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Hogan v. County of Lewis

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 8, 2013

MARK HOGAN, individually and as guardian and on behalf of his minor children, J.H. and I.H.; ELIZABETH M. HOGAN, individually and as guardian and on behalf of her minor children, J.H. and I.H.; and DENNIS B. OKUDINANI, as guardian and on behalf of D.O., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF LEWIS, NEW YORK; DAVID VanDEWATER [1] FRANK ROSE; RUSSELL FALTER; KATHY WILSON; LEANNE MOSER, in her individual and official capacity as District Attorney of the County of Lewis; CALEB PETZOLDT, in his individual and official capacity as Assistant Lewis County District Attorney; SERGEANT RYAN LEHMAN, in his individual and official capacity; DEPUTY BRETT CRONEISER; and JOHN and JANE DOES, Defendants

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For Mark Hogan, as Guardian and o/b/o their minor children, J.H. & I.H., Elizabeth M. Hogan, Elizabeth M. Hogan, Dennis B Okudinani, as Guardian and on behalf of D.O., Plaintiffs: AJ Bosman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Daniel W. Flynn, Bosman Law Office, Rome, NY.

For County of Lewis, New York, Defendant: Edward G. Melvin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Costello, Cooney Law Firm - Syracuse Office, Syracuse, NY.

For David Vandewater, Defendant: Mark D. Goris, LEAD ATTORNEY, Patrick J. O'Sullivan, Mitchell, Goris Law Firm - Cazenovia Office, Cazenovia, NY.

For Frank Rose, Defendant, Counter Claimant: Stephanie M. Campbell, Bond, Schoeneck Law Firm - Syracuse, Syracuse, NY.

For Russell Falter, Kathy Wilson, Leanne Moser, in her individual and official capacity as District Attorney of the County of Lewis, Caleb Petzoldt, in his individual and official capacity as Assistant Lewis County District Attorney, Sergeant Ryan Lehman, in his individual and official capacity formerly known as, Sgt. Lehman, Deputy Brett Croneiser, in his individual and official capacity formerly known as, Deputy Croniser, Defendants: Matthew J. Van Beveren, LEAD ATTORNEY, Tully, NY.

For Elizabeth M. Hogan, as Guardian and o/b/o their minor children, J.H. & I.H., Mark Hogan, as Guardian and o/b/o their minor children, J.H. & I.H., Counter Defendant: AJ Bosman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Daniel W. Flynn, Bosman Law Office, Rome, NY.

OPINION

Lawrence E. Kahn, U.S. District Judge.

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MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

The instant case involves an ongoing property dispute and ensuing hostility between neighbors on Hiawatha Lake in Lewis County, New York. See generally Dkt. Nos. 1 (" Complaint" ), 4 (" Amended Complaint" ). Presently before the Court are a pair of Motions for summary judgment brought by two sets of Defendants - Defendants Lewis County, Brett Croneiser, Ryan Lehman, Leanne Moser, and Caleb Petzoldt (collectively, " the Lewis County Defendants" ) filed their Motion for summary judgment on April 26, 2012, and Defendants Russell Falter and Kathy Wilson filed their Motion for summary judgment on May 29, 2012. Dkt. Nos. 39 (" Lewis Motion" ), 43 (" Falter and Wilson Motion" ). For the reasons that follow, both Motions are granted in part and denied in part.

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II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs Mark Hogan (" Mr. Hogan" ) and Elizabeth M. Hogan (" Mrs. Hogan" ) (collectively, " Plaintiffs" ) originally filed their Complaint in this case on July 1, 2011. Compl. Three months later, on October 5, 2011, they filed an Amended Complaint. Am. Compl. The two Motions for summary judgment followed in the spring of 2012. Falter and Wilson Mot.; Lewis Mot. On June 18, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a Memorandum of law in opposition to the Lewis Motion, and the Lewis Defendants, in turn, filed a Reply on June 25, 2012. Dkt. Nos. 48 (" Response to Lewis" ), 61 (" Lewis Reply" ). On June 18, 2012, Plaintiffs also filed a Memorandum of law in opposition to the Falter and Wilson Motion, and Defendants Falter and Wilson, in turn, filed their Reply on June 25, 2012. Dkt. Nos. 53 (" Response to Falter and Wilson" ), 59 (" Falter and Wilson Reply" ).

