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Mark Minasi v. the City of Utica

December 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norman A. Mordue, U.S. District Judge:



Plaintiff and part-time taxicab driver Mark Minasi was arrested on August 16, 2009, by defendant George DeAngelo of the City of Utica Police Department and convicted of two traffic violations. Based on the facts surrounding the arrest and convictions, defendant Michael Hauck declined to renew Minasi's taxicab license on February 3, 2010. Plaintiff sues DeAngelo, Hauck, and the City of Utica under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and for conspiracy. Plaintiff also invokes this Court's supplementary jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) over New York tort claims against DeAngelo and the City of Utica for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Specifically, plaintiff asserts that DeAngelo made the arrest without probable cause, in retaliation for plaintiff's exercise of a constitutional right or with the malicious or bad faith intent to injure plaintiff, and that DeAngelo used excessive force in conducting the arrest. Plaintiff further asserts that DeAngelo, Hauck, and the City of Utica violated and conspired to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights by declining to renew and thereafter suspending plaintiff's taxicab license in retaliation for plaintiff having served a Notice of Claim regarding injuries sustained during the arrest. Plaintiff lastly asserts that the City of Utica is responsible for DeAngelo and Hauck's individual violations by virtue of respondeat superior.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). Plaintiff has responded in accordance with Local Rule 7.1(a)(3).


A. The Arrest

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on August 16, 2009, plaintiff Minasi, a part-time taxicab driver with Utica City Cab, was dispatched to Varick Street in the City of Utica, New York to pick up a fare. Plaintiff double-parked his cab across the street from the Sickenburger Bar on Varick Street. A woman approached plaintiff, identified herself as the fare, and asked plaintiff to wait while she went back to the Sickenburger Bar to summon her friends. Before she returned to the cab, defendant DeAngelo pulled up behind plaintiff in a police vehicle and engaged his emergency lights.

The parties dispute the facts leading up to the arrest. Plaintiff alleges that he exited the cab and walked back to DeAngelo's car to explain that he had made contact with his fare, and that he was waiting for her to return from the Sickenburger Bar with her friends. DeAngelo replied that he did not care and demanded that plaintiff move the cab. Plaintiff responded by asking DeAngelo "why the cops were allowed to block traffic but taxicabs are not."

Plaintiff contends that his question was the primary motivation for his arrest and the subsequent non-renewal and suspension of his taxicab license. According to plaintiff, DeAngelo became enraged at the question, shouting "Now you're getting fucking tickets!" He then threw the police vehicle into park, exited, and demanded that plaintiff produce his registration. When plaintiff handed over the registration, DeAngelo used more profanity and again demanded that plaintiff produce his registration. The commotion attracted a significant crowd of onlookers from

the nearby bars.

After other officers responded to the scene, DeAngelo declared that he was placing plaintiff under arrest. Plaintiff turned and placed his hands behind his back. According to plaintiff, DeAngelo then grabbed plaintiff's arm and forced plaintiff up onto the hood of a police vehicle so that his feet were no longer touching the ground, causing injury to plaintiff's head and chest. Without warning, DeAngelo then tugged and twisted plaintiff's arm into a "wrestling move" while applying handcuffs, causing injury to plaintiff's arm and wrist. Plaintiff asserts that DeAngelo pulled plaintiff off the hood by the handcuff chain, causing further injury to plaintiff's wrist. Plaintiff also observed DeAngelo make a menacing face as he over-tightened the handcuffs, causing even more injury to plaintiff's wrist. Plaintiff maintains that he was passive and compliant throughout the arrest.

Defendants, on the other hand, contend that plaintiff was belligerent as soon as he exited his cab. DeAngelo asked plaintiff to pull forward into a nearby open parking space, but plaintiff refused. DeAngelo asked plaintiff for his registration, to which plaintiff responded by "flailing his arms and dancing around the street." Plaintiff screamed profanities until DeAngelo declared that he was under arrest for disorderly conduct. Defendants contend that plaintiff "struggled" and put up "some resistance" while DeAngelo attempted to conduct the arrest.

Plaintiff was charged with disorderly conduct and two traffic violations, double parking and failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer. Plaintiff went to trial in Utica City Court on September 29, 2009 on all three charges. Plaintiff was found guilty of both traffic violations and fined $280. Plaintiff was found not guilty of disorderly conduct.

B. Non-Renewal and Suspension of Plaintiff's Taxicab License

At the police station after the arrest, DeAngelo allegedly stated that he was "going to do what he could" to have plaintiff's taxicab license revoked. DeAngelo made a copy of the taxicab license and stated that he would forward it to Captain Pawlinga of the Utica City Police Department, the individual in charge of taxicab services at that time.

On November 4, 2009, plaintiff filed a Notice of Claim regarding his claims related to the arrest with the Utica City Clerk, and submitted a copy to the City of Utica Office of the Corporation Counsel.

On December 31, 2009, plaintiff submitted his completed application for a 2010 taxicab license to the City of Utica Police Department as it was set to expire that day. Under Utica City Code sections 2-27-61 and 2-27-62, taxicab licenses are valid for one year periods beginning on January 1 and ending on December 31. Consequently, all licensed taxicab drivers must submit an application for a new license once per year. As instructed by the form, plaintiff disclosed his September 2009 arrest, and his conviction for failure to obey a lawful order. Plaintiff did not disclose his conviction for double-parking, but did disclose an additional prior conviction for speeding.

On February 3, 2010, defendant Michael Hauck denied plaintiff's application for a 2010 taxicab license. Hauck cited plaintiff's September 2009 convictions for double-parking and failure to obey a lawful order while "on duty and operating a City Cab vehicle" as the reason for the denial. Hauck indicated that plaintiff could reapply for a new taxicab license in July 2010, and that he could request a hearing on the denial within 30 days. Despite this determination, however, the word "APPROVED" is clearly stamped in blue atop plaintiff's application and crossed out with what appears to be a black marker. The strikethrough is initialed and dated January 6, but neither party identifies whom the initials belong to. Plaintiff also claims that the non-renewal of his license was irregular in that: (1) his application for renewal had been granted every year since he first became licensed in 2006; (2) of all the renewal applications sent to the Utica City Police Department, only three (including plaintiff's) were denied; and (3) of the forty-two renewal applications from drivers employed with the Utica City Cab, plaintiff's was the only one denied.

Plaintiff requested a hearing on the denial of his license renewal application. The appeal hearing was initially slated for February 9, 2010, but was cancelled and rescheduled twice. Plaintiff filed an amended notice of claim including facts relating to the non-renewal on February 15, 2010. Plaintiff eventually attended an appeal hearing represented by counsel on February 17, 2010. Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Robert Palmieri issued a decision on the appeal on February 24, 2010, determining that plaintiff's license should be suspended for one week. Palmieri cited Hauck's findings of fact regarding plaintiff's September 2009 convictions along with the fact that plaintiff exited his vehicle and stood in the middle of the street "even though he knew he should have remained in his cab" as the bases for his determination. Accordingly, plaintiff received his 2010 license following his one week suspension on March 3, 2010.

Because taxicab drivers in the City of Utica are permitted to operate while the status of their renewal applications are pending, plaintiff was without a valid taxicab license from February 3, 2010, until March 3, 2010. Plaintiff claims that this ...

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