July 6, 2007 ("July 6, 2006 M&O") (Docket Entry #50), the court (1) granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Wayne Harrison ("Harrison") and denied summary judgment for Lubrano and Orrico with regard to Plaintiff's automobile-seizure claim, and (2) granted summary judgment in favor of Harrison, Lubrano, and Orrico with regard to Plaintiff's storage-locker claim.

The court is now presented with two motions brought by Plaintiff: (1) a motion to reconsider parts of its March 24, 2004 and July 26, 2006 M&Os, and (2) a motion to amend the Complaint. For the reasons that follow, both motions are denied.

I. Background

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by committing various illegal acts in the course of arresting him on February 28, 2001 inside Gerritsen Park in Brooklyn, New York. As a result of his arrest, Plaintiff was charged with and found guilty of Reckless Endangerment, Menacing, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon. (Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement ("Def. 56.1") ¶ 1; Ex. A, docket entry #29.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he was falsely arrested that day for firing a handgun inside the park. (Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ IV.) He further alleges that Defendants found bullets and blueprints for former United States President Bill Clinton's Harlem offices in Plaintiff's vehicle and then suspected Plaintiff of plotting to assassinate the former president. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his civil rights by filing false police reports, planting evidence, unconstitutionally interrogating him, and offering perjured testimony to secure Plaintiff's conviction and sentence. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants illegally seized Plaintiff's car and other property "outside the scope of the search warrants" and did not properly voucher items belonging to Plaintiff. Id. In addition, Plaintiff raised claims against then-Kings County Assistant District Attorney Avery Mehlman and Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes. (Id.)

In the March 24, 2004 M&O, the court granted Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed Plaintiff's non-property related claims and all claims as to Defendants Danchuk, Van-Casteren, Pepe, Mehlman and Hynes. Kneitel v. Danchuk, No. 04-CV-0971 (NGG), slip op. at 6 (E.D.N.Y. March 24, 2004). In that M&O, I found Plaintiff's claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution to be foreclosed by the Supreme Court's holding in Heck v. Humprey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). (See March 24, 2004 M&O at 3-4.) I also held that Plaintiff's police interrogation claim could not be the basis of a § 1983 action, finding Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), to afford a procedural safeguard rather than a constitutional right. (March 24, 2004 M&O at 4.) I also dismissed Plaintiff's claims against defendant prosecutors due to their absolute immunity under § 1983 in suits seeking damages for acts carried out in their prosecutorial capacities. (Id. at 5-6.) However, I permitted Plaintiff to proceed solely with his illegal seizure claim against Defendants Lubrano, Orrico and Harrison, noting that the Second Circuit has held that an actionable illegal seizure claim exists when: (1) a plaintiff has not been given adequate notice of the proper procedures for reclaiming his property; or, (2) the procedures were not adequate to satisfy the requirements of due process. (Id. at 5 (citing Larkin v. Savage, 318 F.3d 138, 141 (2d Cir. 2003).)

With regard to Plaintiff's property-related claims, there are a number of undisputed facts, as follows:

After Defendants arrested Plaintiff, Defendants Lubrano and Orrico discovered Plaintiff's 1992 red Acura parked near a fire hydrant, brought it to the precinct, and conducted an inventory search. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 2-5.) All property in the car was vouchered, some as arrest evidence and some for safekeeping. (Id. ¶ 6.) The property included gunshells and pictures of Plaintiff dressed in a Nazi uniform. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff was not given a property voucher at the time of the inventory search of his car. (See Transcript of Proceeding before New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward Pincus at Declaration of Seth D. Eichenholtz ("Eichenholtz Decl.") Exhibit D (Docket Entry #29).)

Defendant Orrico is a sergeant with the New York City Police Department ("NYPD"). Orrico's involvement, according to Plaintiff, was that "[a]s a supervisor, it was his requirement to tell Officer Lubrano that [Plaintiff] should have been given the property vouchers" and that Orrico "was the one who actually seized the vehicle." (Id. ¶ 12 (citing Plaintiff's Deposition at Eichenholtz Decl. Exhibit E ("Pl. Dep.")).)

