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Tompkins v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 10, 2014

JAMES TOMPKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, MARSHA THOMAS KNIGHTS, JOHN PACE, CARLOS WHEARTY, F/N/U SPRUCK and JOHN DOE 1, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES (the name John Doe being fictitious as the true name is presently unknown), Defendants

Decided Date: September 9, 2014

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For James Tompkins, Plaintiff: Michael S. Bank, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bank, Sheer, Servino & Seymour, White Plains, NY.

For City of New York, Marsha Thomas Knights, John Pace, Carlos Whearty, F/N/U Spuck, Defendants: Richard Keith Weingarten, LEAD ATTORNEY, New York City Law Department, New York, NY; Uriel Benjamin Abt, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of The Corporation Counsel, New York, NY.

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MEMORANDUM DECISION

Vincent L. Briccetti, United States District Judge.

In January 2012, plaintiff James Tompkins was arrested and charged with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree (" OGA" ) and reckless endangerment in the second degree. Those charges were eventually dismissed. He now brings this action against the City of New York (the " City" ) and four police officers employed by the City's Department of Environmental Protection (the " DEP" )--defendants Marsha Thomas Knights, John Pace, Carlos Whearty, and Charles Spruck (the " Individual Defendants" )--asserting constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" Section 1983" ) and common law claims under New York state law.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment. (Doc. #24). For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1367.

BACKGROUND

The parties have submitted briefs, statements of facts pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1, and declarations with supporting exhibits--including videos--which reflect the following factual background.

Plaintiff owns and operates a car repair garage and gas station located on Croton Lake Road in Yorktown Heights, New York. Across Croton Lake Road from the garage is a gate that provides vehicle access to the New Croton Reservoir, one of City's drinking water sources. The Reservoir is guarded by the DEP police, who are responsible for protecting the City's water supply.

On the morning of January 9, 2012, Officer Knights was patrolling the area around the Reservoir. She noticed a van parked on the side of Croton Lake Road, blocking the gate across from the garage. The van belonged to one of the garage's customers, who sometimes park near the gate. Officer Knights had observed vehicles parked in front of the gate before. On those occasions, she had waited by the gate in her patrol car until someone from the garage noticed her and moved the vehicles. Accordingly, on January 9, Officer Knights pulled her patrol car over to the side of the road, a few yards away from the van, and waited for someone from the garage to move the van. That day, it was plaintiff.

Before entering the van, plaintiff approached Officer Knights's car. According to Officer Knights, plaintiff began yelling and cursing at her, saying the DEP was " always bothering him and harassing him" about vehicles parked in front of the gate. (Knights Dep. 85:15-20, 90:1-11). Officer Knights got out of her car and told plaintiff it was illegal to park in front of the gate. They then walked toward the van.

At her deposition, Officer Knights testified she told plaintiff as he was opening the driver's side door, " Do not move the vehicle, I am going to the back of the van to retrieve the [license] plate" information. (Id. at 116:2-6; see also id. at 92:4-18, 95:19-24, 112:2-9, 134:2-21).

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Plaintiff denies Officer Knights ever told him not to move the van. (Pl.'s Dep. 86:5-19).

After plaintiff got in the van, Officer Knights began walking along the driver's side of the van toward the rear of the vehicle, which was almost perpendicular to Croton Lake Road. Plaintiff testified he asked Officer Knights, " Are you letting me out?" and she responded by turning back in his direction and waving her left arm toward the road--a gesture plaintiff interpreted as a signal to back up. (Id. at 95:20-98:13). Although Officer Knights testified she did not remember making such a gesture (Knights Dep. 137:1-10), a video confirms Officer Knights turned toward plaintiff as she was walking to the rear of the van, raised her left arm, and swung it forward toward the road. (Abt Decl. Ex. K).

