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Lee E. Woodard, As Trustee For Patricia J. Lopes, and Patricia v. City of Syracuse

January 19, 2011

LEE E. WOODARD, AS TRUSTEE FOR PATRICIA J. LOPES, AND PATRICIA J. LOPES AS MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF JOHN DOE, AN INFANT UNDER THE AGE OF 18 YEARS, AND JOHN DOE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF SYRACUSE, CITY OF SYRACUSE POLICE DEPARTMENT, SYRACUSE POLICE OFFICER KEVIN CORCORAN,
SYRACUSE POLICE OFFICER ALBERT THOMPSON, SYRACUSE POLICE OFFICER JOCELYN ALLBRIGHT, SYRACUSE POLICE OFFICER JOSEPH DECARO, AND DETECTIVE JAMIE LOCASTRO, ALL INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, AND SYRACUSE POLICE OFFICERS 1-10,
ALL IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCURN, Senior U.S. District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM - DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Lee E. Woodard, as trustee for Patricia J. Lopes ("Lopes"), and Patricia J. Lopes as mother and natural guardian of John Doe, an infant under the age of 18 years, and John Doe ("John Doe") bring this action seeking monetary and declaratory relief against the City of Syracuse ("City"), City of Syracuse Police Department ("PD"), Syracuse Police Officer Kevin Corcoran ("Corcoran"), Syracuse Police Officer Albert Thompson ("Thompson"), Syracuse Police Officer Jocelyn Allbright ("Allbright"), Syracuse Police Officer Joseph DeCaro ("DeCaro"), and Detective Jamie Locastro ("Locastro"), all individually and in their official capacities, and Syracuse Police Officers 1-10, all in their individual and official capacities (collectively, "police officer defendants"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983.

Plaintiffs seek redress for violations of civil rights secured to them by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Article I of the New York State Constitution. Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, unreasonable search and seizure of plaintiffs' property, and John Doe alleges seizure of his person, excessive use of force against him, unlawful imprisonment, and state law claims of assault and battery. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages to be assessed against all defendants and punitive damages against the police officer defendants in their individual capacities, together with the costs and disbursements of this action.

The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(3). Currently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 31) pursuant to Rule 56(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Facts and Procedural History

The following facts are taken from the plaintiffs' complaint and from the pleadings and depositions related to the present motion. On the morning of September 18, 2007, John Doe, then 16 years of age, was in his grandmother's yard, which was across the street from the house where he lived with his mother and his siblings. Plaintiffs assert that John Doe was at his grandmother's location to chop and stack firewood. John Doe testified that the ax he was using became wedged in the wood and he was looking for an implement in his grandmother's shed with which to pry it loose.

In the interim, a "shots fired" call had come in to the Syracuse Police Department in the general vicinity of John Doe's location, specifically, one street over. The "shots fired" call was investigated by the responding officers, and involved a broken window on a DPW vehicle. There was no bullet or projectile found by the investigating officer, defendant Corcoran, to indicate how the window was in fact broken. The driver of the DPW loader was backing up the vehicle as his window shattered, and he told his DPW crew leader, Richard Shepard ("Shepard") that he saw people running. Based on this information, Shepard set out in his truck to look for "anybody running." Doc. No. 31-13, p. 4. As John Doe was exiting his grandmother's shed, he was confronted by Shepard who asked John Doe what he was doing, and asked for permission to search the grandmother's garage, to which the shed was attached. Permission was granted by John Doe, and Shepard searched the garage. Once his search was complete, Shepard exited the garage and again attempted to question John Doe. Two police officers, Thompson*fn1 and Corcoran, were walking through the woods behind the property, and Shepard states that he summoned them and told them, "Could you guys come over here? I have permission to look in the garage." Id., p. 5. Shepard and Thompson again searched the garage. Corcoran asserts that he attempted to pat search John Doe, and after John Doe resisted, Corcoran handcuffed him and put him on the ground. John Doe testified that Corcoran grabbed the back of his neck, slammed him into the garage, then slammed him onto the ground where Corcoran then applied handcuffs. Other officers arrived on the scene, and Corcoran testified that he requested that Officer Allbright observe John Doe while Corcoran continued to investigate the "shots fired" call. Allbright asserts that John Doe was out of control and she tried to gently calm him. John Doe alleges that Allbright kneed him in the back, slammed him to the ground, pointed a taser gun at him and threatened to taser him. John Doe was subsequently placed in a police vehicle, where he remained, still handcuffed. John Doe alleges he was subjected to a third assault while in the back of the police car, when one of the defendants intentionally slammed the back door of the police car against one of his legs.

Plaintiffs next allege that police officers unlawfully entered and searched their home. John Doe's older brother testified that he did not have authority to allow the police into the home so he dialed telephoned his mother, plaintiff Patricia Lopes, at her place of employment and handed the phone to defendant DeCaro. Lopes testified that she told DeCaro she would be home immediately, and that he did not have permission to enter the home. DeCaro testified that Lopes gave him permission, and he told Detective Locastro, "we're all set." DeCaro and Locastro entered the house, and both men testified that they then proceeded upstairs with the intention to conduct a search of John Doe's bedroom. When they reached John Doe's bedroom, two friends of John Doe's older brother were in the room, and the officers testified that they focused their attention on the youths found in the bedroom. Both officers testified that no search of the house was conducted. John Doe's older brother testified that DeCaro and Locastro "flipped the bed up ... [and] went into the closet and got [John Doe's] muzzleloader ... and other hunting rifles." John Doe's older brother also testified that uniformed police officers were searching throughout the house while DeCaro and Locastro were in John Doe's bedroom. Lopes arrived home from work and found her son in the back of a police car, and police offers inside the residence, searching the premises. When told by Lopes to leave her home, the officers continued to remain in her home. Lopes also testified that she showed John Doe's valid hunting licenses to DeCaro and Locastro. No warrant to search the home was ever sought, and no charges were filed against John Doe.

II. Discussion

A. 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 Generally

In order to prevail on a claim under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that the violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. Section 1983 states in pertinent part that

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.... 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 2007).

In the case at bar, it is undisputed that the defendants were acting under ...


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