United States District Court, S.D. New York
FOREST L. FATE, SR., Plaintiff,
RONNIE CHARLES, CHRISTOPHER KORBA, KHALID PARWANTA, THE VILLAGE OF SPRING VALLEY, and " JOHN DOE," fictitious name intended to represent the name of one or more Village of Spring Valley officers, whose identities are unknown, Defendants
For Forest L. Fate, Sr., Plaintiff: Katharine Huth Parker, Noa Michelle Baddish, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Proskauer Rose LLP (NY), New York, NY.
For Officer Ronnie Charles, Officer Korba, Shield # 600, Defendants: Brian S. Sokoloff, LEAD ATTORNEY, Sokoloff Stern LLP, Carle Place, NY; Melissa Lauren Holtzer, Proskauer Rose LLP (NY), New York, NY.
For Khalid Parwanta, individually, The Village of Spring Valley, Defendants: Melissa Lauren Holtzer, Proskauer Rose LLP (NY), New York, NY.
OPINION AND ORDER
J. PAUL OETKEN, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Forest L. Fate, Sr. (" Fate" ) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Village of Spring Valley, New York (the " Village" ) and Officers Ronnie Charles (" Charles" ), Christopher Korba (" Korba" ), and Khalid Parwanta (" Parwanta" ) for alleged constitutional violations arising out of an arrest and search on October 31, 2009. Fate asserts Fourth Amendment claims for unreasonable search, illegal seizure of currency, malicious prosecution, and excessive force. Defendants move for summary judgment on all but the excessive force claim. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. Fate's malicious prosecution claims are dismissed, but his remaining claims survive summary judgment.
A. Factual Background
Because Defendants move for summary judgment, the following section summarizes the evidence in the light most favorable to Fate.
1. The Stop and Arrest
On the morning of October 31, 2009, Fate was walking to a deli to pick up breakfast for himself and his wife when he noticed a police SUV drive by. Fate had been living in North Carolina and had recently returned to Spring Valley in order to bail his son, Forest Fate, Jr., out of jail. As he reached the store, the SUV circled around and pulled up beside him. Inside were Officers Charles and Korba.
Charles rolled down his window and asked Fate whether he knew him. He did. Charles grew up in the same area as Fate, and, according to Fate, had a " personal problem with [him] because he assumed that [Fate] or [Fate Jr.] was dating or messing with his baby's mother." (Dkt. No. 73 (" Holtzer Decl." ), Ex. E (" Fate Tr." ) 21:24-22:3.) Charles " would always harass [Fate]" and had done so " about three times" in his capacity as an officer, for instance by randomly stopping Fate and patting him down. ( Id. 25:16, 26:20-24, 27:2-4.) Fate claims that in 2006, Charles tackled him from behind and arrested him (mistaking Fate for Fate Jr.), and took money from Fate and did not give it back. ( Id. 42:6-11.) Fate's allegations are corroborated, to an extent, by Charles and Korba. Korba testified that he knew that Charles had run-ins with Fate before. (Holtzer Decl., Ex. F (" Korba Tr." ) 27:14-28:7.) And Charles testified
that he had dealt with Fate prior to the October 2009 incident and he was " very well-known to me." (Holtzer Decl., Ex. G (" Charles Tr." ) 86:5-9.)
Fate, therefore, recognized Charles's face. But because he could not recall his name, he responded: " No, not that I know of." (Fate Tr. 56:5-17.) Charles asked Fate if his name was Forest, and he said yes. Charles asked " Forest what?" and Fate replied: " I was raised by the Bullock family, so you might think that you know me from the Bullock family because that's who I was raised by." ( Id. 56:19-22.) Charles then expressly asked for Fate's last name, and Fate responded: " Well, some call me Forest Bullock, some call me Forest Gump or whatever." ( Id. 57:9-15.) Charles told Fate: " If I jump out of this truck, if I found out your name is something other than Forest Bullock or Forest whatever you call it . . . I'm going to lock your ass up for false impersonation." ( Id. 58:3-8.) Fate still did not reveal his last name, but offered to let Charles see his ID. Charles got out of the vehicle, told Fate to get against the wall, and performed a pat down search. When the officers ran Fate's ID, they discovered a warrant for petit larceny in Clarkstown, New York and placed him under arrest.
The trip to the station lasted approximately five to seven minutes. Fate was handcuffed behind his back and fidgeted due to discomfort. Korba was sitting next to Fate in the back seat. Neither he nor Charles made any remarks about Fate's movements. When they arrived at the station, Korba quickly jumped out and pulled Fate out of the vehicle, believing that he had been trying to conceal something in his buttocks during the trip. (Korba Tr. 27:14-28:7.) Fate denies that he was trying to conceal anything or that he had any contraband on him. (Fate Tr. 67:10-21.)
