United States District Court, E.D. New York
February 4, 2015
ALFRED OKA and FRANCES OKA, Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE OFFICER EDWARD RYBY, and SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE DETECTIVE ADAM FRIEDLANDER, Defendants
For Alfred Oka, Frances Oka, Plaintiffs: Alicia M. Menechino, Law Offices of William T. LaVelle, P.C., Patchogue, NY; William Troy LaVelle, William T. LaVelle, P.C., Patchogue, NY.
For County of Suffolk, Edward Ryby, Suffolk County Police Officer, Friedlander, Suffolk County Police Detective, Defendants: Brian C. Mitchell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Suffolk County Dept. of Law-County Attorney, Hauppauge, NY.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Gary R. Brown, United States Magistrate Judge.
On August 25, 2012, plaintiffs Alfred Oka and Frances Oka (together, " plaintiffs") filed a Verified Amended Complaint (" amended complaint") against defendants County of Suffolk, Suffolk County Police Department, the Suffolk County District Attorney, Suffolk County Police Officer Edward Ryby (" Police Officer Ryby"), Suffolk County Police Detective Adam Friedlander (" Detective Friedlander"), and Kelly Kilanowski (" Kilanowski") (collectively " defendants"), alleging violations of their constitutional rights in connection with the arrest and subsequent prosecution of plaintiff Alfred Oka. See Amended Compl., Docket Entry (" DE") . Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" Section 1983") and New York state law, plaintiff Alfred Oka seeks to recover against defendants for claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Id. In addition, pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (" Section 1985"), plaintiff Frances Oka asserts a claim of conspiracy to violate her right to serve on a jury, and plaintiff Alfred Oka asserts a gross negligence and vicarious liability claim under state law. Id. Presently before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs' claims in their entirety pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (" Rule") 56, which motion was referred to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation by the Honorable Sandra J. Feuerstein. See Order Referring Mot., dated July 28, 2014, DE . For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned respectfully recommends that the motion be granted.
A. Factual Background
The following facts, undisputed except where noted, are drawn from the Defendants' Statement Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (hereinafter " Defs.' 56.1 Stmt."), DE [39-2], and other evidence of record in this action. See Ayazi v. United Fed'n of Teachers Local 2, 487 F.App'x 680, 681 (2d Cir. 2012) (" when assessing a summary judgment motion, a District Court may consider other materials in the record") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
On October 21, 2009, at approximately 11:52 a.m., defendant Police Officer Ryby responded to a call that a female complainant was being followed by a male individual in a black Mercedes automobile in the Sunrise Highway area in Patchogue, New York. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1, DE [39-2]. While responding to the call, Police Officer Ryby received further updates informing him that the complainant, Kilanowski, was still being followed, and that the male individual had pointed a black stick at her. Id. ¶ 2. When Officer Ryby arrived at the location of the incident, he observed the described vehicle and initiated a traffic stop. Id. ¶ 3. Officer Ryby approached the driver of the vehicle, plaintiff Alfred Oka, and asked him for his identification. Id. While speaking to Alfred Oka, Officer Ryby observed a black metal stick-like object resting on the passenger seat of the vehicle. Id.
At the time of the stop, Alfred Oka informed Officer Ryby that he was carrying a loaded handgun in a holster on his belt and claimed he had a permit for the weapon. Id. ¶ 4. Officer Ryby asked Mr. Oka to step out of the vehicle and secured the handgun. Id. Officer Ryby examined the permit and discovered that Mr. Oka did not have a valid Suffolk County pistol permit permitting him to carry a loaded weapon on his person. Id. ¶ 5.
While at the scene with Alfred Oka, Officer Ryby received a radio communication from Police Officer Ciara Beseler, advising him that she was with Kilanowski and that based on Kilanowski's statements, it was determined that Mr. Oka had followed Kilanowski about a public place with the intent to annoy and alarm her. Id. ¶ 7. Kilanowski advised the police that she wanted to pursue charges and wanted the subject arrested. Id. ¶ 8. Mr. Oka was placed under arrest and transported to the Suffolk County Fifth Police Precinct (the " Fifth Precinct"). Ryby Aff., ¶ 7, DE [39-5].
Kilanowski executed a sworn Violation Information (the " Information") stating that Alfred Oka had followed her in his vehicle from Sunrise Highway to Bohemia to Gateway Boulevard in Patchogue and continued to follow her in his vehicle as she drove up and down different lanes in the parking lot of Gateway Plaza. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 9, DE [39-2]. Kilanowski further stated in the Information that she thereafter parked her vehicle in a parking space and Mr. Oka then parked his vehicle next to hers and " point[ed] a black object at her that she believed to be some kind of stick placing her in fear for her safety." Id., Ex. D.
