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Betty Beckles v. the City of New York

March 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Holwell, District Judge:


Plaintiff Betty Beckles ("Beckles") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her rights under the Federal and New York State Constitutions, as well as alleging various state law torts. In July 2007, Beckles had an altercation with her grandson, Lionel Moye ("Moye"), at her apartment in Manhattan. When officers arrived, they arrested both Moye and Beckles. During the arrest Beckles sustained injuries to her shoulder. Beckles now sues New York City (the "City") and several police officers alleging, inter alia, false arrest and use of excessive force in effecting an arrest. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is GRANTED in its entirety.


At 6:30 p.m. on July 3, 2007, Beckles, then fifty-eight years old, was home in her apartment on 115th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, preparing for dinner and chopping onions with a steak knife. (Beckles Dep. at 3, 196-197; Beckles 50-H Hr'g at 15, 30; Frank Decl. Ex. K.) Around that time, Beckles' grandson Lionel Moye ("Moye"), and his friend Jonathan Roman ("Roman"), arrived to collect $200 each Beckles had promised them for moving some furniture around her apartment in preparation for a paint job. (Beckles Dep. at 187-188, 191; Pl.s' 56.1 Counterstatement ¶ 1.) Beckles, however, gave Moye and Roman only $100 each because they had not moved the furniture back after the painting. (Beckles Dep. at 192, 201.) Beckles and Moye began arguing; Moye cursed at Beckles and demanded the additional $100, and Beckles directed Moye and Roman to the door. (Id. at 203-204.) When they would not leave, Beckles walked down a hall to her bedroom and called the police, telling them that her grandson would not leave her apartment. (Id. at 210.) She then walked back to the kitchen but Moye waylaid her in the hallway, grabbing her arm and daring her to slap him. (Beckles 50-H Hr'g at 36-37.) Beckles pushed Moye away and scratched him in the face. (Id. at 39-40.) Beckles was thus able to get around Moye and exit the hallway. (Id. at 40.) Once back in the kitchen, Beckles allegedly picked up the steak knife and "threatened to come at" Moye with it. (Moye Dep. at 40-41.) Roman then called the police, telling them that Beckles was armed with a knife. (Id. at 42-43; Frank Decl. Ex. H.)*fn1 Moye was able to disarm Beckles, but in the process Beckles again scratched Moye's face. (Moye Dep. at 42-43, 48.) The knife fell to the floor, where Roman picked it up and put it on the kitchen table. (Id. at 48.)

About twenty minutes later several police officers arrived. (Beckles Dep. at 219.) Beckles explained that Moye would not leave her apartment and had prevented her from leaving. (Id. at 224.) Some officers took Moye and Roman outside the apartment where the two young men told their side of the story, explaining that Beckles had cursed at and threatened them, and pointing to the knife on the kitchen table through the open apartment door. (Moye Dep. at 53, 55, 58.) Moye was then handcuffed and taken to the police station; Roman was released. (Id. at 55) Correctional Health Services noted scratches on Moye's face and lesions on his right hand. (Frank Decl. Ex. G at 1.)

Other officers reentered the apartment to speak with Beckles. One officer informed Beckles that because the police did not know who was telling the truth, Beckles would have to come to the police station. (Beckles Dep. at 230.) At that point Beckles began arguing that she should not be taken to the station because she had called the police and because Moye had been in her house. (Beckles 50-H Hr'g at 62.) Beckles "call[ed] for assistance," at which point the police called for backup. (Id. at 59, 63.) Beckles admits to being "angry" and "agitated," and "talking loud" and "moving [her] hands," during this exchange. (Id. at 62-63; Beckles Dep. at 233.) One officer attempted to handcuff Beckles, but Beckles "wasn't gonna let him arrest [her]." (Beckles 50-H Hr'g at 65.) Though she was moving away from the officer, the officer was able to get the handcuffs on Beckles' left wrist. (Id.) At that point, Beckles "really started arguing, [because] I was really upset." (Id. at 66.) Her neighbors also "started hollering." (Id.) Though the officer tried several times to cuff Beckles' other wrist, Beckles "wouldn't let him." (Id. at 67; Beckles Dep. at 234.) Beckles was "moving" and "fusing with [the arresting officer]" so that he could not secure the second cuff. (Beckles Dep. at 234.) The argument lasted "ten or twenty" minutes, at which point the officer was able to handcuff Beckles' wrists behind her back. (Beckles 50H-Hr'g at 66-67.) Apparently, Beckles' arm was in pain and she attempted to inform the officer that she would go with him willfully, but the officer took no heed. (Beckles 50-H Hr'g at 67.) Beckles also informed the officer that she had "a bad arm." (Beckles Dep. at 235-236.) Finally, Beckles apparently had some trouble getting in the police car due to her hands being cuffed and her bad knees. (Beckles 50-H Hr'g at 77.) Beckles complained that the cuffs were hurting her arms while driving to the police station, but the officers told her she would be uncuffed when they arrived. (Id. at 78-79.) The drive to the station took "about five or ten minutes," and once there Beckles was not uncuffed for another "about twenty minutes." (Id. at 79-80, 88.)

