Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

John Spears v. the City of New York


October 9, 2012


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


Plaintiff John Spears brings this action against the City of New York (the "City") and several named and unnamed New York Police Department ("NYPD") officers, both individually and in their official capacities. Spears's complaint appears to assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest, malicious prosecution, excessive force, and unreasonable search and seizure.*fn1 For the reasons below, the defendants' joint motion for partial summary judgment is granted. Spears's cross-motion for partial summary judgment is denied.


A. Facts

The claims asserted in Spears's complaint stem from arrests occurring on April 26, 2008; October 10, 2009; and June 22, 2010. The following facts are taken from Local Rule 56.1 statements, affidavits, deposition excerpts, and other documentary evidence submitted by the parties. Unless otherwise noted, they are uncontroverted.

1. The April 26, 2008 Arrest

On April 26, 2008, Officer Fawad Khan arrested Spears for criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, in violation of New York Penal Law § 220.03. See ECF No. 37, Ex. 12 ("Khan Stmt.").*fn2 On April 27, 2008, in satisfaction of the charge stemming from that arrest, Spears pled guilty to disorderly conduct, in violation of New York Penal Law § 240.20, and was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge. See ECF No. 34, Ex. C ("Cert. of Disposition"). Apparently this conviction has yet to be invalidated, and Spears consents to dismissal of all claims related to this arrest. See ECF No. 37, at 4 ("Pl.'s Mem.") (acknowledging that all claims stemming from the April 26, 2008 arrest "should be dismissed because plaintiff pled guilty to disorderly conduct, and plaintiff's conviction has not been invalidated" (capitalization omitted)).

2. The October 10, 2009 Arrest

On October 10, 2009, Spears was arrested and charged with resisting arrest, in violation of New York Penal Law § 205.30, and attempted tampering with physical evidence, in violation of New York Penal Law §§ 110 and 215.40(2). Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 24, ¶¶ 29-42 ("SAC"); ECF No. 28, at 1-2 ("Defs.' 4/23/2012 Ltr."). Spears alleges that he lost his front tooth and sustained scrapes and bruises because the arresting officers -- Detectives Frank Galati, Matthew Savage, and Andrew Erato -- used excessive force. SAC ¶¶ 32-34.*fn3 On January 26, 2010, the charges against Spears stemming from this arrest were dismissed on speedy trial grounds. Id. ¶ 42; Defs.' 4/23/2012 Ltr. at 2.

At oral argument, the parties agreed that none of the instant summary judgment motions relate to this arrest. Accordingly, no evidence has been submitted to the court regarding this arrest, and I need not address it further.

3. The June 22, 2010 Arrest

Defendants Sergeant Daniel Sbarra and Detective Frank Galati testified in their depositions that at about 6:00 P.M. on June 22, 2010, they observed Spears place a plastic bag of cocaine into his mouth while "walking down the street in a drug-prone location where there are coke spots on either corner of the location." ECF No. 37, Ex. 3, at 125, 135 ("Sbarra Dep."); accord ECF No. 43, Ex. O at 99 ("Galati Dep."). After seeing him swallow the bag of cocaine, Galati and Sbarra placed Spears under arrest for criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 220.03, and for tampering with physical evidence, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 215.40(2).*fn4 At about 6:10 P.M., they transported him to the police precinct in a prisoner van. Sbarra Dep. at 135.

Sbarra described the street encounter in his deposition: Q: What did you observe after you saw [Spears] walking on the sidewalk?

SBARRA: I observed Spears look at us, and when he noticed us, he went into his pocket and put a ziplock of cocaine in his mouth.

Q: How big was the ziplock?

SBARRA: I'd say one-inch by one-inch. . . . .

Q: Do you remember what color the bag was? SBARRA: It was a black ziplock of a white powdery substance.

Q: And was it full?

SBARRA: There was a quantity of cocaine in it. . . . .

Q: When you saw him put it in his mouth, what did you do next?

SBARRA: We got out of the car, we approached him, and we handcuffed him.

Q: Was there ever a time you handcuffed [Spears] to a fence?


Q: And why did you do that?