In addition to the Information, Kilanowski executed a Suffolk County Police Department Civilian Arrest Form (the " Civilian Arrest Form") stating that she was arresting Alfred Oka on the charge of Harassment in the Second Degree and demanding that Officer Ryby take Oka into custody. Id. ¶ 10. The Civilian Arrest Form contained a warning detailing Kilanowski's responsibilities and advising her that a failure to comply could result in the charge being dismissed and she could be liable to a civil law suit for false arrest. Id. ¶ 11. Prior to his arrival at the incident location, Officer Ryby had never met or had any contact with Kilanowski. Id. ¶ 12.
At the Fifth Precinct, Officer Ryby asked defendant Detective Friedlander to assist in the processing of Alfred Oka who he explained was in custody for a charge of Harassment in the Second Degree based upon a complaint of a civilian witness, Kilanowski. Friedlander Aff., ¶ 2, DE [39-6]. Detective Friedlander conducted an interview of Oka. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13, DE [39-2]. Mr. Oka was advised of his constitutional rights, and Oka waived his rights and agreed to speak to Detective Friedlander without an attorney present. Id. During the interview, Mr. Oka admitted to carrying a loaded handgun on his hip, and while Detective Friedlander concluded that there was probable cause to believe that Oka had committed the crime of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, Detective Friedlander exercised his discretion and declined to charge him with that offense. Id. ¶ ¶ 14-15. The Pistol License section of the Suffolk Police Department was notified, Oka's license was suspended and he was required to surrender all his weapons. Id. ¶ 16.
Defendants contacted Alfred Oka's wife, plaintiff Frances Oka, to facilitate the surrender of the weapons. Id. ¶ 17. Mrs. Oka was advised to call the Fifth Precinct when she arrived home so that her husband's weapons could be recovered. Id. Although Frances Oka was serving as a juror on a trial in Riverhead, New York on the day of her husband's arrest, see Amended Compl. ¶ 38, DE , she did not leave jury duty and remained on the jury through verdict, id. ¶ 45; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13, DE [39-2]. Later that evening, Mrs. Oka contacted the precinct and surrendered her husband's handguns. Id. ¶ 17.
B. Procedural Background
On May 27, 2011, plaintiffs commenced this action against defendants County of Suffolk, Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney (collectively the " County defendants"), alleging violations of their constitutional rights in violation of Section 1983. See Compl. DE . On February 15, 2012, the County defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), and plaintiffs moved for leave to file an amended complaint. DE . By Order dated August 3, 2012, the district court dismissed the complaint and granted plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint. DE . On August 25, 2012, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, adding Police Officer Ryby, Detective Friedlander, and Kilanowski as defendants and asserting additional causes of action under federal and state law. See Amended Compl., DE . On July 29, 2013, defendant Kilanowski moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). DE . By Order dated January 13, 2014, the district court granted Kilanowski's motion and dismissed plaintiffs' claims against her. DE .
Defendants' now move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. DE . Plaintiffs oppose the motion. Id.
A. Standard of Review
" Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 728 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2013); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). " In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court must resolve all ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing summary judgment and determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, raising an issue for trial." McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 202 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Beyer v. County of Nassau, 524 F.3d 160, 163 (2d Cir. 2008). " A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law, and an issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Ramos v. Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc., 687 F.3d 554, 558 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation mark and citation omitted); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Moreover, " [w]here the undisputed facts reveal that there is an absence of sufficient proof as to one essential element of a claim, any factual disputes with respect to other elements become immaterial and cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment." Chandok v. Klessig, 632 F.3d 803, 812 (2d Cir. 2011); see Selevan v. N.Y. Thruway Auth., 711 F.3d 253, 256 (2d Cir. 2013) (finding summary judgment appropriate where the non-moving party fails to " come forth with evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable juror to return a verdict in his or her favor on an essential element of a claim"); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). " Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Fabrikant v. French, 691 F.3d 193, 205 (2d Cir. 2012).
