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Okin v. Village of Cornwall-On-Hudson Police Department

August 18, 2009

MICHELE OKIN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
VILLAGE OF CORNWALL-ON-HUDSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, TOWN OF CORNWALL POLICE DEPARTMENT, RUSTY O'DELL, THOMAS DOUGLAS IV, MICHAEL LUG, PAUL WEBER, CHARLES WILLIAMS AND EDWARD MANION, ALL SUED IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, AND ROY SEARS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Michele Okin appeals from a decision and order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Colleen McMahon, Judge), entered October 26, 2006, granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. The district court dismissed, as to all moving defendants, Okin's claims that her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection had been violated.

We affirm the grant of summary judgment as to defendants Town of Cornwall, Rusty O'Dell, and Edward Manion. As to Thomas Douglas IV, Michael Lug, Paul Weber, and Charles Williams, we affirm the grant of summary judgment on Okin's equal protection claims. But, with regard to her due process claims, we hold that the conduct of Douglas, Lug, Weber, and Williams raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether they implicitly but affirmatively sanctioned abuse of Okin by Roy Sears, and that those defendants, if found liable, would not be entitled to qualified immunity. We therefore reverse the grant of summary judgment on the due process claims. Moreover, we reverse the district court's dismissal of Okin's municipal liability claims against the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson, as Okin raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Village's failure to train its police officers adequately, or the policies and customs that it has sanctioned, caused the individual defendants to violate Okin's due process rights. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED and REMANDED in part.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pooler, Circuit Judge

Argued: April 28, 2008

Before: STRAUB and POOLER, Circuit Judges.*fn1

Michele Okin appeals from a decision and order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Colleen McMahon, Judge), entered October 26, 2006, granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. The district court dismissed, as to all moving defendants, Okin's claims that her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection had been violated.*fn2

We affirm the grant of summary judgment as to defendants Town of Cornwall, Rusty O'Dell, and Edward Manion. As to Thomas Douglas IV, Michael Lug, Paul Weber, and Charles Williams, we affirm the grant of summary judgment on Okin's equal protection claims. But, with regard to her due process claims, we hold that the conduct of Douglas, Lug, Weber, and Williams raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether they implicitly but affirmatively sanctioned abuse of Okin by Roy Sears, and that those defendants, if found liable, would not be entitled to qualified immunity. We therefore reverse the grant of summary judgment on the due process claims. Moreover, we reverse the district court's dismissal of Okin's municipal liability claims against the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson, as Okin raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Village's failure to train its police officers adequately, or the policies and customs that it has sanctioned, caused the individual defendants to violate Okin's due process rights.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff-appellant Michele Okin began a relationship with Roy Charles Sears in 1999.*fn3

Okin and Sears moved in together, living in a house owned by Sears at 11 Taft Place, in the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. They are the parents of twin children, born in May 2001. In the same year, according to Okin, Sears began to abuse her physically. Okin alleges that Sears was well known to local police officers with whom he socialized at a tavern of which he was part owner, the Leprechaun Inn, and she claims that Sears often bragged that he could get away with what he wanted in Cornwall.

According to Okin, Sears injured both her hands in October 2001, fracturing bones in her left hand and right index finger. She did not report this incident to the police and, according to her Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, she begged her primary care physician "not [to] tell anyone or record this on her records" because she "was in fear of [her] life and felt Sears was beyond the law."

Thereafter, however, Okin repeatedly called for police assistance. Nevertheless, neither the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department nor the Town of Cornwall Police Department*fn4 arrested Sears or interviewed him at any length regarding Okin's allegations of abuse. Only one domestic incident report was filed.

The first reported violence occurred on December 23, 2001. Okin called 911 following an incident in which, according to Okin, Sears grabbed her neck and started to choke her. Okin testified at a deposition that she placed three calls to the dispatcher before Village of Cornwallon-Hudson Police arrived at 11 Taft Place. Okin said to defendant Thomas Douglas IV, a Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police officer, "Can you please tell Roy to stop beating me. That is all I want." In her bedroom, Okin showed Douglas bruises on her legs, which, according to Douglas's incident report, "looked very old and in the process of healing." At her deposition, Okin could not recall exactly when she sustained the leg injuries, but testified that Sears was at that time "hitting [her] every single day."

