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Luqman v. the City of New York

March 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glasser, United States District Judge:

Memorandum and Order

Plaintiff Luqman Abdul-Rahman ("plaintiff" or "Rahman") brought this action against Police Officer Christopher Goodwin, Captain James Fulton, Sergeant Ronald Smith, Detective Gary Gillespie, Police Officer Richard Baez, Detective Jeremy DeMarco, Police Officer Ariel Ortiz, Police Officer Alexander Melandez ("the individual defendants"), and the City of New York (collectively, "defendants"), pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 & 1985(3), and New York State law, alleging false arrest, excessive force, illegal search and seizure, retaliation, malicious prosecution, denial of fair trial, conspiracy, negligence, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Before the Court is defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the following reasons, defendants' motion should be GRANTED.


The following facts are undisputed and drawn from the complaint and documents of which the Court may take judicial notice. On the morning of May 20, 2008, members of the Brooklyn South Narcotics Division, including Police Officer Christopher Goodwin ("Officer Goodwin"), went to a United Parcel Service ("UPS") station in Brooklyn, New York with a canine unit to search for a package alleged to contain narcotics. Am. Compl.

¶ 17. The canine positively identified a cardboard box addressed to Jason Hilton, 1745 President Street, Apartment 6D, Brooklyn, New York ("Apartment 6D"). Officers seized the package and brought it to the 71st Precinct where it was examined and found to contain between ten and fifteen pounds of marihuana. Id. ¶ 18.

At 12:15 p.m. on May 20, 2008, Officer Goodwin appeared before the Supreme Court of the State of New York to obtain a search warrant for Apartment 6D. Am. Compl. ¶ 19; Declaration of John S. Schowengerdt dated August 12, 2011 ("Schowengerdt Decl."), Ex. G . A warrant was subsequently issued, authorizing the search of Apartment 6D and of any persons entering or exiting the premises during the warrant execution. Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. H.

At 12:32 p.m., Captain James Fulton ("Capt. Fulton"), dressed as a UPS worker, delivered the package containing marihuana to Apartment 6D on the sixth floor. An occupant of the apartment, Jeffrey Francois ("Francois"), opened the door, identified himself as the addressee, Jason Hilton, and accepted the package. Am. Compl. ¶ 21; Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. L at 250. Rahman was inside Apartment 6D at the time of the delivery. Id. at 249-50.

Approximately three minutes after Capt. Fulton made the delivery, a man named Castillo exited a nearby apartment and entered Apartment 6D. Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. L at 249. Shortly after Castillo entered the apartment, Rahman left the apartment carrying the box of marihuana, ran up to the seventh floor landing near the roof, dropped the box, and then returned to the sixth floor. Id. at 250, 262. Police did not see Rahman carrying the box up the stairs but a security camera, later obtained and viewed by police, recorded that event. Id. 261-262; Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. I (Criminal Complaint for docket #2008KN037814).

Police did, however, see Rahman return to the apartment and Mr. Castillo then exited the apartment. The two men were intercepted by Detective Gary Gillespie ("Det. Gillespie') coming up the staircase from the fifth floor. Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. L at 250-51, 261. With firearm drawn, Det. Gillespie arrested Rahman and ordered him to lie down on the ground. Am. Compl. ¶ 22; Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. L at 251, 261-63. Tight handcuffs were placed on Rahman, causing "numbness and marks to his wrists." Id. ¶¶ 30, 32. Det. Gillespie and other officers entered the apartment, where they encountered a number of occupants who they placed under arrest. Am. Compl. ¶ 26. They searched the entire apartment, seizing drug paraphernalia. Id. ¶ 28. The package of marihuana was later recovered where Rahman left it. Schowengerdt Decl. Ex I. At approximately 1:30 p.m., Officer Goodwin arrived at the apartment with the search warrant. Am. Compl. ¶ 29.

Rahman was brought to the 71st Precinct, where he was processed, and then taken to Brooklyn Central Booking where he was charged with criminal possession of marihuana in the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth degrees, and unlawful possession of marihuana. Id. ¶¶ 35-38; Schowengerdt Decl. Ex I. A grand jury indicted Rahman on July 19, 2008. Am. Compl. ¶ 39; Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. K (Grand Jury Indictment No. 5111/2008). Rahman was tried in the state court and acquitted on June 30, 2009. Am. Compl. ¶ 45; see People of the State of New York v. Rahman Lugman, No. 5111-2008 (N.Y. June 29, 2009).


