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Lekia Coleman v. Officer Shawn Hauck; Officer Scott Carns; David Carleo; Officer Brian

September 26, 2012

LEKIA COLEMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER SHAWN HAUCK; OFFICER SCOTT CARNS; DAVID CARLEO; OFFICER BRIAN NOVITSKY; OFFICER MATTHEW ERWIN; OFFICER CHRISTOPHER LAMONTAGNE; AND LIEUTENANT JOHN IVES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this civil rights action filed by Lekia Coleman ("Plaintiff") against the seven above-captioned employees of the Syracuse Police Department ("Defendants"), is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 52.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, on December 13, 2008, in the City of Syracuse, Defendants violated his civil rights by unlawfully searching his vehicle and his person, falsely arresting him, and using excessive force against him. (See generally Dkt. No. 25 [Plf.'s Am. Compl.].) Based on these allegations, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts the following seven claims: (1) a claim of excessive force against Defendants; (2) a claim of false arrest and false imprisonment against Defendants; (3) a claim of unreasonable search and seizure against Defendants; (4) a claim of violation of his equal protection rights against Defendants; (5) a claim of inadequate conditions of confinement against Defendants; (6) a due process claim against Defendants; and (7) a claim of municipal liability against the City of Syracuse arising out of the conduct of Defendants. (Dkt. No. 25, at ¶¶ 27-57.)*fn1 Familiarity with these claims, and the factual allegations supporting them, in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. (Id.)

On January 4, 2011, the Court issued a Decision and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 40.) Surviving the Decision and Order were Plaintiff's following claims: (1) Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim against Defendants; (2) Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment false arrest claim against Defendants;*fn2 (3) Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure claim against Defendants; and (4) Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages against Defendants in their individual capacities. (Id.)

The Court would add only the following comment about Plaintiff's claims against various John Doe Defendants. Plaintiff filed his original Complaint in this action on December 14, 2009. (Dkt. No. 1.) The original Complaint asserted claims against, inter alia, "Police Officers John Doe #1-8." (Id.) On June 9, 2010, Plaintiff moved for leave to file an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 19.) On August 31, 2010, Plaintiff was granted leave to file an Amended Complaint, which was accepted for filing. (Text Minute Entry for 8/31/2010; see also Dkt. No. 25.) The Amended Complaint did not assert any claims against "Police Officers John Doe #1-8"; rather, the Amended Complaint appears to name six of those John Doe Defendants, and abandon Plaintiff's claims against the remaining two John Doe Defendants. (Id.) However, the docket sheet still identifies "Police Officers John Doe #1-8" as Defendants separate and apart from the other named Defendants. (See generally Docket Sheet.) Because an amended complaint supersedes an original complaint in its entirety for all purposes (see N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1[a][4]), the Clerk of the Court is directed to amend the docket sheet to reflect the claims against "Police Officers John Doe #1-8" as having been terminated on August 31, 2010.

B. Undisputed Material Facts

Generally, the following facts are asserted and established by Defendants and either expressly admitted or not sufficiently denied by Plaintiff under Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). (Compare Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 18 [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 27, Attach. 6 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)*fn3 In addition, while not specifically asserted by Defendants in their Rule 7.1 Statement, certain of the following facts (addressed below in notes 9, 11 and 13 of this Decision and Order) are conclusively established based on the current record.

In December 2008, Syracuse Police Officers Shawn Hauck and Scott Carrns were assigned to the Crime Reduction Team ("CRT"). In December 2008, Lieutenant John Ives was the supervisor of the CRT. Also in December 2008, Officer Christopher LaMontagne worked in the transport division for the Syracuse Police Department. The CRT dealt with quality of life issues and responded to major incidents.

On December 13, 2008, the CRT was patrolling the East side area of Syracuse, New York. This area is known to be a high crime area. Earlier in the day, Officers Hauck and Carns made an arrest involving a purchase of heroin at 100 Lombard Avenue.*fn4 At approximately 9:00 or 9:30 p.m., Plaintiff was parked outside 100 Lombard Avenue in a Ford Expedition. Andre Washington was a passenger in the vehicle. Officers Hauck and Carns observed the parked vehicle with occupants in their patrol of the area. The officers circled the block and when they returned to the area the vehicle was still parked. The officers parked behind the vehicle and approached it. Officer Carns approached the driver's side and Officer Hauck approached the passenger side. While speaking with Plaintiff, Defendant Carns saw, laying on the drivers side floorboard of the vehicle directly under Plaintiff's legs,what appeared to him to be a torn piece of "clear plastic baggy" covered in white residue and partially knotted in a fashion that is characteristic of street-level drug packaging.*fn5 After speaking with the occupants of the vehicle, the officers each asked them to exit the vehicle.*fn6 Mr. Washington complied with Officer Hauck's request to exit the vehicle. However, after being asked to exit the vehicle, Plaintiff did not immediately exit the vehicle.*fn7