According to Douglas's incident report, Okin said that Sears had told her that he had had a conversation with defendant Charles Williams, the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Chief, in which Sears told Williams that he could not "help it sometimes when he smacks Michele Okin around" and that Okin was "a terrible mother and should have an order of protection against her own kids." According to Douglas, Okin said that she then tried to call the police, but that Sears stopped her by grabbing her neck. Douglas added that he did not "observe any redness nor markings around her neck." He also added that Okin "couldn't keep still and her mental status was very awkward,"and that she told him she was "a manic depressant [sic] and also has panic attacks, and sees a psychiatrist." According to Douglas, Okin repeatedly said she did not want to press charges and left the bedroom despite his request that she stay in the bedroom while he spoke separately with Sears.

Defendant Edward Manion, a Town of Cornwall police officer, arrived in a backup capacity. Okin also showed him the bruises on her legs. According to Manion, Sears denied inflicting the bruises. At his deposition, Manion testified that he too believed they were "old" bruises, and that this was the reason he did not arrest Sears, suggesting that he believed that immediate arrest was mandatory only if the injury was very recent. He and Douglas did not discuss the bruises or the possibility of arresting Sears.

Holding one of the infants, Okin said "I better stop the kid from crying or I am going to get beat." According to Douglas, he and Manion told Okin that "if she is being assaulted she needs to call the police then, not days or weeks later." Okin, however, recalls that she retorted that Sears had that very day thrown a baby's bottle at her and one of their children and had tried to choke her.

Douglas further reported that, when Okin heard Sears getting ready to leave the house with the children, she said, "Roy is going to take the kids and never come home" and that she wanted to press charges. According to Douglas, Manion told Okin "what she needed to do in order to press charges," but "in the middle of describing the procedure to Michele, she just walked away" and joined Sears outside, before coming back inside and saying she did not want to press charges.Okin was "given a domestic incident report, and advised about [a telephone] help number to call for counseling." Meanwhile, Sears announced that Okin was on medication that made her sleep and that she therefore could not take care of the children. Douglas concluded that no offense had been committed.

Douglas prepared a domestic incident report, which Okin signed. The domestic incident report indicates by check-mark that the "[c]ircumstances of [t]his [c]ase" included "[f]orcible [r]estraint," "[g]rabbing" and "[t]hrowing [i]tems." The report states, among other things, that Okin alleged that she had been beaten by Sears and was afraid that her children would be too, that Okin was "on medication," and that she "refused to sign charges." Okin claims that, at the time she signed the report, it did not indicate that she did not want to press charges.Douglas wrote "[b]ruises" next to the box for "[i]njuries" on the domestic incident report, but he did not interview Sears about the bruises. Indeed, Okin, disturbingly, alleges that, to the extent that the officers talked with Sears, it was about football. Moreover, according to Okin, the officers were "very derogatory" toward her when she said she wanted to press charges, and this was why she walked away from them. Sears was not arrested.*fn5

According to Okin, on January 1, 2002, she called the police to report that Sears was beating her. Defendant Paul Weber, a Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department sergeant, responded to 11 Taft Place, but made no written report and according to Okin, laughed at her for making the complaint. Around this time, Sears moved out of 11 Taft Place and took up residence at a Days Inn motel, in nearby New Windsor.

On February 8, 2002, Okin again called the police for assistance. Nonparty police officer John Pena responded, and found an angry Sears at 11 Taft Place. Sears told Pena that Okin had "removed $105,000.00 from his personal checking account" without his consent. Sears said he had come to the house to retrieve his check books. Police Chief Williams and nonparty police officer Jill Nye arrived, and Williams asked Sears to follow him to headquarters in order to provide further information. Sears spent about an hour in Police Chief Williams's office, as the police chief tried to assess "[t]he validity and substance" of Sears's complaint.

Meanwhile, at 11 Taft Place, according to police officer Nye's report, Okin "appeared to be distraught and confused [about] the reason [the police officers] were there. Several attempts were made to convey the facts. Ms. Okin repeatedly brought up prior incidents related to domestic violence." During their conversation, Okin admitted taking the $105,000, but insisted Sears had given her permission to remove the money for their children. Nye reported that "Ms. Okin made several attempts to show signs of abuse," but that she, Nye, "did not observe any markings on her person." Nye also noted that Police Chief Williams advised Sears to stay away from 11 Taft Place.