Defendant Lubrano is an NYPD officer. Lubrano's involvement, according to Plaintiff, was that, as the officer in charge of Plaintiff's vehicle, he "allowed the NYPD auction proceeds unit to sell" Plaintiff's automobile. (Id. ¶ 13 (citing Pl. Dep. at Eichenholtz Decl., Ex. E).)

Defendant Harrison is an NYPD detective. Harrison's involvement, according to Plaintiff, was limited to "conducting searches of [P]laintiff's home and storage facilities, seizing property from those places, and not providing [P]laintiff or his wife with copies of vouchers." (Id. ¶ 15 (citing Pl. Dep. at Eichenholtz Decl., Ex. E.) It is further not disputed that Harrison applied for and obtained search warrants for Plaintiff's apartment and then, along with other officers, executed the warrant. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 16, 17.) Among other things, while executing the warrant on Plaintiff's apartment, Harrison found and vouchered a Tech-9 automatic weapon. (Id. ¶ 19.) Furthermore, Harrison learned of two storage facilities in Brooklyn registered in Plaintiff's name. (Id. ¶ 20.) Harrison acquired warrants to search those facilities and searched one of those facilities. (Id. ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff attempted to recover his property on August 15, 2001 and was permitted to recover only property vouchered for safekeeping, not property the Kings County District Attorney's Office ("DA's Office") stated that it needed to hold as arrest evidence. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) On May 21, 2001, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Harrison and another NYPD official, Captain Richard Capalongo, requesting that the NYPD inform Plaintiff of the whereabouts of his property and asking for copies of the property vouchers. (See R & R at 2-3 (citing Letters to Harrison and Capalongo, Exhibit U, attached to Plaintiff's Reply).) Capalongo responded on July 6, 2001 and told Plaintiff his property was being held and that Plaintiff could retrieve vouchers for his property at the precinct upon his release from custody, which happened in late July 2001. (Id.) After his release, Plaintiff claims he took numerous steps that are reviewed in Judge Bloom's R & R to locate his vehicle. (See R & R at 2-3.)

When Plaintiff "went to claim his vehicle it had already been inadvertently sold at auction by the New York Police Department." (Def. Motion at 3.) NYPD released Plaintiff's vehicle for sale at auction on July 25, 2001 and, at the point that Plaintiff learned that his vehicle was sold in late July 2001, he had not acquired a release for his vehicle from the DA's Office. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 26, 27.) None of the defendants issued Plaintiff a voucher for any of his seized property until about September or October 2001, when the DA's Office gave it to Plaintiff's criminal defense attorney. (R & R at 2 (citing Pl. Dep. at 60-66); Def 56.1 ¶ 27.)

Plaintiff brought this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging inter alia that Defendants unlawfully seized his automobile and unlawfully barred him access to his property in a storage unit registered in his name. After the March 24, 2004 M&O dismissing claims against Defendants Danchuk, Van-Casteren, Pepe, Mehlman, and Hynes, the remaining defendants, Orrico, Lubrano, and Harrison, moved for summary judgment on June 13, 2005, alleging that Plaintiff has not presented evidence of constitutional violations on the illegal seizure claims and that they are immune from liability. (See Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment dated June 13, 2005 ("Def. Mot.")) (docket entry #29.) Plaintiff responded to Defendants' motion for summary judgment but did not include a separate Rule 56.1 statement. By Memorandum and Order dated October 31, 2005, taking into consideration Plaintiff's pro se status, I held Defendant's motion in abeyance until November 30, 2005 for Plaintiff to resubmit papers that include a Rule 56.1 statement that corresponds to Defendants' Rule 56.1 statement. (See Memorandum and Order dated October 31, 2005 ("October 31, 2005 M&O") (docket entry #34). Plaintiff did submit additional opposition to the motion on June 13, 2005 (see docket entry #36) but did not respond to Defendants' 56.1 statement. I then referred Defendants' motion to Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom on April 7, 2006 for an R & R, which Magistrate Judge Bloom issued on January 24, 2007.

Having reviewed the R & R, I agreed with Judge Bloom's recommendation that Plaintiff failed to carry his burden with regard to the storage locker claims and found no error in her judgment. Furthermore, with regard to Plaintiff's automobile-seizure claim, I granted summary judgment in favor of ...

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