United States District Court, N.D. New York
June 2, 2015
KASAAD DORSEY, Plaintiff,
DETECTIVE JOHN REGAN, Badge# D204-2322; and DETECTIVE RUECKER, Badge# D123-2257, Defendants.
DECISION & ORDER
THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff Kasaad Dorsey brought this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He asserts that on October 1, 2013, he was beaten and falsely arrested/imprisoned by defendants Detective John Regan and Detective Ruecker. Compl. at 2-3. The Court previously dismissed plaintiff's claims of false arrest/imprisonment as barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), see 4/2/14 Dec. & Ord., dkt. #11, and denied his motion to amend the complaint. See 4/14/15 Ord., dkt. #53. Presently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. See Plt. Mot., dkt. #56; Defs. Mot. dkt. #57. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is denied and defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
On a motion for summary judgment the Court must construe the properly disputed facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, see Scott v. Harris, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007), and may grant summary judgment only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see O'Hara v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 642 F.3d 110, 116 (2d Cir. 2011). When considering cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court "must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits, taking care in each instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration." Hotel Employees & Rest. Employees Union, Local 100 of N.Y. v. City of N.Y. Dep't of Parks & Recreation, 311 F.3d 534, 543 (2d Cir. 2002)(citation omitted). "[N]either side is barred from asserting that there are issues of fact, sufficient to prevent the entry of judgment, as a matter of law, against it... [and] a district court is not required to grant judgment as a matter of law for one side or the other." Heublein, Inc. v. United States, 996 F.2d 1455, 1461 (2d Cir. 1993).
III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff's verified complaint dated December 18, 2013 was filed in the Southern District of New York and transferred to this Court on December 26, 2013. Dkt. #s 2-4. In the complaint, plaintiff asserts that on October 1, 2013 at approximately 9:00 p.m. he was in a Home Depot parking lot in Albany, New York, purchasing marijuana from a seller. Compl. at 3. When Dorsey completed the transaction, two black trucks approached, at which point Dorsey and the seller began to run. Id. Dorsey states that while running, defendants tased him with a stun gun and hit him with an unmarked truck, causing him to fall to the ground. Id. He asserts that while on the ground and handcuffed, defendant Regan repeatedly punched him in the face. Id. Plaintiff suffered multiple injuries consisting of a swollen face, two black eyes, the removal of a taser prong, a chipped tooth, cuts to the inner lips, forehead, and right cheek bone, and lower back pain. Id. Dorsey was arrested for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, Third Degree, and later indicted for Assault, Second Degree. Id.
In the "Relief" section of the complaint, plaintiff demands:
Would like the court to charge defendants with attempt [ sic ] vehicular manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, and criminal assault. Request order pertection [ sic ] on Albany Police Department C.R.U. staff. I would like to sue Albany Police Department, and City of Albany County [ sic ]. Dismissal of charge against me of assault second-degree. However Detective John Regan sustained his injuries by causing my injuries.
Upon initial review of the pro se complaint, the Hon. Christian F. Hummel, United States Magistrate Judge, granted plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis; found plaintiff's excessive force allegations against defendants Detective John Regan and Detective Ruecker sufficient to state plausible claims under the Fourth Amendment; and recommended dismissal of plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims as barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). See 2/28/14 Rep. Rec., dkt. #10. On April 2, 2014, the Court adopted Magistrate Judge Hummel's recommendation and dismissed plaintiff's claims for false arrest and false imprisonment. 4/2/14 Dec. & Ord., dkt. #11.
On August 19, 2014, Magistrate Judge Hummel denied plaintiff's motions to strike the defendants' answer and stay civil proceedings during an undefined criminal proceeding related to the October 1, 2013 charges. See 8/19/14 Order, dkt. #31. On April 14, 2015, Magistrate Judge Hummel denied plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint, and for a subpoena of camera footage and trial transcripts from plaintiff's state court criminal trial. See 4/14/15 Order, dkt. #53. On April 21, 2015, plaintiff and defendants each filed motions for summary judgment. See dkt. #s 56 (Pl. Motion); 57 (Defs. Motion).
