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Holly A. Manville v. Town of Greece

September 24, 2012

HOLLY A. MANVILLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWN OF GREECE, SERGEANT THOMAS SCHAMERHORN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

This action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arises out of an incident that occurred in June 2007, in which plaintiff Holly A. Manville was arrested following a traffic stop by defendant Thomas Schamerhorn, a sergeant in the Greece (New York) Police Department ("GPD"). In the present posture of this case, plaintiff asserts a total of five claims against two defendants, Schamerhorn and the Town of Greece ("Town").*fn1 Defendants have separately moved for summary judgment on four of those five claims.

BACKGROUND

At around 12:30 in the morning of June 21, 2007, plaintiff was driving on Latta Road in Greece when she was pulled over by Schamerhorn, who was on road patrol duty at the time. To understand what happened next requires some background, as this was not the first time that plaintiff and Schamerhorn had crossed paths.

Plaintiff alleges--and for purposes of the present motions, defendants do not dispute--that during 2004, Schamerhorn pulled her over on three separate occasions. The first time, in the summer of 2004, he gave plaintiff a ticket for failing to stop at a red light. The second time, also during the summer, Schamerhorn informed plaintiff that either her inspection or registration was overdue, but he let her go with a warning. Manville Depo. Transcript ("Tr.") (Dkt. #34-4) at 29-30.

During the third of those stops, on October 24, 2004, Schamerhorn allegedly ordered plaintiff out of her vehicle, kicked her feet out from under her, forcefully cuffed her hands behind her back, and then pulled her up off the ground by the handcuffs. Manville Aff. (Dkt. #39-2) ¶¶ 7-10. Plaintiff testified at her deposition that Schamerhorn issued her tickets for "speeding and driving under the influence," Tr. at 47, that she was taken to the police station, Tr. at 49, and that she eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while impaired. Tr. at 141-42.

Plaintiff also testified that the day after this incident, she told her father what had happened, and that he called the GPD to complain about Schamerhorn's actions. Plaintiff testified that her father told her that the person he spoke with said that plaintiff could come into the station and fill out a written complaint, and that she did so, about two days after the incident. Tr. at 58-59. She also testified, however, that she never heard anything more about that complaint, and that she did not retain a copy of it for herself. Tr. at 79-80.

Oddly, neither in the complaint in this action nor in her affidavit in opposition to defendants' motions does plaintiff make any mention of her having filed a written complaint about this incident; she states only that her father "complained to Sgt. Schamerhorn's supervisor for over two hours" about Schamerhorn's alleged use of excessive force. See Dkt. #23 ¶ 29, Dkt. #39-2 ¶ 12.

Plaintiff further testified that in the spring of 2007, she was again pulled over by Schamerhorn. Although plaintiff's vehicle inspection was overdue, Schamerhorn did not issue her a ticket, but again let her go with a warning, and she had her vehicle inspected shortly afterwards. Tr. at 68-70. Plaintiff also omits any mention of this traffic stop in her complaint or affidavit, however, stating that "[f]or several months between October 2004 and June of 2007, Sgt. Schamerhorn did not approach me." Dkt. #39-2 ¶ 14; Dkt. #23 ¶ 31.

Plaintiff's next encounter with Schamerhorn is what led to this lawsuit. Plaintiff testified that on the evening of June 20, 2007, she went out for dinner and drinks with some girlfriends. After midnight, plaintiff was driving her car, intending to drop off one of her friends at the friend's house in Greece, when Schamerhorn pulled her over. Plaintiff admitted at her deposition that she was speeding at that time, Tr. at 75, and that she had failed to stay in her lane, apparently because she had either missed a turn or nearly took the wrong turn. Tr. at 73, 76.

For purposes of the present motions, the ensuing events need not be recited in great detail, but in short, Schamerhorn walked up to plaintiff's car window, asked her some questions, and directed her to get out of the car, which she initially refused to do. After several other officers arrived on the scene, plaintiff did step out of the car, and was given a field sobriety test. She was then arrested for driving while intoxicated. Plaintiff alleges that during the course of the arrest, Schamerhorn was "slammed against the police vehicle and placed in handcuffs," and that Schamerhorn placed his hands on her breasts and inner thighs, and pressed his body into her backside. Dkt. #23 ¶ 44. Plaintiff was taken into custody, and was eventually convicted at trial of speeding and of driving while intoxicated. Tr. at 112-13.*fn2

Based on the events of June 21, 2007, plaintiff has asserted the following claims: (1) a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim against Schamerhorn; (2) a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against the Town and Schamerhorn; (3) a claim against the Town based on its alleged failure to properly train and supervise Schamerhorn, and to investigate prior complaints against him; (4) a claim against the Town based on its "ratification" of Schamerhorn's conduct; and (5) a claim against the Town for "condoning" Schamerhorn's conduct. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.*fn3

The Town has moved for summary judgment dismissing the four claims asserted against the Town. Schamerhorn has joined in that motion as it relates to the equal protection claim. Schamerhorn has not moved as to the excessive-force claim.