The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing " the absence of any genuine issue of material fact." Garanti Finansal Kiralama A.S. v. Aqua Marine & Trading Inc., 697 F.3d 59, 73 n.18 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Zalaski v. City of Bridgeport Police Department, 613 F.3d 336, 340 (2d Cir. 2010). Once this burden is met, " the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact." Brown v. Eli Lilly & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 358 (2d Cir. 2011). " The nonmoving party cannot defeat summary judgment by simply show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, or by a factual argument based on conjecture or surmise." McClellan v. Smith, 439 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see Brown, 654 F.3d at 358 (holding the nonmovant " may not rely solely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation" to defeat summary judgment). " The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y.., 352 F.3d 733, 743 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alterations in original); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (" the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties alone will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment") (emphasis in original).
B. Section 1983 Claims
Plaintiff Alfred Oka alleges Section 1983 claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and abuse of process against defendants.
Section 1983 establishes liability for deprivation under the color of state law " of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. " Section 1983 itself creates no substantive rights, it provides only a procedure for redress for the deprivation of rights established elsewhere." Sykes v. James, 13 F.3d 515, 519 (2d Cir. 1993). " Claims for false arrest or malicious prosecution, brought under § 1983 to vindicate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures, are substantially the same as claims for false arrest or malicious prosecution under state law." Jocks v. Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 134 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, in this discussion section, the undersigned considers plaintiff's Section 1983 claims and his corresponding state law claims.
1. False Arrest and False Imprisonment
Defendants move for summary judgment on plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims against them on the ground that there was probable cause to arrest plaintiff Alfred Oka.
The Fourth Amendment " includes the right to be free from arrest absent probable cause." Torraco v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 615 F.3d 129, 139 (2d Cir. 2010). " In analyzing § 1983 claims for unconstitutional false arrest, [courts generally look] to the law of the state in which the arrest occurred." Jaegly v. Couch, 439 F.3d 149, 151-52 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). As a preliminary matter, under New York law, " the tort of false arrest is synonymous with that of false imprisonment, " and courts use that tort to examine an alleged Fourth Amendment violation in the context of Section 1983. Posr v. Doherty, 944 F.2d 91, 96 (2d Cir. 1991); see Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007) (a false arrest claim is " a species of" a false imprisonment claim and thus both are essentially indistinguishable). To prevail on a claim of false arrest or false imprisonment, plaintiff must establish that " (1) the defendant intended to confine the plaintiff, (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." Savino v. City of New York, 331 F.3d 63, 75 (2d Cir. 2003); see Liranzo v. United States, 690 F.3d 78, 96 (2d Cir. 2012) (under New York law, a false arrest claim requires a showing that the confinement was not privileged). In the case at hand, only the final element is in dispute.
Under both federal and New York state law, " the existence of probable cause is an absolute defense to a false arrest claim."  Jaegly, 439 F.3d at 152; see also Betts v. Shearman, 751 F.3d 78, 82 (2d Cir. 2014) (" [p]robable cause is a complete defense to a constitution claim of false arrest and false imprisonment'). That is to say, an arrest by a law enforcement officer is privileged where probable cause to arrest exists. See Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 728 F.3d 149, 155 (2d Cir. 2013). As a general matter, " probable cause to arrest exists when the officers have 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." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (emphasis omitted). " The inquiry is limited to whether the facts known by the arresting officer at the time of the arrest objectively provided probable cause to arrest." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In making this determination, courts must look to the totality of the circumstances and " must consider those facts available to the officer at the time of the arrest and immediately before it, as probable cause does not require absolute certainty." Panetta v. Crowley, 460 F.3d 388, 395 (2d Cir. 2006).
In addition, " [w]hen making a probable cause determination, police officers are entitled to rely on the allegations of fellow police officers." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, under the collective knowledge doctrine (and imputed knowledge doctrine), if an arresting officer has probable cause to arrest, law enforcement officers cooperating in an investigation are deemed to have probable cause as well. See Savino, 331 F.3d at 74 (" [t]he collective knowledge doctrine provides that, for the purposes of determining whether an arresting officer had probable cause to arrest, where law enforcement authorities are cooperating in an investigation, . . . the knowledge of one is presumed shared by all") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395 (under the imputed knowledge doctrine " [a]bsent significant indications to the contrary, an officer is entitled to rely on his fellow officer's determination that an arrest was lawful") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, " [t]he determination of probable cause does not turn on whether the fellow agent's observations were accurate, but on whether the arresting agent was reasonable in relying on those observations." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Finally, " if probable cause is established, there is no constitutional right, whether under the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment, to demand further investigation before arrest or prosecution." Virgil v. Town of Gates, 455 F.App'x 36, 40 (2d Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). " The question of whether or not probable cause existed may be determinable as a matter of law if there is no dispute as to the pertinent events and the knowledge of the officers." Weyant, 101 F.3d at 853 (citations omitted).
