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Ampratwum v. City of New York

United States District Court, Second Circuit

May 9, 2013

CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

Tashena Ampratwum, pro se Bronx, NY, Eric Fisher, pro se Bronx, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Michael A. Cardozo, Uriel B. Abt, New York City Law Department, New York, NY, for Defendants.


DENISE COTE, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Tashena Ampratwum ("Ampratwum") and Eric Fisher ("Fisher"), proceeding pro se, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for a number of constitutional violations allegedly committed by the defendants in connection with Ampratwum's arrest in July 2009, including false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, damage to private property, obstruction of Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") requests, falsifying records, and conspiracy to commit fraud. Following the close of discovery, on January 2, 2013, plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment in this action "against all defendants who willfully committed fraud in-order to conduct their false arrest and imprisonment against the plaintiffs' secured civil rights." On January 4, plaintiffs filed a second motion for summary judgment "against defendants who lacked probable cause to arrest plaintiffs." On January 8, defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims.[1] On February 1, plaintiffs also moved to strike defendant P.O. Denise Enmanuel's ("Enmanuel") affidavit submitted in support of defendants' summary judgment motion. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, [2] the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, and plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment and motion to strike are denied.

I. Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed, taken from the plaintiffs' depositions, or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. In July 2009, Ampratwum lived in a first floor apartment at 3501 Gunther Avenue (the "House") with her children A.A. and F.F., and her sister, Shantel Vernon ("Vernon"). Vernon was sixteen years old at the time, and had lived for over a year with Ampratwum, who served as Vernon's legal guardian.

On the morning of July 20, 2009, Ampratwum and Vernon had an argument at the House. At the end of the argument, Vernon walked out. According to Vernon, Ampratwum told her to leave or otherwise indicated that she "didn't want [her] there."[3] Ampratwum, however, alleges that Vernon left by her own accord; she believed Vernon was "running away." Vernon did not take her key to the House with her when she left. Vernon went to a friend's home, but attempted to return to the House up to three times that day to pick up some of her personal items.[4] Ampratwum did not let Vernon back in the House at any time, nor did Ampratwum give Vernon the personal belongings she had come back to retrieve. After Vernon left the House, Ampratwum called a case worker from the New York City Administration for Children's Services ("ACS" or "ACS Agency"), Nataki Robinson ("Robinson"), and told Robinson that Vernon had run away. According to Ampratwum, Robinson advised her to "make a report" regarding the incident.

Around 2:00 p.m. on July 20, Vernon's friend called 911. While speaking with the police, Vernon's friend pretended to be Vernon, and reported that she had been put out of her home by her sister, and that her sister would not allow her to return.[5]

Defendant police officers Enmanuel and P.O. Vargas ("Vargas") responded to the call. Vernon was sitting alone in front of the House when Enmanuel and Vargas arrived. Vernon identified herself as the individual who had called 911, and informed the officers that she was sixteen years old and lived with her sister, that Ampratwum was her legal guardian, that Ampratwum told her to leave the House and would not let her back in, and that she "did not want to go back."[6]

A description of the House will be of assistance in understanding the events that followed. 3501 Gunther Avenue is a two-story, two-family house. Ampratwum occupies the apartment on the first floor, and the building's owner and landlord lives in the second-floor apartment. The House has only one mailbox, but each apartment has a separate doorbell outside the House's front, or outer, door (the "outer door"). The outer door opens into a small hallway, where there are two doors: one for Ampratwum's first-floor apartment (the "apartment door"), and one leading to the landlord's second-floor apartment. Ampratwum keeps her apartment door locked, and although she has a key to the landlord's second-floor apartment, Ampratwum generally would not enter the second-floor apartment without her landlord's permission.

After meeting Vernon outside the House, Enmanuel and Vargas approached the House's outer door and spoke to Ampratwum.[7] Ampratwum told Enmanuel and Vargas that she was Vernon's legal guardian, that Vernon left the House after an argument that morning, that she had called Robinson, and that the officers could call Robinson to confirm what she was saying. Ampratwum refused to allow Enmanuel, Vargas, or Vernon to enter the House to collect Vernon's belongings. Ampratwum testified that she also said to the officers, "[Vernon]'s a minor, where is she going to go." According to Ampratwum, one of the officers eventually said that she was "f'ing coming in, " after which Ampratwum locked the outer door, returned to her apartment, and locked the apartment door. A domestic incident police report and arrest report from July 20 state that Ampratwum became angry with the police officers, used profanity, and slammed the door on the officers. The officers continued to entreat Ampratwum to let them in through the closed outer door. Enmanuel then forced open the outer door, entered the hallway, and attempted to speak to Ampratwum through her apartment door. Enmanuel and Vargas never entered Ampratwum's apartment.

