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Scott v. Village of Spring Valley

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 1, 2014



NELSON S. ROMN, District Judge.

Don Shirley Rowe Scott ("Plaintiff") brings this action against the Village of Spring Valley, County of Rockland, and the Spring Valley Police Department ("Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

I. Facts[1]

In or around June 2010, Plaintiff took a two-week trip to Maryland to visit his daughter. Defendant's 56.1 Statement ("Def's 56.1") ¶ 2. While he was away, Plaintiff left his vehicle, a 1995 van, at 16 Ridge Avenue, Spring Valley, for his mother to watch. Id. At the time, he and his mother resided in the same house. Id. Plaintiff returned from his two-week vacation in the evening on June 3, 2010. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff's mother knew that Plaintiff was scheduled to return on June 3, 2010 but Plaintiff had not informed his brother, who lived ten minutes away, of his return date. Id. ¶ 2. When Plaintiff returned in the early evening of June 3, 2010, he dropped his bags off at his home and took his van to a West Indian Social club in Spring Valley. Id. ¶ 3. Upon returning to his house later that evening, Plaintiff saw police officers by the house and as he pulled into the driveway, at least one police car pulled up behind his van. Id. ¶ 4.

Earlier that day, Plaintiff's brother, Tennyson Scott, called 911 and reported Plaintiff's van as stolen. Id. ¶ 11. Tennyson Scott did not know that Plaintiff had returned from vacation and believed that the missing van had been stolen. Id.

Officer Oscar Lopez was working as a patrolman and received a radio transmission around 11:00 p.m. that a 1995 white Ford van had been stolen from 16 Ridge Avenue. Id. ¶ 5. Officer Lopez spotted the van and radioed for assistance. Id. ¶ 6. Officer Joseph Brown was working an anti-crime detail on the evening of June 3, 2010 and when he heard Officer Lopez's radio transmission, he drove to Officer Lopez's location. Id. ¶ 7. Officer Frank Gulla was on routine patrol and around 12:10 a.m., received a radio transmission regarding the stolen van and the desk officer told him to take a report from the 911 caller at 16 Ridge Avenue. Id. ¶ 8. As he was on his way to 16 Ridge Avenue, Officer Gulla heard Officer Lopez's radio transmission and when he arrived, Officer Lopez was already on the scene. Id. ¶ 9. Sergeant Roxanne Lopez was working as a plainclothes detective and when she heard the radio transmission regarding the stolen vehicle, drove to 16 Ridge Avenue in her unmarked car. Id. ¶ 13. Sergeant Charles Schnaars also heard Officer Lopez's radio transmission and responded to 16 Ridge Avenue as a supervisor. Id. ¶ 15. Sergeant Schnaars did not perceive any immediate threat and left after he determined that the situation was under control. Id.

At least two officers approached Plaintiff in his van and gave verbal commands to Plaintiff to throw his keys out of the window and exit his vehicle. Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1 ("Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 4. Officers Joseph Brown and Oscar Lopez were the two officers who approached Plaintiff's car. Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 10. It is unclear whether Sergeant Lopez also approached Plaintiff's car while he was inside. Id. ¶ 14; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 10.[2] Plaintiff voluntarily exited the van and he was handcuffed with his arms behind his back. Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 10. Plaintiff heard a popping sound in his shoulder as he was being handcuffed. Id.

Tennyson Scott was at Plaintiff's residence when Plaintiff returned in his car and was placed in handcuffs. Id. When Tennyson Scott exited the house and informed the police that Plaintiff owned the van, the officers removed Plaintiff's handcuffs. Id. ¶ 12.

Officer Lopez retired after a 32-year career as a police officer. Id. ¶ 17. He began his career at the City of Newburgh Police Department in 1981 and initially received 15 weeks of training from the Rockland County Police Academy ("RCPA"). Id. ¶ 18. Since then, he receives yearly in-service training, a requirement for all police officers. Id. ¶ 19. Officer Brown received six months of training at the RCPA in 1993 when he began working for the Spring Valley Police Department. Id. ¶ 23. Sergeant Lopez also attended a five- or six-month course at the RCPA in 1997 when she began working for the City of Newburgh Police Department. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Officer Gulla attended a six-month training course at the NYPD Police Academy in 1986 as well as additional training from the RCPA. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. Sergeant Schnaars received four months of training at the RCPA in 1998. Id. ¶ 35. Sergeant Lopez and Sergeant Schnaars are instructors on various topics. Id. ¶¶ 28, 36.

II. Legal Standards

a. Summary Judgment Standard

Motions for summary judgment are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The rule states in pertinent part:

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine dispute or issue[3] of material fact by pointing to evidence in the record, "including depositions, documents... [and] affidavits or declarations, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), "which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has fulfilled its preliminary burden, the onus shifts to the nonmoving party to raise the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord Benn v. Kissane, 510 F.Appx. 34, 36 (2d Cir. 2013); Gen. Star Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Universal Fabricators, Inc., 585 F.3d 662, 669 (2d Cir. 2009); Roe v. City of Waterbury, 542 F.3d 31, 35 (2d Cir. 2008); Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553 (2d Cir. 2005). Courts must "constru[e] the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[] all reasonable inferences in its favor." Fincher v. Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., 604 F.3d 712, 720 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Allianz Ins. Co. v. Lerner, 416 F.3d 109, 113 (2d Cir. 2005)). In reviewing the record, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see also Kaytor v. Elec. ...

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