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Amy Negron v. Ulster County; Paul J. Van Blarcum

August 20, 2012

AMY NEGRON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ULSTER COUNTY; PAUL J. VAN BLARCUM, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF ULSTER AND INDIVIDUALLY; RICHARD J. BOCKELMANN, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF ULSTER AND INDIVIDUALLY; AND PAUL WESOLOWSKI, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A MEMBER OF THE ULSTER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, AND INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

The Court presided over an eight-day jury trial of this matter. At the end of the trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff damages against Defendant Ulster County in the amount of $40,000 on her Title VII hostile work environment claim, $40,000 on her Title VII disparate treatment claim, and $10,000 on her Title VII retaliation claim. In addition, the jury awarded Plaintiff damages in the amount of $30,000 against Defendant Van Blarcum, $30,000 against Defendant Bockelmann, $15,000 against Defendant Wesolowski, and $300,000 against Defendant Ulster County on her equal protection hostile work environment and disparate treatment claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Finally, the jury awarded Defendant Wesolowski $35,000 in compensatory damages and found that he was also entitled to punitive damages, in an amount yet to be determined, on his Fourteenth Amendment malicious prosecution cross-claim against Defendant Bockelmann.

Currently before the Court is Defendants Ulster County, Van Blarcum, and Bockelmann's (the "County Defendants") motion for judgment as a matter or law or, in the alternative, for a new trial on all the claims on which the jury found them liable. See Dkt. No. 171. Plaintiff and Defendant Wesolowski oppose the County Defendants' motion. See Dkt. Nos. 191, 186.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Judgment as a matter of law

In determining whether to grant judgment as a matter of law, "the court should 'review all of the evidence in the record. In doing so . . . the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. . . .'" E-21 Global, Inc. v. Second Renaissance, LLC, 360 F. App'x 172, 174-75 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted). "'[T]he court should give credence to the evidence favoring the non-movant as well as that evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that the evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'" Id. at 175 (quotation omitted). A court should not grant judgment as a matter of law unless "'the evidence points so strongly in favor of one party that a reasonable jury could reach but one conclusion, in favor of that party . . . It should be noted, however, that [a] mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to present a question for the jury.'" Id. (quotation omitted).

1. Defendant Wesolowski's malicious prosecution cross-claim

A malicious prosecution claim under 1983 "requires demonstration of the elements of such a claim under New York law: '(1) that the defendant initiated a prosecution against the plaintiff, (2) that the defendant lacked probable cause to believe the proceeding could succeed, (3) that the defendant acted with malice, and (4) that the prosecution was terminated in the plaintiff's favor.'" Jean v. Montina, 412 F. App'x 352, 354 (2d Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted).*fn1

"To initiate prosecution, a defendant must do more than report the crime or give testimony. He must 'play[] an active role in the prosecution, such as giving advice and encouragement or importuning the authorities to act.'" Manganiello v. City of New York, 612 F.3d 149, 163 (2d Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted). "'[T]he existence of probable cause is a complete defense to a claim of malicious prosecution in New York. . . .'" Jean, 412 F. App'x at 354 (quotation omitted).

Having thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence, the Court concludes that a reasonable jury could not have concluded that Defendant Bockelmann played an active role in the prosecution of the claim against Defendant Wesolowski. In fact, there is no evidence that he either initiated the prosecution against Defendant Wesolowski or played any role in that prosecution. See, e.g., Trial Transcript ("Tr.") at 961 (Testimony of Ronald Dreiser).

Alternatively, even if the Court were to conclude that Defendant Bockelmann in some manner participated in that prosecution, there is overwhelming evidence that, at the time the prosecution was initiated, there was probable cause to believe that Defendant Wesolowski had sexually assaulted Plaintiff.*fn2 See generally Tr. 930-988 (Testimony of Ronald Dreiser).

For all these reasons, the Court grants the County Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law with respect to Defendant Wesolowski's malicious prosecution cross-claim against Defendant Bockelmann.*fn3

2. Plaintiff's Title VII claims

a. Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim

To establish a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must show "[1] that the harassment was 'sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive work environment,' and [2] that a specific basis exists for imputing the objectionable conduct to the employer." Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 373 (2d Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted). "This test has objective and subjective elements: the misconduct shown must be 'severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment,' and the victim must also subjectively perceive the environment to be abusive." Id. at 374 (quotation omitted). Generally, "incidents must be more than 'episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive.'" Id. (quotation omitted). "Isolated acts, unless very serious, do not meet the threshold of severity and pervasiveness." Id. (citations omitted); see also Richardson v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426, 437 (2d Cir. 1999) (observing that a single sexual assault may be sufficient to alter the terms and conditions of a victim's employment). In sum, "[t]o decide whether the threshold has been reached, courts examine the case-specific circumstances in their totality and evaluate the severity, frequency, and degree of the abuse." ...


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