Plaintiffs subsequently sought leave to supplement their Amended Complaint. Dkt. No. 71. On August 23, 2012, the Honorable Andrew T. Baxter, United States Magistrate Judge, granted this request. Dkt. No. 85. Plaintiffs filed their Supplemental Complaint, which is now the operative pleading in this matter, on September 5, 2012. Dkt. No. 87 (" Supplemental Complaint" ). Later in September 2012, both the Lewis County Defendants and Defendants Falter and Wilson informed the Court that they did not intend to supplement their Motions for summary judgment in response to the alterations made in Plaintiffs' Supplemental Complaint. Dkt. Nos. 99, 103. The Court notes that Plaintiffs' Appeal of a discovery-related decision by Judge Baxter is also pending before the Court. Dkt. No. 114. Because the Court concludes that the dispute is not relevant to or necessary to the disposition of the instant Motions, the Court will address this Appeal in a separate order, and it remains pending before the Court.

B. Factual Background

The factual history underlying this case is extensive and convoluted. Given the lengthy litigation history, the Court presumes the parties' familiarity with these facts. Nevertheless, in the interests of clarity, the Court recites those facts necessary to the contextualization and resolution of the instant Motions.

Plaintiffs have owned real property at Hiawatha Lake in the Town of Greig in Lewis County, New York since roughly 1992. Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts in Opposition to the Lewis Motion (Dkt. No. 50) (" Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis" ) ¶ 1. In October 2006, some of Plaintiffs' neighbors (" the West family" or " the Wests" )[2] brought an action against Plaintiffs in New York State Supreme Court. The Lewis County Defendants' Statement of Material Fact (Dkt. No. 39-25) (" Lewis S.M.F." ); West v. Hogan, 88 A.D.3d 1247, 930 N.Y.S.2d 708 (N.Y.App.Div. 2011). The Wests sought, inter alia, " a determination that they acquired title to certain property by adverse possession." West, 930 N.Y.S.2d at 710. A judgment was entered in the Wests' favor. See generally id. Many of the factual allegations alleged relate to the ongoing property dispute addressed in part by the West's lawsuit.

1. Plaintiffs' Dispute with the Lewis County Defendants

On May 15, 2010, Defendant Croneiser, Deputy Sheriff with the Lewis County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to a trespass/larceny call at 7689 Hiawatha Lake Road in the Town of Greig. Lewis

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S.M.F. ¶ 7. Upon arriving at Hiawatha Lake Road, Defendant Croneiser met with, inter alia, Hiawatha Lake Road property owners, Defendants Rose and VanDewater. Id. Defendant Rose showed Defendant Croneiser photographs that allegedly captured Mr. Hogan taking sawhorses and a steel cable that belonged to Defendant Rose and were on Defendant VanDewater's property. Id. ¶ ¶ 8-9. Defendants Rose and VanDewater pointed out to Defendants Croneiser and Lehman what they claimed were the applicable property boundary lines. Id. ¶ 11; Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis ¶ 11. At this time Defendant Lehman, another officer present at the scene was in possession of a copy of a decision from West v. Hogan. Lewis S.M.F. ¶ 12; Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis ¶ 12. Prior to leaving Hiawatha Lake Road on May 15, 2010, Defendants Croneiser and Lehman obtained sworn statements from Defendants Rose and David VanDewater regarding the alleged incident with Mr. Hogan.[3] Lewis S.M.F. ¶ 13.

On May 29, 2010, Mr. Hogan was arrested for petit larceny. Lewis S.M.F. ¶ 14; Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis ¶ 14. The Lewis County Defendants also offer a signed " Property Receipt" from May 30, 2010, which purports to demonstrate that Mr. Hogan returned the sawhorses and steel cables.[4] Compare Lewis S.M.F. ¶ 15, with Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis ¶ 15. Defendant Lehman told Mr. Hogan that he would receive his trespass charge when he was arraigned for the petit larceny charge. Lewis S.M.F. ¶ 16; Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis ¶ 16.

