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Guadalupe Sanchez v. the Port Authority of New York and

March 29, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roslynn R. Mauskopf, United States District Judge.


Plaintiff Guadalupe Sanchez brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state law against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Port Authority"), Port Authority Officer Matthew Westfield and Port Authority Sergeant David Lim alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, municipal liability and excessive force. Presently before the Court are plaintiff's and defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is GRANTED, plaintiff's motion is DENIED and all of plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED.


This is a case of mistaken identity. On January 10, 2007, plaintiff arrived at JFK International Airport Terminal 4, returning from a trip to El Salvador. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 15.) When a United States Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") agent swiped plaintiff's passport during a routine border check, the CBP computer system indicated that plaintiff's Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") number was associated with an outstanding warrant on the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC") database. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 4.)

Plaintiff was then referred to CBP's secondary office, where CBP Officer Sheldon Corchado confirmed that there was an NCIC record for an outstanding warrant issued by New Jersey's Essex County Superior Court. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 11, 20, 22-23.) The NCIC record named "George Gonzalez," but listed plaintiff's FBI number (575-252-LA1). (Id. ¶¶ 11-12, 21; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 6.) The NCIC record also contained a variety of other identifying information regarding "George Gonzalez." It included: (1) Gonzalez's year of birth (1964); (2) his height (five feet six inches); (3) his weight (150 pounds); and (4) the last four digits of his social security number (-5634). (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 12; Declaration of Karla Denalli, dated Jan. 14, 2011 (Doc. No. 78) ("Denalli Dec.") at Ex. G.) The NCIC report listed "Guadalupe Sanchez" as an alias for "George Gonzalez," and social security numbers ending in -1253 and -6549 and birth year of 1963 as possible alternative identification associated with George Gonzalez. (Id.)

CBP Officer Corchado then proceeded to fingerprint plaintiff and transmitted his fingerprints and photograph to the FBI through the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System ("IAFIS"). (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 9; Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 23.) The FBI's IAFIS report confirmed that plaintiff's fingerprints matched the prints associated with the FBI number on the warrant (575-252-LA1), and provided other information regarding Guadalupe Sanchez, including: (1) height (five feet six inches); (2) weight (135 pounds); (3) date of birth (January 10, 1963); (4) an alternative date of birth (December 10, 1964); and (5) three different social security numbers (-6549, -5634, -1253). (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 7, 10; Denalli Dec. at Ex. F.) The IAFIS report further listed eleven aliases, including "Gustavo Gonzalez." (Denalli Dec. at Ex. F.) The IAFIS report also contained an accurate criminal history for plaintiff and linked plaintiff to the warrant for the arrest of "George Gonzalez." (Def. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 6-7, 24.) As discussed more fully infra, a number of the identifiers for Gonzalez were consistent with those of Sanchez.

CBP Officer Corchado then advised the Essex County Sheriff's Department ("Essex County") that CBP had a "Guadalupe Sanchez" in custody who matched the person sought by the warrant, and requested a copy of the warrant and an order of extradition. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 26; Declaration of Karla Denalli, dated Apr. 6, 2011 (Doc. No. 83) ("Denalli Dec. II") at Ex. A.) Essex County replied by fax with a brief remark stating that the subject was wanted by Essex County, that Essex County would extradite and asking CBP to "fax prints to [Essex County] to confirm ID." (Pl 56.1 St. ¶ 17; Denalli Dec. at Ex. P.) About that same time, Essex County transmitted a copy of the bench warrant, which had, among other information, name (George Gonzalez), date of birth (December 10, 1964), and FBI number (575-252-LA1). (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 11; Denalli Dec. at Ex. J.)

CBP Officer Corchado then faxed the NCIC record and plaintiff's IAFIS report to defendant Sergeant David Lim. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 27-28.) Sergeant Lim then also contacted Essex County via teletype requesting confirmation as to whether the warrant was active, whether it was for a felony charge punishable by one or more years in jail and Essex County's willingness to extradite. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Essex County replied to Sergeant Lim's request by confirming the validity of the warrant for a felony charge that is punishable for more than one year and that Essex County was willing to extradite the subject from Port Authority's jurisdiction. (Id. ¶ 30; Denalli Dec. at Ex. K.) The same teletype also asked Port Authority to "fax prints to [Essex County] to confirm ID." (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 51.) It is disputed whether anyone ever sent plaintiff's prints to Essex County. (Id.; Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 26.)