SBARRA: Soon after while we were waiting for the prisoner van, he -- he began sweating profusely. His eyes got wide. He was -- he wasn't following directions. He was jittery. He was walking back and forth. He was told numerous times to stop moving, just stay still. He couldn't stay still, so instead of putting him to the floor and -- and preventing him from moving, we decided to promote free breathing and put an additional set of handcuffs on hi[m] and attach it to the fence so he couldn't move in any other direction.

Sbarra Dep. at 122-124.

Similarly, Galati testified as follows:

Q: What did you see [Spears] do?

GALATI: I observed him taking a ziplock of a white powdery substance and place it in his mouth.

GALATI: . . . . He kept trying to walk off. I was still trying to conduct a field frisk and get pedigree information from him; and after numerous times of asking him to like stand still so we can do what we have to do, he kept trying to walk off, and I know he just swallowed drugs, and I didn't want to put him on the floor. I felt for -- for breathing purposes it would be better if he was just standing, so I just cuffed him to the fence.

Galati Dep. at 99, 102.

As Sbarra explained, "it's Department procedure [that] if you swallow drugs you go to the hospital." Sbarra Dep. at 131.*fn5 Accordingly, Sbarra called two other officers -- Detectives Gary Vanzanten and Tina Everett -- to transport Spears to the hospital. Sbarra Dep. at 129, 131; ECF No. 37, Ex. 4, at 63 ("Vanzanten Dep.").*fn6 Both Galati and Sbarra explained to Vanzanten and Everett that Spears had swallowed cocaine and that he had to be transported to the hospital. Galati Dep. at 107; Sbarra Dep. at 130; Vanzanten Dep. at 63.*fn7

At approximately 6:30 P.M. that evening, Vanzanten accompanied Spears in an ambulance from the police precinct to Woodhull Hospital.*fn8 Vanzanten Dep. at 64, 66, 72; Everett Dep. at 54. Everett followed behind in a separate vehicle. Vanzanten Dep. at 66. They arrived at the hospital at about 6:47 P.M. See ECF No. 37, Ex. 11, at 3 ("Med. Recs.") (triage intake time 6:47 P.M.); Vanzanten Dep. at 72 ("at" hospital at 7:00 P.M.); Everett Dep. at 54 ("at" hospital at 7:00 P.M.). Vanzanten explained both to the ambulance EMTs and to the hospital staff that Spears had "ingested narcotics." Vanzanten Dep. at 67, 68; accord ECF No. 37, Ex. 2, ¶ 6 ("Spears Dec."). The hospital triage staff were also informed that Spears had vomited twice, Med. Recs. at 3-4, although neither Sbarra nor Vanzanten recalls having seen Spears vomit or having told anyone that Spears had vomited. Sbarra Dep. at 126, 130; Vanzanten Dep. at 67, 68.*fn9

At the hospital, Spears was handcuffed to a bed and was not allowed to use the bathroom. ECF No. 37, Ex. 1, at 146-47 ("Spears Dep."); see also Vanzanten Dep. at 73 (testifying that "[n]ormally" he handcuffs patients to hospital bed and that he would not have allowed Spears to use the restroom in this situation); Everett Dep. at 46 (explaining that arrestees at hospital "are never not handcuffed, never never"). Spears received a general medical examination and at least one x-ray examination. See Med. Recs. At approximately 12:30 A.M. on June 23, 2010, Vanzanten and Everett were relieved from duty, and Khan and Detective Matthew Savage took over.*fn10 Vanzanten Dep. at 72; Everett Dep. at 54; cf. Spears Dec. ¶ 12.

At 2:16 A.M., approximately eight hours after Spears's arrest,*fn11 the hospital took an x-ray of Spears's abdomen. Med. Recs. at 5. A report of that x-ray, produced at 2:30 A.M., read: "Nonspecific bowel gas pattern without evidence of obstruction or fecal impaction. No radiopaque foreign body." Id. A handwritten examination report created at 4:00 A.M. read, "XRay Abdomen: No evidence of FB. D/c in NYPD custody." Id. at 9. According to Spears, after receiving the results of the x-ray, the attending physician told Savage that there were no foreign objects in Spears's system. Spears Dec. ¶ 12.