2. The Strip Search
Korba and Charles took Fate to the holding room, removed his handcuffs, and instructed him to take off his clothes. Fate complied and Korba searched his clothing. Korba claims that crack cocaine fell out of Fate's socks. (Korba Tr. 31:10-15; see also Charles Tr. 108:24-109:6 (noting that Korba said " something in reference to cocaine" when the crack fell out).) Fate denies this. (Fate Tr. 68:18-22.) Fate was then instructed to get up against the wall to be searched. ( Id. 69:5-13.) Korba asked Fate to bend over and spread his buttocks so he could see if Fate was concealing anything. Fate did, and Korba claims that he saw a piece of plastic sticking out from between Fate's buttocks. (Korba Tr. 33:15-21.) Fate denies this as well. (Fate Tr. 80:3-10.) Fate was then " pushed in a way," " turned to turn around," and they " got to tousling" and Fate " was thrown to the ground." ( Id. 69:5-18, 73:15-20.)
Three or four officers were now present in the holding cell. As Fate was on the ground, one officer had his right hand, another had his left hand, and Charles was behind him yelling " Give me your hands." ( Id. 69:23-70:14.) Fate could not give him his hands, however, because they were restrained by the other officers. Fate admits that he was " struggling with them" because things were " happening so fast" and he was trying to get people off of him. ( Id. 74:6-16.) Korba claims that during the struggle another baggy of cocaine " fell to the ground," and while Fate was on the ground he grabbed it--apparently somehow while his hands were still restrained--and shoved it into his mouth. (Korba Tr. 35:10-14.)
Fate denies this. (Fate Tr. 83:4-18.) Korba tased Fate three or four times, until one of the officers said " He can't give you [his] hands . . . because I got them."  ( Id. 74:17-24.) Fate was then told he could get dressed and was taken to the hospital due, at least in part, to an asthma attack. Korba prepared an incident report later that day which charged Fate with false personation, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, tampering with physical evidence, and obstruction of governmental administration in the second degree (the " Spring Valley charges" ). (Holtzer Decl., Ex. N.)
As part of the property confiscated from Fate, the officers logged $268.76 into evidence. (Holtzer Decl., Ex. Q (" Jail Log" ).) Fate claims, however, that he had been carrying approximately $2,700, which he had collected from friends and family members, including his wife, for the purpose of bailing out his son. The $268.76 was eventually returned to Fate.
B. Procedural Background
Fate filed a pro se complaint against the Village and Officers Charles and Korba on September 27, 2011. (Dkt. No. 1.) The Court granted Fate's request for appointment of pro bono counsel on June 22, 2012. (Dkt. No. 21.) On January 4, 2013, Fate, through counsel, filed an amended complaint adding Officer Parwanta as a defendant and asserting § 1983 claims for violation of his rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (Dkt. No. 40 (" Am. Compl." ).) Defendants answered on January 18. (Dkt. No. 42.) Fate withdrew his First Amendment claims via letter dated April 19 and his Monell claims at a conference on May 15, 2013. (Dkt. Nos. 51 & 57.) Defendants filed the instant motion on September 20, 2013, seeking summary judgment on all but the excessive force claims. (Dkt. No. 72.)
II. Legal Standard on Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is proper when " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A fact is material if it " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986), and a dispute is genuine if, considering the record as a whole, a rational jury could find in favor of the non-moving party, Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)).
On a motion for summary judgment, the party bearing the burden of proof at trial must come forward with evidence on each element of its claim or defense illustrating its entitlement to relief. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). It cannot rely upon mere " conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation" to meet its burden. Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). If the party with the burden of proof makes
the requisite initial showing, the burden shifts to the opposing party to identify specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial, i.e., that reasonable jurors could differ about the evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f); Anderson, 447 U.S. at 250-51. The court should view all evidence " in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor," and a motion for summary judgment may be granted only if " no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995) (citations and quotations omitted).
Generally, " [i]ssues that depend on the credibility of witnesses . . . are to be decided by the jury." Gunning v. Cooley, 281 U.S. 90, 94, 50 S.Ct. 231, 74 L.Ed. 720 (1930). Consequently, when the material evidence essentially consists of contradictory testimony, summary judgment will not be appropriate. Only " in the rare circumstances" when there is " nothing in the record to support [the] plaintiff's allegations other than [his] own contradictory and incomplete testimony," and " even after drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . no reasonable person could believe [his] testimony," will summary ...