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Krzykowski v. Town of Coeymans

November 24, 2008

JASON KRZYKOWSKI, AND LISA MCCAUSLIN, AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF DAVID MCCAUSLIN, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF COEYMANS, TOWN OF COEYMANS POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND ERIC MULLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A MEMBER OF THE TOWN OF COEYMANS POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.*FN1



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe U.S. District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

This action arises out of an April 8, 2005 police chase of David McCauslin ("McCauslin") and Jason Krzykowski ("Krzykowski"), which resulted in McCauslin's death. (See Dkt. No. 3.) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees, for alleged substantive due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. State law claims are also asserted. Pending is defendants' motion for summary judgment under FED. R. CIV. P. 56. (See Dkt. No. 35.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

II. FACTS*fn2

A. Background and Events of April 8, 2005

The Town of Coeymans is a rural community located in southern Albany County, New York. It is common for residents to ride all terrain vehicles ("ATV") and dirt bikes in the area. (See Pls'. Counter SMF ¶ 1; Dkt. No. 40.) Going back to at least 1989, it has also apparently been common for the Coeymans Police Department to pursue operators of such vehicles. Id. at ¶¶ 70-71.

On April 8, 2005, at around 7:35 pm, Coeymans Police Officer Eric Muller ("Officer Muller") received a dispatch report of two dirt bikes and a motorized scooter on Coons Road. Id. at ¶ 12. Officer Muller responded, and, upon arrival at Coons Road, spoke to a Matt Peseka about riding his dirt bike in the roadway. Id. at ¶ 13. Officer Muller then drove off in an attempt to locate other dirt bikes he heard operating in the area.*fn3 Id. at ¶¶ 13, 14. At 8:25 pm, Officer Muller was sitting in his squad car facing west on State Route 143, attempting to gain a visual on the dirt bikes. Id. at ¶ 14. (See also Defs'. SMF ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 35.) Suddenly, he saw two dirtbikes, operated by Krzykowski and McCauslin, pass him in the dark going east on Route 143 at an estimated speed of 55 miles per hour.*fn4

(See Defs'. SMF ¶¶ 10, 11, 12; Dkt. No. 35.) Neither bike had headlights or taillights. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 6, 10. Additionally, Krzykowski's dirt bike was not registered with the State. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5. Thus, Krzykowski has testified that he and McCauslin knew their operation of the dirt bikes on public roadways was illegal, and were concerned about being issued a traffic summons. Id. at ¶ 3.

After Krzykowski and McCauslin passed, Officer Muller activated his emergency lights, turned his vehicle around and radioed in to dispatch that he was going to pursue the dirt bikes east on Route 143. Id. at ¶ 14. (See also Pls'. Counter SMF ¶¶ 15, 18, 19; Dkt. No. 40.) There is no evidence he knew either rider at the time. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 8. It was Officer Muller's intention to stop the riders and issue them tickets for violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, as they were posing a danger to themselves and others by traveling public roads at night without headlights or taillights. Id. at ¶ 15. (See also Pls'. Counter SMF ¶ 16; Dkt. No. 40.) However, he did not believe they were engaged in any other criminal activity. (See Pls'. Counter SMF ¶ 17; Dkt. No. 40.)

Krzykowski admittedly saw Officer Muller turn around and knew he was being pursued, yet he never considered pulling off the road and stopping. Id. at ¶¶ 17, 18. Instead, Krzykowski decided he was going to continue traveling east on State Route 143, then turn left on Starr Road in an effort to avoid Officer Muller. Id. at ¶ 19. However, when Krzykowski and McCauslin reached the intersection of Starr Road both bikes crashed, throwing one rider onto the asphalt and the other onto the south shoulder of Route 143. Id. at ¶¶ 23, 24. McCauslin later died of injuries he sustained in the accident.

There is no dispute that it was approximately one to two miles from the point at which Officer Muller turned around to the intersection of Starr Road, and that the actual pursuit lasted only a few minutes at most. Id. at ¶¶ 20, 26. (See also Pls'. SMF ¶ 32; Dkt. No. 40.) However, the parties disagree as to how closely Officer Muller was pursuing Krzykowski and McCauslin prior to the accident. Officer Muller's affidavit states that after he turned his vehicle around to pursue, he did not see the dirt bikes again until he came upon one of the riders lying on the road at the intersection. Id. at ¶¶ 22, 23. Contrarily, an eyewitness to the crash, George Heilsberg ("Heilsberg") estimated Officer Muller was pursuing the dirt bikes from a distance of about 75 to 100 feet at a speed of 50 to 55 miles per hour at the time of the crash. (See Pls'. Counter SMF ¶¶ 35, 38; Dkt. No. 40.)

Heilsberg further stated that after he saw one of the dirt bikes crash "literally seconds later the police officer's car came flying down the road."

Id. at ¶ 34. Another witness to the pursuit, Debra Lawson, stated she saw the police car right behind the dirt bikes. Id. at ¶ 66. Importantly, however, Heilsberg has also testified he does not believe Officer Muller's car ever came into contact with the dirt bikes before they crashed. (See Heilsberg Tr., Pls'. Ex. 13, pgs 81-84; Dkt. No. 40.) Plaintiffs have not presented any ...


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