At approximately 4:00 A.M., Spears was discharged from the hospital and transported back to the police precinct. Med. Recs. at 12; Spears Dec. ¶ 13; ECF No. 46, ¶ 15 ("Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt."); ECF No. 42, ¶ 15 ("Defs.' 56.1 Resp. Stmt"). Spears was then transported to Brooklyn Central Booking at approximately 4:30 A.M. Spears Dec. ¶ 13; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 16; Defs.' 56.1 Resp. Stmt. ¶ 15. At approximately 7:30 P.M. that evening, June 23, 2010, Spears was brought before an arraigning judge, and all criminal charges against Spears were dismissed by motion of the Kings County District Attorney's Office. Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 17-18; Defs.' 56.1 Resp. Stmt. ¶ 17-18.

B. Procedural History

On July 28, 2010, Spears filed a complaint against the City and unnamed police officers. See ECF No. 1. The City filed its answer October 26, 2010. See ECF No. 6. With leave from the court, Spears filed an amended complaint on April 18, 2011, adding a claim against the City pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and naming several additional officers as individual defendants. See ECF No. 12. Spears filed a second amended complaint on February 6, 2012, naming two additional officers as defendants. See ECF No. 23. The next day he filed a corrected second amended complaint to fix the spelling of Tina Everett's name. See ECF No. 24. Discovery closed on March 30, 2012.

On May 21, 2012, the defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment. See ECF No. 32 ("Defs.' Mo."); see also ECF No. 35 ("Defs.' Mem."). On June 12, 2012, Spears filed an opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgment and a cross-motion for summary judgment. See Pl.'s Mem. The defendants filed a reply in support of their motion and in opposition to Spears's motion on July 10, 2012. See ECF No. 41 ("Defs.' Reply"). Spears filed a reply in support of his motion on July 17, 2012. See ECF No. 44 ("Pl.'s Reply"). Oral argument was held on July 27, 2012.


A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute over a material fact is "genuine" where "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In determining whether there are genuine disputes of material fact, the court must "resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir. 2003).

To prevail on a 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn12 claim, Spears must show that the defendants deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States while acting under color of state law. Palmieri v. Lynch, 392 F.3d 73, 78 (2d Cir. 2004).

B. Analysis

Defendants seek summary judgment on (1) all claims related to Spears's April 26, 2008 arrest; (2) all claims against Khan; (3) all claims against Vanzanten and Everett; and (4) all claims against the City brought pursuant to Monell. Spears cross-moves for summary judgment "for his time incarcerated after medical professionals determined there were no foreign objects in his system after his June 22, 2010 arrest." Pl.'s Mem. at 2; Pl.'s Reply at 1.

1. Dismissal of All Claims Deriving from the April 26, 2008 Arrest and All Claims Against Khan Defendants contend that any claims related to the 2008 arrest must be dismissed because Spears's conviction for disorderly conduct still stands. See Defs.' Mem. at 4-7 (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) ("A claim for damages . . . [related] to a conviction or sentence that has not been . . . invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983." (emphasis omitted))). Likewise, because all allegations against Khan are limited to the 2008 arrest, Khan seeks dismissal of all claims against him.

Spears does not contest this aspect of the defendants' motion. Spears writes, "Plaintiff concedes there are no claims arising out of the April 26, 2008 incident and there was no involvement of defendant Khan." Pl.'s Mem. at 2; accord id. at 4 ("Plaintiff's claims relating to his April 26, 2008 claim [sic] should be dismissed because plaintiff pled guilty to disorderly conduct, and plaintiff's conviction has not been invalidated. Plaintiff concedes there is no claim for the April 26, 2008 arrest." (capitalization omitted)). Spears's counsel confirmed again at oral argument that he consented to dismissal of all claims deriving from the 2008 arrest.

Accordingly, all claims based on the 2008 arrest and all claims against Khan are dismissed on consent.

2. Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment on Spears's Claim for False Arrest for Continued Detention After the X-Ray During the June 22, 2010 Arrest The parties cross-move for partial summary judgment regarding Spears's arrest on June 22, 2010. Spears seeks partial summary judgment on his Fourth Amendment claim for the period of time that he remained detained after the radiologist reported that an x-ray of his abdomen was negative for foreign bodies. Pl.'s Mem. at 19-20. He argues "that all probable cause immediately dissipated once it was determined by medical[] professionals that there was no contraband in his system." Pl.'s Reply at 2.

For their part, the defendants move for partial summary judgment on all claims against Vanzanten and Everett. The defendants argue that Vanzanten and Everett had no personal involvement in any of Spears's arrests, except for their role in transporting Spears to the hospital on June 22, 2010. Because Spears was already handcuffed and under arrest by then, and Vanzanten and Everett were simply carrying out ministerial processing duties in transporting Spears to the hospital, the defendants argue that all claims against Vanzanten and Everett should be dismissed.

Although Spears's complaint does not specify which claims it purports to assert against Vantanten and Everett, counsel for Spears agreed at oral argument that his claims against Vanzanten and Everett were limited to a Fourth Amendment false arrest claim for the June 22, 2010 arrest. Spears's counsel disavowed any excessive force or malicious prosecution claims against Vanzanten or Everett.*fn13 Thus, Spears's claims against Vanzanten and Everett similarly relate only to the period during the June 22, 2010 arrest "after it was determined that there was no contraband in [Spears's] system." Pl.'s Mem. at 5.

"The existence of probable cause to arrest . . . is a complete defense to an action for false arrest . . . under § 1983." Jenkins v. City of New York, 478 F.3d 76, 84 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996)).*fn14 Probable cause to arrest exists when the arresting officer has "knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a crime." Id. (quoting Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852). In determining whether an arrest was supported by probable cause, "courts must consider those facts available to the officer at the time of the arrest and immediately before it." Fabrikant v. French, 691 F.3d 193, 214 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Panetta v. Crowley, 460 F.3d 388, 395 (2d Cir. 2006)). Probable cause is a "fluid concept," and must be assessed based on "the totality of the circumstances." Id. (quoting Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395). "Probable cause may . . . exist [even] where the officer has relied on mistaken information, so long as it was reasonable for him to rely on it." Manganiello v. City of New York, 612 F.3d 149, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). Although "an officer may not disregard plainly exculpatory evidence," Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395, probable cause "does not require absolute certainty," Fabrikant, 691 F.3d at 214 (quoting Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395), and need not reach the level of evidence necessary to support a conviction, United States v. Fisher, 702 F.2d 372, 375 (2d Cir. 1983). It is "of no consequence" in a probable cause determination "that a more thorough or more probing investigation might have cast doubt upon the situation." Fabrikant, 691 F.3d at 214-15 (quoting Krause v. Bennett, 887 F.2d 362, 371 (2d Cir. 1989)).

In addition, "[w]hen making a probable cause determination, police officers are entitled to rely on the allegations of fellow police officers." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The so-called "imputed knowledge doctrine" provides that "[a]bsent significant indications to the contrary, an officer is entitled to rely on his fellow officer's determination that an arrest was lawful." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted); accord

Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852. "The existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes justification and is a complete defense to an action for false arrest . . . ." Id.

United States v. Colon, 250 F.3d 130, 135 (2d Cir. 2001) ("Under the collective or imputed knowledge doctrine, an arrest or search is permissible where the actual arresting or searching officer lacks the specific information to form the basis for probable cause or reasonable suspicion but sufficient information to justify the arrest or search was known by other law enforcement officials initiating or involved with the investigation."). Thus, "[t]he determination of probable cause does not turn on whether the fellow agent's observations were accurate, but on whether the arresting agent was reasonable in relying on those observations." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

For purposes of Spears's motion, he does not contest that the officers who initially arrested him on the street on June 22, 2010, possessed probable cause to arrest him. Pl.'s Mem. at 19 n.5; Pl.'s Reply at 2 & n.1. Instead, he contends that even if probable cause existed at the time of his initial arrest, such probable cause dissipated when the x-ray results revealed no contraband in his system, and thus at that point in time he should have been immediately released. He thus seeks summary judgment on a false arrest claim for the additional 20 hours that he was detained after his negative x-ray results.*fn15

