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Steven Charlotten v. Officer Lawrence Heid

August 4, 2011

STEVEN CHARLOTTEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER LAWRENCE HEID, ALBANY POLICE DEPARTMENT; THE CITY OF ALBANY; JOSEPH MUIA, ESQ., ASSISTANT CONFLICT DEFENDER; GASPAR CASTILLO, ESQ., ALBANY COUNTY CONFLICT DEFENDER; AND THE ALBANY COUNTY CONFLICT DEFENDER, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court are two Motions for summary judgment, one filed on February 28, 2011 ("Castillo SJ Mot.") (Dkt. No. 37), by Defendants Gaspar M. Castillo ("Defendant Castillo"), Joseph Muia ("Defendant Muia"), and The Albany County Conflict Defender ("Defendant Albany County C.D."); and the other on March 1, 2011 ("Heid SJ Mot.") (Dkt. No. 47), by Defendants Officer Lawrence Heid ("Defendant Heid"), Albany Police Department ("Defendant Albany P.D."), and City of Albany ("Defendant Albany"). On April 15, 2011, Plaintiff Steven Charlotten ("Charlotten" or "Plaintiff") filed his Responses to Defendants' Motions as well as a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment ("Opposition") (Dkt. No. 53), and Defendants filed their Replies thereto on April 29, 2011. Castillo Reply (Dkt. No. 55); Heid Reply (Dkt. No. 56). Plaintiff filed this action on August 4, 2009, alleging violations of federal and state law relating to his arrest, subsequent plea of guilt, and imprisonment for violation of an order of protection that was later found to be invalid. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). For the reasons given below, the Court grants Defendants' Motions.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that he was falsely arrested and imprisoned by Defendants Heid, the City of Albany, and the Albany Police Department; and that Defendants Muia and Castillo, as his appointed attorneys through the office of Defendant Albany County C.D., provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel and committed legal malpractice that led to his conviction and sentence for a nonexistent crime. Compl. ¶ 1. On December 25, 2004, after Charlotten's arrest for the assault of his ex-girlfriend, Donna Durand, Judge John C. Egan issued a temporary order of protection set to expire on June 25, 2005. Heid Ex. F (Dkt. No. 47-7) ("December 25 T.O.P."). This order specified in writing "STAY AWAY NO CONTACT" as an additional condition that Charlotten was required to observe. Id. On February 18, 2005, Charlotten entered a plea of guilty to assault in the third degree and thereby satisfied the pending charges. Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts ("PSMF") (Dkt. No.53-5) ¶ 21. On March 14, 2005, Charlotten was sentenced to four months in prison, but because he had already served that period of time, he was released. Id. ¶¶ 23. As a result, the temporary order of protection became void; a permanent order of protection was never issued. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24; People v. Charlotten, 843 N.Y.S.2d 697, 698-99 (N.Y. App. Div. 2007) ("Charlotten I").

On March 19, 2005 -- five days after Charlotten's release and the expiration of the December 25 T.O.P. -- Ms. Durand called 911 to report a domestic violence incident and Defendant Heid was dispatched to respond at 123 Central Avenue in Albany, New York, at approximately 1:02 a.m. Def. Heid Statement of Material Facts ("Heid SMF") (Dkt. No. 47-13) ¶¶ 7-8. According to both Defendant Heid and Ms. Durand, Ms. Durand told Defendant Heid that she had an order of protection in her favor against Charlotten, and that Charlotten was intoxicated and following her on Central Avenue while cursing at her and threatening to kill her. Heid SMF ¶¶ 12-13; Heid Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-5) ¶¶ 11-12; Heid Ex. H ("Domestic Incident Report") (Dkt. No. 47-9); Heid Ex. I ("March 19 Arrest Report") (Dkt. No. 47-10); Heid Ex. J (Dkt. No. 47-11); Durand Statement ("Durand Stmt.") (Dkt. No. 56-1). Defendant Heid states that he ran Charlotten's information through the New York State Police Information Network ("NYSPIN"), which indicated that there was a valid protective order in place against Charlotten and in Ms. Durand's favor. Heid SMF ¶ 15 (citing Heid Aff. ¶¶ 14-15; Heid Ex. G (Dkt. No. 47-6) (March 19, 2005 call ticket)). Defendant Heid also states that he called Defendant Albany P.D.'s South Station, where an employee confirmed that there was a valid protection order against Charlotten. Heid Aff. ¶¶ 16-17. Plaintiff objects to this narrative of events and declares that Defendant Heid arrested him, stating, "You are being detained for violating an Order of Protection issued by Judge Carter," and that Plaintiff told Defendant Heid that there was no protective order issued by Judge Carter against him.*fn1 Charlotten Aff. (Dkt. No. 53-2) ¶¶ 27-28. Plaintiff further claims that he overheard Defendant Heid ask another officer to check the computer and that the officer "responded words to the effect, 'No, nothing in the system.'" Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiff was taken to the police station and charged with criminal contempt in the first degree for violating a "no contact" order of protection. Heid Ex. G.

