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Darren Barcomb v. Arlene Sabo

May 6, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Darren Barcomb, a police officer for the State University of New York (SUNY) at Plattsburgh, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Arlene Sabo, Chief of Police at SUNY Plattsburgh, Jerry Lottie, the Assistant Chief of Police at SUNY Plattsburgh, and New York State Trooper Shawn Murphy,*fn1 alleging federal claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, unreasonable seizure, unlawful retaliation, due process violations, and failure to supervise. (See Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 19.) Pending is defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 94.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

II. Background

A. 2005 Events

Since 1999, plaintiff Darren Barcomb has worked as a police officer for SUNY Plattsburgh under the supervision of defendants Arlene Sabo, Chief of Police at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Jerry Lottie, Assistant Chief of Police. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 16, Dkt. No. 19; Defs. SMF ¶¶ 1, 2, Dkt. No. 94:71.)

On June 27, 2005, a member of the Suffolk County Police Department notified the SUNY Plattsburgh Police Department that Barcomb's former girlfriend, Cindy Bednar, filed a criminal complaint against Barcomb for second-degree menacing with a weapon. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 19; Defs. SMF ¶ 9, Dkt. No. 94:71.)According to Ms. Bednar, Barcomb put a gun to her head and said, "You're not f***ing leaving. I'm gonna kill you." (Defs. SMF ¶ 25, Dkt. No. 94:71.) Given the nature of this allegation, an Order of Protection was issued, requiring Barcomb to immediately surrender all firearms. (See id. at ¶ 26.)

In light of Ms. Bednar's complaint, Barcomb was placed on desk duty and his firearm was secured from his police locker. (See id. at ¶ 11.) In addition, on June 29, after consulting with the SUNY Plattsburgh Human Resources Department, Chief Sabo placed Barcomb on administrative leave with pay. (See id. at ¶ 13.)

On June 30, Chief Sabo received from Suffolk County Detective Robert Cassidy a facsimile transmission of a warrant for the arrest of Barcomb on the misdemeanor charges of menacing in the second degree with a weapon, a violation of New York Penal Law § 120.14(1). (Id. at ¶ 16.) The warrant, which was signed on June 28 by a judge of the District Court of the County of Suffolk, stated: "This warrant may be executed at anytime and anywhere in the State of New York." (Id. at ¶¶ 18, 19.) The warrant was also forwarded to the Suffolk County Police Department's Fugitive Section, which is responsible for executing warrants outside of the Department's local jurisdiction. (See id. at ¶ 20; Pl. Counter SMF ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 109.) The Fugitive Section mailed a letter to Barcomb, advising him of the warrant and that its execution would be held in abeyance for five days. (See Defs. SMF ¶ 20, Dkt. No. 9471; Pl. Counter SMF ¶ 3, Dkt. No. 109.) However, Chief Sabo, Assistant Chief Lottie, and Detective Cassidy were not aware of this letter or the abeyance until after this litigation was commenced, (see Defs. SMF ¶ 20, Dkt. No. 94:71), and Barcomb did not learn of it until days after it was sent, (see Defs. Resp. SMF ¶ 3, Dkt. No. 112:2).

Later the same day, June 30, Chief Sabo called Barcomb to the SUNY Plattsburgh Police Station for a meeting. (See Pl. Counter SMF ¶ 9, Dkt. No. 109.) During the meeting, Chief Sabo and Assistant Chief Lottie informed Barcomb of the arrest warrant pending against him. (See id. at ¶ 12; Defs. Resp. SMF ¶ 12, Dkt. No. 112:2.) According to Barcomb, he asked whether he could turn himself in by immediately driving to Long Island, to which Chief Sabo responded, "no, not an option." (See Pl. Counter SMF ¶ 13, Dkt. No. 109.) Rather, Barcomb claims that "Chief Sabo and Assistant Chief Lottie told [him] that either they could take him down to Long Island, or [he] could be shackled and taken down, as Assistant Chief Lottie put it, 'the hard way by the [S]tate [T]roopers.'" (Id. at ¶ 17.) According to Chief Sabo and Assistant Chief Lottie, they "felt obligated to be the SUNY personnel to drive him because they were concerned about "'what [Barcomb] would do in the meantime.'" (See id. at ¶ 15.)

