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Kathryn Woods, and Melissa Woods v. Town of Cheektowaga

October 23, 2012

KATHRYN WOODS, AND MELISSA WOODS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF CHEEKTOWAGA, CHEEKTOWAGA POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER NEIL C. HELD, OFFICER BRADFORD HEBELER, AND JOHN AND JANE DOE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs commenced this action seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York State law. Presently before this Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint in its entirety. The Court has considered the submissions and finds oral argument unnecessary. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

This action stems from the events of February 13, 2010, when Defendant Neil C. Held was dispatched to a domestic disturbance at the residence of Robert Geddes. (Dep. of Officer Neil C. Held at 17-20, Docket No. 11 Ex. C.) Geddes is the father of Plaintiff Melissa Woods' youngest child, and an order of protection was in place between Melissa and Geddes. (Held Dep. at 22; Aff. of Melissa Woods ¶ 8, Docket No. 13-7.) Geddes reported to Officer Held that the two had gotten into a verbal argument, following which Melissa stole Geddes' keys to his residence, thereby locking him out. (Held Dep. at 22.) Geddes further reported that Melissa was intoxicated and operating a vehicle, which he described for Held. (Id. at 22, 27-28.) Officer Held corroborated Geddes' story with a neighbor. (Id. at 25-26.)

Officer Held determined that, based on Melissa's reported behavior, the order of protection had been violated. (Id. at 22.) He located the vehicle in which Melissa was reported to have driven away outside the house of her mother, Plaintiff Kathryn Woods. (Id. at 35.) He then requested assistance, and Defendant Bradford Hebeler arrived sometime thereafter. (Id. at 37.) Officer Hebeler positioned himself by the corner of the house, where he could observe if anyone tried to leave while Officer Held was at the front door. (Dep. of Bradford Hebeler at 18, Docket No. 11 Ex. D.)

Officer Held approached the house, and Kathryn opened the front door. (Held Dep. at 38-39.) Held recalls asking about the whereabouts of Melissa and having "a lengthy conversation eight to ten minutes long" with Kathryn at the door, but he does not recall the specifics of the conversation. (Held Dep. at 39-40.) According to Kathryn, Officer Held questioned her at the door for five to ten minutes, "trying to get me to cooperate and I said, I'll do anything when you come back with a warrant. And I said my daughter could be anywhere, and he said that is it." (Dep. of Kathryn Woods at 43-44, Docket No. 13 Ex. B.) Kathryn further testified that she asked Held for a warrant, but "he wasn't willing to provide that at the time, so I didn't feel I had to answer his questions. I like to cooperate, but I wanted a warrant from him." (Id. at 44.)

Kathryn describes the officers' entry into the home as follows: Officer Held "opened up the front door and he pushed his way, pushed me into the closet door, pushed his way into the living room and I had a phone in my hand and I started to call 911, he grabbed the phone from my hand and he threw it and he proceeded to run up the stairs." (Dep. of Kathryn Woods at 46-48.) Officer Hebeler followed Held into the home. (Id. at 47, 51.) The officers entered Kathryn's room upstairs, where Melissa was sleeping. (Id. at 51-52.) As Officer Held "grabbed [Melissa's] hands, started putting handcuffs on her and pushed the blanket back to be able to get at her," Kathryn noticed that her grandson was also in the bed. (Id. at 52.) Kathryn "reached to protect [her] grandson," and Officer Held "grabbed [Kathryn] around [her] throat with a hand" and said that "he could arrest [her], too." (Id. at 53, 56, 58.)

According to Kathryn, Officer Held then "yanked [Melissa] out of bed" and led her into the hallway. (Id. at 59-60.) Although Officers Held and Hebeler described Melissa as struggling and kicking Officer Held, (Held Dep. at 50, 54; Hebeler Dep. at 25, 28), Kathryn testified that Melissa did not appear to be struggling or resisting. (Kathryn Dep. at 59-60.) Instead:

[S]tanding at the top of the stairs in front of the bathroom [Held] put himself in between me and my daughter and him, and it is hard to go down stairs handcuffed with somebody, he was holding onto her by the handcuffs and he was like yanking her and I said, quit hurting her. And I looked at Hebeler square in the face and I said, are you going to just stand here and watch him do this, and he just looked at me with like no response. And about five, six stairs down [Held]*fn1 kneed her really hard in the back. (Id. at 61-62; Dep. of Melissa Woods at 52, Docket No. 13 Ex. A.) Officer Held told Melissa to "quit resisting," to which Kathryn responded, "she's not resisting." (Dep. of Kathryn Woods at 63.)

Melissa testified that she asked Officer Held to allow her to put her sneakers on, but Held refused and placed her in the police car in bare feet. (Dep. of Melissa Woods at 47-48.) She had a cell phone in her pocket which she used to dial 911. (Id. at 47, 49.) When Officer Held realized that she was on the phone, he grabbed it from Melissa and told the 911 dispatcher that if the dispatcher "reported this that [Held] would have his job." (Id. at 51.) Officer Held then drove Melissa to the police station by "speeding down Walden and slamming on his brakes, kept speeding up and slamming on his brakes, he didn't have me buckled." (Id. at 53.) At least once when Held hit the brakes, Melissa's forehead hit the plastic divider in the police car. (Id. at 53-54.)

Once at the police station, Melissa told a male officer that she "needed medical treatment, that my back was hurting, and my side, my wrist." (Id. at 55.) She also told Officer Held that she needed medical attention when he placed her in a cell, and he responded that he would call Melissa's mother and tell her that Melissa was okay. (Id. at

59.) When Melissa was taken to be fingerprinted, she told a female officer that she needed medical attention because she did not "feel good," and the officer told Melissa that she would not be able to get medical attention until after she saw the judge. (Id. at 61.) Melissa did not receive medical attention until after she was released the next day, and at that time she was diagnosed with a wrist sprain and a sacrum-coccyx contusion. (Aff. of Melissa Woods ¶¶ 44-50.)

Plaintiffs commenced the instant action in Supreme Court for the State of New York, Erie County, in February 2011. (Am. Compl., Docket No. 1 Ex. A.) Defendants removed the matter to this Court shortly thereafter. (Docket No. 1.) Plaintiffs' amended complaint asserts nine different causes of action, including four seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all named*fn2 Defendants for warrantless entry, deliberate indifference to medical need, and excessive force. Plaintiffs also assert state law claims for battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and, as against the Town of Cheektowaga ("the Town") and the ...


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