After he was eventually out of the vehicle,*fn8 Plaintiff took off running. Officer Carns alerted Officer Hauck that the Plaintiff was running away. Plaintiff ran east on Lombard Avenue towards Westcott Street and then to Erie Boulevard East. While Plaintiff was running on Erie Boulevard, Defendant Hauck saw Plaintiff reach toward his waistband and drop to the ground what appeared to him to be a small rock-like object.*fn9 When Plaintiff reached Erie Boulevard, he stopped running. Defendant Hauck drew his weapon and told Plaintiff to get down on the ground.*fn10 After Plaintiff was on the ground,*fn11 Defendant Hauck struck Plaintiff at least once or twice on the right side of his face, around his temple and cheekbone area, while handcuffing him.*fn12

Officers Novitsky, Erwin, and Carleo arrived on the scene in another vehicle.*fn13 Plaintiff was charged with (1) criminal possession of a controlled substance in the 7th degree in violation of New York Penal Law § 220.03, and (2) resisting arrest in violation of New York Penal Law § 205.30. After Plaintiff was taken into custody, Lieutenant Ives arrived on the scene. Also after Plaintiff was taken into custody,*fn14 Officer LaMontagne arrived on the scene and transported Plaintiff to the Justice Center. A nurse at the Justice Center instructed that he be evaluated at a hospital. He was taken to Upstate Hospital and evaluated. Plaintiff was issued an appearance ticket for both charges.

C. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Chief

Generally, in support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants assert the following four arguments. (See generally Dkt. No. 52, Attach. 14 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].) First, Defendants argue, Plaintiff's claims of unreasonable search and seizure should be dismissed because (a) Defendants possessed reasonable suspicion to briefly detain and question Plaintiff, based on the undisputed fact that Plaintiff was present at a location at which Defendants Hauck and Carns had made an arrest for the purchase of heroin earlier that day but had been unable to apprehend the dealer, (b) Defendants possessed probable cause to seize Plaintiff, based on the undisputed fact that he was present in the aforementioned location at the aforementioned time, and he fled when Defendants attempted to question him, and (c) Defendants possessed the authority to search Plaintiff's vehicle, based on the undisputed fact that the search was incident to a lawful arrest of Plaintiff. (Id. at 10-14 [attaching pages "5" through "9" of Defs.' Memo. of Law].)*fn15

Second, Defendants argue, Plaintiff's claims of false arrest should be dismissed because Defendants possessed probable cause to arrest and imprison Plaintiff, based on the undisputed fact that he was present in the aforementioned location at the aforementioned time, and he fled when Defendants attempted to question him. (Id. at 14-16 [attaching pages "9" through "11" of Defs.' Memo. of Law].)*fn16

Third, Defendants argue, Plaintiff's claims of excessive force should be dismissed based on the undisputed fact that (a) Defendants believed that Plaintiff was involved in drug activity, a serious crime known for violence, (b) Defendant Hauck did not know if Plaintiff was armed, (c) Plaintiff refused to comply with instructions to put his hands behind his back, instead placing them under his body, and Plaintiff struggled with Defendant Hauck and attempted to stand up, and (d) Defendant Hauck used at most two strikes to Plaintiff's head to obtain control over him and put him in handcuffs. (Id. at 15-16 [attaching pages "10" and "11" of Defs.' Memo. of Law].)*fn17

Fourth, Defendants argue that Defendants Hauck and Carns are protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity, because it was objectively reasonable for them to believe that probable cause existed to arrest Plaintiff, and that the force used against him was necessary to subdue him, based on the circumstances described above. (Id. at 17-19 [attaching pages "12" through "14" of Defs.' Memo. of Law].)*fn18

2. Plaintiff's Opposition Memorandum of Law

In response to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff has submitted two memoranda of law, the first one 14 pages in length (and filed on May 9, 2011), and the second one 14 pages in length (and filed on May 16, 2011). (Dkt. Nos. 56, 59.) The second memorandum is substantially the same as the first, and was filed due to Plaintiff's apparent difficulty in using the District's electronic case filing system while filing the first memorandum (see Dkt. No. 57).*fn19 As a result, the Court will ...


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