"[O]nce a police officer has a reasonable basis for believing there is probable cause, he is not required to explore and eliminate every theoretically plausible claim of innocence before making an arrest." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 396 (quoting Curley v. Village of Suffern, 268 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir. 2001)). An officer "does not have to prove plaintiff's version wrong before arresting him. Nor does it matter that an investigation might have cast doubt upon the basis for the arrest." Id. (quoting Curley, 268 F.3d at 70). "[O]nce officers possess facts sufficient to establish probable cause, they are neither required nor allowed to sit as prosecutor, judge or jury. Their function is to apprehend those suspected of wrongdoing, and not to finally determine guilt through a weighing of the evidence." Id. (quoting Krause, 887 F.2d at 372).

Courts have observed in the malicious prosecution context that "even when probable cause is present at the time of arrest, evidence could later surface which would eliminate that probable cause." Lowth v. Town of Cheektowaga, 82 F.3d 563, 571 (2d Cir. 1996). Even in that context, however, for probable cause to dissipate, the defendants must discover some intervening fact that exposes the groundless nature of the charges. Mitchell v. Cnty. of Nassau, 786 F. Supp. 2d 545, 562 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (holding that plaintiff had not alleged any intervening facts which would have made defendants aware that the charges were groundless). Otherwise, probable cause at the time of arrest continues to exist through a prosecution. Id.; Johnson v. Constantellis, 221 F. App'x 48, 50 (2d Cir. 2007).

Spears has failed to put forth evidence of an intervening fact that necessarily dissipated probable cause. In his motion, he relies exclusively on the radiologist's report stating that the x-ray of Spears's abdomen did not detect any radiopaque foreign body. However, on its own, this report is insufficient to establish with certainty that Spears did not in fact possess or ingest cocaine. The arresting officers attested to having personally witnessed Spears possess and ingest cocaine and subsequently begin to sweat profusely and become jittery and unable to remain still, e.g., Sbarra Dep. at 124; these first-hand observations provided the basis of probable cause for Spears's arrest, and the officers who detained Spears at the hospital were entitled to rely on the observations and probable cause determinations of their fellow officers, "[a]bsent significant indications to the contrary." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395.

Moreover, the record does not demonstrate that the x-ray results dissipated this pre-existing probable cause. Spears has submitted no evidence of the x-ray's significance to the probable cause calculation faced by the officers. He appears to simply assume that the x-ray conclusively and self-evidently proves that he had not ingested cocaine and that the arresting officers must have lied about their observations at the scene. However, the record evidence compels no such conclusion. First, Spears has failed to put forth any evidence supporting this conclusion as a medical matter -- evidence such as whether a ziplock bag of cocaine would necessarily appear in an x-ray of an abdomen; the effect of the passage of time on this question; what other tests a medical professional would undertake before concluding no such ingestion had taken place; or whether the x-ray was even undertaken for the purpose of confirming or dispelling the presence of the ziplock of cocaine. Indeed, the report itself, in addition to reporting that "[n]o radiopaque foreign body" was detected, provided a diagnosis: "Residual foreign body in soft tissue." Med. Recs. at 5. Without any medical testimony to illuminate its meaning, this report is far from indubitable proof that no ingestion had taken place; indeed, the diagnosis permits an inference that the radiologist did not rule out ingestion, but merely concluded the foreign body was lodged within Spears's soft tissue.

Further, even if Spears could show that the x-ray conclusively demonstrated to trained medical professionals that he had not ingested a ziplock of cocaine within the last eight hours, Spears has not put forth any evidence that this medical conclusion was conveyed to the officers, who are untrained in medicine. Spears says generally that "the treating physician [told] the officers guarding me that there was no foreign objects in my system." Spears Dec. ¶ 12. Yet not even Spears's testimony suggests that the officers were informed that the test results meant that Spears's ingestion of cocaine eight hours before was a medical impossibility. Thus, even if the officers learned the results of the x-ray, there is no reason on the current record to charge them with understanding the full medical ramifications of the x-ray -- including the conclusion that their fellow officers' first-hand observations must have been mistaken or falsified.