On August 10, 2005, Plaintiff pled guilty to criminal contempt in the first degree in exchange for one to three years in prison. Plea Hr'g Tr., Heid Ex. K (Dkt. No. 38-14). Defendant Muia was acting as counsel for Plaintiff at this time. Muia Aff. ¶ 3. Defendant Muia claims that prior to Charlotten's plea, he called Albany City Court, Criminal Division, to verify that they had a protective order dated December 25, 2004, and that the court confirmed this to him. Id. ¶ 5.

Plaintiff was sentenced on October 12, 2005; because he failed to appear at the scheduled time of the hearing, Defendant Castillo was required to replace Defendant Muia by the time Plaintiff arrived. Castillo Aff. (Dkt. No. 40) ¶ 9. Between his guilty plea on August 10, 2005, and his sentencing on October 12, 2005, Plaintiff had been arrested again and pled guilty to violating another protective order against Ms. Durand. He also made statements in the presentence report that indicated he in fact did not believe himself to be guilty of violating the December 25 T.O.P. Muia Ex. O-I (Dkt. No. 38-19) at 3. Defendant Castillo also conveyed this to the judge at the sentencing hearing, stating, "Mr. Charlotten's explanation . . . is that at the time of his arrest he wasn't aware of that order that he pled guilty to." Sentencing Hr'g Tr. (Dkt. No. 38-20) 8:6-10. Plaintiff also asked at the sentencing hearing, "Is that a valid order of protection?" Id. 11:17-19. Finding that both Plaintiff's more recent conviction and his statements contradicted his earlier plea of guilty, the sentencing judge sentenced Plaintiff to one and a third to four years in state prison. Id. 10:7-19; 13:21-14:3. The sentencing judge also issued a "no-contact stay-away order of protection" with respect to Ms. Durand, set to expire October 11, 2011. Id. 14:4-13.

Plaintiff filed two motions to vacate his conviction pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10 ("CPL 440.10"), both of which were denied without a hearing. Charlotten I, 843 N.Y.S.2d at 698. Plaintiff then filed an appeal seeking reversal of his conviction on the grounds that the December 25 T.O.P. was a nullity at the time of his arrest. The State did not contest the nullity of the December 25 T.O.P. on appeal, and the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department found that a hearing pursuant to CPL 440.10 was warranted to determine whether Charlotten had received ineffective assistance of counsel in pleading guilty to criminal contempt. It held the appeal in abeyance and remanded the matter to the County Court of Albany County to conduct a hearing pursuant to CPL 440.10. Id. at 698. After the county court conducted these proceedings ("CPL 440 proceedings"), the Appellate Division reversed Charlotten's conviction, concluding that "the record supports a finding that counsel deprived [Charlotten] of meaningful representation by allowing him to plead guilty to a violation of a court order which was a nullity." People v. Charlotten, 857 N.Y.S.2d 756, 757 (N.Y. App. Div. 2008) ("Charlotten II"). More than a year later, on August 4, 2009, Plaintiff filed the present action in federal court.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules instructs a court to grant summary judgment if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Although "[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary" will not preclude summary judgment, "summary judgment will not lie if . . . the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991).

However, if the moving party has shown that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate "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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This requires the non-moving party to do "more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

At the same time, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Grp. of Am., Inc., 164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998). The Court's duty in reviewing a motion for summary judgment is "carefully limited" to finding genuine disputes of fact, "not to deciding them." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants Heid, Albany, and Albany P.D.

