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Conrad v. Town of Cheektowaga

November 12, 2012


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



In March of 2010 Conrad Mikulec was arrested after a confrontation with a waitress at a night club in the Town of Cheektowaga. Mikulec asserts that the officers involved in this incident-the defendants in this case-lacked probable cause to arrest him, used excessive force against him, were indifferent to his medical needs, and unnecessarily prolonged his detention. As such, he brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Town of Cheektowaga and several of its police officers violated his constitutional rights. He also brings a state-law battery claim.

Presently before this Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Facts*fn2

On the night of March 12, 2010, 74-year-old Conrad Mikulec and his companion, Sylvia Strycharz, were driving home from a dinner event when Mikulec felt "a great degree of discomfort and tightening in his body." (Mikulec Aff., ¶ 6; Docket No. 29-16.) According to Mikulec, hoping to alleviate these symptoms with a glass of water and his daily blood-pressure medication, they stopped at a nearby gentleman's night club, Mademoiselle Folie Berger. (Id., ¶ 7; Def.'s State., ¶ 1; Docket No. 25-4.) After taking a seat, a waitress eventually approached and Mikulec ordered a water and a "tall glass of orange juice and vodka with no ice" for Strycharz. (Mikulec Aff., ¶ 9.) When the waitress returned, Mikulec took his medication but noticed that Strycharz's drink consisted almost entirely of ice. (Id., ¶ 10.)

From this point, different versions of that night's events begin to emerge, and the facts are largely in dispute. The waitress, Alla Antonova, gave a sworn statement to the police indicating that Mikulec "slapped" the glass at her, and that he then stood up, yelled at her, and took several "threatening" steps towards her. (Def.'s State., ¶ 7.) Mikulec claims he remained seated and that he merely poured the drink on the ground to demonstrate that it was filled only with ice. (Mikulec Aff., ¶ 10.) In any event, the police were eventually called; Officer Bashaw was the first to arrive, followed closely by Officer Wood. (Def.'s State., ¶¶ 11-12.) According to Officer Bashaw, he first spoke to a doorman at Mademoiselle, who relayed to him Antonova's version of the events. Someone at Mademoiselle (it is not clear who) told Wood or Bashaw that if Mikulec would pay for the drink and leave, "everything would be ok." (Def.'s State, ¶ 19.*fn3 ) As the officers tell it, Officer Bashaw then approached Mikulec, who was still "irate" about Strycharz's drink. (Id., ¶ 29.) Officer Wood recalls Mikulec "pointing his finger at Bashaw, making a derogatory remark, and taking an aggressive step toward Officer Bashaw." (Id., ¶ 30.) Officer Bashaw then grabbed Mikulec's arm, informed him he was under arrest, and walked him outside to the front of a patrol car. (Id., ¶¶ 32--35.) Once outside, Bashaw placed Mikulec in double handcuffs (two handcuffs linked together, allowing for more movement) and "it was suggested that he go in [the patrol car] sideways because the back of the [] car is small." (Id., ¶¶ 36, 44.) The officers then drove him to the local police station where he was placed in a jail cell. (Id., ¶ 48.)

Mikulec paints a picture of contrasts. Officer Bashaw did not arrest him inside Mademoiselle; Mikulec voluntarily, and unthreateningly, accompanied the officers outside. (Mikulec Aff., ¶ 13.) The officers did not escort him to the front of a patrol car; once outside, they suddenly grabbed him by the head and the hair and "smashed" his face into the vehicle five or six times. (Id., ¶ 14.) They then handcuffed him and continued to slam his head into the car. (Id.) Next, the officers did not simply suggest that he get in sideways; they dragged him to another patrol car, where they threw him in with such force that he hit his head on the opposite side of the car. (Id., ¶ 15.) Nor were the handcuffs loosely fastened; they were so tight that his left wrist began to bleed. (Id.) Finally, Mikulec asserts that he repeatedly informed the officers that he was disabled and requested medical attention. (Id., ¶¶ 18,19.) His entreaties, however, were ignored.

Mikulec was eventually charged with harassment and disorderly conduct. The case resulted in an "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal." See N.Y. Crim. P. Law § 170.55. And the action was ultimately dismissed in accordance with § 170.55.

B. Procedural History

Originally filed in state court, Defendants removed this action on April 21, 2011. (Docket No. 1.) Defendants filed an answer the next day. With leave of this Court, Mikulec filed an amended complaint on September 23, 2011. (Docket No. 13.) Defendants filed an amended answer the following month on October 14, 2011. (Docket No. 14.) After discovery, Defendants filed this motion for summary judgment on August 13, 2012. Briefing concluded on October 1, 2012, at which time this Court took the motion under consideration.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." 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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence must be "viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Addickes v. S.H. Kress and Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S. Ct.1598, 1609, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970). "Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991). The function of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. "Assessments of credibility and choices between conflicting versions of the events are matters for the jury, not for the court on summary judgment." Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996).

B. Plaintiff's Claims and Defendants' Motion

Mikulec argues that Officers Bashaw and Wood used excessive force in his arrest. In conjunction with this allegation, he also brings a state-law battery claim. He also argues that Officers Jakubowicz and McAdams, who arrived on the scene later, witnessed the use of excessive force and failed to intervene. Further, arguing that the officers lacked probable cause for his arrest, he brings a false-arrest claim, and also asserts that his unlawful detention violated his due process rights. He further claims that he was unlawfully denied medical treatment. Last, he brings claims against the Town of Cheektowaga for negligent hiring, training, and supervision.

The federal claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Civil liability is imposed under § 1983 only upon persons who, acting under color of state law, deprive an individual of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws. On its own, § 1983 does not provide a source of substantive rights, but rather, a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere in the federal statutes and Constitution. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94,109 S.Ct. ...

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