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Minott v. Duffy

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 8, 2014




This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which Plaintiff Hopeton Minott alleges that five New York City Police Department ("NYPD") Officers (collectively, "Defendants")[1] violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights by subjecting him to false arrest and malicious prosecution without probable cause. Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the false arrest claim levied against Defendants Sean Gelfand and Arlene Gonzalez, and otherwise denies the parties' cross-motions.


A. The Events of November 25, 2009

The accounts provided by Plaintiff and the individual Defendants are fundamentally contradictory in major and minor respects.[2] This section will first lay out what all parties agree to be true, and then note in the following subsections the relevant testimony of each party where contradictions forbid easy summary.

1. The Facts Not in Dispute[3]

On the morning of November 25, 2009, Plaintiff encountered an acquaintance in Brooklyn whose name is not clear, but whom both parties refer to as "Ra." (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 3; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 3). Plaintiff drove Ra and a female acquaintance of Ra's, then unknown to Plaintiff but later identified as Shirley Lindsay, into Manhattan. ( Id.; Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 19; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 19). Plaintiff drove into Manhattan and parked near a Chase Bank branch on Third Avenue between 31st and 32nd Streets. Lindsay left the car and entered the bank. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 9; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 9; Minott Dep. 44:15-16, 46:3-5). Plaintiff and Ra waited in the car for some time while Lindsay was in the bank. (Video 2 10:50:33-11:00:41 a.m.).

At approximately the same time, an officer at the NYPD's 17th Precinct received a call from a bank employee regarding a possible unfolding crime. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶¶ 9-10; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶¶ 9-10). The officer was a member of a 17th Precinct anti-crime team, and the information was passed to other members of the team, comprising the individual Defendants. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶¶ 7, 9-10; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶¶ 7, 9-10). The content of this call is disputed. At a minimum, the informant advised that a young woman was attempting to cash a forged check. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 13; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 13). The informant may also have identified a second person during this initial phone conversation, as detailed more fully below.

As these events were playing out, Plaintiff left his car and went into the bank. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 16; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 16).[4] He attracted Lindsay's attention and spoke briefly with her before leaving the bank once again. (Video 2 11:00:41-11:01:07 a.m.). Lindsay returned briefly to the counter (Video 2 11:01:07-11:01:18 a.m.; Video 3 11:01:19-11:02:02 a.m.) before leaving the bank herself (Video 3 11:02:03-11:02:10 a.m.).

Meanwhile, the individual Defendants drove to the bank and parked. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 11; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 11). One officer entered the bank, spoke briefly with a bank employee, and then quickly left. (Video 2 11:03:02-11:03:16 a.m.; Video 4 11:03:17-11:03:23 a.m.; Video 3 11:03:23-11:03:28 a.m.).[5]

Lindsay was apprehended in a nearby McDonald's restaurant. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶¶ 18-19; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶¶ 18-19). Questioned, Lindsay confessed that "a guy named Rod" (presumably the same individual referred to elsewhere as Ra) had given her the check and asked her to cash it (Def. 56.1(a) ¶¶ 21, 24; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶¶ 21, 24), and that "one of the guys" had driven her to the bank (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 22; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 22). The individual Defendant officers also stopped Plaintiff on the street, where Plaintiff told officers that he had driven the other individuals involved to the scene. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 27; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 27).

Plaintiff and Lindsay were arrested and taken back to the precinct house, where Officer Duffy signed an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Plaintiff's and Lindsay's cellphones. (Def. 56.1(a) ¶ 31; Pl. 56.1(b) ¶ 31; Search Warrant Affidavit ¶ 2). The Affidavit contained Duffy's sworn testimony that:

• Duffy had seen Plaintiff, Lindsay, and an unapprehended male leaving the Chase Bank;
• Duffy had identified himself as a police officer, whereupon the three individuals ran away from the bank in different directions;
• A bank employee had informed Duffy that she had seen Lindsay, while trying to cash a counterfeit check, walk to the vestibule of the bank and speak with a tall, African-American male;
• Lindsay had confessed to receiving the counterfeit check from a man named Rod; and
• Plaintiff had admitted to knowing the individual identified as Rod and to driving Lindsay to the bank.

(Search Warrant Affidavit ¶ 7).

Duffy also signed, that same day, a Criminal Complaint against Plaintiff prepared by an Assistant District Attorney. (Criminal Complaint 1-2; Duffy Dep. 97:25-98:6). The Criminal Complaint reflected Duffy's testimony that an employee of Chase Bank had observed Lindsay enter the bank with Plaintiff and an unapprehended male and attempt to cash a forged check while Plaintiff and the unapprehended male stood inside the bank; and that Duffy had observed Lindsay, Plaintiff, and the unapprehended male exit the bank and, on seeing Duffy, each run in a different direction. (Criminal Complaint 1-2).

A New York State grand jury (the "Grand Jury") indicted Plaintiff and Lindsay on December 7, 2009, charging them with criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree and attempt to commit the crime of grand larceny in the third degree. (Indictment). Plaintiff remained incarcerated from his arrest on November 25, 2009, until he was able to post bond on January 6, 2010. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 17; Answer ¶ 17).

