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Lynch v. City of Mount Vernon

June 13, 2008

ELIZABETH LYNCH, SIMON LYNCH, ERIC LYNCH, INFANTS, UNDER THE AGE OF 14, BY THEIR MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN, JESSICA LYNCH, AND JESSICA LYNCH, INDIVIDUALLY AND RICARDO LYNCH, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF MOUNT VERNON, THE MOUNT VERNON POLICE DEPARTMENT AND POLICE OFFICERS "JOHN DOE," "RICHARD ROE," FICTITIOUS NAMES, TRUE NAMES UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS.
ROSLEE HAMILTON, AN INFANT UNDER THE AGE OF 14 YEARS, BY HER FATHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN, FABIAN MCCALLA, AND FABIAN MCCALLA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF MOUNT VERNON, THE MOUNT VERNON POLICE DEPARTMENT AND POLICE OFFICERS "JOHN DOE," "RICHARD ROE," FICTITIOUS NAMES, TRUE NAMES UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Jessica Lynch, individually and on behalf of her minor children Elizabeth Lynch, Simon Lynch and Eric Lynch; Ricardo Lynch and Fabian McCalla, individually and on behalf of his minor daughter Roslee Hamilton, bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of their constitutional rights during a search of their residence by officers of the Mount Vernon, New York Police Department (the "Department").*fn1 Defendants are the City of Mount Vernon (the "City"), the Department and Mount Vernon police officers "John Doe" and "Richard Roe." In the early morning hours of December 15, 2006, officers of the Department entered plaintiffs' residence in search of drugs, illegal firearms and a drug dealer known as "J." The search, which turned out to be fruitless, was carried out pursuant to a "no-knock" search warrant issued by a Mount Vernon City Court Judge and based primarily on information provided by a confidential informant.

Plaintiffs claim that the search violated their constitutional rights because the warrant authorizing it was not supported by probable cause. Plaintiffs also claim that the officers subjected them to excessive force during the search. Defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. We will treat this as a motion for summary judgment and, for the following reasons, grant the motion.

BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed.*fn2 On December 13, 2006, the Mount Vernon Police arrested a person on a charge unrelated to this action. (Defs. Mem. Supp. Mot. J. Pldgs. ("Defs. Mem."), Ex. C (the "Warrant Application").) This person agreed to furnish the police information as a confidential informant (the "CI"). (Id.) Based on information from the CI, Mount Vernon Police Officer Smith submitted an affidavit in support of a search warrant for 58 South 14th Avenue, Mount Vernon, New York (the "Residence"). (Id.) During a debriefing by members of the Department's intelligence unit, the CI disclosed information about illegal drug activity at certain locations then already under investigation by the Department. (Id.) In the opinion of Officer Smith, as sworn in his affidavit, this "proved [the CI's] reliability and credibility regarding illegal activity." (Id.)

The CI told members of the Department's intelligence unit that the CI had purchased marijuana from a man known as "Ghetto" on several occasions. (Id.) The CI also stated that he or she had gone with Ghetto to the Residence where he or she purchased thirty dollars worth of marijuana from a man known as "J." (Id.) While on the premises, the CI observed two loaded handguns on the living room coffee table. (Id.)

Based on this information, a Mount Vernon City Court Judge issued a warrant authorizing the Mount Vernon Police to search the Residence for "J," marijuana and related paraphernalia and weapons. (Defs. Mem., Ex. D (the "Search Warrant" or "Warrant").) Because the judge was persuaded that the property to be seized could be easily and quickly disposed of, the warrant authorized the police to enter the Residence unannounced and at any time, day or night. (Id.)

Officers of the Department executed the Search Warrant on December 15, 2006 at approximately 5:00 a.m. (Pls. Mem. Opp. Mot. J. Pldgs. ("Pls. Mem.") at 3.) At the time, plaintiffs Jessica Lynch, Ricardo Lynch, Simon Lynch, Eric Lynch and Elizabeth Lynch resided in the basement of the Residence. (Id.) Plaintiffs McCalla and Hamilton, who also lived at the Residence, were on the first floor.*fn3 (Pls. Mem. at 4; Defs. Mem., Ex. F at 16-17.)

Approximately six or seven police officers entered the Residence unannounced and with their guns drawn. (Pls. Mem. at 4.) The officers moved about the Residence with their guns drawn and pointed them at most or all of the plaintiffs. (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiffs were not allowed to move around the house during the search. (Defs. Mem., Ex. E at 29.) The officers handcuffed McCalla and Ricardo Lynch, the two adult males present. (Pls. Mem. at 4.) McCalla claims that when he told one of the officers that his handcuffs were too tight, the officer responded by making them tighter. (Defs. Mem., Ex. F. at 12.) McCalla did not seek medical treatment as a result of this incident, however, (id. at 19), and there is no indication in the record that it caused lasting injury. It appears that the officers did not touch any of the plaintiffs other than McCalla and Ricardo Lynch. (Id.; id., Ex. E at 27, 30.) There is no allegation that the officers were verbally abusive; they apparently said very little during the search. (Id., Ex. E at 22.) In carrying out the search, the officers broke open locked interior doors, broke a bed, removed items from dresser drawers and, in the words of Jessica Lynch, "ransack[ed] the whole place." (Id., Ex. E at 22.) The search lasted approximately three hours. (Id., Ex. F at 10.)

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. (See generally Defs. Mem.) Plaintiffs do not object to treating the motion as one for summary judgment, both parties have relied on information extrinsic to the pleadings in their briefs and there are no material factual disputes. We will therefore treat the motion as one for summary judgment.

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986). The Court must resolve all ambiguity in favor of the non-moving party and draw every permissible factual inference in that party's favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The burden is on the movant to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant's burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995). When the movant has met that burden, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. In the language of the Rule, the ...


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