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Austin v. Pappas

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


March 28, 2008

RICHARD AUSTIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIAN PAPPAS, JOHN DOES, YONKERS POLICE COMMISSIONER CHARLES C. COLES, WESTCHESTER COUNTY, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge

ORDER ADOPTING REPORT & RECOMMENDATION

Richard Austin ("Plaintiff") filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against Yonkers Police Officer Brian Pappas ("Defendant Pappas"), several John Doe Yonkers Police Officers ("John Doe Defendants"), former Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles C. Cola ("Defendant Cola") (whose name is misspelled in Plaintiff's Complaint as Charles C. Coles), and Westchester County (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging violations of Plaintiff's civil rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, along with various supplemental state law claims.*fn1 (Compl. ¶¶ 17, 19.) Plaintiff alleged that these violations occurred when Defendants failed to protect Plaintiff from Franklyn Kelley, a private individual who physically attacked Plaintiff during the course of Plaintiff's May 16, 2003 arrest. (Id. ¶10.) Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Pappas and the John Doe Defendants handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground while Franklyn Kelley repeatedly kicked and punched Plaintiff in the face. (Id. ("The officers did nothing to protect the plaintiff from this vicious assault, even though plaintiff was helpless and in their custody[.]").) Defendants moved for summary judgment, and this Motion was referred by Judge McMahon to Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa M. Smith for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). On August 2, 2007, Magistrate Judge Smith issued a thorough Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), concluding that this Court should grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the ground that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to whether his constitutional rights were violated. Plaintiff was advised of his right to file objections to the R&R, but he did not do so.

A district court reviewing a report and recommendation "'may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.'" Donahue v. Global Home Loans & Fin., Inc., No. 05-CV-8362, 2007 WL 831816, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2007) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C)). Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, parties may submit objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. The objections must be "specific" and "written," and must be made "within 10 days after being served with a copy of the recommended disposition." Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Where a party does not submit an objection, "'a district court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record.'" Donahue, 2007 WL 831816, at *1 (quoting Nelson v. Smith, 618 F. Supp. 1186, 1189 (S.D.N.Y. 1985)). In addition, a party's failure to object waives that party's right to challenge the report and recommendation on appeal. See Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Hillcrest Assocs., 66 F.3d 566, 569 (2d Cir. 1995) ("Our rule is that 'failure to object timely to a magistrate's report operates as a waiver of any further judicial review of the magistrate's decision.'" (quoting Small v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 892 F.2d 15, 16 (2d Cir. 1989))).

Here, Plaintiff has not filed objections to the R&R. Accordingly, the Court has reviewed the R&R for clear error only. In so doing, the Court adopts the conclusion reached in the R&R that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted, but the Court does so in part on different grounds than those relied on in the R&R.

First, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Smith that Defendants' noncompliance with Local Civil Rule 56.2 should be overlooked because any prejudice resulting from noncompliance was cured by the following: (i) Magistrate Judge Smith advised Plaintiff of the nature of summary judgment during a March 23, 2007 conference; and (ii) Magistrate Judge Smith annexed a Rule 56.2 notice to the R&R, a document to which Plaintiff was free to file objections. See Narumanchi v. Foster, No. 02-CV-6553, 2006 WL 2844184, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2006) (refusing to deny defendant's motion for summary judgment based on failure of defendant to comply with Local Civil Rule 56.2 because "[a]ny prejudice to pro se plaintiffs [was] cured" by court's actions).

As expressed in the R&R, though Plaintiff did not file any opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants were still required to meet their burden of demonstrating to the Court that "no material issue of fact remains for trial." See Amaker v. Foley, 274 F.3d 677, 681 (2d Cir. 2001). The Court finds no clear error in Magistrate Judge Smith's determination that Defendants satisfied this burden.

With respect to Defendants Pappas and Cola, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to offer any evidence demonstrating that they were personally involved in the alleged violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. The "'personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.'" Back v. Hastings on Hudson Union Free Sch. Dist., 365 F.3d 107, 122 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting McKinnon v. Patterson, 568 F.2d 930, 934 (2d Cir. 1977)). For purposes of Section 1983 liability, personal involvement can be established by evidence that:

'(1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference . . . by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.'

Id. at 127 (quoting Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 873 (2d Cir. 1995)); accord Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d 733, 753 (2d Cir. 2003); Schiller v. City of New York, No. 04-CV-7922, 2008 WL 200021, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2008); Fair v. Weiburg, No. 02-CV-9218, 2006 WL 2801999, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2006). Further, a Section 1983 plaintiff must "allege a tangible connection between the acts of the defendant and the injuries suffered." Bass v. Jackson, 790 F.2d 260, 263 (2d Cir. 1986); see also Fair, 2006 WL 2801999, at *4 (citing Bass).

In support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants submitted evidence that Defendant Pappas did not directly participate in the arrest of Plaintiff, but he instead arrested Plaintiff's accomplice. For example, on April 8, 2004, at a hearing before the Honorable Richard A. Molea of the Westchester County Court, Defendant Pappas testified that he remained with Plaintiff's accomplice while other officers arrested Plaintiff. (Defs.' Affirmation in Supp., Ex. J, 50-51.) Further, in response to interrogatories served on him by Plaintiff, Defendant Pappas stated that he "did not observe what transpired during the course of plaintiff's arrest." (Id., Ex. L.) Finally, Defendants offer a police report indicating that "Pappas was detaining [Plaintiff's accomplice] in the garage area, as additional units arrived and placed [Plaintiff] into custody." (Id., Ex. C.)