Several minutes later, a second set of police officers arrived, including defendant Sgt. Philip Jiminez ("Jiminez").[8] Jiminez identified himself to Ampratwum through the apartment door, and Ampratwum opened the apartment door to speak to him. Plaintiff Eric Fisher ("Fisher"), who was and is romantically involved with Ampratwum and is F.F.'s father, arrived at the house around this time. Jiminez told Ampratwum and Fisher to "[l]et ACS handle the situation." Ampratwum claims that no police officers ever entered her apartment, and she spoke to Jiminez in the hallway. Fisher, however, testified that Ampratwum spoke to Jiminez inside Ampratwum's apartment in the kitchen. After Jiminez spoke with Ampratwum and Fisher for several minutes, all of the police officers at the scene left the House with Vernon and went to the police station.

Shortly thereafter, Ampratwum and Fisher also went to the police station, intending to file (i) an ACS report as to Vernon's behavior that morning and (ii) a complaint against the police officers for damaging the door. At the station, they spoke to defendant Lieutenant Kenny ("Kenny") and explained the events of the day, including that Robinson had advised Ampratwum to report that Vernon "packed her stuff and left" that morning, and that the police officers kicked in her door. She also informed Kenny that she wanted to file both an ACS report and a complaint against the officers who had come to the House. After roughly one hour, Kenny took Ampratwum to a back room and provided her with paperwork to file a report. Kenny left the room, but returned soon after with a second male officer.[9] Kenny stated there had been a "change of plans, " and at 4:15 p.m., Ampratwum was arrested. The arrest report charges Ampratwum with violating a local class A misdemeanor and acting in a manner injurious to a child under the age of seventeen, and bases the charges on Vernon's statements and the events that the police officers observed at the House earlier that day.

Vernon was taken to an ACS facility that evening.[10] Vernon later spoke to a prosecutor and recounted the events of July 20, including that Ampratwum was her legal guardian, and that Ampratwum had kicked her out of the house and would not allow her to return to retrieve her belongings. Based on these allegations, on July 21, Ampratwum was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, unlawful eviction, and harassment in the second degree in the criminal division of the Bronx Supreme Court (the "State Criminal Action"). Vernon, however, chose not to pursue these criminal charges.[11]

On July 21, Vernon also spoke to an ACS case worker, Michelle Campbell ("Campbell"). Vernon recounted the events of July 20 and also told Campbell that Fisher sometimes stayed with them at the House, that he was the father of F.F., and that he smokes marijuana in the presence of Vernon and the two younger children, A.A. and F.F. The following day, Campbell filed neglect petitions on behalf of Vernon, A.A., and F.F. with regard to both Ampratwum and Fisher. F.F. and A.A. were paroled to the custody of Ampratwum and Fisher under certain conditions, including requiring Fisher to submit to drug screening. On July 29, 2009, Fisher appeared before Judge Roberts of the Bronx County Family Court, who ordered Fisher to submit to a drug test that day. Fisher refused to take the test. Over a year later, on August 10, 2010, ACS withdrew the neglect petitions against Ampratwum and Fisher. Judge Roberts approved the withdrawal and dismissal of the neglect petitions on October 21, 2010.

On July 27, 2009, Ampratwum filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board ("CCRB"), alleging that, on July 20, Enmanuel spoke to Ampratwum "obscenely and rudely" and damaged Ampratwum's property. The CCRB recommendation report states that Ampratwum's claims regarding Enmanuel's language were "unsubstantiated" and recommended that the charges regarding damage to the door be "exonerated."

In 2010, plaintiffs filed a civil suit in New York State Civil Court against the defendants in this action, with respect to essentially the same events at issue here (the "State Civil Action"). Judge Reed heard the case. Defendant Rachel Kish, Esq. ("Kish"), who represented the City as corporation counsel in that action, filed a motion for summary judgment in that matter, which Judge Reed denied. Ampratwum filed a motion for sanctions against the police officer defendants and Kish in that action, which was also denied.

Plaintiffs filed this action on August 31, 2011, claiming damages against the City of New York (the "City"), the NYPD, Bronx County Judge Robert Reeds [sic], CCRB Agency's Graham Daw-Esq., Kish, Kenny, Jimenez, Sgt. Christine Melhorn ("Melhorn"), Sgt. Menendez ("Menendez"), P.O. Turnase ("Turnase"), Emanuel, and Vargas. The State Civil Action was discontinued with prejudice on September 23, 2011 in light of this pending federal action.

Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on October 17, and by Order dated October 19, the Court dismissed all claims against the NYPD, Judge Reed, and Graham Daw. Plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint (the "Complaint") on January 9, 2012 against the current defendants. After a number of extensions, the parties' filed their motions for summary judgment, and plaintiffs filed their motion to strike.

II. Discussion

The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims. Summary judgment may not be granted unless all of the submissions taken together "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a material factual question, and in making this determination, the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. ...

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