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Graham v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 6, 2013

Robert GRAHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, William Glenn, Andrew Ugbomah, and John and Jane Doe 1 through 10, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants.

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Brett H. Klein, David Bruce Diamond, Leventhal & Klein, LLP, Brooklyn, NY, for Plaintiff.

Elizabeth M. Daitz, Max Oliver McCann, New York City Law Department, New York, NY, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

MARGO K. BRODIE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Graham brought the above-captioned action against the City of New York and John and Jane Doe 1 through 10. Plaintiff amended the Complaint twice and as part of the amendments, added Defendants William Glenn and Andrew Ugbomah. The Second Amended Complaint (the " Complaint" ) asserts claims for deprivation of rights, excessive force, false arrest, malicious abuse of process, violation of the First Amendment, interference with familial relations, failure to intervene, supervisory liability, and municipal liability, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Complaint also asserts claims for assault, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, false arrest, malicious abuse of process, negligent hiring and retention, negligent training and supervision, negligence, and respondeat superior pursuant to New York state law. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. In addition to claiming that Plaintiff failed to raise triable issue of facts, Defendants also asserted that they are immune from all of Plaintiff's federal and state law claims.

The Court heard oral argument on October 22, 2012. At oral argument, Plaintiff withdrew his claims for deprivation of rights, malicious abuse of process, violation of the First Amendment, interference with familial relations, supervisory liability, and municipal liability pursuant to § 1983 and his claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress, malicious abuse of process, negligent hiring and retention, negligent training and supervision, and negligence pursuant to New York state law. The Court reserved decision on Plaintiff's excessive force, false arrest, and failure to intervene claims pursuant to § 1983, as well as Plaintiff's assault, battery, false arrest, and respondeat superior claims pursuant to New York state law and Defendants' immunity defenses. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants summary judgment on the assault and battery claims against Defendant Ugbomah and denies Defendants' motion for summary

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judgment on all of the remaining claims.

I. Background

On June 8, 2007, at approximately 5:30 p.m., Plaintiff was driving with his then four-year old son on Church Avenue near East 96th Street in Brooklyn, New York. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 1.) Defendants William Glenn and Andrew Ugbomah, New York City police officers (collectively the " Officer Defendants" ) were on Church Avenue in a marked police vehicle responding to a police report. ( Id. at ¶ 3.) The Officer Defendants turned on their sirens and gestured Plaintiff to back up. ( Id. at ¶ 4.) According to Plaintiff, he gestured that he could not back up because there was a van parked directly behind him. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 5.) Defendant Glenn then exited his car, approached Plaintiff's car and requested Plaintiff's driver's license. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 6.) Plaintiff gave Defendant Glenn his driver's license, which Defendant Glenn took. ( Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.) Defendant Glenn then returned to his vehicle and drove to the end of the block to investigate the police report. ( Id. ) After 15 to 20 minutes, the Officer Defendants returned and Defendant Glenn approached Plaintiff's car and asked him for his registration. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) Plaintiff removed the registration from an envelope stored above his visor. ( Id. at ¶ 10; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 10.)

The parties dispute whether Plaintiff actually made the registration available to Defendant Glenn. According to Defendants, Plaintiff stopped short of making the registration available and began to ask Defendant Glenn why he needed the registration. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 11-12.) Defendant Glenn then warned Plaintiff that if he did not turn over his registration, he would be arrested. ( Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) Defendants assert that Plaintiff continued to refuse to turn over his registration. ( Id. ) According to Plaintiff, he provided his registration by " holding it in the middle of his open driver's side window where Officer Glenn could take it from him." (Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 12-13.) While doing so, Plaintiff began to ask Defendant Glenn why he needed it. ( Id. ) Plaintiff also tried to explain that he was unable to back up earlier because of a parked van. ( Id. )

After the exchange regarding Plaintiff's registration, Plaintiff was forcibly removed from his car. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 16.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Glenn " flew into a rage, dragged [him] from his vehicle, shoved him against it, and handcuffed him behind his back." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 14.) Plaintiff's son was taken by a family friend to his nearby daycare center. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 17.) Plaintiff was placed in the back of the police car and was made to sit with his hands cuffed behind his back. ( Id. at ¶ 19; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 19.) Plaintiff alleges that he had recently undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from the bicep of his right arm and the position caused the scar tissue to stretch and was especially painful. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 19.) Plaintiff pleaded with the Officer Defendants to remove the handcuffs, which was eventually done. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 20; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was in the police car for 30 to 45 minutes and was eventually released with a summons for disorderly conduct. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 21; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 21.)