On March 8, 2002, Sergeant Weber responded to 11 Taft Place after a 911 call from Okin reporting a stabbing. Okin told the dispatcher that Sears had "pushed her around" and that she was afraid that he would hurt her when he returned to the house. According to Weber's incident report, Okin did not answer the door until he got the dispatcher to call Okin back, and did not seem upset when she appeared at the door. Okin denies this.

Weber's incident report appears internally inconsistent on its face. The report states both that Weber learned that "no assault had occurred and no stabbing had occurred" and that Okin told him that Sears had assaulted her the previous night at the Days Inn in New Windsor. At his deposition, Weber explained the inconsistency by saying that Okin was complaining that she had been stabbed in her feet but, when he asked to see the wounds, she took her shoes off and there were no visible injuries. Okin's March 25, 2006 Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment states that she showed Weber stab wounds on her feet, but her Reply to Village Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement, also dated March 25, 2006, "denies that she showed Weber her feet or that she claimed to be stabbed that evening in conversation with him."

Weber, after noting that he had told Okin that the New Windsor matter was outside his jurisdiction, added the following comments about Okin to his incident report:

As she was ranting about the police "refusing" to help her (even though she is an attorney and should understand jurisdiction more than anybody), she began complaining about "Officer Weber" and that he blatantly refused to entertain her complaint on one of the previous occassions [sic] that she called and the police responded to her house. This is the first that I have been to her residence to handle any such complaint. She is obviously confused.

He then added, "It should also be noted that the interior of the house appears to be in disorder. It is unknown if she is able to maintain the residence."*fn6

At her deposition, Okin testified that she had asked Weber to arrest Sears on this occasion, and that he had refused. Although Weber filed a general incident report, he did not file a domestic incident report. Nor did he notify Okin that she could initiate a civilian arrest.

On March 25, 2002, Okin called 911 and requested to speak with an officer. Nonparty police officer Arthur Terwilliger called Okin back, and Okin told Terwilliger that Sears had threatened to damage 11 Taft Place and to kill her, and that he was at the Days Inn in New Windsor. Terwilliger asked Okin if she wanted to sign a complaint, but she refused, saying "No, that is going to make the situation worse." Terwilliger asked Okin for descriptions of Sears's cars and promised to patrol the Taft Place area frequently that evening. No domestic incident report was filed. At his deposition, Terwilliger testified that he had had no specific training on handling a situation in which a threat victim says that filing a complaint will just make things worse.

On the same day, Pam Cobey, an employee of Okin's, reported to the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department that someone had left a post-it note in Okin's office mailbox that read "M.O. [Michelle Okin] Sleep with one [eye] open at night." Cobey brought the post-it note to the police.

Late that night, March 25, 2002, Okin called 911, reporting a prowler outside 11 Taft Place. She told the Cornwall-on-Hudson dispatcher about the death threat from Sears and about the post-it note, which she identified as being in Sears's handwriting.Again, Sergeant Weber was dispatched to the house but, on learning which officer had been sent, Okin told the dispatcher she did not want Weber to respond.

Weber writes that he "responded anyway and checked the exterior of the residence. No problems."Weber adds,

After returning back to police HQ, the phone rang. It was Ms. Okin. The first thing she was advised of was that whatever problem she had with me, she was obviously confusing me with another officer. She apologized. She then went on complaining that the police never do anything when she calls. After a lengthy conversation, she was advised that if she wanted to pursue charges on any complaint that she has that she would have to respond to police HQ just like anyone else. She continued to complain about Roy Sears and I advised her again that if he is so violent towards her, it would obviously be in her best interest to stay away from him. She was also advised that if she felt threatened just knowing that Roy is around, . . . she could pursue the matter in family court and try to seek an order of protection. She refused to try and pursue it.

No domestic incident report was completed.

Okin called the police again, on April 12, 2002, very distraught, and complained that Sears was stalking her, outside 11 Taft Place. Nonparty police officer Charles Hofmann responded and checked the area around the house, finding no ...


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