DISCUSSION

I. Failure to Train and Similar Claims Against the Town

"There is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983." Jemmott v. Coughlin, 85 F.3d 61, 67 (2d Cir. 1996). Rather, to succeed on a claim against a municipality, the plaintiff must show that "the alleged unlawful action [was] implemented or was executed pursuant to a governmental policy or custom." Reynolds v. Giuliani, 506 F.3d 183, 190 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). In Monell, the Supreme Court established that local governments are "persons" within the meaning of § 1983, and thus may be sued under that statute, but only when the injury in question was caused by the execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy. 436 U.S. at 694.

Cases decided after Monell "have considerably broadened the concept of official municipal action," however. Amnesty America v. Town of West Hartford, 361 F.3d 113, 125 (2d Cir. 2004) (Sotomayor, C.J.). Not only does the term "official policy" encompass more than just "formal rules or understandings," id. (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1986)), but the policy need not itself be unconstitutional. "Where a city's official policy is constitutional, but the city causes its employees to apply it unconstitutionally, such that the unconstitutional application might itself be considered municipal policy, the city may be held liable for its employees' unconstitutional acts." Amnesty America, 361 F.3d at 125. The Court of Appeals in Amnesty America went on to explain that "[s]uch circumstances may be found, for example, where the city is aware that its policy may be unconstitutionally applied by inadequately trained employees but the city consciously chooses not to train them, or where the city's official policy on the reasonable use of force in arrests is valid, but the city's actual practice is to use excessive force." 361 F.3d at 125-26 (citations omitted).

A municipality may also be held liable for a constitutional deprivation caused by a lower-level employee's single tortious act if the plaintiff can show that the municipality "ordered or ratified" that act. Id. at 126. Ratification of a subordinate's acts can be demonstrated by showing that municipal policymakers explicitly approved of the act, or by showing that a "policymaker was aware of a subordinate's unconstitutional actions, and consciously chose to ignore them ... ." Id. "Thus, where a policymaking official exhibits deliberate indifference to constitutional deprivations caused by subordinates, such that the official's inaction constitutes a 'deliberate choice,' that acquiescence may 'be properly thought of as a city "policy or custom" that is actionable under § 1983.'" Id. (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)).

Deliberate indifference to a constitutional violation may be demonstrated through "proof of a policymaker's failure to respond to repeated complaints of civil rights violations ... ." Id. at 128 (citing Vann v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1040, 1049 (2d Cir. 1995)). See, e.g., Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966 (3d Cir. 1996) (reversing judgment as a matter of law in favor of city, where evidence showed that four excessive-force complaints had been filed against officer during the three years prior to plaintiff's arrest, evidencing a pattern of abusive behavior by the officer, and internal investigations of those complaints resulted in no discipline against the officer, despite findings that the allegations of at least one of the complainants were "believable"); Jackson v. City of Pittsburgh, 688 F.Supp.2d 379, 398-99 (W.D.Pa. 2010) (plaintiff presented jury question as to whether city was deliberately indifferent to the need to train its police officers and that this failure was the actual cause of plaintiff's injuries, where evidence showed that city was aware of five prior complaints against officer for use of excessive force, but did nothing to attempt to rectify his conduct). To defeat summary judgment, however, plaintiffs' evidence must establish "that a policymaking official had notice of a potentially serious problem of unconstitutional conduct, such that the need for corrective action or supervision was 'obvious,' Vann, 72 F.3d at 1049, and [that] the policymaker's failure to investigate or rectify the situation evidences deliberate indifference, rather than mere negligence or bureaucratic inaction." Amnesty America, 361 F.3d at 128.

A municipality can also be liable for failing to train its employees "where it acts with deliberate indifference in disregarding the risk that its employees will unconstitutionally apply its policies without more training." Id. at 129. To hold a municipality liable under this theory, a plaintiff must not only establish "that the officials' purported failure to train occurred under circumstances that could constitute deliberate indifference," but also "identify a specific deficiency in the [municipality]'s training program and establish that that deficiency is 'closely related to the ultimate injury,' such that it 'actually caused' the constitutional deprivation." Id. (quoting City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 391). In other words, the plaintiff "must establish that 'the officer's shortcomings ... resulted from ... a faulty training program' rather than from the negligent administration of a sound program or other unrelated circumstances." Id. at 129-30 (quoting City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390-91). See also Reynolds, 506 F.3d at 192 ("a city's failure to train its subordinates satisfies the policy or ...


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