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Garcia v. City of New York

September 17, 2009

RAYMUNDO GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Raymundo Garcia ("Plaintiff") brings this action against the City of New York, the New York City Police Department, New York City Police Department Detective Beth Williams (Shield No. 05437) ("Detective Williams")*fn1 , and "John Doe" (Shield No. 13912) ("UC13912"), asserting claims of excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution. Plaintiff also asserts claims against the City of New York for its alleged negligent training and supervision of its police officers and its negligent mismanagement of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office ("DA's Office"). All claims arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Defendants City of New York and Detective Williams (collectively, "Defendants") have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking dismissal of all the claims asserted against them. The Court has reviewed thoroughly and considered carefully all of the parties' submissions.*fn2

For the following reasons, the Defendants' motion will be granted in its entirety.

With respect to the other two named defendants, Plaintiff has never identified UC13912 to the Court nor served him with process , despite deposing him during discovery. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against defendant "John Doe" (Shield No. 13912) will be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). Furthermore, Plaintiff's claims against the New York City Police Department, an entity that cannot be sued independently because it is an agency of the City of New York, will also be dismissed. See New York City Charter, Chapter 17 § 396 (2008) (providing that "All actions and proceedings for the recovery of penalties for the violation of any law shall be brought in the name of the city of New York and not in that of any agency, except where otherwise provided by law."); Wilson v. City of New York, 800 F. Supp. 1098, 1101 (E.D.N.Y. 1992).

BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. As familiarity with the proceedings and submissions is assumed, this summary only recites those facts necessary to adjudicate the instant motion. As part of an undercover "buy and bust" operation, UC13912 approached an unidentified individual, "J.D. Crooked Eye," and asked him about purchasing drugs. (Myrvold Decl., Ex. 10.) J.D. Crooked Eye responded that he could facilitate a deal. (Id.) UC13912 gave J.D. Crooked Eye a twenty dollar bill and observed J.D. Crooked Eye approach "J.D. Beige Pants," who was sitting nearby, and make a "hand to hand" exchange with him. (Id.; Wisham Decl., Ex. 4, p. 14.) J.D. Crooked Eye returned to UC13912 and gave him the promised package of drugs, which contained three green plastic bags of crack cocaine. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 2-3.)*fn3 The transaction occurred in the vicinity of 3371 Broadway, New York, New York. (Myrvold Decl., Ex. 10.) Based on the information provided by UC13912, Detective Williams, a detective assigned to the Manhattan North Narcotics Division of the New York City Police Department, arrested "J.D. Beige Pants" shortly thereafter.*fn4 (Def. 56. 1 Stmt. ¶ 3; Pl. Ex. 5, p. 6.) UC13912 subsequently made a post-arrest identification of Plaintiff as "J.D. Beige Pants" and conducted a field test of the purchased narcotics, which indicated that they contained cocaine. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5, Myrvold Decl. Ex. 5.)

Plaintiff was charged with the criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and the criminal sale of a controlled substance near school grounds, pursuant to New York Criminal Penal Law §§ 220.39(1) and 220.44(2), respectively. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 13-14.) Section 220.44(2) requires that the criminal sale occur within one thousand feet of an educational facility. New York Penal Law § 220.44(2) (McKinney 2008). The arresting officer (Detective Williams), consistent with her training with the New York City Police Department, did not measure the exact distance between the transaction at issue and the nearest educational facility,*fn5 but rather relied on an estimate, which she provided in an affidavit to the DA's Office. (Wisham Decl., Ex. 5, p. 56.) The DA's Office subsequently relied on that affidavit to indict Plaintiff on the specific charge of sale of a controlled substance near a school. (Id. ¶ 55.)

On October 4, 2002, the Grand Jury of the Special Narcotics Courts of the City of New York ("Grand Jury") issued an indictment accusing Plaintiff of the crimes charged (the "Indictment"). (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff pleaded not guilty to each offense on October 17, 2002. After being detained pursuant to the Indictment for approximately five months, Plaintiff was released from custody on February 28, 2003. (Id. ¶ 16.) All charges against Plaintiff were dismissed in Plaintiff's favor on March 29, 2003. (Myrvold Decl., Ex. 9.) Plaintiff denies any involvement in the drug sale at issue. (Myrvold Decl., Ex. 6, p. 19.) Plaintiff initiated this action on January 31, 2006.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment should be rendered when "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 therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). For the purposes of summary judgment, the Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. In re "Agent Orange" Prod. Liab. Litig., 517 F.3d 76, 87 (2d Cir. 2008). The moving party bears the burden of establishing an absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). However, the non-moving party cannot avoid summary judgment through vague assertions regarding the existence of disputed material facts, or "defeat the motion through mere speculation or conjecture." W. World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990). Moreover, "[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

Plaintiff's Excessive Force and False Arrest Claims

Plaintiff alleges that he was falsely arrested and that the arresting officer, by applying handcuffs too tightly, employed excessive force in the course of his arrest. The Fourth Amendment prohibits both the arrest of a person without probable cause and the use of excessive force by an arresting officer. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989) (excessive force); Singer v. Fulton County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 118 (2d Cir. 1995) (arrest without probable cause). The Court need not reach the merits of these claims because they are barred by the statute of limitations.

The parties agree that New York State's three-year limitations period for personal injury tort claims provides the applicable limitations period. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007); N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(5) (McKinney 2002). Plaintiff therefore is precluded from asserting excessive force or false arrest claims that accrued before January 31, 2003. The parties disagree as to the proper accrual date of these two claims: Defendants assert that Plaintiff's excessive force and false arrest claims accrued on September 29, 2002, the date on which he was arrested and allegedly subjected to excessive force, whereas Plaintiff asserts that these claims only accrued on March 29, 2003, the date of the favorable dismissal of the charges against him in the underlying criminal case.

"It is the standard rule that accrual occurs when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action." Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388 (internal citations, quotation marks and brackets omitted). "The accrual date of a § 1983 action is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law." Id. (emphasis in original). An excessive force claim accrues under federal law at "that point in time when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of his action." Singleton v. City of New York, 632 F.2d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 1980). Plaintiff's excessive ...


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