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Slack v. County of Suffolk

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 20, 2014

THE COUNTY OF SUFFOLK and Police Officer KENNETH J. RIPP (P.O. No. 5439) in his official capacity, Defendants

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For the Plaintiff: Chauncey D. Henry, Esq., of Counsel, Henry Law, Garden City, NY.

For the Plaintiff: Fredrick K. Brewington, Esq., Gregory Calliste, Jr., Esq., of Counsel, Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, Hempstead, NY.

For the Defendants: Brian C. Mitchell, Assistant County Attorney, Suffolk County Department of Law, County Attorney, Hauppauge, NY.

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ARTHUR D. SPATT, United States District Judge.

On June 6, 2011, the Plaintiff William Slack (the " Plaintiff" ) commenced this action against the Defendants the County of Suffolk (the " County" ) and Suffolk County Police Officer Kenneth J. Ripp (P.O. No. 5439), in his official capacity (" Ripp" and, together with the County, the " Defendants" ) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Plaintiff asserted federal claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution and abuse of process. He also brought causes of action for malicious prosecution and abuse of process under New York State law.

In November of 2013, a trial was held, and at the conclusion of the evidence, the Court granted the County's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (" Fed. R. Civ. P." ) 50(b) motion and dismissed the federal Monell claim against the County, so that the only remaining claims against the County were the state law causes of action, which were premised under a theory of respondeat superior. On November 27, 2013, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff and against Ripp on the federal § 1983 false arrest claim, but in favor of the Defendants and against the Plaintiff on the federal and pendant state law claims for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The jury awarded the Plaintiff $5,000 in compensatory damages.

Presently before the Court is a post-trial motion filed by the Defendant under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and 59. The Defendant seek judgment as a matter of law in their favor on the ground that Ripp is entitled to qualified immunity, or in the alternative, a new trial.

The Court pauses here to note that the Defendant's moving papers contain footnotes, which is contrary to this Court's Individual Rule II.A. Notwithstanding this infraction, the Court will consider the Defendant's papers in rendering its decision. However, the Court advises the Defendant's counsel that any future filings that contain footnotes will not be considered by this Court.

For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion is denied.


A. Underlying Facts

On July 12, 2009, the Plaintiff and his family were having a Christening party for their grandson at the Plaintiff's home in Lindenhurst, New York. During the party, two of the guests ended up having a minor car accident in front of the Plaintiff's house. In order to obtain a police report of the incident, the two guests called the police.

Hours later, the Defendant Ripp and his partner, Suffolk County Police Officer Matthew Friedrich arrived at the scene of the accident. The Plaintiff's daughter,

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Carol Slack, testified that at this time, she was standing in front of her father's house and observed Ripp and Friedrich race into the backyard of the home, where the Christening party was still taking place. She did not know what prompted Ripp and Friedrich to run into the backyard. However, according to Ripp and Friedrich, they were responding to fireworks that they claimed were being fired at them from the backyard.

Once in the backyard, Ripp and Friedrich escorted Peter Gange, who was the father of the baby that had been Christened and who testified as a witness in the trial, from the backyard to the front of the Plaintiff's house. Ripp then arrested Gange, allegedly using excessive force to do so.

About this time, Ripp claims that the Plaintiff tried to interfere with Gange's arrest. In this regard, on the day of the incident, Ripp initially claimed that the Plaintiff interfered with Gange's arrest by yelling and screaming in protest. Thereafter, when submitting a statement to the Suffolk County Police Departments' Internal Affairs Bureau, Ripp claimed that the Plaintiff was leading a group of the party guests that circled around him and Friedrich. At trial, Ripp testified that the Plaintiff interfered with his radio communications to headquarters.

However, all of the Plaintiff's witnesses, who were guests at the Christening party, testified that the Plaintiff did not interfere in any way with the arrest of Gange. Nevertheless, Ripp proceeded to arrest the Plaintiff for the crime of obstruction of governmental administration. This charge was ultimately dismissed. The Plaintiff claimed that Ripp's conduct in improperly arresting him caused him to be prosecuted without basis; wrongfully subjected to lengthy and costly criminal proceedings; and suffer psychological injuries leading to substantial medical bills.

Following the July 12, 2009 occurrence, Ripp's actions were subjected to an investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau. This investigation apparently involved the review of the Plaintiff's 50-h hearing and multiple witness interviews. However, during the trial, the Defendants offered no evidence demonstrating that the Internal Affairs Bureau interviewed any witnesses, including independent civilian eyewitnesses who were present during the incident. Further, Ripp testified that he never spoke to the Internal Affairs Bureau concerning this matter other than the statement he submitted.

Similarly, Friedrich testified that he also never spoke directly to the Internal Affairs Bureau about the July 12, 2009 occurrence and other officers who eventually arrived at the scene were also never contacted by the Internal Affairs Bureau. In addition, Friedrich explained that although he and Ripp were supposed to submit independent statements to the Internal Affairs Bureau, they nonetheless collaborated with one another so that their statements were substantially similar.

Following the investigation, the Internal Affairs Bureau issued a memorandum exonerating Ripp, which the Plaintiff admitted into evidence without objection from the Defendants. According to the memorandum, Ripp had probable cause to arrest the Plaintiff. This finding of the memorandum was endorsed by Lieutenant Thomas Kenneally, who conducted the investigation, and Captain Joseph Capolino, who reviewed the investigation, as well as by a Deputy Inspector and a Deputy Police Commissioner.

B. The Jury's Deliberations

On the morning of November 25, 2013, following a two week trial, the Court

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charged the jury on the applicable law. Thereafter, at approximately 3:07 p.m. that same day, the charge concluded and the jury began its deliberations. About an hour and a half later, at 4:30 p.m., the jury was recessed until the next day.

On November 26, 2013, the jury reconvened and commenced deliberations at approximately 9:40 a.m. At 12:15 p.m., the jury sent a note to the Court, which stated as follows: " We are deadlocked 8 to one on number 1 (False Arrest Charge). Juror says he will never budge. Please advise." (Tr. 1603.)

The Court informed the parties that it intended to give the jury a modified Allen charge, to which neither party objected. In addition, despite the Defendants objection, the Court stated that it would be advising the jury that they could still consider the Plaintiff's other claims in the event they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict as to the first cause of action.

The jury was brought into the courtroom, at which time the Court provided them with the Allen charge. In this ...

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