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Groski v. City of Albany

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 5, 2014

ALISON GROSKI et al., Plaintiffs,
THE CITY OF ALBANY et al., Defendants.

Treyvus, Konoski Law Firm BRYAN M. KONOSKI, ESQ., New York, NY, for the Plaintiffs.

City of Albany Corporation Counsel JOHN JOSEPH REILLY, ESQ., Albany, NY, Rehfuss, Liguori Law Firm STEPHEN J. REHFUSS, ESQ., Latham, NY, for the Defendants.


GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiffs Alison Groski and Brian Groski commenced this action against defendants the City of Albany, police officer K. Meehan, police officer W. Pierce, Sgt. E. Donohue, and police officer Brandon M. Bailey, [1] in their official and individual capacities, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, for false imprisonment, [2] malicious prosecution, excessive force, First Amendment retaliation, and abuse of process. (Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 20.) Pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 50.) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background[3]

On March 12, 2011, plaintiffs were in the City of Albany for St. Patrick's Day celebrations, and over the course of the day, they frequented several bars on North Pearl Street in downtown Albany. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶¶ 1, 4, 8, Dkt. No. 50, Attach. 1.) Albany police had observed significant alcohol use and a number of fights among groups of people throughout the day. ( Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs claim that they each consumed three or four alcoholic drinks that day. ( Id. ¶ 11.)

In the early morning hours of March 13, plaintiffs decided to dine at Pizza 54, a restaurant located on North Pearl Street. ( Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiffs allege that, while inside Pizza 54, three men at an adjacent table threw various items, including pizza crust, at Alison. ( Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) When this occurred, Brian had a verbal encounter with the three men at the other table. ( Id. ¶ 19.) The men responded by saying, "let's take this outside, " and shortly afterward, Brian and Alison got up to leave, allegedly to avoid any further confrontations. ( Id. ¶ 20; Pls.' SMF ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 52, Attach. 28.) As plaintiffs exited the restaurant, they were followed behind by the three men. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 20; Pls.' SMF ¶ 17.)

After the time that plaintiffs left the restaurant, the facts are largely disputed. Plaintiffs allege that upon leaving the restaurant, they were confronted by the three men, and that Brian did not initiate any physical contact with anyone else at the scene. (Pls.' SMF ¶¶ 20-21.) Rather, within an "instant" of one of the three men grabbing Brian, police were on the scene; Brian alleges that shortly after exiting the restaurant, a police officer grabbed him by the neck, choked him, threw him against a car, and struck him in the ribs with a closed fist. ( Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Upon witnessing this, Alison asserts that she was attempting to explain to defendants that her husband had not done anything wrong, and that she only raised her voice so that they could better hear her explanation. ( Id. ¶ 24.) According to plaintiffs, as Alison began walking away, an officer pushed her in the back, and Sergeant Donohue then detained her, pushed her to a nearby parked car, grabbed her arm, and threw her to the ground. ( Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) 7As a result, she claimed to suffer pain in her face and arm, as well as bruising. ( Id. ¶ 29.)

Defendants' version of events, meanwhile, is that Officers Pierce, Bailey, and Meehan observed a fight occurring on the sidewalk outside of Pizza 54, and responded to the scene; at that time, they noted that Brian was involved in the fight, shoving other people, and shouting obscenities. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 22-24, 26.) Defendants ordered the group to disperse and leave the scene, but Brian repeatedly refused to comply with the officers' orders. ( Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) Specifically, Officer Pierce noted that Brian appeared intoxicated, and would not calm down, so he brought Brian over to a nearby parked car. ( Id. ¶ 28.) At this time, defendants testify that Alison, who was also yelling and refusing to comply with police orders, grabbed Officer Pierce's shoulders and jumped on his back. ( Id. ¶¶ 29-30, 32-33, 35-36.) Plaintiffs, on the other hand, both testified that Alison did not jump onto Officer Pierce's back. (Pls.' SMF ¶ 36.) Sergeant Donohue ultimately decided to arrest Alison at this time, and attempted to bring her over to a nearby parked car. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 37-38.) However, defendants assert that Alison refused to put her hands behind her back, and ignored repeated orders to stop resisting. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Sergeant Donohue then forcibly put Alison's hands behind her back, and at some point during this incident, Alison tripped over the curb and fell toward the ground, but defendants claim she did not actually hit the ground because Officer Bailey caught her fall. ( Id. ¶¶ 39-40.)

As a result of this incident, plaintiffs were each charged, by criminal information, with disorderly conduct pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law § 240.20, and Alison was additionally charged with resisting arrest pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law § 205.30. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 43; Dkt. No. 52, Attach. 8; Dkt. No. 52, Attach. 9; Dkt. No. 52, Attach. 10.) In Albany City Court, plaintiffs made motions to dismiss the criminal informations which charged them with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest on the grounds that they were facially insufficient. (Dkt. No. 50, Attach. 13 at 2, 8.) Judge Rachel Kretser of Albany City Court granted Alison's motion to dismiss the resisting arrest charge for facial insufficiency, ( id. at 4), but denied plaintiffs' motions to dismiss the disorderly conduct charges, finding that the elements of the offense were "sufficiently pleaded in the [i]nformation[s], " ( id. at 4-5, 9-10). Ultimately, at a bench trial, plaintiffs were acquitted of the disorderly conduct charges, with Judge Kretser stating that plaintiffs' guilt was not established beyond a reasonable doubt. (Dkt. No. 52, Attach. 7 at 112-13.)

III. Standard of Review

The standard of review pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its decision in Wagner v. Swarts, 827 F.Supp.2d 85, 92 (N.D.N.Y. 2011), aff'd sub nom. Wagner v. Sprague, 489 F.Appx. 500 (2d Cir. 2012).

IV. Discussion

At the outset, the court notes that plaintiffs have consented to the dismissal of their claims for abuse of process, (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 92-96), and conspiracy to violate civil rights, ( id. ¶¶ 97-98). (Dkt. No. 52 at 20.) Accordingly, these claims are dismissed, and plaintiffs' remaining claims consist of claims of false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and excessive force against the individually named defendants, a Monell claim against the ...

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