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Hernandez v. City of Albany

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 27, 2015

MYLES HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ALBANY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Myles Hernandez ("Plaintiff") brings this action against Defendants City of Albany; City of Albany Police Department; Officer R. Lawyer ("Lawyer"); and Officers John Doe #1-10 (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and New York law. Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint"). Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims. Dkt. Nos. 37 ("Motion"); 37-2 ("Defendants' Memorandum"). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The Incident

On October 29, 2011, Lawyer was dispatched to investigate a noise complaint at 85 Partridge Street in the City of Albany. Dkt. Nos. 37-1 ("Statement of Material Facts") ¶ 1; 45 ("Statement of Material Facts Response") ¶ 1. Lawyer claims that he could hear loud music coming from a nearby residence at 94 Partridge Street. SMF ¶¶ 2-6, 9.[1] Lawyer and a non-party officer entered the premises to investigate. SMF ¶¶ 5-6; SMF Resp. ¶¶ 5-6.

Lawyer inquired as to who owned or occupied the apartment. SMF ¶ 11; SMF Resp. ¶ 11. It is undisputed that Plaintiff then approached Lawyer. SMF ¶ 12; SMF Resp. ¶ 12. However, Defendants claim that Plaintiff "confronted" Lawyer, whereas Plaintiff argues that he merely engaged Lawyer in a conversation and was calm and compliant at all times. SMF ¶ 12; SMF Resp. ¶ 12.

Defendants further assert that Plaintiff then lied to Lawyer by stating that he did not know who occupied the apartment and that it was vacant, even though Plaintiff did in fact know the true tenant's identity. SMF ¶¶ 15-17. Plaintiff denies this assertion, claiming that he told Lawyer that he indeed knew the owner but believed that he had already left because all of the attendees were in the process of exiting the party. SMF Resp. ¶¶ 15-17.

Plaintiff then offered his identification to Lawyer to prove that he was over twenty-one years of age. SMF ¶ 19; SMF Resp. ¶ 19. It is undisputed that Plaintiff was the only partygoer to approach and converse with Lawyer inside the premises. SMF ¶ 31; SMF Resp. ¶ 31.

Plaintiff then asked Lawyer for permission to leave the premises. SMF ¶ 20; SMF Resp. ¶ 20. The parties offer contrasting views of what occurred next. Defendants claim that Lawyer instructed Plaintiff to remain in the apartment, but Plaintiff refused that direction and attempted to walk past Lawyer, brushing up against Lawyer in the process. SMF ¶¶ 21-22. Defendants assert that Lawyer then grabbed Plaintiff's arm, and "[i]n response, the Plaintiff tightened up his arm and raised his hands in a defensive, fighting stance." Id . ¶¶ 23-24. Moreover, Lawyer was the only officer in the room at the time, surrounded by twenty five to thirty partygoers, and Plaintiff stood six feet two inches tall and weighed approximately 200 pounds. Id . ¶¶ 7, 13, 26. Fearing for his safety, Lawyer claims that he struck Plaintiff with a closed fist on the left side of his head "in an effort to create distance between him and the Plaintiff." Id . ¶¶ 27-28. Lawyer then struck Plaintiff two more times on the left side of the head with a closed fist "in an effort to control the situation, " and radioed for backup. Id . ¶ 30.

Plaintiff denies that he attempted to walk past Lawyer or that he made any contact with him; rather, Plaintiff asserts that he simply requested to leave, and, in response, Lawyer called him a "wiseguy" or "smartass" and immediately punched him in the face. SMF Resp. ¶¶ 21-22. Plaintiff claims that he would not have attempted to leave because Lawyer was still in possession of Plaintiff's identification. Id . ¶ 23. Furthermore, Plaintiff states that he never raised his hands, clenched his fist, or displayed a fighting or aggressive stance. Id . ¶ 24. Indeed, Plaintiff states that he was immediately "blindsided" by Lawyer's punches and Plaintiff was still holding his wallet in his left hand at the time. Id . ¶¶ 24, 27. Plaintiff also disputes that Lawyer was alone, asserting that at least two other officers were present in the room at the time. Id . ¶ 26. Moreover, Plaintiff states that earlier in the evening there may have been twenty five to thirty people at the party; however, at the time Lawyer entered, there were only eight to ten partygoers remaining. Id . ¶ 7. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that after Lawyer's punches knocked him to the ground, several officers pinned him down, aggressively picked him up, slammed him into the wall face first, and handcuffed him. Id . ¶ 28.

