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Bowman v. City of New York

September 30, 2010

MARIEA BOWMAN, BOWMAN,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, POLICE OFFICER ASA BARNES, POLICE OFFICER KELVY VASQUEZ, AND SGT. AMANJEET SANDHU DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge

USDC SDNY DOCUMENT ELECTRONICALLY FILED

ORDER

Plaintiff Mariea Bowman ("Bowman") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of New York, police officer Asa Barnes ("Barnes"), police officer Kelvy Vasquez ("Vasquez"), and Sergeant Amanjeet Sandhu ("Sandhu") (together, the "Defendants"). Bowman brings claims for unlawful entry, false arrest, and excessive force, and also seeks to hold liable the City of New York under the doctrine of respondeat superior.*fn1 Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. This case is replete with genuine issues of material fact which preclude summary judgment and, accordingly, both parties' motions are DENIED.

BACKGROUND

The factual background of this case is substantially disputed. At approximately 2:44 a.m. on February 29, 2008, Bowman called 911 because her cousin, Darryl Epps ("Epps"), was allegedly threatening her. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 1.) According to Epps (who disputes the threat allegations), when police arrived at the house, he was asleep in his room. When overheard by the officers, he told them that he had been living in the apartment for the previous five months - a point that Epps says Bowman confirmed - and that he would be moving out the next day. (See Epps. Dep. 23-25.) Then, according to Epps, he went back to sleep. (Id. at 27.)

Bowman's version of the events of that evening differs substantially. According to Bowman, when the police arrived, Epps (1) said that he would be moving his things out the next day, (2) made an agreement with the officers that he would come back with a truck with which to remove his belongings (and that an police escort would accompany him when he returned), and (3) left the apartment around the same time as the officers did. (Bowman Dep. 72, 74.)

The next night, at approximately 11:12 p.m., Bowman called 911, allegedly in order to request an escort while Epps removed his items. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 4.) At around the same time, Epps reported to police that Bowman refused to open the door to the house and had, therefore, unlawfully evicted him under New York City Administrative Code § 26-521.*fn2 (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 1-3.) Epps also told police that Bowman had children inside the house and that Bowman was suffering from "emotional problems." (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) At around 11:45 p.m., Officers Barnes and Vasquez arrived on the scene. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.)

To substantiate his claim that he had been living with Bowman, Epps says that he told the officers that he had personal belongings inside the house and that he had paid rent. (Id. ¶¶ 8-10.) The officers apparently believed Epps' story and attempted in vain to persuade Bowman to open the front door and allow Epps access to the house. Eventually, at around 12:27 a.m., Sergeant Sandhu arrived, and Epps informed him about the alleged unlawful eviction. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) According to Sergeant Sandhu, at some point during the events of the evening, Epps showed the officers documents substantiating Epps's claim that he had been living in the house for over thirty days, although Sandhu later could not remember either the kind or number of documents Epps had actually produced. (Sandhu Dep. 74.)

Bowman claims that she came downstairs at the beginning of the incident, talked to the officers, told them she would not let Epps into the house, and then went back upstairs to sleep. (Bowman Dep. 101-102.) According to Sandhu, Bowman never specifically denied that Epps lived with her and simply said, "This is my house. I'm not letting him in." (Sandhu Dep. 75.) After several attempts to persuade Bowman to open the door over a period of hours - first asking and then demanding that she comply - the officers called the New York City Police Department's Emergency Service Unit ("ESU"). (See Def. 56.1 ¶ 18; Epps Dep. 38-39.) At about 1:43 a.m., ESU forced open the door and the officers entered, where they discovered that Bowman had apparently barricaded the doorway with furniture and a television. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 18; Sandhu Dep. 69-70; Epps Dep. 41.)

After entering the residence, the officers observed Bowman coming down the stairs towards them, and they placed her under arrest. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 21; Vasquez Dep. 23-25.) Bowman alleges that, upon the officers' entrance to the apartment, Barnes used excessive force, asserting that the officer grabbed her and threw her down onto the ground. (Bowman Dep. 114-115.) Then, according to Bowman, Barnes allegedly twisted her around and caused the left side of her face to crash against a television. (Id. ¶¶ 115-116.) Sandhu and Vasquez are not accused of using any force in making the arrest, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 22), but are accused of standing idly by while Barnes used the alleged excessive force.

Following the arrest, police transported Plaintiff to Jacobi Hospital, where an examination showed no serious physical injuries. (Amended Compl. ¶¶ 13-14.) On March 3, 2008, Bowman sought medical treatment at Montefiore Medical Center. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 26.) Records from that hospital visit indicated: "no swelling\tenderness on the head. no injury noted, opens and closes mouth without difficulty, non-tender." (Id. ¶ 28.) The medical records further state that Bowman experienced "no abrasions\lacerations in the extremities, no swelling\tenderness in the extremities." (Id. ¶ 29.) X-rays also did not reveal any injuries. (Id. ¶ 30.) Bowman was discharged, however, with a diagnosis of a sprained shoulder and a jaw contusion. (Kunz Dec., Ex. M, Montefiore Medical Records, Bates No. 0065.) Later, an orthopedic specialist who examined Bowman's case reported that she had a "sprain, cervical spine" and a "left trapezius spasm." (Kunz Dec., Ex. M, Montefiore Medical Records, Bates No. 0077.)

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate where the record demonstrates 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)(2). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of producing evidence on each material element of its claim or defense demonstrating that it is entitled to relief. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The evidence on each material ...


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