Barcomb also contends that he "requested to be arraigned locally before ... a judge of the Plattsburgh City Court, instead of any of the other options that Chief Sabo put forth." (Id. at ¶ 18.) According to Barcomb, however, "Chief Sabo ignored [his] plea, telling him 'no, you don't want that.'" (Id.) Ultimately, Barcomb agreed to be taken to Long Island by Chief Sabo, but "maintain[s] that he felt obligated to [do so] because it was a direct order, and if he didn't obey, he would be written up and charged with insubordination." (Id. at ¶ 19.) Thus, at approximately 3:00 p.m on June 30, Chief Sabo and Assistant Chief Lottie left the SUNY station with Barcomb and headed to Long Island. (See id. at ¶ 20.) Approximately seven hours later, after driving 350 miles, the three arrived at the Suffolk County Police Station, where Barcomb was taken into custody by the Suffolk County Police and ultimately held overnight in Suffolk County Jail. (See id. at ¶¶ 35, 36, 37.)

Barcomb was arraigned and released the next day, July 1, at approximately 12:00 p.m. (See Defs. Reply Mem. of Law at 4, Dkt. No. 112.)Barcomb claims that Chief Sabo told him before he was locked up that she and Assistant Chief Lottie would be in the courthouse for his arraignment. (See Pl. Counter SMF ¶ 39, Dkt. No. 109.) Barcomb further contends that Chief Sabo provided him with her cell phone number so that he could call her and Assistant Lottie when his arraignment was over and ride back with them to Plattsburgh. (See id. at ¶ 39.) However, after his arraignment, Barcomb was unable to locate Chief Sabo or Assistant Chief Lottie in the courthouse, and, after calling Chief Sabo's cell phone, was told by Chief Sabo that "she and Assistant Chief Lottie had already left the city, and were past the bridge." (Id. at ¶ 41.) Chief Sabo ended the conversation by telling Barcomb, "good luck on getting home." (Id. at ¶ 42.)

As a result, Barcomb claims, he was forced to buy an airplane ticket for a flight from New York City to Burlington, Vermont. (Id. at ¶ 43.)

On July 8, based on his arrest and inability to carry a firearm, Barcomb was formally suspended without pay from the SUNY Plattsburgh Police Department, pending the outcome of a disciplinary arbitration hearing.*fn2 (See Defs. SMF ¶ 28, Dkt. No. 94:71; Pl. Counter SMF ¶ 45, Dkt. No. 109.) Barcomb was also required at some point in July to surrender his SUNY Police ID and badge. (See Defs. SMF ¶ 30, Dkt. No. 94:71.) And on July 29, a formal Notice of Discipline letter was issued to Barcomb by the SUNY Plattsburgh Human Resources Director Lawrence Mills, which detailed the disciplinary charges against him. (See id. at ¶ 29.)

After receiving the 2005 Notice of Discipline, Barcomb applied for unemployment benefits through the New York Department of Labor (DOL). (See Pl. Counter SMF ¶ 45, Dkt. No. 109.) In investigating Barcomb's application, the DOL sent to the Human Resources Department of SUNY Plattsburgh a form requesting information pertaining to Barcomb's employment status. (See id. at ¶ 47.) In response to the inquiry, Lawrence Mills stated that Barcomb "remained on our payroll but that he was suspended." (Id. at ¶ 48.) Mr. Mills then wrote to Maria Zalewska of the DOL, stating that "it's my understanding that since he remains our employee while on suspension, he would be ineligible for benefits from your agency until ... his disciplinary case is heard and a determination is made that termination is appropriate." (Id. at ¶ 49.)