Applying these standards, the Court easily finds that based on the facts known by Police Officer Ryby at the time of the arrest, Ryby had probable cause to arrest Alfred Oka for the offense of Harassment in the Second Degree. Under New York law, " a person is guilty of Harassment in the Second Degree when, with intent to annoy or alarm another person, he or she follows a person in or about a public place or places." N.Y. Penal Law § 240.26(2). " [I]t is well-established that a law enforcement officer has probable cause to arrest if he received his information from some person, normally the putative victim or eyewitness." Martinez v Simonetti, 202 F.3d 625, 634 (2d Cir. 2000); see Betts, 751 F.3d at 82 (same); Curley v. Vill. of Suffern, 268 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir. 2001) (" when information is received from a putative victim or an eyewitness, probable cause exists, unless the circumstances raise doubt as to the person's veracity"); see also Singer v. Fulton Cty. Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 1995) (" an arresting officer of a crime by a person who claims to be the victim and who has signed a complaint or information charging someone with the crime, has probable cause to effect an arrest absent circumstances that raise doubts as to the victim's veracity"). " The veracity of citizen complaints who are the victims of the very crime they report to the police is assumed." Miloslavsky v. AES Eng'g Soc'y, Inc., 808 F.Supp. 351, 355 (S.D.N.Y. 1992), aff'd, 993F.2d 1534 (2d Cir. 1993).
Here, Police Officer Ryby responded to a 911 call made by a putative victim, Kilanowski. Prior to arriving at the location at issue, Police Officer Ryby received updated information from the 911 dispatcher that Kilanowski was still being followed by Oka and that Oka had pointed a black stick at her. Upon arriving at the parking lot of the Gateway Plaza, Officer Ryby received a radio communication from Police Officer Beseler advising him that she was with Kilanowski, that Oka followed Kilanowski by vehicle on public roads with intent to alarm her, and that Kilanowski wanted to pursue charges and have Oka arrested. Kilanowski executed a sworn, written Violation Information alleging, inter alia, that on October 21, 2009, Alfred Oka had followed her from Sunrise Highway in Bohemia to Gateway Boulevard in Patchogue and continued to follow her as she drove up and down different lanes in the parking lot of Gateway Plaza. Kilanowski further alleged that when she parked her car, Mr. Oka parked his vehicle next to hers and pointed a black object at her which she believed to be some kind of stick, placing her in fear for her safety. Officer Ryby observed the described vehicle, approached the car, and while speaking to Oka observed a black metal object consistent with the complainant's description resting on the passenger seat. This information, received from a putative victim, was sufficient to establish probable cause. See Curley, 268 F.3d at 70; see also Wasilewicz v. Vill. of Monroe Police Dep't, 3 A.D.3d 561, 771 N.Y.S.2d 170, 171 (2d Dep't 2004) (" Generally, information provided by an identified citizen accusing another individual of a specific crime is legally sufficient to provide the police with probable cause to arrest"). Thus, based on the totality of circumstances, Officer Ryby had probable cause to arrest Oka. Given the facts available to the officer, a reasonable police officer in Ryby's situation was entitled to conclude that Alfred Oka had followed Kilanowski with intent to annoy or alarm her and had committed the crime of Harassment in the Second Degree. See Betts, 751 F.3d at 83.