Plaintiff brings the following four claims against Defendants Heid, Albany, and Albany P.D.: (1) illegal detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"); (2) false arrest under New York state law; (3) malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to § 1983; and (4) malicious prosecution under New York state law. Compl. ¶¶ 63-100. Defendants Heid, Albany, and Albany P.D. argue that summary judgment is warranted because: (1) Defendant Heid had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff; (2) Plaintiff has failed to show malice on the part of either Defendant Heid or Defendant Albany sufficient to establish a malicious prosecution claim; (3) Defendant Heid has qualified immunity; (4) Defendant Albany cannot be held liable under § 1983; and (5) Defendant Albany P.D. is not a proper party to this action. Def. Heid's Memorandum of law in support of summary judgment ("HML") (Dkt. No. 47-14). These Defendants have also raised in their Answer, without further briefing in their Motion, that the action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Def. Heid's Answer ("Heid Answer") ¶ 140. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that summary judgment with respect to each of these Defendants is warranted.

1. Illegal Detention Under Fourth Amendment and § 1983

The Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiff's § 1983 claim of illegal detention under the Fourth Amendment is barred by the statute of limitations. The applicable statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim is the same as that for personal injury torts in the state in which the cause of action arose; in the state of New York, the relevant statute of limitations is three years. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 237, 251 (1989) (citing N.Y. CIVIL PRACTICE LAW § 214(5) (MCKINNEY 2011)).

However, the date on which the cause of action accrues is governed by federal law. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007). The Supreme Court has held that a cause of action for unlawful detention under § 1983 accrues not at the time a plaintiff is released from custody, but rather, "when legal process was initiated against him." Id. at 390; cf. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484 (1994) (contrasting malicious prosecution claims with ones for false arrest and imprisonment because the former "permits damages for confinement imposed pursuant to legal process") (quoting W. KEETON, D. DOBBS, R. KEETON, & D. OWEN, PROSSER & KEETON ON LAW OF TORTS 888 (5th ed. 1984)). In this case, such legal process would have commenced, at the latest, when Plaintiff appeared before a judge in state court and pled guilty to criminal contempt on August 10, 2005. See Wallace, 549 U.S. at 389 ("Reflective of the fact that false imprisonment consists of detention without legal process, a false imprisonment ends once the victim becomes held pursuant to such process -- when, for example, he is bound over by a magistrate or arraigned on charges.") (emphasis in original). As Plaintiff did not file the present Complaint until August 4, 2009, his claim for false imprisonment is barred by the statute of limitations.

2. New York False Arrest and Imprisonment Claims

Plaintiff's state law false arrest claim is also barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Unlike the federal false arrest claim, under New York law, Plaintiff's cause of action for the torts of false arrest and false imprisonment accrued on the termination of the confinement. Nunez v. City of N.Y., 762 N.Y.S.2d 384, 385 (N.Y. App. Div. 2003). However, under New York law Plaintiff was also required to file a notice of his claim within 90 days after it arose. N.Y. GEN. MUN. Law §50- e(1)(a) (MCKINNEY 2011); Nunez, 762 N.Y.S.2d at 385. Plaintiff does not state in his Complaint the exact date on which he was released from prison, but the Court notes that the order from the Appellate Division was issued on May 1, 2008, and that Plaintiff does allege that he was imprisoned for two and a half years, which is consistent with the conclusion that he was imprisoned from his sentencing in October 2005 until the Appellate Division's opinion was issued in May 2008. Charlotten II, 857 N.Y.S.2d 756; Compl. ¶ 75. In any case, when Plaintiff filed his Complaint on August 4, 2009, the 90-day statute of limitations had long since barred his state law false arrest and imprisonment claims.

3. Malicious Prosecution Under Fourth Amendment and § 1983

Although Plaintiff's false arrest and imprisonment claims are time-barred under both state and federal law, that is not the case for Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim raised pursuant to § 1983. The governing statute of limitations is also three years because this is a § 1983 claim, and, "[u]nder federal law, a claim of malicious prosecution accrues when the underlying criminal proceedings are conclusively terminated." Murphy v. Lynn, 53 F.3d 547, 548 (2d Cir. ...


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