Two months later, the presiding judge in Plaintiff's case dismissed the charges against him because there was "not enough evidence against" him. (3/16/10 Tr. 2:6). The judge explained her ruling by summarizing what she saw as the evidence before her: on the state's account,

[Lindsay] attempted to cash a forged check at a bank and there was a point at her transaction with the teller that she left the teller and went to the vestibule, spoke to someone, allegedly [Plaintiff], and then came back. That was [Plaintiff's] entire involvement. I don't think that makes out a crime so that's the ruling.

( Id. at 2:11-17). Lindsay ultimately pled guilty to criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree. (6/2/10 Tr. 2:24-4:21).

2. The Facts in Dispute

The following sections lay out the contradictory factual testimony provided by each party.

a. Plaintiff Hopeton Minott

Plaintiff testified that, after waiting for some time at the car, he went into the bank to tell Lindsay he needed to leave. (Minott Dep. 45:24-50:23). After leaving the bank by himself ( id. at 49:21-22), he "went across the street to go back to the car" ( id. at 51:1), whereupon he saw Lindsay "come out after me and [go] towards the... McDonald's" ( id. at 49:19-20). Lindsay, he averred, did not walk with him at all. ( Id. at 51:2-3). As he approached his car, two plainclothes police officers, one African-American and one Caucasian ( id. at 53:1-2), seized him ( id. at 51:24-52:14) and began asking him about "hustling checks" ( id. at 52:19).

Plaintiff testified that, asked about his involvement, he told officers that he "gave a friend a ride" (Minott Dep. 53:13) and, when presented with Lindsay, informed officers that Ra, not Lindsay, was the friend in question, though acknowledging he had driven both ( id. at 53:14-16). Officers took Plaintiff's car keys and began walking towards Ra who, as Plaintiff recounts it, fled on foot; one officer "jumped in [Plaintiff's] car and chased him." ( Id. at 53:19-22).

b. Defendant James Duffy

Officer Duffy testified that, while in the vicinity of the precinct house, a member of his anti-crime team received a phone call from an employee of the Chase Bank involved in these events; he did not recall which officer received the call. (Duffy Dep. 16:3-20). Four officers - Defendants Duffy, Gonzalez, Brizuela, and Harris - traveled in one car from the precinct house to the bank. ( Id. at 17:5-9). Duffy testified that the phone call from the bank had alerted his team to "a female trying to pass a bad check" and that he had no information about any other individuals who might have been involved. ( Id. at 19:5-17). After the team parked and left the car, Duffy recalled that Sergeant Brizuela crossed to the other side of Third Avenue, presumably to look for individuals who might be involved in an unfolding crime. ( Id. at 23:19-24:17). Duffy testified that Brizuela never entered the bank. ( Id. at 20:18-21). Duffy could not recall what Harris did at this point. ( Id. at 23:16-18).

Duffy, approaching the bank, saw a male and a female exiting the bank "walking together, " as well as "other people in close proximity" to them. (Duffy Dep. 25:17-19). He thought the female might be the individual identified in the tip that brought Defendants to the scene, and that the male walking with her might also be involved. ( Id. at 26:3-10). Duffy testified that, after he entered the bank with Officer Gonzalez, a bank employee described a female who tried to pass a forged check, and further described a tall African-American man and another individual to whom the young woman had spoken in the vestibule of the bank. ( Id. at 26:20-27:17). This description reminded Duffy of the two individuals he had noted on their way out of the bank when he entered. ( Id. at 28:8-17).

Duffy recounted that he and Gonzalez left the bank and "almost immediately" observed the woman he had seen leaving the bank; she matched the bank employee's description. (Duffy Dep. 30:3-7). Duffy and Gonzalez followed this woman, eventually identified as Lindsay, into a McDonald's, where they apprehended her as she left the bathroom. ( Id. at 30:8-31:7). They asked her a few questions and, establishing probable cause that she was the individual identified by the bank employee, arrested her. ( Id. at 33:14-22). During this questioning, Lindsay acknowledged that she had tried to cash a check she had been given by a man named Rod and that "one of the guys drove her" to the bank. ( Id. at 33:7-13).

Duffy located Sergeant Brizuela and Officer Harris across the street where they had already stopped Plaintiff. (Duffy Dep. 34:9-22). Duffy was told that, in the interim, a third individual had fled the scene in a vehicle and Sergeant Brizuela had given futile chase on foot. ( Id. at 36:6-17). Plaintiff, questioned, "offered up the name Rod" as someone involved in the day's events. ( Id. at 41:13-18). Plaintiff acknowledged that he "grew up with" the individual named Rod whom police had failed to apprehend. ( Id. at 104:12-17). Plaintiff also told Defendants that "all [Plaintiff] was doing was driving." ( Id. at 104:5-9). Plaintiff was ultimately arrested at the scene and transported back to the precinct house with Lindsay. ( Id. at 46:4-48:10).

Duffy, acting as the arresting officer, processed Plaintiff for arrest. (Duffy Dep. 47:13-16). This included creating the affidavit in support of a search warrant. ( Id. at 60:13-69:19). Questioned about the content of the Search Warrant Affidavit, Duffy testified that he did not "recall if [Plaintiff] was running or hastily walking" outside the bank ( id. at 64:17-19), though the Affidavit indicates that Plaintiff and the other individuals ran away from the bank. Duffy also testified that the bank employee observed Lindsay speaking both to Plaintiff ...

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