Nevertheless, plaintiff Alfred Oka argues principally that there is a triable issue of fact as to probable cause because (i) he had an innocent explanation and Police Officer Ryby " should have made further inquiry to support the arrest"; and (ii) the actual statement made on the 911 tape differs from the statement alleged in the Violation Information. Pls.' Mem. In Opp., at 5, 7, DE [39-13]; Menechino Aff., ¶ 4, Ex. A, DE [39-12]. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
First, Oka's argument that " [h]ad the arresting officer made any inquiry, he would have had the benefit of viewing a receipt in the possession of Mr. Oka evidencing his purchase from Sport's Authority that very day which would have provided a reasonable and irrefutable explanation, " see Pls.' Mem. In Opp., at 8, DE [39-13], is unpersuasive. Probable cause is not negated simply because there may be an innocent explanation for the alleged facts. See Waldron v. Milana, 541 F.App'x 5, 2013 WL 4733215, at *3 (2d Cir. 2013) (" the fact that an innocent explanation may be consistent with the facts alleged . . . does not negate probable cause") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Once Officer Ryby had a reasonable basis for believing there was probable cause, he was " not required to explore and eliminate every theoretically plausible claim of innocence before making an arrest." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 396 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A police officer " does not have to prove plaintiff's version wrong before arresting him. Nor does it matter that an investigation might have cast doubt upon the basis for the arrest." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Curley, 268 F.3d at 70 (probable cause may exist " where a police officer was presented with different stories from an alleged victim and the arrestee"). " [O]nce officers possess facts sufficient to establish probable cause, they are neither required nor allowed to sit as prosecutor, judge or jury. Their function is to apprehend those suspected of wrongdoing, and not to finally determine guilt through a weighing of evidence." Panetta, 460 F.3d at 396 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Moreover, plaintiff Alfred Oka's reliance on an inconsistency between Kilanowski's description regarding the black stick on her 911 call, viz . that the male individual was " holding" what appeared to be a black stick, and her allegation in the Violation Information that the accused was " pointing" a black stick, see Menechino Aff., ¶ 4, Ex. A, DE [39-12], to defeat probable cause is misplaced. " A statement of a complainant, an identified citizen, is assumed to have veracity and is sufficient to establish probable cause for arrest." People v. Read, 74 A.D.3d 1245, 904 N.Y.S.2d 147, 148 (2d Dep't 2010) (citing cases). Kilanowski, an identified citizen, lodged a formal complaint against Alfred Oka for harassment and identified Oka (and his vehicle) to law enforcement officials as the individual following and harassing her. Whether Oka was " holding" or " pointing" a black stick object does not raise doubt as to Kilanowski's veracity because the 911 call and its content were not known to Officer Ryby at the time of the arrest. See Stansbury v. Wertman, 721 F.3d 84, 89 (2d Cir. 2013) (" A court must consider only those facts available to the officer at the time of the arrest and immediately before it") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Where, as here, " the victim of an offense communicates to the arresting officer information affording a credible ground for believing the offense was committed and identifies the accused as the perpetrator . . . [p]robable cause is established." Id. (citation omitted).
Since there was probable cause for defendant Police Officer Ryby to effect Oka's arrest for harassment, a claim of false arrest and false imprisonment cannot lie. In turn, because defendant Ryby had probable cause to arrest Alfred Oka, defendant Detective Friedlander, the officer who ultimately effectuated the arrest at the Fifth Precinct also had probable cause, and plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims cannot survive summary judgment against either defendant. See Panetta, 460 F.3d at 395; see also Savino, 331 F.3d at 74. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims be granted.
2. Malicious Prosecution
Defendants next move for summary judgment on plaintiff's malicious prosecution on the ground that there was continuing probable cause at the time the prosecution was initiated.
Malicious prosecution claims " vindicate the right to freedom from unjustifiable litigation." Rothstein v. Carriere, 373 F.3d 275, 292 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). " In order to prevail in a § 1983 claim against a state actor for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must show a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment and establish the elements of a malicious prosecution claim under state law." Fulton v. Robinson, 289 F.3d 188, 195 (2d Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). Under New York law, " the elements of an action for malicious prosecution are (1) the initiation of a proceeding, (2) its termination favorably to plaintiff, (3) lack of probable cause, and (4) malice." Savino, 331 F.3d at 72 (quoting Colon v. City of N.Y., 60 N.Y.2d 78, 82, 455 N.E.2d 1248, 468 N.Y.S.2d 453 (1983)). " Liability for the tort of malicious prosecution also gives rise to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing all four elements of this claim. See Rothstein, 373 F.3d at 282.
" The existence of probable cause is a complete defense to a claim of malicious prosecution in New York." Savino, 331 F.3d at 72; see also Betts, 751 F.3d at 82 (" continuing probable cause is a complete defense to a constitutional claim of malicious prosecution"). Notably, however, " [t]he probable cause standard in the malicious prosecution context is slightly higher than the standard for false arrest cases." Stansbury, 721 F.3d at 95. " Once probable cause to arrest has been established, claims of malicious prosecution survive only if, between the arrest and the initiation of the prosecution, the groundless nature of the charges [is] made apparent by the discovery of some intervening fact." Smith v. Tobon, 529 F.App'x 36, 38 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration in original). As the Court has already found, defendants Police Officer Ryby and Detective Friedlander had probable cause to arrest Alfred Oka based on Kilanowski's statements. Thus, in order for plaintiff to prevail on his malicious prosecution claim, he must show that the probable cause dissipated between the time of his arrest and the initiation of his prosecution.
