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Mitchell v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 11, 2014

MELINDA MITCHELL and HARVEY MITCHELL, individually, and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, a municipal entity; New York City Police Officer JAMES SCHUESSLER, Shield No. 28718; New York City Police Officer MARK BRINADZE; New York City Police Captain JOSEPH GULOTTA; New York City Police Sergeant DANIELLE ROVENTINI; New York City Police Lieutenant KATHLEEN CAESAR; New York City Police Supervisors And Commanders RICHARD ROEs 1-50; New York City Police Officers JOHN DOEs 1-50, individually and in their official capacities, jointly and severally, Defendants.

Jeffrey A. Rothman, Jonathan C. Moore, Jennifer Rolnick Borchetta, BELDOCK LEVINE & HOFFMAN LLP, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

Brian C. Francolla, Erica M. Haber, NEW YORK CITY LAW DEPARTMENT, Attorneys for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEWIS A. KAPLAN, District Judge.

Named plaintiffs Melinda and Harvey Mitchell[1] bring this putative class action against the City of New York and certain named and unnamed police officers, asserting claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, excessive force, and municipal liability under Section 1983 as well as various state law claims.[2] Plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment on their false arrest and state law battery claims. Defendants cross-move for summary judgment dismissing all of plaintiffs' claims.

Facts [3]

In or about December 2010, Lieutenant Caesar of the New York City Police Department responded to an incident at 2142 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.[4] On that occasion, she discovered that the premises at the location appeared abandoned, having little inside other than a bar and a "dance pole area."[5] Police subsequently made it a point to drive past the house.[6]

At approximately 2:15 a.m. on January 9, 2011, about one month later, Lieutenant Caesar observed three individuals standing on the porch at 2142 Atlantic Avenue.[7] She then called another officer.[8] Lieutenant Hopkins, Deputy Inspector Gulotta, and approximately thirty additional officers responded to the address.[9] Deputy Inspector Gulotta believed that there had been a history of parties at the location and incorrectly believed that a rape had been committed there several weeks earlier.[10]

The officers observed that the first-floor windows were blocked and that there was a real estate sign in the front of the property, which was surrounded by a waist-high steel fence.[11] They attempted to enter the house but found that the front door was locked.[12] Lieutenant Caesar then attempted to enter the building through the back door and found that it was "blocked, like [by] something heavy against the door."[13] She and other officers ultimately were able to push the door open.[14]

Upon entering, they discovered that a party was taking place inside[15] with between 40 and 60 people in attendance.[16] The party included disco lights, a bar, a DJ and DJ booth, a television, and some couches.[17] Detective Inspector Gulotta smelled a strong odor of marijuana, [18] and Office Schuessler observed six to eight "nickel" or "dime" bags on the floor containing what appeared to be marijuana and crack cocaine.[19]

Deputy Inspector Gulotta and Lieutenant Caesar believed that the house had been abandoned by its owner.[20] There were portable heaters throughout and extension cords that ran to a neighbor's garage.[21] When asked, nobody in attendance could or would identify the party's host.[22] Plaintiffs testified that attendees responded "we didn't do anything, we don't know who the person is."[23] Melinda and Harvey Mitchell stated during their depositions that they had learned of the party through various DJs and believed they were permitted to be there, but they did not know who owned the house or who was hosting the party.[24]

After the party's attendees failed to identify who was hosting the party or owned the house, Deputy Inspector Gulotta decided to arrest everyone inside.[25] Melinda Mitchell then was arrested and handcuffed by an officer who allegedly refused to loosen her handcuffs after she complained that they were too tight.[26] She remained handcuffed for approximately one hour, which allegedly caused bruising on her wrist, several days' soreness, and necessitated treatment with ice packs and six Advil over two days.[27] Harvey Mitchell was arrested and handcuffed for 20-30 minutes, which left marks on his arms and caused him two to three hours of pain.[28]

Melinda Mitchell was released with a desk appearance ticket requiring her to appear in court approximately one month later. The Kings County District Attorney's Office ultimately elected not to prosecute.[29] Harvey Mitchell accepted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal on April 12, 2011.[30]

Discussion

I. The Summary Judgment Standard


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