Plaintiff has failed to offer any evidence refuting Defendant Pappas' version of events. In other words, Plaintiff has offered no evidence demonstrating that Defendant Pappas was actually one of the officers who arrested him and allegedly pinned him to the ground while Kelley assaulted him. In fact, during his deposition testimony, Plaintiff admitted that he was not sure whether Defendant Pappas was one of the police officers who arrested him, and that the reason Defendant Pappas was named as a defendant in the present suit was because Plaintiff had seen his name on Plaintiff's felony complaint. (Id., Ex. G, 32-35.) As such, the unrefuted evidence before the Court demonstrates that Defendant Pappas was not one of the officers directly involved in Plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff therefore has failed to satisfy a prerequisite to liability under Section 1983 -- namely that Defendant Pappas had personal involvement in the alleged violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Back, 365 F.3d at 122. Thus, Plaintiff's claim against Defendant Pappas must be dismissed.

Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Cola, Yonkers Police Commissioner at the time of Plaintiff's 2003 arrest, violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights by "authoriz[ing], tolerat[ing], as institutionalized practices, and ratif[ying] the misconduct [of Defendant Pappas and John Doe Defendants]." (Compl. ¶ 14.) More specifically, Plaintiff charges Defendant Cola with failure to properly: (1) discipline subordinate officers; (2) take adequate precautions in hiring subordinate officers; (3) report criminal acts by police personnel to the Westchester County District Attorney; and (4) establish a system for dealing with complaints about police misconduct. (Id.) Plaintiff does not assert that Defendant Cola directly participated in the violation of his constitutional rights; instead, Plaintiff urges the Court to find Defendant Cola liable under Section 1983 based on his role as supervisor of Defendant Pappas and the John Doe Defendants.

"It is well settled, however, that the doctrine of respondeat superior standing alone does not suffice to impose liability for damages under section 1983 on a defendant acting in a supervisory capacity." See Hayut, 352 F.3d at 753 (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). Instead, it is necessary to establish a supervisory official's personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation. See id.; Fair, 2006 WL 2801999, at *4.

Plaintiff has failed to provide the Court with any evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant Cola was personally involved in the alleged violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Plaintiff has offered no evidence demonstrating that Defendant Cola was aware of and failed to remedy constitutional violations by subordinate officers, or that he acted in a grossly negligent or deliberately indifferent manner in supervising or training subordinate officers. There is also no evidence in the record to support a theory that Defendant Cola created a policy or custom that fostered and led to the alleged violation of Plaintiff's rights. See Hayut, 352 F.3d at 754 (finding as fatal to plaintiff's Section 1983 claim the fact that there existed "no evidence that, after becoming aware of the alleged harassment, any of the [supervisory officials] failed to respond or remedy the situation, that any of these [supervisory officials] created or allowed a policy to continue under which alleged harassment could occur, or that they were grossly negligent in monitoring [the alleged harasser's] conduct"); Harris v. City of New York, No. 01-CV-6927, 2003 WL 554745, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 26, 2003) ("[P]laintiff has put forth no evidence pointing to defendant['s] personal involvement in plaintiff's alleged deprivation of rights . . . . Plaintiff's conclusory allegations regarding defendant['s] alleged supervisory role, without more, cannot withstand summary judgment."). Further, nothing in the record, even drawing all inferences in Plaintiff's favor, suggests any tangible connection between Defendant Cola's training or supervision of subordinate officers and the alleged violation of Plaintiff's rights. In fact, the record contains no evidence with regard to Defendant Cola whatsoever. Without such evidence, no reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant Cola had personal involvement in the alleged violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights, which means that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy a prerequisite to Section 1983 liability, and therefore that Defendant Cola is entitled to summary judgment in his favor. See Davis v. Kelly, 160 F.3d 917, 921 (2d Cir. 1998) ("After an opportunity for discovery, undisputed allegations that [a] supervisor lacked personal involvement will ultimately suffice to dismiss that official from the case.").

In sum, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to establish the personal involvement of Defendants Pappas and Cola in the alleged violation of his rights. For reasons set forth more fully in the R&R, the Court also dismisses the Complaint as to the John Doe Defendants because Plaintiff's time limit to amend the Complaint in order to substitute in named defendants has lapsed. Therefore, the Court finds it unnecessary to reach the question of whether Plaintiff has adequately established an underlying violation of his constitutional rights. Finally, having determined that no cognizable federal claims exist, the Court will follow Magistrate Judge Smith's recommendation in declining to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims.

Accordingly, it is hereby:

ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation dated August 2, 2007, is ADOPTED on the grounds set forth in this Order; and it is further

ORDERED that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is GRANTED.

The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendants, to terminate Defendant's Motion (Dkt. No. 28), and to close this case.

SO ORDERED.


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