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Davis v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge


Plaintiff Cecil Davis brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("MTA"), MTA Detectives Patrick Inzinna and Douglas Rucano in their official and individual capacities, and MTA Police Officers Troy Peterman, James Chirrillo, Nathanael Guerra, and Eric Moore in their official and individual capacities (collectively, the "individual defendants"). Plaintiff contends that defendants' use of a computerized photo array to identify him as the suspect of an alleged crime violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection clause. Plaintiff also brings claims under § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment for malicious prosecution and false arrest/imprisonment, contending that the individual defendants lacked probable cause when they arrested, imprisoned, and arraigned him. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, and this action is dismissed in its entirety.

I. Background

On April 13, 2004, Estelle LaRoche reported that she had been robbed and sexually assaulted at the Queens Village station of the Long Island Railroad. Defendants MTA Detectives Rucano and Inzinna responded to the report. After canvassing the Queens Village station and finding nothing, they arranged to have LaRoche come to the New York City Police Department's ("NYPD") 105th Precinct to view photographs of individuals fitting her description of the alleged assailant. (Rucano Dep. 26.)

According to the deposition of NYPD Detective William Davis,*fn1 the device used to display these photographs was known as a Photo Imaging Machine ("PIM"), and was operated in the following manner. Based on the victim's description of the perpetrator, the PIM operator would enter such physical characteristics as race, gender, approximate age, height, weight, hair and eye color, hair style, facial hair, and deformities into a computer terminal. (See William Davis Dep. (Docket Entry No. 34-7) 12.) Generally, a more specific description would yield fewer matches from the PIM database. This database consisted of "everybody arrested in New York City" since the PIM came into use, in 1996 or 1997. (Id. at 14.) The PIM computer monitor displayed six photographs at a time of people matching the physical characteristics entered into the system. (Id. at 15.) The photographs were not sorted by the type of offense committed by the individuals depicted. The victim would view the pictures as they were displayed, and notify the accompanying officers if s/he saw the person s/he believed was the perpetrator. If the victim so indicated, the operator would print out a photo array, consisting of the individual depicted and five similar photographs, chosen by the operator, depicting different individuals. (Id. at 17--18.)

If the victim again identified the person s/he believed to be the perpetrator, s/he would then circle the number corresponding with the picture, and sign the photo array. (Id. at 19.)

LaRoche described her alleged attacker to Detectives Inzinna and Rucano as a black male, clean shaven with a "corn-row" hairstyle, approximately fifty years of age and five feet eight inches in height, wearing a green jacket, dark pants, and a backwards green baseball hat. (Inzinna Dep. 23--24; Aff. of Robert Siegel in Supp. of Mot., Ex. O.) After viewing a number of photographs,*fn2 LaRoche identified plaintiff Cecil Davis' picture from the PIM database. She again selected his picture from the printed photo array. (Rucano Dep. 51; see also Aff. of Robert Siegel in Supp. of Mot., Ex. P.)

Rucano and Inzinna, accompanied by defendant Police Officers Peterman, Chirrillo, Guerra, and Moore, then proceeded to plaintiff's home where they questioned and handcuffed him, and then brought him to the MTA Police Department's Jamaica Precinct. (Rucano Dep. 73-- 74.) There, plaintiff was placed in a holding cell to wait for a line-up. (Id. at 77.) The line-up was conducted early in the morning of April 14, 2004, in the presence of a Queens County assistant district attorney. Plaintiff participated in the line-up with five other individuals ("fillers"), all of whom fit plaintiff's general physical description. Plaintiff and the fillers each wore identical shirts and hats. (Inzinna Dep. 109--15.) LaRoche identified plaintiff from this line-up. (Rucano Dep.83.) Plaintiff was then fingerprinted, photographed, and sent to Queens Central Booking, where he was formally charged with robbery and sexual assault. (Id. at 85.)

Following his arraignment before a judge, plaintiff was transported to the detention center on Rikers Island and held for approximately six weeks until he posted bail. (Pl.'s Dep. 146--47.) On June 28, 2005, all charges against plaintiff were dropped; the record is unclear as to why. (Id. at 162; Am. Compl. 6.) On August 11, 2006, plaintiff filed the instant § 1983 action, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff amended his complaint on October 26, 2006.*fn3 Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff is unable to make a prima facie case to support a § 1983 claim against either the MTA or the individual defendants. Defendants also contend that they had probable cause to arrest, imprison and prosecute plaintiff.

II. Discussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate 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 entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but "only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). "When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Id. A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmoving party may not rely on "[c]onclusory allegations, conjecture, and speculation," Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998), but must affirmatively "set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). "When no rational jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight, there is no genuine issue of material fact and a grant of summary judgment is proper." Gallo v. Prudential Res. Servs., Ltd.,22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Dister v. Cont'l Group, Inc.,859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988)).

B. Section 1983

Section 1983 "does not itself create or establish any federally protected right." MARTIN A. SCHWARTZ & KATHRYN R. URBONYA, SECTION 1983 LITIGATION 7 (2d ed. 2008); see also Sykes v. James, 13 F.3d 515, 519 (2d Cir. 1993). It does, however, provide a cause of action to those wronged by a "misuse of state power . . . made possible . . . because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law." United States v. Giordano, 442 F.3d 30, 42--43 (2d Cir. 2006) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Thus, "[t]o state a claim against an individual under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege (1) that the challenged conduct was attributable at least in part to a person acting under color of state law, and (2) that such conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Meyer v. William Floyd Union Free School Dist., 2009 WL 3327208, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2009) (citations and internal quotations omitted); see also Velez v. Levy, 401 F.3d 75, 84 (2d Cir. 2005). "In addition, if the plaintiff is seeking to establish municipal liability, ...

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