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Amaker v. Hardin

January 26, 2010

GRACE AMAKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID HARDIN, RANDALL J. CUMM, ANDREW J. WYLIE, AND TIMOTHY G. BLATCHLEY, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Grace Amaker ("Amaker") filed the instant First Amended Verified Complaint (Dkt. No. 20) seeking damages to redress the deprivation of her federal civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff brings this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants David Hardin ("Hardin"), Randall J. Cumm ("Cumm"), Andrew J. Wylie ("Wylie"), Timothy G. Blatchley, and Clinton County (collectively, "Defendants") violated her federal civil rights by falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting her for a crime of which she was innocent.*fn1 Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 27.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 16, 2006, Plaintiff and her adult daughter went to visit Plaintiff's son, Anthony Amaker, an inmate then residing in Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton") in Dannemora, New York. First Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 11-13. Upon arrival at Clinton, Plaintiff and her daughter were subjected to an entrance procedure in which Plaintiff's personal effects were searched. Def. Hardin Dep. (Dkt. No. 27-6) ("Hardin Dep.") at 9-10. Defendant Hardin, a correctional officer conducting the search, allegedly discovered a small key inside Plaintiff's purse and identified it as a handcuff key. Id. at 14. Hardin called his supervisor and watch commander to have them determine whether the item constituted contraband. Mem. of Law in Support of Defs Hardin and Cumm's Motion for Summ. J. (Dkt. No. 27-2) ("Def's. Mem") at 1-2. The sergeant, watch commander, and officer of the day determined the item was contraband, and they called the New York State Police to arrest Plaintiff. Id.

Plaintiff denies that she was ever in possession of they key, claiming Defendant Hardin must have planted it on her in order to obstruct her visiting her son. Pl. Amaker Depo. (Dkt. No 27-5) ("Amaker Depo") at 18, 51. Amaker had never met Defendant Hardin before this incident. Id. at 14. However, she attributes Hardin's actions to malicious retaliation for her writing government officials after her son was allegedly beat up by correction officers in 1995. Id. at 47. She further alleges that the actions were meant to send a message to her son in retaliation for his having filed lawsuits against correctional staff. First Am. Compl. at ¶14.

Plaintiff was arrested by the State Police and transported to the county jail for processing. Def's. Mem. at 2. Plaintiff's daughter was not similarly detained. Id. at 10. Plaintiff was arraigned, and remanded to the county jail until bail was posted for her the next morning. Id. at 2.

Plaintiff was subsequently charged with Promotion of Prison Contraband in the second degree. Id. On August 8, 2006, she appeared in court in order to enter a formal plea of "Not Guilty." Amaker Dep. at 40. She was rearrested that day on the higher charge of Promotion of Prison Contraband in the first degree, a felony. First Am. Compl. ¶ 24 . The decision to arrest on the higher charge was made by Assistant District Attorney ("A.D.A.") Blatchley upon his receiving reports and recommendations assembled by Defendant Cumm, an investigator for the state of New York. Def. Cumm Dep. (Dkt. No. 27-7) ("Cumm Dep.") at 18-22. During his assembling of the reports given to A.D.A. Blatchley, Defendant Cumm reviewed state trooper reports, examined the contraband Plaintiff allegedly possessed, and researched Plaintiff's son's history with the Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"). Id. at 18-21. On September 14, 2006, allegedly in response to Plaintiff's refusal to accept a plea offer, the charged was reduced to the original second degree offense. First Am. Compl. ¶ 25. Plaintiff's counsel requested Defendants Wylie, and Blatchley dismiss the criminal charge, which they refused to do. Id. ¶ 26-27.

At trial, on April 18, 2007, over testimony by Defendants Hardin and Cumm, a jury found Plaintiff not guilty. Def's. Mem. at 3. On January 16, 2008, Plaintiff filed the instant suit alleging violations of her federal civil rights. Verified Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). Defendants now move for summary judgment as to all claims. Def's. Mem.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). A court must "'resolve all ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing the judgment.'" Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.2d 246, 251 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Cifra v. General Elec. Co., 252 F.3d 205, 216 (2d Cir. 2001). "Only 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).

If the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial, the non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citations omitted). The non-movant "must come forth with evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in her favor." Brown, 257 F.3d at 251 (citation omitted). The nonmoving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleadings" and bald assertions unsupported by evidence are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)(2); see Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991); Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint contains three claims for relief against Defendants, (1) false arrest/false imprisonment; (2) malicious prosecution; and (3) municipal liability.

a. False Arrest/False Imprisonment

Plaintiff Amaker alleges that Defendants violated her right to be free from false arrest. First Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 37-39. The Court understands her claims to be based on separate incidents, wherein Defendant Hardin would be liable for the arrest occurring on April 16, 2006, and Defendants Cumm, Blatchley, and Wylie would be liable for the arrest occurring on August 8, 2006.

A plaintiff may bring an action for false arrest under state tort law or pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 based on unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The elements of the state and federal claims are substantially the same. See Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996); Savino v. City of New York, 331 F.3d 63, 75 (2d Cir. 2003). Under New York law, the elements of a false imprisonment or false arrest claim are: (1) the defendant intended to confine the plaintiff; (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement; (3) the plaintiff ...


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