IV. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
In support of his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff submits a notice of motion, a statement of material facts, and an affidavit of service. Plaintiff makes vague legal arguments in both the notice of motion and statement of material facts. Defendants respond as if the arguments were presented in a memorandum of law, and the Court treats the arguments similarly.
a. Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts in Support of his Motion
In his moving Statement of Material Facts ("PMSMF"), plaintiff asserts that his arrest on October 1, 2013 for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, Third Degree, was "unlawful." PMSMF ¶1. Defendants respond by: (1) noting that plaintiff's claims for false arrest and false imprisonment were dismissed, making the lawfulness of his arrest irrelevant; (2) citing plaintiff's complaint in which he admits to purchasing marijuana immediately before his arrest on October 1, 2013; (3) citing plaintiff's deposition testimony during which he admits that he was convicted upon his guilty plea of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, Third Degree, arising out of the October 1, 2013 incident, and (4) citing plaintiff's deposition testimony during which he admitted he was convicted after a jury trial of Assault, Second Degree, for assaulting Detective Regan on October 1, 2013. See Defendants' Responsive Statement of Material Facts ("DRSMF"), ¶¶ 1, 3 (and citations contained therein).
While defendants are correct that plaintiff may not challenge the lawfulness of his arrest because his false arrest/imprisonment claims were dismissed, the crime or crimes for which the police believed they had probable cause to arrest is relevant to the reasonableness inquiry on an excessive force claim. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394-95, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989); Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 2010); Sterlin v. City of New York, 2014 WL 2560595, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. June 06, 2014). It is important to understand, however, that plaintiff's convictions for Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, Third Degree, arising out of the October 1, 2013 incident, and Assault, Second Degree, for assaulting Detective Regan on October 1, 2013, establish probable cause as a matter of law. See McLaurin v. New Rochelle Police Officers, 439 Fed.Appx. 38, 39 (2d Cir. 2011); see also Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 153, 125 S.Ct. 588, 160 L.Ed.2d 537 (2004); Jaegly v. Couch, 439 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2006). Thus, the existence of probable cause to arrest plaintiff on October 1, 2013, and therefore the "lawfulness" of his arrest, will not be litigated before the jury. Rather, the issues to be litigated will be whether the defendants used constitutionally prohibited excessive force, or failed to intervene to stop another officer's use of constitutionally prohibited excessive force, under the circumstances as they existed at the time.
Defendants do not dispute plaintiff's contention that he suffered injuries on October 1, 2013 as alleged in the complaint and as set forth in the medical records from the Albany Medical Center Emergency Room, including a nasal fracture. However, whether those injuries were the result of defendants' use of constitutionally prohibited excessive force (or the failure to intervene) must be determined by a jury.
Plaintiff contends that he was "assaulted on the ground by the defendants before and after the plaintiff was in handcuffs. Officer that was present at the incident did not prevent another officer from violating plaintiff's right." PMSMF ¶ 3. Defendants deny this, contending that Detective Regan used only such force as was necessary to effectuate plaintiff's arrest, who was fighting back and resisting arrest. DRSMF, ¶ 3 (and citations contained therein). Defendants further cite record support for the propositions that Detective Gavigan, an unnamed third party, deployed the Taser that struck plaintiff; that Detective Plante, also an unnamed third party, was the officer who drove a police vehicle that was positioned in plaintiff's path of travel and into which plaintiff ran as he was looking back at the other detectives giving chase; that plaintiff conceded at his deposition that Detective Ruecker never came into physical contact with plaintiff's body in any manner on October 1, 2013; and plaintiff admitted at his deposition that he was convicted after a jury trial of the charge of Assault, Second Degree, for assaulting Detective Regan on October 1, 2013. Id.
Even though plaintiff was convicted of Assault, Second Degree, for assaulting Detective Regan on October 1, 2013, there is still a genuine question of material fact as to whether the defendants used excessive force on this date, or whether a defendant failed to intervene to stop the use of excessive force by another officer. Those issues must be decided by a jury.
