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Deborah Trapp-Miley v. the City of New York

March 29, 2012

DEBORAH TRAPP-MILEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

ORDER ADOPTING IN PART AND MODIFYING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

On September 11, 2009, plaintiff Deborah Trapp-Miley ("plaintiff") commenced the instant action against the City of New York, Sergeant John Passamenti, and Police Officer Louis Morselli (collectively, "defendants"), alleging violations of her civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, as well as pendent state law claims, all of which arose in connection with her September 20, 2006 arrest for disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration. (See generally ECF No. 1, Complaint ("Compl.").) On June 21, 2011, defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (See generally ECF No. 43, Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mem.").)

The Honorable Roanne Mann issued a Report and Recommendation dated January 17, 2012 ("R&R"), recommending that this court (1) deny summary judgment as to plaintiff's Section 1983 claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution against the individual officers; (2) deny summary judgment as to defendants' qualified immunity defense; (3) grant summary judgment as to plaintiff's Section 1983 claim for excessive force, Section 1981 and 1985 claims, Monell claim, and all state law claims except plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim; and

(4) grant plaintiff leave to amend her state law malicious prosecution claim for the limited purpose of curing a pleading defect. (ECF No. 57, Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), at 34-35.)

Defendants timely objected to specific portions of the R&R, arguing that the R&R (1) "improperly concluded that plaintiff's undisputed conduct did not create probable cause to believe she had obstructed governmental administration"; and

(2) "erred [in] holding that defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity despite the fact that the elements of obstruction of governmental administration are not clearly established in either the statute or recent law." (ECF No. 58, Defendants' Objections to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Obj.") at 1.) Plaintiff did not oppose or otherwise respond to defendants' objections.

Having undertaken a de novo review of the record in light of defendants' objections pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), the court adopts in part and modifies in part the R&R for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

The court assumes familiarity with the detailed facts and procedural history of this case, as accurately and thoroughly set forth in Judge Mann's R&R. (See R&R at 2--8.) The relevant facts are repeated here only to the extent necessary for the court's analysis.*fn1

On September 20, 2006, plaintiff's minor son, Merchant Trapp, was arrested and brought to the 83rd Precinct police station, purportedly for assaulting another minor, Shakeem Wright, during a fight involving two other individuals. (ECF No. 45, Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement ("Defs.' 56.1") ¶¶ 1-2*fn2 ; ECF No. 47, Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement ("Pl.'s 56.1") ¶¶ 1-2.) Upon plaintiff's arrival at the 83rd Precinct station to find out what had happened to her son, plaintiff approached an information counter, which was in a restricted area that was separated from the public waiting area by a large Plexiglass wall that had an opening that enabled visitors to speak with the officer at the information counter. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 3; ECF No. 44-3, Excerpts of Plaintiff's Deposition ("Pl. Dep.") at 24, 26, 28-29.)

Seated in a non-public space behind the Plexiglass wall and next to the information window was Mr. Wright, the purported victim in the fight with Merchant Trapp, plaintiff's son. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 2a, 3b.) Although it is not clear who initiated the conversation, the parties agree that plaintiff and Mr. Wright eventually began to converse, and that plaintiff leaned over the counter and "peeked" her head through the open Plexiglass sliding window as she spoke with Mr. Wright, who informed plaintiff that he had been in a fight with her son. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 4-6; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 4-6.) Police Officer Joseph Riso, who was also behind the Plexiglass wall, observed plaintiff's conversation with Mr. Wright and approached Mr. Wright to hear what plaintiff was saying to him. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 10; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 10; ECF No. 46-2, Deposition of Joseph Riso ("Riso Dep.") at 30.) When Officer Riso was within earshot, he heard plaintiff tell Mr. Wright, in sum and substance, "If you press charges against my son, I'm going to press charges against you." (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 7, 11; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 7a, 10-11.) Plaintiff admits making this statement. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 7a.)

According to plaintiff, when Officer Riso approached Mr. Wright and asked if Mr. Wright was ready to make and sign a statement against Merchant Trapp, Mr. Wright informed Officer Riso that he did not wish to and never agreed to sign a complaint. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 11a; Pl. Dep. at 39; ECF No. 46-6, Wright Interrogation ("Wright Int.") at NYC 195.) When plaintiff saw Officer Riso take out his handcuffs and threaten to "lock [Mr. Wright] up" if Mr. Wright continued to refuse to press charges, she told Officer Riso, "You can't do that. You can't coerce a witness." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 11b-11c; Pl. Dep. at 39-40; Wright Int. at NYC 195.) In response, plaintiff claims, Officer Riso asked the front desk officer for plaintiff's identity, "slammed the [Plexiglass] window closed," and then Officer Riso walked away to speak with defendant Sergeant Passamenti. (Pl.'s

56.1 ¶ 12; ECF No. 46-5, Transcript of Plaintiff's Administrative Trial Testimony ("Pl. Tr.") at NYC 137.)

According to Sergeant Passamenti, Officer Riso told him that plaintiff had been tampering with the victim, Mr. Wright. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 12, 13; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 13-13b; ECF No. 44-5, Transcript of Passamenti's Administrative Trial Testimony ("Passamenti Tr.") at NYC 112.) Officer Riso testified at his deposition, however, that when he spoke to Sergeant Passamenti about what he observed and heard of plaintiff's encounter with Mr. Wright, Officer Riso did not use the words "threat" or "tamper with." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 13-13b; Riso Dep. at 35.) Officer Riso testified that he told Sergeant Passamenti "exactly" what plaintiff had said to Mr. Wright about pressing charges. (Riso Dep. at 35.)

Soon after, Sergeant Passamenti requested that plaintiff speak with him further within the precinct, whereupon plaintiff explained to Sergeant Passamenti that she had spoken to Mr. Wright and that Mr. Wright did not want to press charges. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 14; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 14.) Sergeant Passamenti then arrested plaintiff and charged her with disorderly conduct pursuant to New York Penal Law § 240.20(3)*fn3 and obstruction of governmental administration pursuant to New York Penal Law § 195.05.*fn4 (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 15; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 15.)

DISCUSSION

I.Legal Standards

A.Review of a Report and Recommendation

To the extent that a party makes specific and timely objections to a magistrate judge's findings or recommendations, the court must apply a de novo standard of review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997). Upon such review, the court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge," "receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The court reviews an R&R only for clear error, however, when a party makes "conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates his original arguments." Walker v. Vaughan, 216 F. Supp. 2d 290, 292 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see Ortiz v. Barkley, 558 F. Supp. 2d 444, 451 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) ("Reviewing courts should review a report and recommendation for clear error where objections are merely perfunctory responses, argued in an attempt to engage the district court in a rehashing of the same arguments set forth in the original [submissions].") (internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, where no objection to a Report and Recommendation has been filed, the court "need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record." Urena v. New York, 160 F. Supp. 2d 606, 609-10 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (quoting Nelson v. Smith, 618 F. Supp. 1186, 1189 (S.D.N.Y. 1985)).

B.Summary Judgment

One of the principal purposes of summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323--34 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate where 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(a).

"A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 202 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Thus, the court must determine whether "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." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court "must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all ...


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