On April 17, 2008, Beckles commenced this action. (Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 1.) Beckles' operative complaint, filed October 16, 2009, asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New York State Constitution, and for several state law torts. (See Fourth Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 31-69.) Beckles' Section 1983 claims sound in false arrest and in excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Eighth Amendments. It alleges that she was arrested without probable cause and through the use of excessive force; that defendants conspired to commit those violations; and that defendants' acts went beyond the scope of their jurisdiction. (Id. ¶¶ 32-34.)*fn2


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper if the moving party shows 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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact as to an element essential to a party's case, the court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and resolve ambiguities and draw reasonable inferences against the moving party." Abramson v. Pataki, 278 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The moving party must demonstrate that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact. Celotex 477 U.S. at 323-25. As to an issue on which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof, "the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325 (rejecting a construction of Rule 56(c) that would require the party moving for summary judgment to produce evidence affirmatively establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact with respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof).

If the moving party makes such a showing, the "non-movant may defeat summary judgment only by producing specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial." Samuels v. Mockry, 77 F.3d 34, 36 (2d Cir. 1996); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. In seeking to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial, the non-moving party cannot rely on mere allegations, denials, conjectures or conclusory statements, but must present affirmative and specific evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57; Gross v. Nat'l Broad. Co., 232 F. Supp. 2d 58, 67 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Affidavits submitted to defeat summary judgment must be admissible themselves or must contain evidence that will be presented in an admissible form at trial. See H. Sand & Co. v. Airtemp Corp., 934 F.2d 450, 454-55 (2d Cir. 1991) (stating that "hearsay testimony that would not be admissible if testified to at the trial may not properly be set forth in [a Rule 56] affidavit") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

B. The Officers Had Probable Cause to Arrest Beckles "It is well settled that the existence of probable cause is a complete defense to claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution under § 1983." D'Olimpio v. Crisafi, 718 F. Supp. 2d 357, 364 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). "Probable cause exists when [one] ha[s] knowledge of, or reasonably trustworthy information as to, facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested." Williams v. Town of Greenburgh, 535 F.3d 71, 79 (2d Cir. 2008). A district court must analyze the "totality of the circumstances" then known to the arresting officers in deciding whether probable cause exists. Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 162 (2d Cir. 2002); Howard v. City of New York, No. 08 Civ. 6085, 2010 WL 1914747, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 5, 2010) ("In considering whether there is probable cause for an arrest, courts 'must consider those facts available to the officer at the time of the arrest and immediately before it.'" (quoting Lowth v. Town of Cheektowaga, 82 F.3d 563, 569 (2d Cir. 1996))). Moreover, merely because no criminal charge ensues does not undermine the existence of probable cause. Brogdon v. City of New Rochelle, 200 F. Supp. 2d 411, 421 (S.D.N.Y. 2002); see also Rowe v. City of Rochester, No. 00-CV-6333, 2002 WL 31974537, at *9 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2002) ("[T]he eventual disposition of the criminal charges is irrelevant to the probable cause determination.").

Probable cause existed here. A "person of reasonable caution" who (1) observed scratches and lesions on Moye's face and hands, (2) heard Moye accuse Beckles of attacking him with a knife and scratching him, causing the injuries, and (3) saw the identified knife, "would possess sufficient information to believe" that Beckles had, in fact, attacked or threatened Moye with a knife. See Williams, 535 F.3d at 79. Though when officers have reason to doubt a putative victim's veracity, that doubt might weigh against probable cause, Curley v. Village of Suffern, 268 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir. 2001), Beckles fails to make a sufficient showing that her arresting officers had reason to doubt Moye's statements. Beckles points out that the incident occurred at her home, that Moye and Roman did not live there, that Moye and Roman are younger than she is, and that she told the officers she was just cooking dinner and did not threaten Moye. (Pl.'s Opp'n at 6-7.)*fn3 Beckles does not, however, provide any legal or logical support for why these facts cast doubt on Moye's statements; and indeed, the law is otherwise. "[Beckles] argues that because the police failed to conduct inquiries and took [Moye's] word over [hers], probable cause to arrest [her] was lacking. However, once [Moye] complained to the police about an assault, the officers had probable cause to arrest [Beckles], and were not required to investigate further." Daniels v. City of New York, No. 03 Civ. 0809, 2003 WL 22510379, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2003) (Lynch, J.). Indeed, "[o]nce a police officer has a reasonable basis for believing there is probable cause, he is not required to explore and eliminate every theoretically plausible claim of innocence before making an arrest." Ricciuti v. New York City ...

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