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Woods v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 19, 2014

RICKY WOODS, for himself and as Parent and Natural Guardian of R.W., an infant; and SYLVESTER PETERSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARK WILLIAMS, Individually and as the chief of police of the City of Utica, New York police department; JAMES HOLT, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York; PAUL PALADINO, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York; THE CITY OF UTICA, NEW YORK; JOSEPH CIMPI, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York; SAMUEL GEDDES, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York; JOSHUA GRANDE, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York; FRANCES KUHN, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York; CHRISTOPHER FANIGLULA, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York; and ASHLEY CAVE, Individually and as a police officer of the City of Utica, New York, Defendants.

STEPHEN L. LOCKWOOD, ESQ, DANIEL N. CAFRUNY, ESQ., STEPHEN L. LOCKWOOD, P.C., Attorneys for Plaintiffs Utica, NY.

JOHN P. ORILIO, ESQ., ZACHARY C. OREN, ESQ., OFFICE OF CORPORATION COUNSEL CITY OF UTICA, Attorneys for Defendants Utica, NY.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises from actions taken by members of the Utica Police Department ("UPD") at an event being held at the Uptown Theater on Genesee Street in Utica, New York, on the night of September 23 and 24, 2011. Plaintiffs Ricky Woods ("Woods")[1] and Sylvester Peterson ("Peterson") commenced this civil rights action on September 19, 2012. They filed an amended complaint on October 16, 2012, and, by stipulation, a second amended complaint on April 2, 2013. The defendants include the City of Utica ("the City"); Mark Williams, Chief of the UPD ("Chief Williams"); and UPD officers James Holt, Paul Paladino, Joseph Cimpi, Samuel Geddes, Joshua Grande, Frances Kuhn, Christopher Faniglula, and Ashley Cave (collectively "defendants").

On May 30, 2013, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the second amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule __"). Plaintiffs oppose and have filed a cross-motion seeking leave to file a third amended complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a). The proposed third amended complaint does not contain any additional claims and removes defendants Joseph Cimpi, Joshua Grande, Frances Kuhn, and Ashley Cave from the caption. It delineates two federal causes of action and six pendent state law causes of action.[2] Defendants oppose the cross-motion and maintain that the proposed third amended complaint must be rejected as futile.

The motions have been fully briefed. Oral argument was heard on August 27, 2013, in Utica, New York. At oral argument, plaintiffs' counsel clarified that their federal claims only include alleged violations of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and the Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures.[3] Decision was reserved.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following facts, taken from the proposed third amended complaint, are assumed true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc. , 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002).

Plaintiffs are African-American residents of Utica. They publicized, produced, and performed in a talent show that began at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, September 23, 2011, at the Uptown Theater on Genesee Street in South Utica. This event was organized to showcase local artists and to celebrate African-American music and culture. It was well-attended by people of various ages and races, and volunteers provided security at the front entrance of the theater. These volunteers did not observe or report any suspicious activity during the event.

Performances were still taking place at approximately 12:30 a.m. on September 24, when numerous UPD officers arrived in marked and unmarked vehicles. The officers entered the theater with guns drawn. Defendant Holt-who has been implicated in a prior incident of racial discrimination while on duty-responded to the rear of the building and ordered Woods, his son, R.W., and several other black males to line up against the back wall of the theater. Holt held these men at gunpoint, yelled at them to "put [their] motherfucking hands against the wall, " and then frisked them. Proposed 3d Am. Compl., ECF No. 37, ¶ 25 ("Compl."). While patting them down, he searched inside their pockets until another officer told him: "You're patting them for guns, not in their pockets." Id . ¶ 26. No weapons or illegal contraband was found, and none of the men were arrested or charged with a crime.

Defendant Geddes, a sergeant, then arrived at the rear of the building and stated to the group of men: "I'll explain, we got a call that two black males walked through the front door with rifles." Id . ¶ 29. He then ordered the group to leave the premises.

Meanwhile, inside the theater, defendants Paladino and Faniglula ordered Peterson to "get the fuck against the wall, " but allowed white patrons to leave the premises without being searched. Id . ¶ 31. They then searched Peterson and several other black individuals. During the search, the officers placed their hands inside Peterson's pockets. Peterson and the rest of the group were then ordered to leave the premises. An officer remained posted at the entrance to the Uptown Theater to prevent the patrons from re-entering the building. As a result of the police response, the talent show ended abruptly and plaintiffs lost money.

On October 13, 2011, Chief Williams gave a telephone interview to Cassandra Harris-Lockwood, editor of a local weekly newspaper and president of a local non-profit organization. During the interview, Chief Williams made several false statements about plaintiffs and the talent show. He stated that officers found evidence suggesting plaintiffs operated an illegal cabaret, sold alcohol without a license, promoted illicit sex and drug use, and illegally possessed weapons. Plaintiffs have been unable to secure another venue for a future show due to the UPD's response to the talent show and Chief Williams's subsequent public statements. Further, defendants have ...


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