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Ifill v. New York State Court Officers Association

September 17, 2009

FRED IFILL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE COURT OFFICERS ASSOCIATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

This is an action by a former court officer, the plaintiff Fred Ifill (the "plaintiff" or "Ifill"), who claims he was forced to resign after allegedly using force against a juvenile prisoner. In the first of two incidents, the plaintiff allegedly "body slammed" the juvenile at the conclusion of a court proceeding, prompting the presiding judge to state on the record that it was the worst show of force he had witnessed in his twenty-nine years as an advocate and as a judge. Shortly after leaving court with the juvenile and other court officers, the plaintiff was then caught by a video surveillance camera in a court elevator pushing the juvenile to the floor of the elevator and either striking or attempting to strike the juvenile with his closed fist before being physically restrained by other officers. After the video of the second incident surfaced, the plaintiff, allegedly under duress, tendered his resignation. Two days later the plaintiff changed his mind and attempted to rescind his resignation. His request to rescind was denied.

The plaintiff now brings this action against the New York State Court Officers Association (the "NYSCOA"), the NYSCOA President Dennis Quirk ("Quirk") (collectively with the NYSCOA, the "NYSCOA defendants"), Major Michael DeMarco ("DeMarco"), and Captain John Posillipo ("Posillipo") (collectively with DeMarco, the "State defendants") (State defendants collectively with NYSCOA defendants, the "defendants"), asserting claims under 18 U.S.C. § 1983, under New York Civil Service Law § 209, and for breach of contract/collective bargaining agreement.

The NYSCOA defendants and the State defendants each move separately for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff's claims against them. The plaintiff has also filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the Section 1983 and breach of the collective bargaining agreement claims.

I.

The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter that "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts that are material and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with "specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible." Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532 (2d Cir. 1993); see also Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114-15 (2d Cir. 1998) (collecting cases).

II.

The evidence submitted to the Court construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff demonstrates that there is no dispute as to the following facts except where noted.

From September 2003 and December 2006, Ifill was employed as a court officer by the New York State Unified Court System (the "UCS"). (State Defs.' Statement Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1 ("State Defs.' 56.1 Statement") ¶ 1; Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Counter Statement with Respect to Defs. DeMarco and Posillipo ("Pl.'s Counterst. to State Defs.") ¶ 1.) After graduating from the court officer training academy, Ifill was assigned to the Kings County Family Court in Brooklyn, New York.

(Defs.' NYSCOA and Dennis Quirk's Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("NYSCOA Defs.' 56.1 Statement") ¶ 5; Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Counter Statement with Respect to Defs. NYSCOA and Ass'n President Dennis Quirk ("Pl.'s Counterst. to NYSCOA Defs.") ¶ 5.)

On December 8, 2006, Ifill was working as a court officer in the courtroom of Judge Stewart Weinstein, who was then presiding over a matter involving a juvenile under the age of sixteen. (State Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6; Pl.'s Counterst. to State Defs. ¶ 6.) Ifill and another court officer were involved in an incident involving the juvenile. (State Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6; Pl.'s Counterst. to State Defs. ¶ 6.) After the incident, Judge Weinstein stated that he "wanted to put something on the record" about the incident:

[W]hen I said the parties were excused . . . , Officer Ifill focused on the respondent and said you're coming with me and tried to lift him out of his seat. The respondent pulled back and tried to remain in his seat . . . . Officer Ifill then struggled with the respondent, who was just trying to get away from Officer Ifill's grasp, at which point Officer Ifilll appeared to me to be like an offensive tackle, body slammed him, knocked him off of his feet and fell on top of him on the floor, at which point [the juvenile] became quite hysterical, crying and screaming, but not aggressively. Officer Ifill was being urged by myself and others to get off the [juvenile] but he was oblivious to our entreaties and was on top of the [juvenile] struggling with him . . . .

And I want to emphasize [the juvenile], in no way, provoked this and deserved what happened. I was very shaken up by it. In twenty-nine years of being an advocate or a judge, I never saw an officer treat someone like that.

(State Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6; Pl.'s Counterst. to State Defs. ¶ 6; Anspach Decl. Ex. B at 23-25.)

After the juvenile was removed from the courtroom, Ifill and other court officers escorted the juvenile back to the corrections area using a courthouse elevator reserved for the transportation of prisoners. (NYSCOA Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 37; Pl.'s Counterst. to NYSCOA Defs. ¶ 37; State Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 9; Pl.'s Counterst. to State Defs. ¶ 9.) A video camera in the elevator captured a second incident with the prisoner and the juvenile. (NYSCOA Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 38; Pl.'s Counterst. to NYSCOA Defs. ¶ 38; Anspach Decl. Ex. D.) The video shows Ifill, accompanied by two other court officers, pushing the juvenile into a back corner of the elevator. (Anspach Decl. Ex. D.) The video then shows the juvenile falling to the floor, the plaintiff hovering over him, and then the plaintiff raising his clenched fist over the juvenile. (NYSCOA Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 40-41; Pl.'s Counterst. to NYSCOA Defs. ¶ 40-41; Anspach Decl. Ex. D.) According to the defendants, the video shows Ifill's fist coming down toward the juvenile, at which point other court officers appear to intervene. (NYSCOA Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 42-43; State Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 9.) Ifill vigorously denies this allegation and claims that the video "clearly shows that Mr. Ifill did not hit the juvenile inmate," (Pl.'s Counterst. to State Defs. ¶ 9) (emphasis in original), and that it shows him "attempting to grab/hold the juvenile to raise him up from the floor when the other officers intervened," (Pl.'s Counterst. to NYSCOA Defs. ¶ 42-43). The video is part of the summary judgment record and the Court has reviewed it. The video ...


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