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Skinner v. Chapman

January 28, 2010

DAVID M. SKINNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARC CHAPMAN, DEBRA BREESE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

David Skinner ("plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, brings this action against defendants Marc Chapman ("Chapman") and Debra Breese ("Breese"). Plaintiff alleges that defendants, acting in their respective official capacities as a New York State Police Officer and dog-control officer for the Town of Wayland, subjected plaintiff to false arrest, malicious prosecution, and unreasonable seizure, and retaliated against him for his efforts to exercise his First Amendment rights, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 ("Section 1983").

Defendants have now separately moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the grounds of qualified immunity and probable cause for plaintiff's arrest (Dkt. #49, #50). Plaintiff opposes those motions, and has cross-moved under Rule 60(b)(2), (3), (5) and (6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking relief this Court's prior dismissal of his Fourth Amendment claim (Dkt. #54). For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted, and plaintiff's Rule 60(b) cross-motion is denied.

FACTS

On September 13, 2002, while serving as dog control officer for the Town of Wayland, Breese was contacted by county resident Victoria Wagner ("Wagner"). Wagner complained that her young son had been bitten by a dog owned by her neighbor, the plaintiff. The incident had allegedly occurred near the rear of the Wagner property, which abuts plaintiff's property.

Breese went to plaintiff's residence and spoke with him about the incident. At this initial inquiry, Breese determined that plaintiff's dog was seven to nine months old, was unlicensed and had not yet been vaccinated for rabies. Breese advised plaintiff that pursuant to state law, the dog should have been vaccinated when it was three months old, and that it needed to be quarantined and confined for ten days to insure that it was not infected with rabies.

The following day, Breese received another complaint from Wagner that plaintiff's dog was on the loose. Breese responded to plaintiff's residence, and instructed plaintiff that as a result of his failure to confine the dog during the ten-day quarantine period, she would need to impound the dog for the duration of the quarantine. Breese asserts that she informed plaintiff that she had the authority to impound the dog because it was not licensed or vaccinated, and because it had bitten a child. Plaintiff disputes Breese's account as to the assertion of her authority to impound the dog, but admits that he was combative and used profane language toward Breese.

Plaintiff refused to turn over the dog, and Breese left the premises after advising plaintiff that she planned to contact the police for assistance. A short time later, Breese, together with Officer Chapman, arrived at plaintiff's residence. Plaintiff again refused to relinquish the dog, arguing that neither Chapman nor Breese had a warrant or a court order to seize the dog. Chapman advised plaintiff that he could be cited for obstructing governmental administration. When plaintiff again refused to turn over the dog, Chapman and Breese left the residence to obtain a sworn statement from Wagner.

Later that same evening, Chapman and Breese returned to plaintiff's residence. Chapman advised plaintiff that he was prepared to obtain a warrant for plaintiff's immediate arrest, unless plaintiff agreed to turn over the dog, in which case he would merely issue plaintiff an appearance ticket. Eventually, plaintiff relented and surrendered custody of the dog to Breese. Chapman issued an appearance ticket to plaintiff for obstructing governmental administration.

Dexter was held at a kennel for eleven days, during which time he received a rabies vaccination and was licensed. On September 25, 2002, he was released to plaintiff. Plaintiff was charged with a violation of N.Y. Penal Law §195.05, obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, and was found guilty after a jury trial in Wayland Town Court. Plaintiff was sentenced to one year in jail, but his conviction was suspended pending appeal and eventually overturned by the Steuben County Supreme Court on the grounds that Breese had not been engaged in "authorized conduct" when she initially ordered the confinement and seizure of plaintiff's dog, and because plaintiff had not physically interfered with Chapman's and Breese's efforts to take custody of the dog.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment will be granted if the record demonstrates 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). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). "When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the ...


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