There is no evidence in the record that the probable cause to arrest Alfred Oka dissipated by the time the prosecution commenced. See Husbands ex rel. Forde v. City of N.Y., 335 F.App'x 124, 128 (2d Cir. 2009). Plaintiff Oka has not proffered any evidence of the discovery of some intervening fact which made the probable cause to dissipate between the time of his arrest and the commencement of his prosecution. See Lowth v. Town of Cheektowaga, 82 F.3d 563, 571 (2d Cir. 1996), amended (May 21, 1996) (" In order for probable cause to dissipate, the groundless nature of the charges must be made apparent by the discovery of some intervening fact") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Given that the existence of probable cause to believe that Alfred Oka could be successfully prosecuted, see Boyd v. City of N.Y., 336 F.3d 72, 76 (2d Cir. 2003); Posr v. Court Officer Shield No. 207, 180 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 1999), is a complete defense to a claim for malicious prosecution, plaintiff Alfred Oka's malicious prosecution claim cannot survive summary judgment against defendants Police Officer Ryby and Detective Friedlander. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's malicious prosecution claims be granted.
3. Malicious Abuse of Process
Defendants move for summary judgment on the malicious abuse of process claims against them.
Federal courts look to state law to determine the elements of a Section 1983 claim for abuse of process. Cook v. Sheldon, 41 F.3d 73, 80 (2d Cir. 1994). " In New York, a claim of malicious abuse of process lies against a defendant who (1) employs regularly issued legal process to compel performance or forbearance of some act (2) with intent to do harm without excuse or justification, and (3) in order to obtain a collateral objective that is outside the legitimate ends of the process." Cook, 41 F.3d at 80 (citation omitted); see also Peter L. Hoffman, Lotte, LLC v. Town of Southampton, 523 F.App'x 770, 771 (2d Cir. 2013). The malicious abuse of criminal process may give rise to a Section 1983 claim, because the resulting deprivation of liberty is " by definition a denial of procedural due process." Cook, 41 F.3d at 80 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Second Circuit has noted that the torts of malicious prosecution and abuse of process are " closely allied; " but whereas malicious prosecution focuses on the improper issuance of process, " the gist of abuse of process is the improper use of process after it is regularly issued." Id.; accord Dean v. Kochendorfer, 237 N.Y. 384, 390, 143 N.E. 229 (1924) (" legal process means that a court issued the process, and the plaintiff will be penalized if he violates it") (citation omitted).
Plaintiff Alfred Oka contends that defendants arrested and prosecuted him to obtain the collateral objective of having plaintiff Frances Oka removed as a sitting juror on a pending criminal matter. Pls. Mem. In Opp., at 9-10, DE [39-13]. However, he proffers no evidence in support of his position other than the bare allegations set forth in the amended complaint. Amended Compl., ¶ ¶ 107-21, DE . In their opposition papers, plaintiffs merely restate the allegations as follows:
As set forth in the Amended Verified Complaint, on the day of the arrest, Mrs. Oka had been sitting as a juror on the third day of a trial on a criminal case in Riverhead. The trial was for the alleged manslaughter of a Suffolk County corrections officer. Although Mr. Oka did not have sufficient stationhouse bail, he asked that the precinct officers not attempt to contact his wife while on jury duty. An officer did so anyway. Mrs. Oka was called at the judge's part from the precinct while on jury duty. Mrs. Oka taking her juror obligations seriously, stated that she would not be able to assist her husband at this time, nor did her husband indicate that he wanted her to. After the day at trial was through, Mrs. Oka did arrive at the precinct to pay stationhouse bail and Mr. Oka received a desk appearance ticket for a court date a few months later.
Pls. Mem. In Opp. at 10, DE [39-13] (emphasis omitted). Such allegations do not state a claim for malicious abuse of process and are far too conclusory to defeat summary judgment.
First, plaintiffs' allegations do not establish that the officers used the legal process for a purpose other than the purpose for which the law created it. As there was probable cause for the arrest of Alfred Oka on October 21, 2009, defendants had justification for employing regularly issued process referred to in the amended complaint. See Anaba v. County of Suffolk, No. 11-CV-1987 (ADS)(GRB), 2014 WL 1411770, at 9 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 11, 2014) (" [N]umerous courts have recognized that probable cause defeats a claim for abuse of process by demonstrating that a defendant acted with excuse or justification") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Moreover, Frances Oka never left jury duty on the day of the arrest, remained on the jury through verdict, and thus never suffered a constitutional violation.
