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Graham v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 20, 2015

DEBORAH GRAHAM, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LAURA TAYLOR SWAIN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Deborah Graham, Latosha Johnson (Individually and as Mother and Natural Guardian of P.G.), Ruby Johnson (Individually and as Mother and Natural Guardian of T.T. and K.S.), Nakyta Brown, and Nikia Everett (as Mother and Natural Guardian of M.J.) bring this action against the City of New York (the "City") and members of the New York City Police Department (the "NYPD") named in the Complaint as John and Jane Does for, inter alia, false arrest pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The City has moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim.

This Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

The Court has thoroughly reviewed the submissions of the parties and, for the following reasons, the City's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the Amended Complaint. A warrant was executed at 5:30 a.m. on August 1, 2012, on Plaintiffs' three-bedroom apartment, where Plaintiffs Deborah Graham, Latosha Johnson, Ruby Johnson, and Nakyta Brown, along with four infant children, were sleeping. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 50 and 53.) No fewer than five NYPD officers entered the apartment, without knocking, using a battering ram to break through the door. Some of the officers wore "police" vests and helmets and they entered behind a shield. (Am. Compl. ¶ 52.) Ms. Johnson was brought from her bedroom and slammed down face-first to the floor by an officer. (Am. Compl. ¶ 61.) The adult Plaintiffs were each handcuffed and taken into the dining room of the apartment, while the children were placed next to Plaintiffs. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 72-73.) The officers did not respond to Plaintiffs' demands to see a search warrant, and searched the entire apartment, finding no contraband. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 74, 75, and 77.)

While the residence was being searched, an officer showed Plaintiffs photographs of three nephews of Ms. Graham, who were young males in their twenties (the "Suspects"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 79.) The officer informed Ms. Graham that they would like to speak to the Suspects. Ms. Graham informed the officer that the Suspects had not lived in the apartment for years and that she did not know where they lived. (Am. Compl. ¶ 83.) One officer stated that an informant had told police that the Suspects lived in the apartment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 85.) Plaintiffs allege that none of the Suspects had lived in the residence for several years, and that at least one of the men had been in prison for at least a year as of the date of the search. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 83-86.) After failing to find the Suspects, the police announced that they were going to search for "drugs and guns." (Am. Compl. ¶ 89.)

After the second search produced no contraband or evidence, an NYPD officer began photographing the infant children despite protests from Plaintiffs. Photographs were taken of the children's faces from a distance of one to two feet without consent of either the children or their parents. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 96-97.)

Following the search and photography, the officers left Plaintiffs' residence without charging any person with a crime. (Am. Compl. ¶ 103.)

Plaintiffs allege that all of the officers' actions were taken during the course, and within the scope, of their NYPD employment. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 110, 119, 130, 137, 148, and 154.) Plaintiffs assert that, because the Suspects did not live in the apartment and had not lived there for some time, "law enforcement did not receive the address of the apartment from an informant, and even if [the attribution of the information to an informant] were true, the information was clearly untrustworthy." (Am. Compl. ¶ 86.) Plaintiffs characterize the warrant as "invalid or insufficient... (based on false or insufficient information)." (Am. Compl. ¶ 107.)

Defendants have proffered a copy of what they assert is the relevant warrant in their papers in support of their motion to dismiss the complaint. The warrant recites that it was issued upon "[P]roof by affidavit... by Detective Martin Campos, Manhattan North Narcotics... that there is reasonable cause to believe that... evidence tending to demonstrate the existence, membership and activities of a narcotics distribution organization... and evidence of a conspiracy to commit narcotics offenses... including but not limited to" records of communications among organization members, communications equipment and electronically stored information referring to the organization or its members, images of organization members, transaction records, drug trafficking proceeds and records thereof, electronic communication equipment and information information stored on such equipment, and evidence of ownership and use of the apartment "by any person" could be found at Plaintiffs' apartment. No names of any individuals other than Detective Campos and the issuing judge are mentioned in the warrant, which includes no arrest authorization, and there is no specific reference to guns. The general no-knock search authorization portion of the warrant directs the police officer executing the warrant to search "for evidence tending to demonstrate the existence, membership, and activities of a narcotics distribution organization..., and evidence of the possession and sale of cocaine, and conspiracy to commit those crimes, including but not limited to the [specifically described] property." It additionally authorizes "law enforcement personnel to videotape and photograph the interior of the target apartment, and process the target apartment and property therein for fingerprints." (Ex. A to Decl. of Elissa B. Jacobs (the "Warrant").)

Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants for false arrest or unlawful detention (detention in the apartment pursuant to what Plaintiffs claim was an invalid warrant), unconstitutional search and seizure (principally searching the apartment pursuant to what Plaintiffs claim was an invalid warrant, searching outside of what Plaintiffs claim was the authorized scope of the warrant, questioning of the occupants concerning the Suspects, the photographing of the children, and the detention of the Plaintiffs in connection with the allegedly unauthorized additional activities), failure to intervene in the aforementioned violations, assault, battery, and negligent hiring, training, and supervision by the City. It also asserts that the City is liable for the individual Defendants' actions on the basis of respondeat superior.

DISCUSSION

In order "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to ...


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