Plaintiffs generally contend in their Further Statement of Material Facts and in their other submissions that this arrest was exemplary of a broader pattern of concerted harassment on the part of the Lewis County Defendants and their neighbors that included a refusal to accept criminal complaints from Plaintiffs against their neighbors. See generally Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis; Dkt. No. 49. On July 5, 2010, Defendant Croneiser accepted a trespass complaint from Mr. Hogan, but Plaintiffs claim that they were later told that the District Attorney's Office had declared an " open season" on the Hogans and that officers had been instructed to refuse to accept the Hogans' complaints. See generally Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis; Dkt. No. 49. Plaintiffs further allege that some of this mistreatment stems from the fact that Plaintiffs have, on occasion, hosted D.O., an African American minor and friend of the family on their property. Pl.'s S.M.F. - Lewis ¶ 11.

The Court notes that Plaintiffs object broadly to many of the Lewis County Defendants' proffered facts as inadmissible. While the Court remains uncertain precisely what elements of each fact (or its purported evidentiary basis) are objected to and on what grounds, the Court narrowly addresses the evidentiary issues raised. Plaintiffs object to, inter alia, the: (1) larceny/trespass complaints; (2) sworn statements by Defendants Rose and VanDewater; (3) photographs of Mr. Hogan taking part in the alleged larceny; (4) property receipt; and (5) arrest report. While there might be a sustainable hearsay objections if the statements, comments, and photographs were offered for the truth of the matter asserted ( i.e., that there was a larceny or trespass), the Court finds nothing objectionable about them as

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they are used by the Lewis County Defendants in their Motion ( i.e., as demonstrating the knowledge or mental state of the officers at the time of arrest). See Fed.R.Evid. 801(c).[5] Because relevant evidence such as this is admissible by default, Fed.R.Evid. 402, and because Plaintiffs have not otherwise raised a dispute as to these facts, the Court will consider them undisputed for purposes of resolving the instant Motions. Further, the Court finds no basis to exclude the property receipt or arrest report at this time, but does not rely on either of them for purposes of resolving the instant Motions.

2. Plaintiffs' Dispute with Their Neighbors

Defendants Falter and Wilson jointly own several lots around Hiawatha Lake and reside year round on an adjoining landlocked lot. Dkt. Nos. 43-11 (" Falter and Wilson's Statement of Material Facts" ) (" Falter and Wilson's S.M.F." ) ¶ 1, 54 (" Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts in Opposition to Defendants Falter and Wilson's Motion" ) (" Pl's. S.M.F. - Falter and Wilson" ) ¶ 1. One of the lots owned by the Hogans abuts property owned by Defendants Falter and Wilson. Falter and Wilson's S.M.F. ¶ 7; Pl's. S.M.F. - Falter and Wilson ¶ 7. In 2008, Mr. Hogan brought suit in state court against a number of his neighbors including, inter alia, Defendants Falter and Wilson. Falter and Wilson's S.M.F. ¶ 5; Pl's. S.M.F. - Falter and Wilson ¶ 5.[6]

Defendants Falter and Wilson assert that they have no easements or interests in the Hogans' property. Falter and Wilson's S.M.F. ¶ ¶ 11, 13. They also claim that they have not interfered with the Hogans' property rights. See generally id. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend that Defendants Falter and Wilson have taken part in an unceasing campaign of harassment against them and have repeatedly blocked the Hogans access to their property by blocking a right-of-way over Defendant VanDewater's property. See generally Pl's. S.M.F. - Falter and Wilson. Plaintiffs further allege that some of this mistreatment stems from the fact that Plaintiffs have, on occasion, hosted D.O., an African American minor and friend of the family on their property and that Defendants Falter and Wilson and their friends have directed racial slurs at D.O. See generally id.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs a court to grant summary judgment if " 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(c). Although " [f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary" will not preclude summary judgment, " summary judgment will not lie if . . . the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving

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party claims will demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of a material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate " the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. This requires the non-moving party to do " more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

At the same time, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000); Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Grp. of Am., Inc., 164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998). A court's duty in reviewing a motion for summary judgment is " carefully limited" to finding genuine disputes of fact, " not ...


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