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Burns v. Fumarola

United States District Court, N.D. New York

September 10, 2014



LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.


Plaintiff Christopher Burns ("Plaintiff") alleges violations of his constitutional rights by Defendant Jamie Fumarola ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint"). Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 16 ("Motion"). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is denied.


This action arises from an incident at the Ulster County Family Court on June 9, 2010. Dkt. Nos. 16-11 ("Statement of Material Facts") ¶ 1; 18 ("Statement of Material Facts Response") ¶ 1. During a break in a custody proceeding, Plaintiff, an attorney, began to "chastise" and "reprimand" Valerie Wacks ("Wacks"), the appointed representative of the child, because Plaintiff felt that Wacks was not "doing her job." SMF ¶ 3; SMF Resp. ¶ 3.

Defendant, a court officer for the New York Unified Court System, took notice of Plaintiff's actions. SMF ¶ 5; SMF Resp. ¶ 5. According to Defendant, Plaintiff was "getting in [Wacks's] face in an "aggressive, " "mad, " and "angry" fashion while "berating" her in a "loud nasty tone." SMF ¶ 6. Defendant claims that Plaintiff was only two or three feet away from Wacks, and Plaintiff was leaning in towards Wacks while yelling at her. SMF ¶ 7.

Plaintiff disputes these contentions, asserting that he was "speaking to Wacks in a normal tone of voice, did not use any insulting words[, ] and remained seated during the entire thirty seconds to a minute that he was speaking to Wacks." SMF Resp. ¶¶ 5, 17-18. Plaintiff contends that he was merely "speaking to Wacks as a lawyer protecting his client."[1] Id . ¶¶ 5, 19. Plaintiff also claims that he was seated five feet away from Wacks, not two or three. Id . ¶ 7.

The only people present in the courtroom were Defendant, Plaintiff, a third attorney, and Barbara Ghebreselassie ("Ghebreselassie"), a Court Appointed Special Advocates' ("CASA") volunteer. SMF ¶ 5; SMF Resp. ¶ 5. The parties also agree that Wacks "meekly ignor[ed]" Plaintiff's comments "by looking away, diverting her attention, and being generally unresponsive." SMF ¶ 9; SMF Resp. ¶ 9.

As Plaintiff continued his pointed remarks toward Wacks, Defendant approached Plaintiff and asked him not to speak to Wacks "in that way." SMF ¶¶ 10, 15; SMF Resp. ¶¶ 10, 15. According to Defendant, Plaintiff "refused in a negative tone, stating in words or substance I can talk to whoever I want, however I want, whenever I want.'" SMF ¶ 11. Plaintiff further stated "quite frankly I don't care if you like my tone[, ] I'm working over here, I'm doing my job." SMF ¶ 12; SMF Resp. ¶ 12. Defendant reminded Plaintiff that she "was the officer in the part" and warned Plaintiff that "if his behavior did not end, " she would place him under arrest. SMF ¶ 13; SMF Resp. ¶ 13. Plaintiff responded: "You can't arrest me, I didn't threaten you." SMF ¶ 14; SMF Resp. ¶ 14. Defendant claims that Plaintiff made this remark in a "loud and mad fashion, " a characterization which Plaintiff disputes. SMF ¶ 14; SMF Resp. ¶ 14.

On the belief that Plaintiff's actions were disturbing "members of the public, " Defendant proceeded to arrest Plaintiff and sign a sworn information/complaint charging Plaintiff with disorderly conduct. SMF ¶ 22; SMF Resp. ¶ 22. In the accusatory instrument, Defendant stated her basis for arresting Plaintiff as: "[Plaintiff] was addressing persons in a threatening manner and speaking in aggressive tones toward other persons in a way that [was disturbing] the other patrons of family court, subject refuse[d] to discontinue the [behavior] despite [several] requests and threat of arrest by [Defendant] to do so." SMF ¶ 23; SMF Resp. ¶ 23. After Defendant signed the accusatory instrument, the Ulster County District Attorney's Office took over the prosecution; Defendant testified at Plaintiff's subsequent trial but was not otherwise involved. SMF ¶ 24; SMF Resp. ¶ 24. The matter later proceeded to a bench trial in Kingston City Court, where Plaintiff was acquitted of disorderly conduct. SMF ¶¶ 28-29; SMF Resp. ¶¶ 28-29.

On September 18, 2012, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendant, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and violation of his First Amendment rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See generally Compl. Defendant subsequently moved for summary judgment on all claims. See generally Mot.


Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs a court to grant summary judgment if "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(c). Although "[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary" will not preclude summary judgment, "summary judgment will not lie if... the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Taggart v. Time, Inc. , 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving party claims will demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate "the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id . This requires the nonmoving party to do "more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Corp. , ...

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