In fact, none of the officers appeared to consider the hospital tests to be relevant to their probable cause calculation. The officers each consistently suggested that the x-rays and other medical treatment were undertaken for a therapeutic rather than investigative purpose. Sbarra testified that all arrestees who swallow contraband are immediately sent to the hospital as a matter of "[d]department procedure." Sbarra Dep. at 131-32. Everett likewise testified that "if we know [a suspect] ingested drugs, we're taking him to the hospital," but that she did not know how often the x-ray comes up negative because "we don't even ask." Everett Dep. at 62. She explained that some hospitals tell the officer the test results, and some do not -- it all depends on the hospital and doctor. Id. at 63. Vanzanten testified that only a doctor can determine whether someone did or did not swallow drugs. Vanzanten Dep. at 76. None of the officers viewed the test results as a means to confirm or dispel probable cause. Thus, even if the x-ray results scientifically eliminated the possibility that Spears had ingested contraband, the evidence does not support the conclusion that a negative report would necessarily alert the accompanying officers that Spears's arrest was groundless.

Accordingly, I find that the negative x-ray was insufficient on its own to negate the probable cause to arrest Spears. The officers at the hospital were entitled to rely on the observations and probable cause determinations of their fellow officers, and thus had a reasonable belief that Spears had possessed and ingested cocaine. The mere fact that an x-ray of Spears's abdomen eight hours later revealed no radiopaque foreign bodies is insufficient to vitiate this probable cause without further evidence that (1) this x-ray result conclusively establishes that Spears could not have ingested a ziplock of cocaine eight hours before; and (2) this medical conclusion (and not merely the negative x-ray result) was conveyed to the officers responsible for Spears's continued detention. Even assuming that the radiologist's report tended to exculpate Spears, police officers have no obligation to determine the ultimate guilt of the people they arrest by "sifting and weighing information," and investigating every "plausible claim of innocence"; "an officer's failure to investigate an arrestee's protestations of innocence generally does not vitiate probable cause." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395-96, 398.

Thus, Spears's motion for partial summary judgment is denied, because, at least on this record, I find that the officers continued to have probable cause to arrest Spears even after the x-ray results were released at around 2:30 A.M. on June 23, 2012.*fn16 The cases cited by Spears do not suggest otherwise. Spears heavily relies on cases involving border searches of suspected drug couriers. See Pl.'s Mem. at 20 (citing Velez v. United States, 693 F. Supp. 51 (S.D.N.Y. 1988); Adedeji v. United States, 782 F. Supp. 688, 700 (D. Mass. 1992); United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531 (1985)). These cases are inapposite, because in those cases, the detentions were supported by only reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause, and the x-rays had an expressly investigative purpose: The officers had an obligation to quickly confirm their suspicion of internal narcotics smuggling or to dispel their suspicion and release the suspect at the earliest opportunity. See Velez, 693 F. Supp. at 57. By contrast, here the officers already possessed probable cause to arrest Spears and had no continuing investigative obligation to quickly confirm or dispel any suspicion on pain of releasing Spears.

For the same reason, I grant summary judgment in favor of Vanzanten and Everett. Spears admits that Vanzanten and Everett had no involvement in his initial arrest on June 22, 2010. Their only involvement was in transporting Spears to the hospital at the instruction of an arresting officer after he was already in custody. In detaining Spears, Vanzanten and Everett were permitted to reasonably rely on the observations of the arresting officers. See Colon, 250 F.3d at 135. Even assuming that the arresting officers were mistaken or lying in claiming that they had witnessed Spears swallow cocaine, there is no evidence in the record to doubt the reasonableness of Vanzanten's and Everett's reliance on the arresting officers' claim. See Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395 ("The determination of probable cause does not turn on whether the fellow agent's observations were accurate, but on whether the arresting agent was reasonable in relying on those observations." (quotation omitted)). Thus, Vanzanten and Everett had probable cause to detain Spears based on the representations of the arresting officers, and they did not lose that probable cause merely because an x-ray at 2:30 A.M. added some potentially exculpatory evidence to the total mix of available information.*fn17 As explained above, an officer is "not required to explore and eliminate every theoretically plausible claim of innocence before making an arrest." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 396 (internal quotation marks omitted).

