United States District Court, N.D. New York
JOSE E. PEREZ, ESQ., OFFICE OF JOSE E. PEREZ, Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff
FRANK W. MILLER, ESQ., BRYAN N. GEORGIADY, ESQ., OFFICE OF FRANK W. MILLER, East Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
FREDERICK J. SCULLIN, Jr., Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff brings this action alleging various claims against Defendants for discrimination, assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, gross negligence, and "purposeful nonfeasance, " as well as various related state-law and constitutional claims.
Plaintiff originally filed her complaint on July 1, 2011, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. In her Complaint, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in an amount to be proven at trial, punitive and exemplary damages against each Defendant, costs of suit, reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and as otherwise authorized by statute or law, that the Court assume pendent jurisdiction over the state-law claims, pre- and post-judgment interest as permitted by law, a jury trial, and such other relief as the Court may deem proper.
In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Kovalsky, a court security officer ("CSO") of the Town of DeWitt Court,  targeted her and her sister for discrimination due to their race when they were sitting in the gallery of the Town of DeWitt Courthouse. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Kovalsky wrongfully ordered her to exit the courtroom and then used excessive force while ejecting her from the courtroom. Plaintiff further asserts that Defendant Puma, another CSO, assisted Defendant Kovalsky in using excessive force to arrest her. Plaintiff contends that Defendants Puma and Kovalsky then conspired with Defendant Brenton White, an officer of the Town of DeWitt Police Department, to have Plaintiff falsely charged with multiple crimes and sent to the Onondaga County Justice Center ("OCJC"). Plaintiff asserts that she remained in jail for two weeks, during which time she suffered various constitutional violations. Finally, Plaintiff contends that
the Town of Dewitt is legally responsible for the incident, injuries and damages... and that each of the Defendants directly and proximately caused Plaintiff's injuries and damages by reason of their negligence, intentional acts or conduct, breach of duty, negligent supervision, management or control, violation of constitutional rights, or by reason of other personal, vicarious or imputed negligence, fault, or breach of duty, whether based on agency, employment, control, whether severally or jointly, or whether based on any other act or omission.
See Complaint at ¶ 29.
Based upon these allegations, Plaintiff asserts eight causes of action:
(1) Defendants infringed and conspired to infringe Plaintiff's Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, deprivation of liberty without due process of law, cruel and unusual punishment, false arrest and imprisonment.
(2) Defendants infringed Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable and excessive force.
(3) Defendants infringed Plaintiff's Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from false arrest and imprisonment.
(4) Defendants infringed Plaintiff's "rights, privileges and immunities" under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985(3), and 1986 as well as the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to a timely court appearance, assignment of counsel or opportunity to retain counsel, and proper medical care.
(5) Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff because of her race.
(6) Defendants Eugene J. Conway and Town of DeWitt infringed Plaintiff's "rights, privileges, and immunities" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments by negligently training police officers, negligently supervising police officers, and disregarding previous allegations of police brutality.
(7) Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under the laws of the State of New York by committing the following against Plaintiff: assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence, discrimination, gross negligence, and purposeful nonfeasance.
(8) Defendant Town of DeWitt is liable to Plaintiff for Defendant police officers' actions pursuant to New York State General Municipal Law § 50-j, and the theory of respondeat superior.
Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's conspiracy claim, Plaintiff's other claims against Defendants Brenton White, John and Jane Does 1-10, Conway, and the Town of DeWitt; and Plaintiff's claims arising from her time at the OCJC.
A. Plaintiff's conspiracy claim
1. Standard of review
Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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(a). At the summary judgment stage, the court's role is to determine "whether there is the need for a trial- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In making this determination, the court must view the evidence in the record and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Consol. Risk Servs., Inc. v. Auto. Dealers WC Self Ins. Trust, No. 1:06-CV-871, 2010 WL 2735701, *3 (N.D.N.Y. July 9, 2010) (citation omitted).
Summary judgment is appropriate if the party that bears the burden of proof at trial fails to establish an essential element of its case. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Moreover, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. Thus, "[c]onclusory allegations, conjecture and speculation... are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact." Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).