I.Standard of Review

Before it can determine the appropriate standard of review to be applied to the defendants' motion, the Court must decide whether to treat it as one for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) or a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. If, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(d). As indicated by the word 'must,' "the conversion of a Rule [12(c)] motion into one for summary judgment under Rule 56 when the court considers matters outside the pleadings is 'strictly enforce[d]' and 'mandatory.'" Global Network Commc'ns, Inc. v. City of New York, 458 F.3d 150, 155 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Amaker v. Weiner, 179 F.3d 48, 50 (2d Cir. 1999); Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059, 1066 (2d Cir. 1985)).

Plaintiff, taking note of the fact that the documents attached in support of defendants' motion are not attached as exhibits to the Amended Complaint, argues they "have erroneously submitted a motion for summary judgment in the guise of a motion to dismiss on the pleadings." Pl.'s Mem. at 10. Plaintiff urges the Court to deny the motion as premature because he has not yet had an opportunity to complete discovery. Defendants assert that he is wrong.

In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court considers "the complaint, the answer, any written documents attached to them, and any matter of which the court can take judicial notice for the factual background of the case." Roberts v. Babkiewicz, 582 F.3d 418, 419 (2d Cir. 2009). "A complaint is deemed to include any written instrument attached to it as an exhibit, materials incorporated in it by reference, and documents that, although not incorporated by reference, are 'integral' to the complaint." Sira v. Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 67 (2d Cir. 2004) (citations omitted) (quoting Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002)). The court may also look to public records for limited purposes. Roth v. Jennings, 489 F.3d 499, 509 (2d Cir. 2007) ("If the court takes judicial notice, it does so in order to determine what statements they contained . . . not for the truth of the matters asserted.").

In this case, the Court need not convert the defendants' motion to one for summary judgment. All the facts recounted previously or set forth below that are not alleged in the Amended Complaint are undisputed and drawn from materials of which both parties had notice. See Chambers, 282 F.3d at 153 ("[G]enerally, the harm to the plaintiff when a court considers material extraneous to a complaint is the lack of notice that the material may be considered."). Defendants have submitted a number of public records from plaintiff's criminal file as exhibits. See Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. G, H, I, J, & K. The search warrant, criminal complaint, and indictment are clearly appropriate for consideration in deciding a Rule 12(c) motion because plaintiff had possession of these documents, incorporated them by reference in the Complaint, and their authenticity is not in question. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19, 29 (Warrant); ¶ 38 (Criminal Complaint); ¶ 39 (Indictment).

Defendants also submitted transcripts from plaintiff's trial, consisting of the sworn testimony of Capt. Fulton and plaintiff, who testified in his own defense. See Schowengerdt Decl. Ex. F & L. Among other things, plaintiff's testimony provided an account of his actions between the time that the police delivered marihuana to the apartment and the time police arrested him. For the reasons discussed below, this testimony leads inescapably to the conclusion that police had probable cause to arrest, search, and cause plaintiff to be indicted. This testimony is directly relevant to the Complaint's allegations and plaintiff was plainly aware of his prior testimony when drafting the Amended Complaint. Notably, plaintiff has not disavowed his prior testimony nor has he offered a contradictory set of facts. Plaintiff argues that this testimony may not be considered without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. He is wrong. His testimony is admissible as party admissions made in public records whose authenticity is not in dispute. See, e.g., Munno v. Town of Orangetown, 391 F. Supp. 2d 263, 269 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (taking judicial notice, without converting motion to one for summary judgment, of plaintiff's affidavits and pleadings in a related state court action where the documents contradicted the factual allegations contained in the complaint); Harris v. New York State Dep't of Health, 202 F. Supp. 2d 143, 173 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("[T]he Court may take judicial notice of admissions in pleadings and other documents in the public record filed by a party in other judicial proceedings that contradict the party's factual assertions in a subsequent action."); 5-Star Mgmt., Inc. v. Rogers, 940 F. Supp. 512, 518 (E.D.N.Y. 1996) (taking judicial notice, without converting motion to one for summary judgment, of plaintiff's admission during testimony in another proceeding). The plain purpose of the exception is to "prevent[ ] plaintiffs from generating complaints invulnerable to Rule 12(b)(6) simply by clever drafting." Global Network Comm'ns, Inc. v. City of New York, 458 F.3d 150, 157 (2d Cir. 2006); see also Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding, L.P., 949 F. 2d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 1991).

In 5-Star Management, the court observed that judicial notice generally does not extend to the truth of the matter asserted in public records. 940 F. Supp. at 519. However, the court found exceptional circumstances permitted it to consider the plaintiff's prior testimony in state court for its truth because the plaintiff made a critical admission that bore substantially upon the legal sufficiency of the complaint and the plaintiff, despite an opportunity to respond, had not contested the defendants' factual characterization of those admissions. That observation is plainly applicable here and the Court may consider plaintiff's testimony in the prior state court proceedings in deciding this motion. However, the testimony of Capt. Fulton does not fall within that narrow exception and, along ...

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