Finally, plaintiff contends that his prosecution for Assault, Second Degree, for assaulting Detective Regan on October 1, 2013 was "frivolous" and "in retaliation to justify [ sic ] this civil action." PMSMF ¶ 4. Defendants deny this statement, noting that plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims have been dismissed, and that plaintiff admitted at his deposition that he was convicted by a jury of the charge of Assault, Second Degree, arising from his conduct on October 1, 2013. DRSMF, ¶ 4 (and citations contained therein).
For reasons discussed above, plaintiff's conviction of Assault, Second Degree, for assaulting Detective Regan on October 1, 2013 establishes probable cause for that charge and negates any claim of frivolity in instituting his prosecution. Further, the Fourth Amendment inquiry is purely objective: "the question is whether the officers' actions are objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." Graham, 490 U.S. at 397. Whether the charge was brought as a means of retaliation is irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment inquiry and, therefore, will not be litigated before the jury.
b. Plaintiff's Notice of Motion
Plaintiff asserts in his notice of motion that he "demands" $250, 000 in punitive damages from each defendant individually, and $1, 500, 000 from the Albany Police Department for "in adequate training" and "[f]ailure for officers to prevent another officer from violating the plaintiff's constitutional right." Pl. Notice of Motion, dkt. #56.
1. Punitive Damages
Defendants ask the Court to preclude plaintiff from seeking punitive damages because: (1) he did not request monetary damages in the complaint (or in the proposed amendment that was denied by Magistrate Judge Hummel); (2) the demand for punitive damages is made for the first time after closure of discovery, thereby prejudicing defendants; and (3) "[p]laintiff has failed to offer even a shred of evidence giving rise to a reasonable inference that the conduct of either defendant in this action dictates an award of punitive damages." Def. Mem. L. p. 1. The motion in this regard is denied.
Despite that plaintiff does not specifically request monetary damages in the complaint, a liberal reading of this pro se pleading indicates that he seeks such damages. See Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant #1, 537 F.3d 185, 191-92 (2d Cir. 2008). In the "relief" section of the Complaint, plaintiff indicates that he "would like to sue Albany Police Department, and City of Albany County [ sic ]." The phrase "to sue" typically and colloquially means a civil action to recover monetary damages. While the phrase is directed at the City of Albany and its police department, the Complaint must be read as a whole and interpreted to raise the strongest argument that it suggests. See McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir.1999). Doing so suggests that plaintiff brought this action against Defendants Regan and Ruecker, both Albany Police Department detectives, seeking, inter alia, monetary damages.
Moreover, plaintiff's proposed Civil Case Management Plan, dkt. #13, indicates that he seeks monetary damages in this case. Plaintiff indicates that he seeks damages for "medical bills, pain & suffering, property that was taken, defamation of character." Id. ¶11. Further, in the portion of the proposed Case Management Plan asking "How can settlement efforts be assisted?", plaintiff wrote: "With a reasonable payment, medical bills, pain & suffering, lost wages, and property seized." Id. ¶ 16. These contentions are sufficient to put defendants on notice that plaintiff seeks monetary recovery in this case.
Defendants are not prejudiced by plaintiff's failure to specifically request punitive damages while discovery was ongoing. If punitive damages are ultimately awarded, the amount of such damages will be determined by the nature of the conduct in issue, see Picciano v. McLoughlin, 723 F.Supp.2d 491, 506 (N.D.N.Y. 2010),  and the net worth of each individual defendant found liable for such damages. See Vasbinder v. Ambach, 926 F.2d 1333, 1344 (2d Cir.1991); see also City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981). It is presumed that discovery was conducted relative to the nature of the alleged conduct, and evidence relative to the each individual defendant's net worth is already in their possession.
Nonetheless, because there is a genuine question of material fact whether plaintiff would be entitled to punitive damages even if he prevails on his excessive force claims,  the motion for a judgment that plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages if he prevails is denied. See e.g. Picciano, 723 F.Supp.2d at 506.
