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Westbrooks v. City of Buffalo

United States District Court, Second Circuit

January 26, 2014

WILLIAM WESTBROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BUFFALO, CITY OF BUFFALO POLICE DEPARTMENT, and TIMOTHY DUFFY, Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.

1. In this action, which was removed to this Court from state court on November 18, 2011, Plaintiff, William Westbrooks, asserts substantive causes of action for false arrest, negligent supervision, and infliction of emotion distress against the City of Buffalo and a City of Buffalo Police Officer, Timothy Duffy. Westbrooks also asserts a concomitant federal cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest.

Defendants now move for summary judgment on each of Westbrooks' claims. For the following reasons, that motion is granted with respect to claims for emotional distress, loss of income, negligent supervision, and punitive damages against the City; it is denied with respect to Westbrooks' claims for false arrest and punitive damages against Officer Duffy.

2. Under Rule 56 of the Rules of Civil Procedure the court can grant summary judgment "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 governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A "genuine" dispute exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id . In determining whether a genuine dispute regarding a material fact exists, the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence "must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co. , 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1609, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) (internal quotations and citation omitted). 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.

3. Before proceeding to the merits of Defendants' motion, this Court must address their deficient statement of facts. Local Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that "[u]pon any motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, there shall be annexed to the notice of motion a separate, short, and concise statement, in numbered paragraphs, of the material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried." It further provides that "[e]ach statement by the movant or opponent pursuant to this Local Rule must be followed by citation to evidence that would be admissible, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)" and that "[c]itations shall identify with specificity the relevant page and paragraph or line number of the authority cited."

In clear violation of that rule, Defendants statement is devoid of citation to the record. This "may constitute grounds for denial of the motion." L. R. Civ. P. 56(a)(1). Defendants' counsel did, however, submit an affidavit in which he recounts the relevant facts, with largely accurate citations to the record. (Docket No. 26.) In exercising its inherent discretion in enforcing the Local Rules (and given the relatively straightforward nature of the facts in this case), this Court finds it expedient to utilize the affidavit in place of a proper statement of facts. But Defendants are cautioned to closely adhere to the Local Rules in future submissions to this Court.

4. Drawing from that affidavit and Westbrooks' responsive statement of facts (referred to as "Pl.'s Stmnt."), the following facts appear to be undisputed.

At approximately 7:00 a.m. on March 29, 2011, Westbrooks entered the Tim Horton's franchise located on the corner of Main and Court Streets in downtown Buffalo. (Pl.'s Stmnt., ¶ 1.). He did not purchase anything. ( Id., ¶ 2.) After Westbrooks had been in the coffee shop for close to an hour, Officer Duffy, assigned to patrol that area of downtown Buffalo and with orders from his superiors to "keep that corner clear in lieu of high traffic and possible illegal activity" entered the Tim Horton's and informed Westbrooks that he would either have to buy something or move outside. (Osher Aff., ¶¶ 10-11.) Westbrooks heeded that directive, left the establishment, and rested on a large cement "planter" near the Tim Horton's entrance. ( Id., ¶ 12). Officer Duffy, following him outside, told Westbrooks that he could not sit there, and according to Defendants, asked him to move. ( Id., ¶¶ 13-14; Pl.'s Stmnt. ¶ 9.) Westbrooks, however, contends he was not asked to move. In any event, Westbrooks then explained to Officer Duffy that he was waiting to go to a job interview downtown; Duffy called his partner to assist him, asked for Westbrooks' ID, and arrested him in short order. (Pl.'s Stmnt. ¶10.)

5. Westbrooks asserts that he was falsely arrested. To state a claim for false arrest under either New York or federal law, a plaintiff must show 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 County Sheriff , 63 F.3d 110, 118 (2d Cir.1995) (internal marks omitted). "An officer generally has probable cause to arrest when he or she, on the basis of the totality of the circumstances, has sufficient knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information to justify a person of reasonable caution in believing that an offense has been or is being committed by the person being arrested." United States v. Valentine , 539 F.3d 88, 93 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Defendants improbably argue that based on these facts, Officer Duffy had probable cause to arrest Westbrooks.

6. Defendants appear to rest this argument on the disputed fact that Westbrooks refused to obey Officer Duffy's order. But the parties paint conflicting versions of the events that morning. Westbrooks contends that he was never asked to move from the planter. If true - and it is not this Court's role to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter - Westbrooks did not disobey an order, and the premise for Defendants' argument falls away. This alone precludes summary judgment. See, e.g., Martin v. Malhoyt , 830 F.2d 237, 262 (D.C. Cir. 1987) ("Since [plaintiff] claims that [Defendant-officer] said nothing at all to him at the relevant time, let alone something that could be construed as an order, under the facts as we must take them at this stage of the case, there was no probable cause for an arrest for disobeying a police officer's order."). This is true for both the state and federal false-arrest claims. Jenkins v. City of New York , 478 F.3d 76, 88 (2d Cir. 2007) ("If... on the undisputed facts the officer would be unreasonable in concluding probable cause existed, or if the officer's reasonableness depends on material issues of fact, then summary judgment is inappropriate for both New York and federal false arrest claims.").

7. Further, Defendants can offer no authority for the erroneous proposition that failure to follow a police officer's order - regardless of the lawfulness of or justification for that order - is in itself a violation of the law. Defendants must point to some crime Westbrooks committed or was committing - or at least that the officer had probable cause to believe he committed or was committing. See Valentine , 539 F.3d at 93; Singer , 63 F.3d at 118 (2d Cir.1995) (element of false-arrest claim is that the arrest be "not otherwise privileged").

8. Although disobeying an officer's order may constitute a crime under New York Penal Law § 195.00, which prohibits "obstruction of governmental administration, " New York courts have held that the official function being performed must be one that is "authorized by law." Lennon v. Miller , 66 F.3d 416, 424 (2d Cir. 1995). Even considering that Officer Duffy had orders from his superiors to "keep that corner clear in lieu of high traffic and possible illegal activity, " Defendants do not adequately explain how the order in question here was "authorized."[1] Of course, internal police orders lack the necessary force of New York's penal law.

9. To the extent that Defendants argue that Officer Duffy had probable cause to arrest Westbrooks for disorderly conduct, it is plain that under Westbrooks' version of the events, no reasonable officer could have believed he committed that crime. Under New York Law:

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or ...

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