Finally, to the extent plaintiffs assert a Section 1983 conspiracy in support of their abuse of process claim, such a claim is barred by the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine. To prove a Section 1983 conspiracy claim, plaintiffs must demonstrate " (1) an agreement between two state actors or a state actor and a private party; (2) to act in concert to inflict an unconstitutional injury; and (3) an overt act done in furtherance of that goal causing damages." Pangburn v. Culbertson, 200 F.3d 65, 72 (2d Cir. 1999). " Under the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine, officers, agents, and employees of a single corporate or municipal entity, each acting within the scope of his or her employment, are legally incapable of conspiring with each other." Herzlich v. Nassau B.O.C.E.S., No. 12-CV-220 (SJF)(AKT), 2013 WL 5406607, at * (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 23, 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Here, the only parties to the conspiracy would be Officer Ryby and Detective Friedlander, both employees of a single municipal entity, viz . Suffolk County. As such, and as discussed infra with respect to plaintiff Frances Oka's conspiracy claims under Section 1985, her claim would be barred by the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine. See Herrmann v. Moore, 576 F.2d 453, 459 (2d Cir. 1978); see also Straker v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 340 F.App'x 675, 677 (2d Cir. 2009). Inasmuch as there is nothing in this record that even remotely suggests an attempt to state a malicious abuse of process claim, plaintiffs' claim cannot survive summary judgment against defendants Police Officer Ryby and Detective Friedlander.
Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' malicious abuse of process claims be granted.
4. Municipal Liability
The County Defendants move for summary judgment on plaintiff's Section 1983 claims against them.
Under Section 1983, a municipality can be found liable only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) (" Congress did not intend municipalities to be held liable unless action pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort"). That is, Section 1983 " imposes liability on a government that under color of some official policy, causes an employee to violate another's constitutional rights." Okin v. Vill. of Cornwall-On-Hudson Police Dep't, 577 F.3d 415, 439 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). " Monell does not provide a separate cause of action for the failure by the government to train its employees; it extends liability to a municipal organization, where the organization's failure to train, or the policies or customs that it has sanctioned, led to an independent constitutional violation." Id. Thus, to hold the County Defendants liable under Section 1983 for the unconstitutional actions of its law enforcement officers, " a plaintiff is required to plead and prove three elements: (1) an official policy or custom that (2) causes the plaintiff to be subjected to (3) a denial of a constitutional right." Wray v. City of N.Y., 490 F.3d 189, 195 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks, citation and alterations omitted).
Because Alfred Oka has failed to present any evidence that demonstrates that his constitutional rights were violated by the individual law enforcement officers, he cannot sustain a Section 1983 claim against the County Defendants. See Askins v. Doe No.1, 727 F.3d 248, 253 (2d Cir. 2013) (" [u]nless a plaintiff shows that he has been a victim of a federal law tort committed by persons for whose conduct the municipality can be responsible, there is no basis for holding the municipality liable[; ] Monell does not create a stand-alone cause of action under which a plaintiff may sue over a governmental policy, regardless of whether he suffered the infliction of a tort resulting from the policy"); see also Kajoshaj v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 543 F.App'x 11, 16-17 (2d Cir.2013) (plaintiffs' failure to plausibly plead that municipal employees violated their constitutional rights, the plaintiffs' Monell claim against the municipality " necessarily fails as well"); Anaba, 2014 WL 1411770, at *10 (same).
Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment on the municipal liability claim be granted.
C. Section 1985 Claim
Defendants move for summary judgment on plaintiffs' Section 1985(3) claim. Plaintiff Frances Oka alleges pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) that defendants conspired to deprive her of her constitutional right to serve on a jury. Plaintiffs do not address this cause of action in their opposition papers; however, in their amended complaint, plaintiffs maintain that the defendants' conspiracy was motivated by plaintiff Frances Oka's position as a juror on a high-profile trial on the manslaughter of a Suffolk County Corrections Officer. See Amended Compl. at ¶ 135, DE .
Subsection 1985(3) prohibits conspiracies " for the purpose of depriving . . . any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws." Thus, a plaintiff advancing such a claim must show " (1) a conspiracy (2) for the purpose of depriving a person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or the equal privileges and immunities under the laws; (3) an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and (4) an injury to the plaintiff's person or property, or a deprivation of a right or privilege of a citizen of the United States." Finn v. Anderson, 2014 WL 5904891, at *3 (2d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Farbstein v. Hicksville Public Library, 254 F.App'x 50, 51 (2d Cir. 2007) (same). " Further, the plaintiff must allege (5) that the conspiracy was motivated by some class-based animus." Farbstein, 254 F.App'x at 51. To sustain a Section 1985 claim, a " plaintiff must provide some factual basis supporting a meeting of the minds, such that defendants entered into an agreement, express or tacit, to achieve the unlawful end." Webb v. Goord, 340 F.3d 105, 110 (2d Cir. 2003).