2. Albany Police Department as Defendant
Plaintiff's notice of motion demands $1, 500, 000 from the Albany Police Department for "in adequate training" and "[f]ailure for officers to prevent another officer from violating the plaintiff's constitutional right." Pl. Notice of Motion, dkt. #56. Defendants respond that this is the first time that plaintiff demanded a judgment against the Albany Police Department, and argue that the "Albany Police Department is not a named defendant in this lawsuit, and as such, plaintiffs request must be dismissed as a matter of law." Def. Mem. L. p. 2.
There is no indication that the City of Albany was served with a summons or complaint in this matter, thus personal jurisdiction has not been obtained over this entity. Further, despite that plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to add two individual Albany Police officers,  he did not move to amend to name the City of Albany as a defendant or to have a summons and the complaint served on the City. Because discovery has closed and the case is trial ready, plaintiff's demand for a judgment imposing liability on, or amending the complaint to assert claims against, the City of Albany is denied as untimely and prejudicial to the City of Albany. Inasmuch as personal jurisdiction has not been obtained over the City of Albany, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in this regard is denied. Any claim against the City of Albany is dismissed without prejudice to being brought in a separate action.
V. DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
a. Defendants' Statement of Material Facts in Support of their Motion
The following facts are relevant to defendants' motion for summary judgment. Unless indicated otherwise, these facts are deemed established for purposes of this motion.
A drug transaction was purportedly arranged between a police confidential informant and plaintiff. See Def. Moving Statement of Material Facts ("DMSMF"), ¶¶ 1, 3. The transaction was to occur between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. on October 1, 2013 in the Home Depot parking lot at 969 Central Avenue, Albany, New York. Id. ¶ 5. After members of the Albany Police Department's Community Response Unit ("CRU") witnessed what they believed to be the pre-arranged drug transaction,  two black CRU police vehicles approached plaintiff with their headlights off. Id. ¶ 7. Detectives told plaintiff he was under arrest, but plaintiff fled on foot through the parking lot. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Several detectives pursued plaintiff on foot. Id. ¶ 8. As plaintiff was fleeing, Detective Gavigan deployed a department issued Taser. Id. ¶ 9. One probe struck Dorsey, but it was ineffective and Dorsey continued to run. Id. As the foot pursuit continued, Detective Plante positioned one of the black CRU vehicles in plaintiff's path in an attempt to slow his forward progress. Id. After Detective Plante brought the police vehicle to a stop, and while plaintiff was looking backwards at the detectives chasing him, plaintiff ran into the passenger side of the vehicle. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff fell backwards and to the ground. Id. ¶ 13.
Defendants allege that a struggle then ensued to subdue and handcuff plaintiff. Id. During this incident, Detective Regan sustained a fractured and dislocated ring finger on his right hand. Id.  Plaintiff alleges that Detective Regan struck him several times. Plaintiff also testified that he was "punched and kicked multiple times and [Det. Ruecker] was the one standing over me, I assume he assaulted me as well." Pl. Dep. Id., p. 37. Because plaintiff was face down on the ground when this occurred, however, he did not actually see Detective Ruecker strike him or come into physical contact with him. Id., pp. 38-39. Nevertheless, plaintiff cites Det. Regan's criminal trial testimony to raise a question of fact whether Det. Ruecker employed physical force during the arrest. In this regard, Det. Regan testified:
[Plaintiff] was trying to get up. He was not producing his hands. We were like, "stop resisting, stop resisting, " and he wouldn't produce his hands. He kept like, you know - we were - certain guys were punching him, certain guys were kneeing him. One guy, I believe, maybe put his leg like in a lock so he couldn't get up, but there was a struggle for probably anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds to get him in custody.
Regan Test. p. 26, Plt. Ex. E.
b. Defendants' Legal Arguments
1. Excessive Force Claim Against Det. Ruecker
Defendants move to dismiss the excessive force claim against Det. Ruecker on the ground that plaintiff "is unable to establish any use of force whatsoever on the part of said Defendant." Def. Mem. L. pp. 3-4. This aspect of the motion is denied.
