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Poulos v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 17, 2015

TYSON POULOS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LAURA TAYLOR SWAIN, District Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Tyson Poulos ("Poulos" or "Plaintiff") seeks damages against Defendants the City of New York (the "City"), the New York City Police Department ("NYPD"), the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC"), NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte, Police Officers Jamel Brown ("Brown") and Juana Ortiz ("Ortiz"), Corrections Officers Gordon, Jerrick and Thompson, inmate Christopher McFadden, and several John Doe Corrections Officers (collectively, "Defendants") in connection with claims arising from incidents of violence at an NYPD holding facility and on Rikers Island. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts numerous claims of federal civil rights violations, civil rights conspiracy claims, and municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, [1] as well as state law claims for harassment, intimidation, assault and battery, conspiracy, negligence, violations of the New York State Constitution, negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention, failure to provide medical treatment, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, failure to protect, false arrest and imprisonment, and prima facie tort. The Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 and 1367.

Plaintiff now seeks a default judgment against Defendant Brown with respect to his claims of excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution and deliberate indifference to medical needs. The Court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's submission, which is unopposed. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants in part, and denies in part, Plaintiff's motion.

BACKGROUND[2]

Plaintiff filed this case on April 29, 2014 (see Docket Entry No. 1), asserting a number of federal and state civil rights violations against several defendants. Defendant Brown was served with the original Summons and Complaint in this action on July 9, 2014, and an affidavit of service was filed with the Court on July 16, 2014. (See Docket Entry No. 11.) Brown did not respond to the Complaint. Brown was subsequently served with a summons and the Amended Complaint on December 24, 2014, and an affidavit of service was filed with the Court on January 7, 2015. (See Docket Entry No. 27.) As of the date of this Memorandum Opinion and Order, Brown has not appeared in this case and has not filed any responsive pleadings.

Plaintiff alleges that, on or about May 4, 2013, he was arrested by NYPD officers, taken to the 90th Precinct for processing, and transferred to Kings County Central Booking, where he awaited arraignment. (Amended Complaint ¶ 64.) Plaintiff claims that, as a result of his agoraphobia, he requested permission to use a restroom outside of the holding cell in which he had been placed, and that his request was "met with ridicule" by Brown. (Id. ¶¶ 65, 68.) Plaintiff further claims that, in the evening hours of May 5, 2013, while still awaiting arraignment, he continued to request medical attention for his agoraphobia and access to a restroom outside of the holding cell. (Id. ¶ 69.) Plaintiff alleges that, in response to these requests, Brown opened the door to the holding cell, reached into his pocket to grasp an unknown object and, with the object held inside of his first, punched Plaintiff in the head. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that, as a result of this punch, he lost consciousness and suffered further physical injuries, including blurred vision and a 3-inch long cut. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 69, 86.) Plaintiff further claims that, at the time immediately prior to this attack, he was "not a threat, immediate or otherwise, to PO Brown as he was confined within a holding cell at the time, " and that Brown intentionally entered the cell to punch him in retaliation for his repeated requests to use a bathroom outside of the holding cell. (Id. ¶¶ 70-71, 74.) According to Plaintiff, his behavior prior to Brown's assault was not "aggressive or confrontational" (id. ¶ 72), and at no time prior to the assault did Brown or any other officer "attempt to defuse any perceived situation by issuing a verbal command or warning to Plaintiff, by seeking intervention by mental health staff, by using non-contact control techniques... or by applying control holds." (Id. ¶ 73.)

Following this incident, Brown allegedly allowed Plaintiff to remain unconscious and bleeding profusely from the head for approximately two or three hours before notifying emergency personnel. (Amended Complaint ¶¶ 4, 84.) Plaintiff alleges that, when paramedics did eventually arrive at the scene, Officers Brown and Ortiz obstructed their efforts to provide Plaintiff with medical care and refused to permit the paramedics to transport Plaintiff to the hospital. (Id. ¶ 85.) Plaintiff claims that Brown and Ortiz thereafter attempted to cover up Brown's conduct and retaliate against Plaintiff for speaking out about the attack by filing false documents and giving false statements claiming that Plaintiff spit at Brown and told him that he was HIV positive. (Id. ¶ 90.) Plaintiff alleges that these documents and statements "result[ed] in Plaintiff being cited, re-arrested, prosecuted and further imprisoned" (id.), although he provides no further details regarding the charges or the consequences. Plaintiff denies that he spit at Brown and alleges that he never claimed to be HIV positive. (Id. ¶¶ 91-92.) On or about May 7, 2013, Plaintiff was transferred from the custody and care of the NYPD to that of the DOC. (Id. ¶ 93.)

DISCUSSION

Default Motion Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) governs situations in which a plaintiff seeks entry of a default judgment for anything other than a sum certain. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2); Enron Oil Corp. v. Diakuhara, 10 F.3d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1993). A plaintiff seeking a default judgment must first obtain an entry of default from the Clerk of Court, pursuant to Rule 55(a). Thereafter, the plaintiff must seek a default judgment from the district court. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). A plaintiff's argument for entry of a default judgment is strengthened when the court can determine that default is willful, which is apparent in instances where the defendant's "conduct... is more than merely negligent or careless." S.E.C. v. McNulty, 137 F.3d 732, 738 (2d Cir. 1998). Furthermore, "[a] defendant's default is an admission of all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint except those relating to damages." Suggs v. Crosslands Transp. Inc., No. 13CV6731-ARR-MDG, 2015 WL 1443221, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2015). Therefore "[w]ithout a response from [the defendant, a] Court must first determine whether the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint are sufficiently pleaded to establish [the defendant's] liability." Lenard v. Design Studio, 889 F.Supp.2d 518, 528 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). In so doing, the court must examine whether the "allegations of Plaintiff's Complaint, taken as true, are sufficient to establish [the defendant's] liability, " with respect to the causes of action upon which a default judgment is sought. Id. at 528.

Defendant Brown's Conduct[3]

It is readily apparent that Brown's failure to appear in this action has been willful. Brown was properly summoned and served with both the Complaint and Amended Complaint. (See Docket Entry Nos. 11, 27.) Service was properly effected in conformity with the requirements of N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 308(2), and the affidavits of service filed with the Court constitute prima facie evidence of effective service. See Howard Johnson Intern., Inc. v. Wang, 7 F.Supp.2d 336, 339 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). Furthermore, at a February 13, 2015, conference, Corporation Counsel represented to the Court that it would forward to Brown all documentation relevant to Plaintiff's default motion practice, and subsequently filed certificates of service indicate that Corporation Counsel was properly served with, and thereafter transmitted, the relevant documents to Brown. (See Docket Entry Nos. 38, 47-48.) The Clerk of Court issued a Certificate of Default with respect to Brown on March 3, 2015. (See Docket Entry No. 41.)

Brown's failure to respond to the Complaint, the Amended Complaint and this motion practice after proper service is a clear indication of "willfulness" exceeding the boundaries of "merely negligent or careless" activity. McNulty, 137 F.3d at 738. Moreover, Brown has not come forward with any evidence of the existence of a meritorious defense to Plaintiff's claims. Thus, the Court is left to discern whether the allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint have been sufficiently pleaded by examining whether the facts alleged, if taken as ...


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