After receiving Essex County's response, Sergeant Lim assigned defendant Port Authority Officer Matthew Westfield to assist him in processing the arrest. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 31.) Sergeant Lim and Officer Westfield went to CBP's secondary office to take plaintiff into custody in order to process the extradition. (Id.) At that time, they possessed the NCIC record, the IAFIS report based on plaintiff's fingerprints, a copy of the bench warrant and a copy of plaintiff's passport. (Id. ¶ 32; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 44.) Officer Westfield spoke briefly to plaintiff prior to the arrest. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff testified that he told Officer Westfield that he was not the person named in the warrant and that he had been mistakenly arrested on the warrant in the past. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 36, 38.) Officer Westfield testified that he only recalled Sanchez claiming that he was innocent. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 34.)

Officer Westfield then transported plaintiff from the CBP secondary office to the Port Authority police station house by car. (Id. ¶ 33.) During the transport, plaintiff was handcuffed, with his hands behind his back, for approximately five to ten minutes. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that he requested to be handcuffed with his arms in the front of his body and that he told the officers that his shoulder "hurt," but his request was denied. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 72-73.) Plaintiff also testified that he cried out in pain when the handcuffs were applied. (Id.) His shoulder "hurt" because of a pre-existing injury, which plaintiff claims was aggravated by the handcuffing and required subsequent medical treatment. (Id. ¶¶ 71, 76-78.) Plaintiff was given pain medication for his shoulder while in custody, but apparently as a continuation of the medication he had been taking prior to his arrest. (Id. ¶ 75; Pl. Tr. (Doc. No. 78-3) at 54-55.)

At the police station plaintiff was searched, photographed, and fingerprinted. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 35.) Officer Westfield sent a teletype to Essex County, informing them that Port Authority would process plaintiff and transport him to Queens Central Booking for extradition. (Denalli Dec. II at Ex. A.) Plaintiff was in Port Authority's custody for approximately ten hours before he was transferred to Queens Central Booking, after which the record does not indicate any further interaction between Sergeant Lim or Officer Westfield and plaintiff. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 36; Westfield Tr. (Doc. No. 78-5) at 30-31.)

On January 11, 2007, plaintiff was arraigned in Queens County Criminal Court. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 61.) On January 16, 2007, plaintiff signed a waiver of extradition, and the Queens County District Attorney's office advised Essex County to take custody of plaintiff. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 37; Denalli Dec. at Ex. N.) On January 19, 2007, plaintiff appeared before Judge Alex Zigman of Queens County Criminal Court and was released to Essex County Detective John Tully. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 37.) On January 22, the Essex County Criminal Records Office issued a statement declaring that after an investigation, plaintiff was determined not to be the person wanted by the warrant. (Id. ¶ 38.)

Plaintiff's FBI number was initially assigned to him in connection with an arrest in 1990. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 10; Denalli Dec. at Ex. H.) For reasons not explained in the record, plaintiff's FBI number was added to the warrant for George Gonzalez when the warrant was first entered into the NCIC system in 1993. (Denalli Dec. at Ex. H.) In 1995, plaintiff was mistakenly arrested in Suffolk County pursuant to that warrant. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 38.) Also for reasons not explained in the record, the error on the warrant was not corrected at that time, resulting in the arrest at issue in this case.

On May 29, 2007, plaintiff initiated this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. (Doc. No. 11.) At plaintiff's request, the case was transferred to this Court on March 12, 2008. (Id.) On November 8, 2009, plaintiff filed a second amended complaint, alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution under federal and New York law, excessive force under federal law, a claim against the Port Authority under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) and respondeat superior liability against the Port Authority pursuant to state law. (Doc. No. 27.) Presently before the Court are plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on the false arrest claims, and defendants' motion for summary judgment on all claims.


Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits demonstrate that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine issue of material facts exists "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).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the evidence of the non-movant "is to be believed" and the court must draw all "justifiable" or reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 255 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)); Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 195 n.2 (2004). Nevertheless, once the moving party has shown that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, "the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quotation marks omitted, emphasis in original). The non-moving party "may not rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation." Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 1998). In other words, the non-movant must offer "concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Where "the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is warranted if the non-movant fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [its] case." Nebraska v. Wyoming, 507 U.S. 584, 590 (1993) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322) ...

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