While plaintiff testified that he did not see Det. Ruecker strike him, he also testified that Ruecker was standing above him while he was face-down on the ground being repeatedly punched and kicked. Combined with Det. Regan's testimony that, during the struggle, "certain guys were punching him, certain guys were kneeing him, " a reasonable fact finder could conclude that Ruecker was one of these "guys, " and that his use of force was excessive under the Fourth Amendment. See Hattar v. Carelli, 2012 WL 246668, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2012).
Further, it is possible that a jury could find Det. Ruecker liable under a "failure too intervene" theory. That is, it is possible that a jury could find that Det. Regan's use of force was excessive and that Det. Ruecker, in a position to stop that use of excessive force, failed to do so. See Burks v. Perrotta, Slip Copy, 2015 WL 2340641, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. May 15, 2015).
2. Excessive Force by Use of Police Vehicle
Defendants also move to dismiss any claim of excessive force arising out of the use of the black CRU police vehicle October 1, 2013. They argue that "[p]laintiff has failed to allege, and further failed to prove, that either Defendant, Detective John Regan or Detective Ruecker, owned or operated the black CRU police vehicle that came in contact with Plaintiffs body on the night of October 1, 2013." Def. Mem. L., p. 3.
Inasmuch as there is no dispute that the police vehicle was operated by Detective Plante, a non-party to this lawsuit, and inasmuch as there is no evidence indicating that Detectives Regan or Ruecker directed, caused, or had the ability to stop Detective Plante's actions relative to the use and maneuvering of the black CRU police vehicle on October 1, 2013, summary judgment on this ground is granted. Any excessive force claim against Detectives Regan or Ruecker arising from the use of the black CRU police vehicle on October 1, 2013 is dismissed.
3. Compensatory Damages
Defendants move to bar plaintiff from introducing any evidence of compensatory damages. They argue that plaintiff "has not made a request for monetary damages at any stage during the course of the instant litigation, " and note that discovery is now closed. Def. Mem. L. p. 4.
As indicated above, a liberal reading of the complaint and plaintiff's proposed Civil Case Management Plan indicates that plaintiff brings the action, inter alia, to recover for monetary compensation for injuries sustained from defendants' alleged use of excessive force. Whether defendants sought discovery on these issues does not preclude plaintiff from seeking this recovery at trial. Accordingly, defendants' motion in this regard is denied.
4. Miscellaneous Relief
Defendants move to dismiss that much of the complaint seeking to have defendants charged with attempted vehicular manslaughter, assault, and assault with a deadly weapon; an order of protection against Albany Police Department personnel; and dismissal of plaintiff's state criminal convictions. Defendants argue that such requests are not properly before this Court. The Court agrees. Through these requests, plaintiff improperly asks this Court to assume a prosecutorial function and impose criminal charges against Defendants; to assume an appellate court function and overturn his state criminal convictions; and to assume a function more providently delegated to a village, town, county or family court and grant an Order of Protection. This court is not the proper venue to bestow upon plaintiff this requested relief. Accordingly, defendants' motion in this regard is granted, and this requested relief is dismissed.
For the reasons discussed above, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, dkt. #56, is DENIED. Plaintiff's claims that defendants used excessive force on October 1, 2013, or failed to intervene to stop the use of excessive force by another officer, will be litigated to a jury consistent with the rulings set forth above. Plaintiff is entitled to seek compensatory and punitive damages, both of which must be decided by the jury. Any claim against the City of Albany is dismissed without prejudice to being brought in a separate action.
Defendants' motion for summary judgment, dkt. #57, is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is granted inasmuch as:
(a) any excessive force/failure to intervene claim against defendants Regan or Ruecker premised on Detective Plante's use of a black CRU police vehicle on October 1, 2013 is DISMISSED;
(b) that much of the complaint seeking (a) to have defendants charged with attempted vehicular manslaughter, assault, and assault with a deadly weapon; (b) an order of protection issued against Albany Police Department personnel; and (c) dismissal of plaintiff's state criminal charges is DISMISSED.
The motion is denied in all other respects.
IT IS SO ORDERED.