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Mario Gomez v. Village of Sleepy Hollow

July 5, 2011

MARIO GOMEZ,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, FOR DETECTIVE JOSE QUINOY IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, POLICE OFFICER ELDRYK EBEL IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, POLICE OFFICER MIKE GASKER IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, POLICE OFFICER RICHARD D'ALLESANDRO IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, LIEUTENANT BARRY CAMPBELL IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, LIEUTENANT GABRIEL HAYES IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, SERGEANT WOOD IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, CHIEF OF POLICE JIMMY WARREN IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOES 1-4, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick P. Stamp, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER CONVERTING MOTION TO DISMISS INTO MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. Procedural History

The plaintiff's complaint arises out of his October 17, 2006 arrest by the Sleepy Hollow Police Department for aggravated harassment, resisting arrest, assault, and obstruction of governmental administration. The complaint alleges violations of the plaintiff's constitutional rights, including claims of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Additionally, the plaintiff alleges claims against the Village of Sleepy Hollow ("Village") pursuant to Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). These claims include failure to train, conspiracy claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, and state law claims sounding in assault and negligence.*fn1

On April 17, 2008, the individual defendants, Officer Jose Quinoy ("Officer Quinoy"), Officer Eldryk Ebel ("Officer Ebel"), Officer Mike Gasker ("Officer Gasker"), Officer Richard D'Allesandro ("Officer D'Allesandro"), Lieutenant Barry Campbell ("Lieutenant Campbell"), Lieutenant Gabriel Hayes ("Lieutenant Hayes"), Sergeant Hood,*fn2 and Chief of Police Jimmy Warren ("Chief Warren") filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The individual defendants seek to dismiss this action against them on the ground of qualified immunity. In addition to the notice of motion (Doc. 11), the individual defendants filed a declaration of Jennifer E. Sherven in support of the motion to dismiss (Doc. 12), as well as a memorandum of law (Doc. 13).

In response, on June 27, 2008, the plaintiff filed a declaration of Francis X. Young in opposition to the motion to dismiss (Doc. 16).*fn3 On August 18, 2008, the individual defendants filed a reply memorandum of law in further support of their motion to dismiss the action based on the doctrine of qualified immunity. This pending motion is now ripe for review. This Court notes that because the plaintiff's submissions of May 26, 2011 and May 27, 2011 did not comply with this Court's order of May 18, 2011, this Court does not consider them for the purpose of deciding the motion to dismiss. Instead, this Court considers the plaintiff's memorandum of law in response to the motion to dismiss submitted by the defendants on May 27, 2011, as it is the original version that should have been filed along with the declaration of Francis X. Young in opposition to the motion to dismiss (Doc. 16) on June 27, 2008. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the individual defendants' motion to dismiss, which is converted into a motion for summary judgment, must be granted in part and denied in part.

II. Facts*fn4

On October 17, 2006, Mario Gomez, a retired New York City Corrections Officer, received a telephone call from Officer Quinoy. During this phone conversation, Gomez and Officer Quinoy discussed Officer Quinoy's relationship with Gomez's daughter, Haydee. Gomez expressed his disapproval of the relationship, and in response Officer Quinoy challenged Gomez to come down and meet him in front of the Sleepy Hollow Police Station.

After Gomez's wife, Awilda, arrived at their home, the couple drove separately to the Sleepy Hollow Police Station to meet Officer Quinoy. Upon arriving at the station, Gomez saw Officer Quinoy and Officer Gasker standing next to each other on the sidewalk in front of the station. Gomez parked his car and while he stood beside his vehicle, Officer Quinoy ran towards him instructing him not to move. Gomez turned around, then placed his hands on his vehicle, at which time Officer Quinoy pushed him against the car. When Gomez informed Officer Quinoy that he just wanted to talk, Officer Quinoy hit him on the left side of his head. Gomez began to defend himself against the assault, and the two men struggled until Gomez was on the ground. While Officer Quinoy was trying to pull Gomez to the ground, he yelled "tase him," and Gomez was shocked with a taser gun in the back of the neck, causing both he and Officer Quinoy to fall to the ground. As Gomez lay on the ground, Officer Quinoy continued his attack and it is asserted by the plaintiff that Officer Ebel began kicking Gomez in his ribs.