3. Spears's Municipal Liability Claim Spears's most recent pleading -- the corrected Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 24 -- asserts a municipal liability claim against the City of New York based on its purported failure to track lawsuits and civilian complaints to find patterns of police misconduct. SAC ¶¶ 78-91. Spears alleges that "a disturbing number of [the City's] police officers unlawfully bring charges against citizens with no legal basis, use excessive force against citizens and create charges in an effort to cover up their misconduct, perjure themselves in charging instruments and testimony, and fail to intervene in and report the obviously illegal actions of their fellow officers. . . . All of the aforementioned has created a climate where police officers and detectives lie to prosecutors, in police paperwork and charging instruments, and testify falsely, with no fear of reprisal." Id. ¶¶ 87-88.

The defendants move to dismiss Spears's municipal liability claims on two grounds: (1) Spears added the municipal liability claim without obtaining proper leave of the court in violation of Fed. R. Civ. P. 15; and (2) Spears's allegations fail to state a claim for relief.

a. Procedural Ground

I first address the defendants' argument that Spears's municipal liability claim is procedurally defective for having been added in violation of Fed. R. Civ. P. 15. On July 28, 2010, Spears filed his initial complaint against the City and several unnamed NYPD officers. Although the complaint did not specifically allege a Monell claim, it named the City as a defendant, and stated that the defendants' conduct "constituted a custom, usage, practice or rule of" the City. ECF No. 1, ¶ 60. On April 12, 2011, while the parties were in discovery, Spears made his first motion to amend the complaint, in which he stated, "I am seeking leave to amend the complaint and add an incident that occurred on April 26, 2008 involving Det. FAWAD KHAN." ECF No. 10. Over the defendants' opposition, Magistrate Judge Reyes granted the motion to amend, ruling in a docket entry: "Defendants['] having failed to identify any prejudice resulting from the proposed amendment, the motion is granted. Plaintiff to amend the complaint and serve the officers involved no later than April 26, 2011." Order dated April 14, 2011.

On April 18, 2011, Spears filed his first amended complaint, which added claims related to the April 26, 2008 arrest and named Fawad Khan, Frank Galati, Matthew Savage, Andrew Erato, and Daniel Sbarra as additional defendants. See First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-13, 17-28, ECF No. 12. Plaintiff also specifically added a Monell municipal liability claim. Id. ¶¶ 78-91. In answering the first amended complaint, defendants declined to respond to the substance of Spears's Monell claim, stating only that "to the extent plaintiff purports to allege a Monell claim, plaintiff was not granted leave to add additional claims and therefore, no response is required." ECF Nos. 15, 16.

On January 30, 2012, Spears filed another motion to amend his complaint, explaining that he was "seeking leave to amend the complaint a final time to add new parties and to perfect the pleadings. This request is stemming from the Monell claim that is pleaded in the complaint and amended complaint." ECF No. 22, at 2. On January 31, 2012, Magistrate Judge Reyes held a conference which addressed, inter alia, Spears's motion to amend his complaint. A minute order entered after the conference formalized the judge's ruling granting plaintiff leave to amend, stating simply: "granting . . . Motion to Amend/Correct/Supplement. Second Amended Complaint to be filed by 2/10/2012; adding the two officers involved on the underlying incidents." Minute Order dated Jan. 31, 2012. On February 7, 2012, Spears filed his Second Amended Complaint, which added Vanzanten and Everett as defendants. See SAC ¶¶ 14-15. The Second Amended Complaint again included a Monell claim against the City. Id. ¶¶ 78-91.

In their Answer, the defendants again chose not to respond to Spears's Monell claim in any substantive fashion.

In the Second Circuit, "[a]bsent undue delay, bad faith, dilatory tactics, undue prejudice to the party to be served with the proposed pleading, or futility, the motion [to amend] should be freely granted." Alexandre v. Town of Hempstead, 275 F.R.D. 94, 97 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (citation omitted). The decision as to whether to permit an amendment is "soundly vested in the discretion of the district court." Id.