B. 2006 Events

On January 1, 2006, between 1:30 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., Barcomb, driving alone in his vehicle, approached a sobriety road checkpoint on State Route 22 in the Town of Plattsburgh. (See Defs. SMF ¶ 37, Dkt. No. 94:71.) Upon observing that Barcomb's eyes appeared abnormally dilated, New York State Trooper Shawn Murphy, the officer assigned to the checkpoint, directed Barcomb to pull to the side of the road. (See id. at ¶ 38.)*fn3 Once Barcomb had pulled over, Trooper Murphy approached Barcomb's vehicle and asked for Barcomb's driver's license and vehicle registration. (See Murphy Decl. ¶ 10, Dkt. No. 94:35.) According to Trooper Murphy, Barcomb handed him his license and stated, "I'm on the job," which Trooper Murphy claims he understood as "conveying ... that [Barcomb] was actively worked as a police officer." (Id.) Barcomb denies ever saying he was "on the job." (Pl. Resp. SMF ¶ 67, Dkt. No. 109.)

Trooper Murphy told Barcomb that he pulled him over because his pupils were dilated,*fn4 and asked Barcomb whether he was taking any medications that would cause his pupils to dilate. (See Murphy Decl. ¶ 12, Dkt. No. 94:35.) In response, Barcomb told Trooper Murphy that he "was on thyroid medicine." (Defs. SMF ¶ 44, Dkt. No. 94:71.)

At some point during his encounter with Barcomb, Trooper Murphy told Barcomb that he was going to administer the "Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus" sobriety test. (See id. at ¶ 45.) When Trooper Murphy began to explain the test, Barcomb stated "I understand how it works, I have been a cop for six years." (Id.) After Barcomb made that statement, Trooper Murphy asked him where he worked, and Barcomb responded "... at SUNY Plattsburgh, but I have spent some time at SUNY Stony

[B]rook." (See id. at ¶ 49; Murphy Decl. ¶ 11, Dkt. No. 94:35.) And when asked if he had any identification or a badge, Barcomb claims he stated, "I don't have any. I'm out of work at the moment." (Defs. SMF ¶ 51, Dkt. No. 94:71.) Barcomb did not specify that he was suspended, (see id.), and Trooper Murphy denies that Barcomb told him he was "out of work," (see Defs. Mem. of Law at 16, Dkt. No. 94:72).

At one point during their exchange, Trooper Murphy saw an identification card in Barcomb's wallet. (Defs. SMF ¶ 52, Dkt. No. 94:71.) According to Barcomb, it was "a faculty staff library card from Stony [B]rook, and it said State of New York or SUNY or some kind of a state designation on the top." (Id.) When Trooper Murphy asked what the card was, Barcomb responded that it was "his old SUNY card from SUNY Stony B]rook, but I'm not there anymore. I transferred back here in April." (Id. at ¶ 55.) Defendants claim that the ID card in question depicted Barcomb in his police uniform with a "walkie talkie" clipped to his shoulder, and did not indicate that it was a library card. (See id. at ¶¶ 53-54.) Trooper Murphy did not require Barcomb to hand him the card, nor did he examine it any further, telling Barcomb that he did not need to see it as Barcomb began to remove it from his wallet. (See id. at ¶ 56.)

Ultimately, Trooper Murphy permitted Barcomb to leave without undergoing a sobriety test. (See id. at ¶ 59.) According to Trooper Murphy, he believed that Barcomb was in fact a SUNY Police Officer-and therefore a trustworthy person-and that Barcomb's representation that the thyroid medication was the reason for the pupil dilation was truthful. (See id. at ¶¶ 56-57, 59.) Trooper Murphy also testified to observing no other signs of impairment. According to Trooper Murphy, Barcomb did not appear intoxicated by alcohol, and neither Barcomb nor his vehicle emitted any odors warranting further suspicion. (See id. at ¶ 58.) For these reasons, Trooper Murphy concluded that requiring Barcomb to exit his vehicle and take a full-blown drug recognition evaluation was unnecessary, ...

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