II. Discussion

a. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is proper only when, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Redd v. N.Y. Div. of Parole, 678 F.3d 166, 174 (2d Cir.2012); Doninger v. Niehoff, 642 F.3d 334, 344 (2d Cir.2011). The role of the court is not " to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the

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matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Cioffi v. Averill Park Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 444 F.3d 158, 162 (2d Cir.2006) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). A genuine issue of fact exists when there is sufficient " evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. The " mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" is not sufficient to defeat summary judgment; " there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. The court's function is to decide " whether, after resolving all ambiguities and drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, a rational juror could find in favor of that party." Pinto v. Allstate Ins. Co., 221 F.3d 394, 398 (2d Cir.2000).

b. Federal Claims

i. False Arrest

To prevail on a false arrest claim, Plaintiff has to prove that: " (1) the defendant intended to confine [the plaintiff], (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." Singer v. Fulton Cnty. Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir.1995); see also Ackerson v. City of White Plains, 702 F.3d 15, 19 (2d Cir.2012) (outlining the elements of false arrest claims). " The existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes justification and is a complete defense to an action for false arrest." Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir.1996) (quoting Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98, 102 (2d Cir.1994)); see also Ackerson, 702 F.3d at 19-20 (citing Weyant for probable cause analysis). " A police officer has probable cause for an arrest when he 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 [.]’ " Swartz v. Insogna, 704 F.3d 105, 111 (2d Cir.2013) (quoting Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852). The main question before the Court is whether Defendant Glenn had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff.[1] For the following reasons, the Court finds that genuine issues of fact exist and a reasonable jury could find that Defendant Glenn lacked probable cause to arrest Plaintiff.

Defendants assert that probable cause existed to arrest Plaintiff for obstruction of governmental administration (" OGA" ) and violation of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 401. (Def. Summ. J. 9-12.) Defendants allege Plaintiff could have reasonably been found guilty of OGA for failure to comply with Defendant Glenn's request for his registration. (Def. Summ. J. 9-11.) " Under New York law, obstructing governmental administration has four elements: ‘ (1) prevention or attempt to prevent (2) a public servant from performing (3) an official function (4) by means of intimidation, force or interference.’ " Cameron v. City of New York, 598 F.3d 50, 68 (2d Cir.2010) (quoting Lennon v. Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 424 (2d Cir.1995)); see also Esmont v. City of New York, 371 F.Supp.2d 202, 210 (E.D.N.Y.2005) (outlining the elements of OGA

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(citing People v. Stumpp, 129 Misc.2d 703, 493 N.Y.S.2d 679, 680 (1985))). Defendants also assert that Plaintiff's failure to provide his registration was a violation of the New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law. (Def. Summ. J. 11-12.) The law requires that drivers in New York register their motor vehicles and present their registration to police officers upon request. N.Y. Veh. & Traf. § 401. Failure to provide registration is a traffic violation.[2] N.Y. Veh. & Traf. § 155.

Under both theories, Defendants' argument is wholly based on their assertion that Plaintiff failed to comply with Defendant Glenn's instruction to provide his registration. (Def. Summ. J. 9-11; Def. Reply 3-6.) Defendants argue that Plaintiff's deposition testimony clearly supports their contention that Plaintiff did not provide the registration. However, the deposition is ambiguous on this point. For example, Plaintiff states " I had the registration in an envelope above my visor, so I take it down, and I was in the act of giving it to him and I paused momentarily to ask the officer what ...


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