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Niles v. City of Oneida

March 24, 2009

TRACY NILES, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A NATURAL PARENT AND GUARDIAN OF C.N., AN INFANT UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE, GARY NILES, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A NATURAL PARENT AND GUARDIAN OF C.N., AN INFANT UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE, AND C.N., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF ONEIDA, ONEIDA CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, DAVID MEEKER, AS ONEIDA CITY POLICE CHIEF, ONEIDA CITY POLICE OFFICER LOOMIS, AND ONEIDA CITY POLICE OFFICER CHAPPA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On December 13, 2006, Plaintiffs filed this civil rights action arising out of an incident that occurred at Plaintiff Tracy Niles's sister's house on the evening of December 12, 2005. Plaintiffs filed this action against five Defendants: (1) the City of Oneida; (2) the Oneida City Police Department; (3) Oneida Police Chief David Meeker; (4) Oneida Police Officer Loomis (individually and in his official capacity); and (5) Oneida Police Officer Chappa (individually and in his official capacity). For the sake of brevity, the Court will assume familiarity with the facts of this case, and will only briefly recite the undisputed material facts.

On the evening of December 12, 2005, Plaintiffs, along with some other family members and friends, went to the apartment of Heidi and Jarrod Richmond. Jarrod Richmond had recently been released from jail and Heidi Richmond had a protective order pending against him. Soon after Plaintiffs' arrival, Jarrod Richmond left the apartment and contacted the police, indicating that people were trespassing in his apartment. Within a short period of time after Jarrod Richmond left the apartment, Officers Loomis and Chappa arrived at the apartment and spoke with certain people in the apartment. The parties do not agree on the particular dialogue.

After determining that no one was trespassing, the officers left the apartment and spoke with Jarrod Richmond. The officers then returned to the apartment with Jarrod Richmond, and asked some of the individuals in the apartment for their names and contact information. Plaintiff Gary Niles refused to provide his information to the officers. The officers then asked those whose information they had to leave the apartment. Plaintiff Tracy Niles informed Officer Loomis that the man who would not provide them with information was her husband. Plaintiff Gary Niles then asked if he was free to go, but was prevented from leaving by Officer Loomis.

Plaintiff Tracy Niles then indicated that she would not leave the apartment without her husband. Moments later, Officer Chappa and Tracy Niles became involved in a physical altercation. Plaintiff Cody Niles attempted to intervene in the altercation, as did Officer Loomis.

During the altercation, Cody Niles and Tracy Niles were sprayed in the face with pepper spray, for which they later received medical treatment. Plaintiffs were all eventually handcuffed. Cody Niles and Gary Niles were arrested for obstruction of governmental administration. In addition, Cody Niles was arrested for resisting arrest, and Tracy Niles was arrested for resisting arrest and harassment. Plaintiffs' cases were tried before Oneida City Court Judge Michael Miscziack, who found Plaintiffs not guilty of all charges. Within ninety (90) days of the December 12, 2005, incident, Plaintiffs served on Defendants a Notice of Claim. Then, on December 13, 2006, Plaintiffs commenced this action.

On April 20, 2007, Judge Scullin issued a Memorandum Decision and Order dismissing some of Plaintiffs' claims. Remaining after the decision were the following four of Plaintiffs' claims: (1) a Section 1983 claim against Officers Loomis and Chappa for excessive force; (2) a state law claim against all Defendants for false arrest; (3) a state law claim against all Defendants for assault; and (4) a state law claim against all Defendants for battery. Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment with regard to each of these claims.

For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is denied.

II. LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Again, for the sake of brevity, the Court will not repeat the well-known legal standard governing motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, but will refer the parties to its decision in Proctor v. Kelly, 05-CV-0692, 2008 WL 5243925, at *3-4 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 16, 2008) (Suddaby, J.).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Whether Plaintiffs' Cause of Action for False Arrest Is Barred for Failure to Comply with New York's General Municipal Law § 50-e(1)(a)

Defendants argue that the Notice of Claim that Plaintiffs served on Defendants, in compliance with New York's General Municipal Law § 50-e(1)(a), fails to mention a claim for false arrest. Defendants therefore argue that Plaintiffs' claim for false arrest should be dismissed.

Plaintiffs argue that the Notice of Claim was sufficient to place Defendants on notice of a claim for false arrest. Specifically, Plaintiffs point out that in the Notice of Claim, it is stated that "Plaintiffs were unlawfully detained, handcuffed and . . . transported to the City of Oneida Police Station . . . ." In addition, Plaintiffs argue that the Court is bound by Judge Scullin's April 20, 2007 Memorandum Decision and Order, which refused to dismiss Plaintiffs' cause of action for false arrest.

Section 50-e(1)(a) of the General Municipal Law states that "[i]n any case founded upon tort where a notice of claim is required by law as a condition precedent to the commencement of an action or special proceeding against a public corporation, . . . or employee thereof, the notice of claim shall comply with and be served in accordance with the provisions of this section within ninety days after the claim arises . . . ." N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 50-e(1)(a). Section 50-e(2) states, in relevant part, that the notice must "set forth . . . the nature of the claim." N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 50-e(2).

"The test of the sufficiency of a notice of claim is whether it includes enough information to enable the municipality to investigate the claim adequately." Lieber v. Village of Spring Valley, 40 F. Supp.2d 525, 531 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing O'Brien v. City of Syracuse, 54 N.Y.2d 353, 358 [1981]). "The purpose of a notice of claim is to afford the public corporation the opportunity to locate the defect, conduct a proper investigation, and assess the merits of the claim." Lieber, 40 F. Supp.2d at 531 [citations and internal quotations omitted]. "A theory of liability not mentioned in the notice of claim generally may not be asserted in a subsequent lawsuit. Id. [citation omitted]. However, "a theory of liability related to or implied by what is clearly stated in the notice of claim" may constitute sufficient mentioning such that it "should be permitted to proceed." Torres v. City of New York, No. 25186/05, 2008 WL 4514272, at *4 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Bronx County, Sept. 8, 2008); see also DeLeonibus v. Scognamillo, 183 A.D.2d 697, 698 (N.Y. App. Div., 2d Dept., 1992) ("The courts have not interpreted [Section 50-e(2)] to require that a claimant state a precise cause of action in haec verba in a notice of claim."); Fincher v. County of Westchester, 979 F. Supp. 989, 1003 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (a "cause of action or theory of liability" that is "directly or indirectly mentioned in the notice of claim may . . . be included in a subsequent lawsuit").

In sum, in determining whether the claimant has complied with the statutory requirements for notice of claims regarding a tort action against a municipality, the court should focus on the purpose served by the notice of claim and whether, based on the claimant's description, municipal authorities can locate the place, fix the time and understand the nature of the accident. Brown v. City of New York, 95 N.Y.2d 389 (N.Y. 2000). In addition, if no prejudice is caused to the municipal defendant by the notice of claim, defects in the notice may be disregarded since the only purpose of the notice is to afford the municipal defendant an opportunity to ...


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