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Suleski v. Harlach

United States District Court, Second Circuit

August 30, 2013



WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.


Plaintiff, Geoffrey Suleski, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting claims for false arrest, malicious abuse of process, and malicious prosecution against three defendants, all of whom were police officers for the City of Buffalo during the relevant time period. Each party has moved for summary judgment, with Defendants Ruberto and McGrath moving together.[1] For the following reasons, Officer Harlach's and Plaintiff Suleski's motions are denied, but Defendants Ruberto and McGrath's motion is granted.


A. Facts[2]

Although many of the details of this case are in dispute, the parties agree on a general outline of events that began sometime in 2004 when Suleski, as part of his business, Imperial Sandblasting, agreed to paint and sandblast Officer Harlach's 1975 Gran Torino. (R & M's Stmnt., ¶ 1; Docket No. 28-5; Pl.'s Stmnt., ¶ 5, 6; Docket No. 31). Around this time, Harlach took the car, which was not in running condition, to Suleski's business at 25 Katherine Street in the City of Buffalo. The parties did not discuss, or least agree on, a total price. (Pl.'s Stmnt., ¶ 7, 8.) But sometime before May of 2004, Suleski informed Officer Harlach that he was having financial difficulties, and as a result, Officer Harlach gave Suleski a $2, 500 check as a loan - which may have been meant to be repaid in the form of work on the car - to prevent Suleski's house from entering foreclosure. (R & M's Stmnt. ¶¶ 6, 7; Pl.'s Stmt., ¶ 11.) Over the course of the next year and half, Suleski performed some work on the car, and Officer Harlach would visit the shop occasionally. (Pl.'s Stmnt., ¶ 15.) But Suleski admits that he did no work on the car for an "extended period of time." (Compl., ¶ 15.)

In the Fall of 2006, Suleski lost his business to foreclosure and he was forced to move the car. (Pl.'s Stmnt., ¶ 17). So, with Officer Harlach's permission, he took the car to a location in Blasdell, New York and later to a location in Franklinville, New York, where there was a building that he intended to use as an auto-repair shop. ( Id., 18-20, 22.) While in Blasdell, the car was kept, at least for a time, outdoors and exposed to the elements. (Trial Tr., [3] 70:13-71:15; Docket No. 28-2.)

By 2008, with the work on the car still unfinished and calls to Suleski going unanswered, the relationship between Suleski and Officer Harlach had soured, and Officer Harlach met with Assistant District Attorney John Schoemick, and Defendants McGrath and Ruberto, about the possibility of bringing criminal charges. (R & M's Stmnt., ¶ 15.) After being told criminal charges would be proper, on January 10, 2008, Harlach filed a criminal incident report, alleging that Suleski had committed grand larceny and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle; Officer Harlach was admittedly, however, still trying to contact Suleski to get the work completed. (Pl.'s Stmnt., ¶ 33.)

Those efforts apparently proved fruitless, and Officer Harlach eventually retrieved his car "in the spring of 2008." (Harlach Aff., ¶ 8; Docket No. 26-1.) But the car, once "in very good condition, " was now in disrepair. ( Id., ¶ 16.) According to Harlach, he found his car covered in snow, and "car parts were scattered around the front engine bay"; it was "badly rusted, " the interior was "moldy, " and "nuts and acorns were found in the headliner." ( Id., ¶ 8.) Suleski conceded that some of this damage might have occurred when the car was kept outside in Blasdell. (Trial Tr., 71:3-6.)

Sometime around this point, Sgt. McGrath began an investigation, and he also contacted Assistant District Attorney Schoemick. (R & M's Stmnt., ¶ 23.) In March of 2008, Sgt. McGrath gave Officer Harlach a "warrant card, " which allowed Officer Harlach to file a criminal complaint and apply to Buffalo City Court for an arrest warrant. On April 1, 2008, Defendant Harlach signed two complaints and filed them, along with a supporting deposition compiled by Defendant Ruberto, with Buffalo City Court. The complaints charged Suleski with criminal mischief and grand larceny, both in the fourth degree.[4] (Pl.'s Stmnt., ¶ 61.) On the basis of that complaint and a subsequent warrant, Suleski was arrested and arraigned on May 5, 2008.

The case eventually went to trial, and on June 30, 2008, Judge James A. Mcleod acquitted Suleski on both charges.

Suleski now brings this action, alleging that his arrest and subsequent prosecution violated his federal rights.

B. Procedural History

Suleski filed a complaint in this Court on May 2, 2011. (Docket No. 1.) After each defendant answered, the parties conducted discovery and on October 31, 2012, Suleski moved for summary judgment. That motion was quickly followed by Defendants, who filed their motions on the same date. Briefing thereon concluded ...

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