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Molina v. City of Elmira

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 13, 2015

JOSE MOLINA, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF ELMIRA, NEW YORK, MATTHEW D. SAUNDERS, JAMES E. WANDELL, JOSHUA D. VANSKIVER, STEPHEN M. LINCOLN, JOHN PERRIGO, AND JOHN DOE(S) AND JANE DOE(S), Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jose Molina, Sr. ("Plaintiff") alleges that on September 19, 2010, the individual Defendants, each of whom is an employee of the City of Elmira's police department, responded to a 911 call at his residence. The 911 call related to a domestic disturbance involving Plaintiff's son, Jose Molina, Jr. ("Molina Jr."), and his girlfriend, Heather Sweet ("Sweet"). Plaintiff claims that during the course of the incident, Defendants administered pepper spray which exacerbated his breathing problems, unlawfully entered and searched his home, arrested him without probable cause, and denied him medical treatment.

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Dkt. 18) alleges ten causes of action: false arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants; malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants; unreasonable use of force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants; unreasonable search under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants; denial of medical attention under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants; and five undefined causes of action under the New York State Constitution against the individual defendants, only. Defendants move for summary judgment on each of these claims. (Dkt. 25). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted as to the claims asserted against the City of Elmira and denied in all other respects.

BACKGROUND

On September 19, 2010, Defendants Matthew D. Saunders, James E. Wandell, Joshua D. VanSkiver, Stephen M. Lincoln, and John Perrigo, police officers employed by the City of Elmira, arrived at Plaintiff's residence. (Dkt. 18 at ¶ 10). Defendants maintain that they were responding to a 911 call involving an incident between Molina Jr. and Sweet. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶¶ 1-5). Plaintiff claims to have been asleep on his bed, receiving oxygen, when the officers arrived. (Id. at ¶ 10; Dkt. 18 at ¶ 12).

Plaintiff's and Defendants' versions of the incident differ significantly. Defendants maintain that Sweet advised them that Molina Jr. would exit the residence if they left, so the officers left the scene, at which point Molina Jr. exited the residence and began to yell at Sweet. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶¶ 5-7). Plaintiff maintains that the officers told Sweet to re-enter the home and that Molina Jr. simply opened the door of the residence and asked Sweet why she had called the police. (Dkt. 27-2 at ¶¶ 5-7). According to Plaintiff, one of the officers then jumped over the railing without identifying himself, prompting Molina Jr. to re-enter the residence and close the door. (Id. at ¶ 8). Plaintiff maintains that the officer then "burst through the door" and, without saying anything to Molina Jr., handcuffed him. (Id. ).

Defendants maintain that defendant Captain Wandell approached Molina Jr. on the porch of the residence and informed him that he was under arrest, at which point Molina Jr. allegedly attempted to retreat into the residence. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 8). Plaintiff claims that Molina Jr. ceased struggling once he realized he was dealing with police officers and that he was sprayed with pepper spray after already having been handcuffed. (Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 9). The parties agree that at some point, the Molinas' dog bit defendant Officer Saunders. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 11; Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 11). They further agree that defendant Officer VanSkiver used a taser on the dog, which released Officer Saunders' foot and retreated into the residence. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 12; Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 12).

Defendants claim that during the events described above, Plaintiff was "yelling at the officers to get out of his home." (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 13). Plaintiff claims he simply stated "Who is in the house?" and "Who broke my door?" (Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 13). Defendants claim that as Molina Jr. was being taken to a patrol vehicle, defendant Captain Wandell advised defendants Officers Lincoln and Perrigo that Plaintiff was under arrest for resisting arrest. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 16). Plaintiff claims that Captain Wandell never stated the reason for his arrest. (Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 16). Plaintiff further claims that because he had difficulty putting his hands behind his back in the manner the officers wanted, he was pushed to the ground, had his face pushed into nails, and was dragged across his porch, down the steps, across the ground, and into the patrol vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 17). Plaintiff maintains that once at the patrol vehicle, he told Defendants that he could not breathe and needed to go to the hospital. (Id. ).

The parties agree that while Plaintiff was in the patrol car, his inhaler was administered. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 19; Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 19). However, Plaintiff claims that the officers did not retrieve the inhaler until his wife brought it to their attention and that Plaintiff was allowed only "two puffs" which "was not enough to help his breathing." (Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 19).

Plaintiff was transported to the Elmira Police Department, booked, and issued an appearance ticket. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 21; Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 21). Plaintiff states that he was denied medical assistance while in custody. (Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 21). Defendants admit that after Plaintiff left the Elmira Police Department, he went to St. Joseph's Hospital and was admitted. (Dkt. 25-3 at ¶ 22). Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital on September 19, 2010, and discharged on September 22, 2010. (Dkt. 27-2 at ¶ 22).

Plaintiff was charged with a single charge of resisting arrest. (Dkt. 18 at ¶ 16). Plaintiff was acquitted of this charge. (Id. at ¶ 18).

Plaintiff commenced this action on June 11, 2012. (Dkt. 1). Defendants answered on July 5, 2012. (Dkt. 8). The Amended Complaint was filed on April 4, 2013. (Dkt. 18). Discovery closed on October 7, 2013 (Dkt. 23), and Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on December 20, 2013 (Dkt. 25). Plaintiff filed his response papers and a request for Clerk's entry of default on January 30, 2014. (Dkt. 27, 29). Defendants Perrigo and Lincoln filed their Amended Answer on January 31, 2014, with a certificate of service indicating it was originally served on Plaintiff on June 19, 2013. (Dkt. 30).[1] Defendants' reply papers were filed on February 14, 2014. (Dkt. 31). On December 4, 2014, this case was transferred to the undersigned. (Dkt. 33). Oral argument on the instant motion was held on February 19, 2015. (Dkt. 35). The Court permitted the parties to submit supplemental papers on the issue of municipal liability (Dkt. 37); these supplemental papers were filed on March 13, 2015, and March 27, 2015 (Dkt. 38, 39).

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment should be granted if the moving party establishes "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). The Court should grant summary judgment if, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the court finds that no rational jury could find in favor of that party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)). Once the moving party has met its burden, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.... [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 160 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586-87) (emphasis in original). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment...." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

As a threshold matter, Defendants have filed a summary judgment motion but have also made arguments addressed to the adequacy of Plaintiff's pleading under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ( See, e.g., Dkt. 25-2 at 4). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is procedurally improper when filed after the close of pleadings, but the Court should read an untimely Rule 12(b)(6) motion as a motion for judgment on the pleadings made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See Vieira v. Honeoye Cent. Sch. Dist., 756 F.Supp.2d 302, 307 (W.D.N.Y. 2010); see also Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001) ("[A] motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim... that is styled as arising under Rule 12(b) but is filed after the close of pleadings, should be construed by the district court as a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c)."). Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) where the "material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings." Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crofters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988).

II. Statute of Limitations

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's false arrest and malicious prosecution claims are barred by the statute of limitations. (Dkt. 25-2 at 2-3). This argument is without merit with respect to Plaintiff's federal claims. Defendant's argument is based on the notice of claim requirements and statute of limitations set forth in New York General Municipal Law §§ 50-e and 50-i(c). However, "New York State notice of claim requirements do not apply to claims brought pursuant to Section 1983." Eberle v. Town of Southampton, 985 F.Supp.2d 344, 349 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (quotation omitted); see also Day v. Moscow, 955 F.2d 807, 814 (2d Cir. 1992) (state notice of claim requirements are "not applicable to § 1983 suits brought in federal court."). Moreover, "the applicable statute of limitations for § 1983 actions in New ...


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