Seeing the altercation outside, Awilda ran into the police station seeking assistance. She spoke to Lieutenant Hayes and explained that her husband was currently being assaulted outside. Lieutenant Hayes ignored her requests for help.

Gomez pleaded with the officers to stop beating him and told them that he was willing to be handcuffed. Officer Ebel then handcuffed Gomez while Officer Quinoy repeatedly kicked him in the head. Gomez contends that he was tasered multiple times after being placed in handcuffs. On multiple occasions, Gomez informed the officers that he was a retired New York City Corrections Officer and that this was a family matter, but the officers continued their attack.

After her unsuccessful attempt to seek help in the police station, Awilda returned to the scene of the assault and begged Officer Quinoy to stop attacking her husband. Officer Quinoy then grabbed Awilda and threw her against her car. Again, Awilda sought help inside the police station, but her requests were met with silence from Lieutenant Hayes.

Awilda went back outside and again began pleading with Officer Quinoy to stop the attack. Officer Quinoy responded by picking her up and slamming her into the car. Gomez asked the officers to spare his wife as she had recently had surgery, but this only prompted the officers to resume kicking and tasering Gomez in the head and back.

Shortly thereafter, several members of the Tarrytown Police Department and additional members of the Sleepy Hollow Police Department arrived and ordered Officer Quinoy to stop his assault. Gomez was then lifted off the ground and placed into a police car by Officer D'Allesandro and Officer Michael Hayes ("Officer Hayes"). As Gomez sat in the car handcuffed, Officer D'Allesandro kicked him on the right side of his face at the instruction of Officer Quinoy.

Gomez was then taken into the police station where paramedics treated him for his injuries. One of the paramedics indicated that she wanted to transport Gomez to the hospital, but she was refused by members of the Sleepy Hollow Police Department. After Gomez's legs started trembling and he began to experience heart palpitations, the paramedics transported him to the hospital.

As a result of this assault, the plaintiff sustained serious and permanent injuries. Thereafter, the defendants allegedly caused false criminal charges to be filed against the plaintiff. In addition to the claims against the officers in their individual and official capacities, the plaintiff claims that the Village has permitted and tolerated a pattern of unjustified, unreasonable, and illegal use of force against civilians by police officers. Further, the plaintiff contends that the Village has failed to maintain a proper system for investigation of all incidents of excessive use of force by police officers. According to the plaintiff, by permitting and assisting such a pattern of police misconduct, the Village has acted under color of custom and policy to condone the deprivation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights.

III. Applicable Law A. Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment In considering a motion to dismiss, "a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint." DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c) must be treated as a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 where "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). The parties "must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Id. The conversion is "governed by principles of substance rather than form. The essential inquiry is whether the [opposing party] should reasonably have recognized the possibility that the motion might be converted into one for summary judgment or was taken by surprise and deprived of a reasonable opportunity to meet facts outside the pleadings." In re G. & A. Books, Inc., 770 F.2d 288, 295 (2d Cir. 1985). Importantly, "[a] party cannot complain of lack of a reasonable opportunity to present all material relevant to a motion for summary judgment when both parties have filed exhibits, affidavits, counter-affidavits, depositions, etc. in support of and in opposition to a motion to dismiss." Id. In this case, because the parties have attached affidavits and transcripts of depositions to the motion, Rule 12(d) requires that it be treated as a motion for summary judgment.*fn5

Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or

(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "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) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322).

However, as the United States Supreme Court noted in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986), "Rule 56(e) itself provides that a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. "The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250.

In Celotex, the Court stated that "the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is not appropriate until after the non-moving party has had adequate time for discovery. Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 993 F.2d 306, 308 (2d Cir. 1993). In reviewing the supported underlying facts, all inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

B. Qualified Immunity

Under federal law, the doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials from civil damages liability as long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; therefore, it protects officials from the burdens of litigation for the choices that they make in the course of their duties. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). Notably, the defense of qualified immunity is available only to an ...


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