In their motion, the defendants have failed to identify any undue prejudice that resulted from the addition of the Monell claim. Defendants had ample time to investigate the claim, which was suggested in Spears's original complaint, and formally added in his first amended complaint on April 18, 2011, nearly a year before the close of discovery on March 30, 2012. Moreover, the procedural history indicates that Judge Reyes permitted Spears to amend his complaint to add the Monell claim. Accordingly, I find no violation of Rule 15, and the defendants' motion to dismiss Spears's Monell claim on this procedural ground is denied.

b. Merits

The defendants argue in the alternative that Spears's Monell claim should be dismissed for failure to state a claim.*fn18 Under the rule articulated by the Supreme Court in Monell, a municipality may not be held liable under § 1983 on the basis of respondeat superior. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694-95. Rather, the plaintiff must demonstrate that "the municipality itself cause[d] the constitutional violation at issue." City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). Thus, "[t]o hold a city liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional actions of its employees, a plaintiff is required to plead and prove three elements: (1) an official policy or custom that (2) causes the plaintiff to be subjected to (3) a denial of a constitutional right." Wray v. City of New York, 490 F.3d 189, 195 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A plaintiff may demonstrate the existence of a municipal policy or custom in four possible ways: "(1) the existence of a formal policy officially endorsed by the municipality; (2) actions taken or decisions made by municipal officials with final decision making authority, which caused the alleged violation of plaintiff's civil rights; (3) a practice so persistent and widespread that it constitutes a custom of which constructive knowledge can be implied on the part of the policymaking officials; or (4) a failure by policymakers to properly train or supervise their subordinates, amounting to 'deliberate indifference' to the rights of those who come in contact with the municipal employees." Prince v. Cnty. of Nassau, 837 F. Supp. 2d 71, 103 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Williams v. City of Mt. Vernon, 428 F. Supp. 2d 146, 159 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)).

Spears vacillates in his identification of the municipal policy to which he objects. His pleading relies on the City's "deliberate indifference" to generalized lawlessness in the police force. SAC ¶¶ 87-91. In particular, Spears cites the number of lawsuits that have been filed against each individual officer as evidence that the City "fail[s] to take corrective action" in the face of violations of citizens' constitutional rights. These general allegations clearly do not rise to the level of a specific policy or custom to which Spears's constitutional injury is attributable.*fn19 Further, Spears makes no attempt to connect this policy of deliberate indifference to any of his particular injuries, simply asserting that the policy led to all of the following: "[a]n arrest not based upon probable cause; [u]nwarranted and malicious criminal prosecution;

[d]eprivation of liberty without due process of law; [e]xcessive force imposed upon him;

[s]ummary punishment imposed upon him; and [d]enied equal protection under the law." SAC ¶ 91. A general allegation that the City has a policy of violating citizens' constitutional rights, and general claims that such a policy had the effect of violating a host of the plaintiff's rights without specifying how or why, is insufficiently particularized to state a claim against a municipality under Monell.

In his opposition brief, Spears appears to shift the basis of his Monell claim to an alleged NYPD policy of not "follow[ing] up on an arrestee undergoing tests at a hospital who is alleged to have swallowed drugs, thereby prolonging [the arrestee's] confinement once it has been determined a crime was not committed." Pl.'s Mem. at 12-13; see also Pl.'s Reply at 5 (challenging City's "policy and practice of holding prisoners despite the fact there is no contraband in their system"). A policy or custom of deliberately not following up on test results that could exonerate and accelerate the release of arrestees could theoretically constitute an unconstitutional policy actionable under Monell.

However, there is no evidence here on which a jury could reasonably find that such a policy existed. As discussed above, even with respect to the only particular incident alleged, Spears has failed to demonstrate as a matter of law that the test results indeed exonerated the arrestee. No jury could reasonably conclude on the record advanced by Spears that the City had a policy or custom of retaining prisoners in custody despite the availability of tests that exonerate them. Accordingly, the Monell claim is dismissed.


Spears's motion for partial summary judgment on his claim for false arrest is denied. The defendants' motion for partial summary judgment is granted, and the following claims are dismissed: all claims stemming from Spears's April 2008 arrest; all claims against defendants Khan, Vanzanten, and Everett; and all claims against the City.

So ordered.

John Gleeson, U.S.D.J.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.