2. Plaintiff's conspiracy claim
There are four elements of a conspiracy to violate civil rights under § 1985(3). See United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., Local 610, AFL-CIO v. Scott, 463 U.S. 825, 828-29 (1983). The first element of that claim is simply "a conspiracy." See id. A conspiracy need not consist of an explicit agreement between the alleged conspirators, but a plaintiff "must allege, with at least some degree of particularity, overt acts which defendants engaged in which were reasonably related to the promotion of the claimed conspiracy." Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 147 (2d Cir. 1999).
Here, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Puma joined Defendant Kovalsky in arresting her after Defendant Kovalsky had targeted her for ejection from the courtroom and begun removing her. She does not allege, however, that Defendant Puma heard Defendant Kovalsky make the statement, "this is what I have to do to Hispanic people, " a statement she describes as occurring prior to Defendant Puma's arrival to assist. She does not allege that Defendant Puma would have responded differently to the situation if Defendant Kovalsky had been ejecting a white person from the courtroom.
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Kovalsky and Puma agreed with Defendant White to bring charges against Plaintiff. However, Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant White could have or should have known that these charges were false, as Plaintiff alleges, or that Defendant White could have or should have known that Defendant Kovalsky or Defendant Puma had targeted Plaintiff because of her race. Plaintiff has not disputed Defendants' claims that the police station is located in a separate wing of the DeWitt Town Hall from the courtroom, that Defendant White was summoned to the courtroom from the police station after the altercation between Plaintiff and Defendants Kovalsky and Puma was underway, that Plaintiff was already in handcuffs in the lobby when Defendant White encountered her, and that Defendant White decided to charge Plaintiff after Defendants Kovalsky and Puma provided sworn statements that Plaintiff had caused a disturbance in the courtroom and resisted arrest.
In summary, Plaintiff has not alleged any explicit or implicit communication between Defendant Kovalsky and any other person that could suggest an agreement to discriminate against Plaintiff. Plaintiff has likewise not alleged that anyone other than Defendant Kovalsky would have acted differently if she were white. Accordingly, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to those aspects of Plaintiff's first cause of action that allege a conspiracy to violate her civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3).
B. Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim
Defendants and Plaintiff did not address this issue in their filings, but the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted. In order to state a claim for the tort of malicious prosecution under New York State law, a plaintiff must prove "(1) the initiation or continuation of a criminal proceeding against plaintiff; (2) termination of the proceeding in plaintiff's favor; (3) lack of probable cause for commencing the proceeding; and (4) actual malice as a motivation for defendant's actions.'" Murphy v. Lynn, 118 F.3d 938, 947 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Russell v. Smith, 68 F.3d 33, 36 (2d Cir. 1995)) (citing Broughton v. State, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 458, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 95, 335 N.E.2d 310 (N.Y.) cert. denied, 423 U.S. 929, 96 S.Ct. 277, 46 L.Ed.2d 257 (1975)). Here, Plaintiff has not alleged the second element, that proceedings were terminated in her favor. Accordingly, the Court grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim against all Defendants.
C. Plaintiff's claims against Defendant White
A police officer has sufficient probable cause to escape liability for false arrest where he has "knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a crime.'" Dickerson v. Napolitano, 604 F.3d 732, 751 (2d Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted). New York law also provides that a defendant may defeat a claim for malicious prosecution where the defendant had probable cause, to wit: "the knowledge of facts, actual or apparent, strong enough to justify a reasonable man in the belief that he has lawful grounds for prosecuting the defendant in the manner complained of.'" Rounseville v. Zahl, 13 F.3d 625, 629 (2d Cir. 1994) (quotation and other citation omitted).
Here, Defendant White clearly had probable cause to arrest and charge Plaintiff. An eyewitness, Defendant Kovalsky, reported to Defendant White that Plaintiff had disrupted courtroom proceedings and resisted arrest. Defendant Kovalsky and another eyewitness, Defendant Puma, signed sworn affidavits alleging that Plaintiff had committed actions that would satisfy all of the elements of the crimes of second degree criminal contempt, second degree obstruction of governmental administration, and resisting arrest. Defendant White completed the Misdemeanor Information charging Plaintiff with the aforementioned offenses based upon the two eyewitnesses' affidavits.
Plaintiff has not alleged any facts to indicate that Defendant White should have doubted the truthfulness of these eyewitness accounts, and thereby believed that no probable cause existed for Plaintiff's arrest of prosecution. Plaintiff has likewise alleged no facts to indicate that Defendant White took any other wrongful action. Accordingly, the ...