After Officer Knights motioned with her left arm, plaintiff began backing up the van into Croton Lake Road. Officer Knights, however, had turned left and was now directly behind the van. As the van was about to hit her, Officer Knights banged on the back of the van until it stopped. She was unharmed. She then yelled to plaintiff, " Are you trying to hit me?" and walked to the driver's side window. (Pl.'s Dep. 98:14-22, 100:15-20). She asked plaintiff for his driver's license and the van's registration. Plaintiff told her his license was in the garage and he could not find the registration. (Id. at 100:15-24, 103:21-104:24). Plaintiff then moved the van and walked back to the garage.

As plaintiff was moving the van, Officer Knights called the DEP police's 6th precinct (the " Precinct" ) and requested back-up because she " wasn't sure [] what [plaintiff] was capable of." (Knights Dep. 156:14-17). Sergeant Pace, Officer Whearty, and Officer Spruck were dispatched to the garage. Once they arrived, they entered the garage with Officer Knights.

Inside the garage, Sergeant Pace, who was the other officers' immediate supervisor, began talking to plaintiff " about the gate, parking in front of the gate," and other topics. (Pl.'s Dep. 113:10-14). During this conversation, Officer Knights again asked plaintiff for his driver's license, which he gave to her. She then left, and plaintiff continued speaking with Sergeant Pace.

Officer Knights and Officer Whearty left the garage and called the Precinct supervisor, Lieutenant Miceli, to confirm whether plaintiff should be arrested. Lieutenant Miceli said plaintiff " should be arrested" because he had " tried to run [Officer Knights] over." (Knights Dep. 203:15-204:19). Officer Knights and Officer Whearty then returned to the garage, and Officer Whearty handcuffed plaintiff. Although plaintiff mentioned the handcuffs " were very tight," he was in those handcuffs for " only seconds" before he was taken out of the garage, seated in a police car, and placed in different handcuffs. (Pl.'s Dep. 125:11-24).

Officer Knights then drove plaintiff to the Precinct. They did not speak about plaintiff's arrest or the events leading thereto during the drive. At the Precinct, another DEP police officer--whose identity is still unknown to plaintiff--handcuffed plaintiff by one hand to a " round, circular metal ring which [was] bolted to the wall," while plaintiff sat on a bench below the ring. (Id. at 130:1-11). Plaintiff was handcuffed to the wall even though the Precinct's holding cell was unoccupied. According to Sergeant Pace, " [w]e put all our prisoners--we sit down people on the bench. That is what we usually do." (Pace Dep. 104:15-19). Sergeant Pace further testified at his deposition that he had never placed anyone in the Precinct's holding

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cell; nor could he remember ever seeing anyone placed in the holding cell. (Id. at 104:24-105:6).

Plaintiff was handcuffed to the wall for approximately two hours. He complained three or four times that the handcuffs were too tight. After each complaint, the unidentified officer switched the handcuff from plaintiff's left hand to his right hand, and vice versa. But plaintiff's wrists continued to swell and turn blue. He was later diagnosed with ulnar nerve neuropathy.

Plaintiff was eventually processed and given two desk appearance tickets directing him to appear in Yorktown Justice Court later that month.

Officer Knights filed two misdemeanor informations charging plaintiff with OGA and reckless endangerment in the second degree.

On August 21, 2012, the charges were dismissed.

Plaintiff filed this action on October 18, 2012, and filed an amended complaint on May 6, 2013. (Doc. #8). Although the amended complaint asserts eighteen claims, plaintiff concedes defendants are entitled to summary judgment on several of those claims. (Pl.'s Mem. at 5-6). Accordingly, the only claims remaining in the case are claims for (i) false arrest under Section 1983 and New York law (as against the Individual Defendants); (ii) failure to intervene and supervisory liability under Section 1983 (as against Sergeant Pace); (iii) malicious prosecution under Section 1983 and New York law (as against the Individual Defendants); (iv) excessive force (as against the Individual Defendants); (v) municipal liability under Section 1983 for excessive force (as against the City); (vi) assault and battery under New York law (as against the Individual Defendants); and (vii) respondeat superior under New York law (as against the City).

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard


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