Following the altercation, Plaintiff was taken into custody, arrested, and charged with obstruction of governmental administration and resisting arrest. See id. ¶ 35; Dkt. No. 37-26 ("Exhibit T"). The Hon. Rachel L. Kretser, Albany City Court Judge, dismissed the criminal complaint against Plaintiff as facially insufficient. Ex. T. at 4. Specifically, Judge Kretser found that the complaint failed to allege that Plaintiff knew that Lawyer was engaged in an investigation or that Plaintiff refused to step aside or otherwise impede or interfere with the officers' attempt to investigate. Id. at 3-4. Thus, the complaint "fail[ed] to provide reasonable cause that [Plaintiff] committed the crime of obstruction." Id. at 4. Judge Kretser also concluded that because the obstruction charge must be dismissed, the "resisting arrest charge must likewise be dismissed." Id.

B. Racial Considerations

Plaintiff is of Hispanic and African-American descent. SMF ¶ 33; SMF Resp. ¶ 33. Plaintiff was the only African-American person at the party, but an Asian male and a Hispanic male were also in attendance. SMF ¶ 34; SMF Resp. ¶ 34. A Caucasian partygoer, Jesse Johnson ("Johnson"), was taken into custody and handcuffed outside of 94 Partridge Street, but was later released at the scene and not arrested. SMF ¶¶ 35-37; SMF Resp. ¶¶ 35-37. Johnson did not interact with any police officers inside the premises, and Lawyer was not the officer who detained and handcuffed Johnson. SMF ¶ 36-37; SMF Resp. ¶¶ 36-37. Discovery revealed that, on the date Plaintiff was arrested, a total of fifteen appearance and arrest tickets for similar charges in the vicinity of 94 Partridge Street were issued, of which thirteen were given to Caucasian partygoers. SMF ¶ 44; SMF Resp. ¶ 44.

C. Medical Attention

Plaintiff did not request medical attention at the scene of his arrest or while seated in the patrol vehicle. SMF ¶¶ 38-39; SMF Resp. ¶¶ 38-39. Plaintiff asserts, however, that "his injuries were obvious" and "the officers should... have insisted that he be seen by an EMT." SMF Resp. ¶ 38. Plaintiff received medical attention during the booking process for a bloody nose. SMF ¶ 40; SMF Resp. ¶ 40. Plaintiff declined an offer to be taken to the hospital at that time. SMF ¶ 41; SMF Resp. ¶ 41. While awaiting arraignment, Defendants assert that Plaintiff declined further treatment; Plaintiff asserts that he merely did not affirmatively request treatment. SMF ¶ 42; SMF Resp. ¶ 42. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered severe injuries as a result of the assault and inadequate medical treatment, including injuries to his face and eye, a broken orbital socket, blurred vision and scarring, and neck and back injuries. SMF Resp. ¶ 47.

D. Summary of the Complaint

Plaintiff alleges the following claims: (1) racial discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983; (2) false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and denial of medical treatment pursuant to § 1983; and (3) false arrest, malicious prosecution, and assault and battery pursuant to New York law. See Compl.; Dkt. No. 46 ("Plaintiff's Memorandum").[2] Plaintiff seeks substantial monetary damages. Compl. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims, and seek to strike Plaintiff's request for punitive damages. Defs.' Mem. at 24.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

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., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Mere conclusory allegations, speculation, or conjecture will not avail a party opposing summary judgment. Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996).

At the same time, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Grp. of Am., Inc., 164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998). A court's duty in reviewing a motion for summary judgment is "carefully limited" to finding genuine disputes of fact, "not to deciding them." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). "The role of the court is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to perform the threshold inquiry of ...


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