Here plaintiffs have not proffered a triable issue of fact suggesting a " meeting of the minds" among defendants or any subset of them. Moreover, plaintiffs' Section 1985(3) claims present no facts suggesting that the conspiratorial harms flowed from " some racial or otherwise class-based animus" behind their actions. Finally, plaintiffs' constitutional conspiracy claim fails by virtue of that fact that where, as in this case, " the conspiratorial conduct challenged is essentially a single act by a single corporation acting exclusively through its own directors, officers, and employees, each acting within the scope of his employment, " there is no conspiracy. Herrmann, 576 F.2d at 459; see Straker, 340 F.App'x at 677 (same). The individual defendants were all employees of the same municipal entity, the Suffolk County Police Department, and therefore the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine applies. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' Section 1985(3) claim be granted.
D. Qualified Immunity
Defendants Police Officer Ryby and Detective Friedlander assert that principals of qualified immunity further support the dismissal of plaintiffs' claims against them.
" The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). " When a defendant officer charged with violations of federal constitutional rights invokes qualified immunity to support a motion for summary judgment, a court must first consider a threshold question: Do the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, show that the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right? If the answer to this question is no, there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity." Walczyk v. Rio, 496 F.3d 139, 154 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). " The reason for this rule is that, where there is no viable constitutional claim, defendants have no need of an immunity shield." Id.; see also Farrell v. Burke, 449 F.3d 470, 499 n.14 (2d Cir. 2006) (holding that " [b]ecause we have found no cognizable violation of [plaintiffs'] rights in this case, we need not reach the question of qualified immunity"). Given that the Court finds that plaintiffs' constitutional rights were not violated, the Court does not reach the issue of whether the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.
E. Remaining State Law Claims
The Amended Complaint asserts state law claims for " gross negligence and vicarious liability" against defendants. Amended Compl. at ¶ ¶ 122-30.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), a district court " may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over" state law claims if, as here, " the district court has dismissed all claims over with it has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); see Delaney v. Bank of America Corp., 766 F.3d 163, 170 (2d Cir. 2014). " Dismissal of the state law claims, however, is not absolutely mandatory, and the authority of whether to retain or decline jurisdiction resides in the sound discretion of the Court." Cinevert v. Varsity Bus Co., No. 12-CV-1223 (RRM)(VVP), 2014 WL 4699674, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see Delaney, 766 F.3d at170. " In deciding whether to exercise jurisdiction over supplemental state-law claims, district courts should balance the values of judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity -- the 'Cohill factors.'" Klein & Co. Futures, Inc. v. Bd. of Trade, 464 F.3d 255, 262 (2d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). " [I]n the usual case in which all federal-law claims are eliminated before trial, the balance of factors will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims." Kolari v. New York-Presbyterian Hosp., 455 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n.7, 108 S.Ct. 614, 98 L.Ed.2d 720 (1988)); see Brzak v. United Nations, 597 F.3d 107, 113-14 (2d Cir. 2010) (" [I]f a plaintiff's federal claims are dismissed before trial, the state claims should be dismissed as well.").
Having dismissed all federal causes of action, the Court finds that concerns for judicial economy, convenience, fairness and comity weigh against retaining supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. Accordingly, the undersigned respectfully recommends that the district court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.
Based upon the foregoing, it is respectfully recommended that defendants' summary judgment motion be granted.
A copy of this Report and Recommendation is being electronically served on counsel for each of the parties. Any written objections to this Report and Recommendation must be filed with the Clerk of the Court within fourteen (14) days of service of this Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (2006 & Supp. V 2011); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a), 72(b). Any requests for an extension of time for filing objections must be directed to the district judge assigned to this action prior to the expiration of the fourteen (14) day period for filing objections. Failure to file objections within fourteen (14) days will preclude further review of this report and recommendation either by the District Court or the Court of Appeals. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 145, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985) (" a party shall file objections with the district court or else waive right to appeal"); Caidor v. Onondaga Cnty., 517 F.3d 601, 604 (2d Cir. 2008) (" failure to object timely to a magistrate's report operates as a waiver of any further judicial review of the magistrate's decision"); see Monroe v. Hyundai of Manhattan & Westchester, 372 F.App'x 147, 147-48 (2d 2010) (same).