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Picciano v. McLoughlin

July 13, 2010

RICHARD J. PICCIANO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEPHAN MCLOUGHLIN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this civil rights action filed by Richard J. Picciano ("Plaintiff") against City of Auburn Police Officer Stephan McLoughlin ("Defendant"), is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 13.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part, such that Plaintiff's false arrest claim is dismissed but his excessive force claim survives Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, Plaintiff's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution were violated when he was taken into physical custody by Defendant on August 4, 2004, in Auburn, NY. (See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].)*fn1 More specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant (1) falsely arrested him for (a) skateboarding in a prohibited area in violation of City of Auburn Municipal Code § 234-16 ("Municipal Code § 234-16"), and (b) resisting arrest in violation of New York Penal Law § 205.30, and (2) used excessive force against him to effectuate the arrest. (Id.)*fn2 Familiarity with the particular factual allegations asserted in support of these claims in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

B. Undisputed Material Facts

The following is a general summary of material facts that are undisputed by the parties.(Compare Dkt. No. 13, Attach. 5 [Def.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 20 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response] and Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 2 [Def.'s Rule 7.1 Reply].)

Between the date of Defendant's graduation from the Central New York Police Academy, approximately December 18, 2000, and the date of the incident giving rise to this action, August 4, 2004, Defendant had made at least five arrests, and possibly more than ten arrests, for skateboarding in a prohibited area in the City of Auburn, in violation of Municipal Code § 234-16 (which had been adopted on March 28, 1991, and amended on March 18, 2004).*fn3

By August 4, 2004, Section 234-16 had been amended to read as follows, in pertinent part: "Riding of skateboards . . . is prohibited . . . [o]n public property unless use of a skateboard is authorized by regulation, ordinance or statute, or is otherwise authorized by the governmental agency, department or commission responsible for such property."*fn4

On August 4, 2004, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Defendant, who was on duty as a patrol officer, was traveling in his patrol vehicle north on South Street, in the City of Auburn. As Defendant approached City Hall in his patrol vehicle, he observed what appeared to be five male juveniles on the right side of the front steps of City Hall.*fn5 These five juveniles were Plaintiff, Michael Smart, Edward Rizzo, Matthew Rizzo, and Kyle Norcross.*fn6 At the time, at least four of the five of these individuals, including Plaintiff, were in possession of skateboards.*fn7 From a distance of approximately 200 feet away from City Hall, Defendant perceived one of the five juveniles, Plaintiff, to be skateboarding a very short distance in southerly direction along the bottom step of City Hall.*fn8 Auburn City Hall was, and is, designated as a "No Skateboard Zone" under Municipal Code § 234-16--a fact of which Plaintiff was aware.*fn9 Defendant pulled up his vehicle in front of Auburn City Hall.*fn10 From a distance of approximately 50 feet, he observed Plaintiff--who was not skating at that point--with one or both of his feet on a skateboard.*fn11

Defendant called the group of juveniles over to him and asked them to leave the area.*fn12 A conversation ensued between Defendant and some or all of the five juveniles, including Plaintiff.*fn13 During this conversation, Plaintiff stated, "We didn't do nothing," tensed his body, and denied having ridden his skateboard at City Hall.*fn14 Defendant then advised Plaintiff that he was under arrest.*fn15

At approximately this time, Defendant instructed Plaintiff to place his arms behind his back.*fn16 Either before he was instructed to place his arms behind his back or after he was asked to do so, Plaintiff took a step back.*fn17 Plaintiff then turned his head toward Defendant, waved his arms around, and asked why he was being arrested.*fn18 Although Plaintiff initially placed one of his arms behind his back after being instructed to place both arms behind his back, he subsequently held the other hand out to his side, turned toward Defendant, and continued to question Defendant about the reason for his arrest, prompting Defendant to again instruct Plaintiff to place his hands behind his back.*fn19 At the time he was arresting Plaintiff, Defendant was aware of an assault that a fellow Auburn City Police Officer had been subjected to by a 16-year-old individual during an arrest, on February 4, 2003.*fn20

Defendant grabbed Plaintiff's arm and applied handcuffs to the hand of that arm.*fn21 While doing so, Plaintiff turned toward Defendant, asked again why he was being arrested, and said the arrest was "bullshit."*fn22 In response, Defendant advised Plaintiff to stop resisting arrest.*fn23 Defendant believed Plaintiff was pulling away from him in an attempt to flee.*fn24 Defendant forced Plaintiff to the ground, causing Plaintiff's face to strike the sidewalk.*fn25 While on the ground, Plaintiff continued to move his arms.*fn26 Defendant perceived Plaintiff's movement as an attempt to flee.*fn27 Two of the non-party witnesses warned Plaintiff that Defendant had pepper spray.*fn28 Defendant became concerned that the other juveniles might become involved and took a moment to look around to confirm that they were not attempting to do so.*fn29 In an attempt to avoid the effects of the pepper spray, Plaintiff covered his face with his shirt.*fn30 Defendant sprayed Plaintiff's face with pepper spray.*fn31 After the application of the pepper spray, Plaintiff was compliant and the arrest was completed.*fn32

Defendant then escorted Plaintiff to his patrol car.*fn33 Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was taken to the Auburn Police Department by another Auburn police officer and charged with (1) skateboarding in a prohibited area in violation of Municipal Code § 234-16 and (2) resisting arrest in violation of New York Penal Law § 205.30.*fn34 During the altercation between Plaintiff and Defendant, Plaintiff suffered, at the very least, a bloody nose.*fn35

Familiarity with the remaining disputed material facts, as set forth in the parties' Rule 7.1 Statement, and Rule 7.1 Response, is assumed in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for review by the parties.

C. The Parties' Briefing on Defendant's Motion

Generally, in support of his motion for summary judgment, Defendant argues as follows:

(1) Plaintiff's false arrest claim should be dismissed because, based on the current record, no rational factfinder could conclude that the arrest was not supported by probable cause; (2) Plaintiff has failed to adduce admissible record evidence from which a rational factfinder could conclude that Defendant used unconstitutional excessive force during the arrest; (3) based on the current record, Defendant is protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity; and (4) Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed to the extent he seeks to recover punitive damages. (See generally Dkt. No. 13, Attach. 6 [Def.'s Memo. of Law].)

In Plaintiff's response to Defendant's motion for summary judgment, he argues as follows: (1) Plaintiff has adduced admissible record evidence from which a rational factfinder could conclude that Defendant (a) falsely arrested him, and (b) used excessive force during his arrest; (2) Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity; and (3) punitive damages are ...


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