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Morocho v. New York City

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 31, 2015

LUIS MOROCHO, Plaintiff,
NEW YORK CITY, POLICE OFFICER ANTHONY CUADRADO, DETECTIVE JOHN LOMBARDI, and DETECTIVE ANTHONY BOTTA, Individually, and as members of the New York City Police Department, Defendants.


KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge. [1]

On January 31, 2013, a woman complained to the New York City Police Department (the "NYPD") that she had left a purse containing several credit cards on a subway train, and that someone was now using her credit cards to make unauthorized purchases, including purchases from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the "MTA"). In the course of their investigation, NYPD officers learned that one of the credit cards had been used to purchase Metrocards, including one then currently in use. On February 26, 2013, with the assistance of the MTA, the NYPD modified the turnstiles at a subway station in lower Manhattan where the offending Metrocard had been used, so that the turnstiles would alert if the card were used again. The following evening, one of the turnstiles alerted when Plaintiff used the Metrocard. Plaintiff was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property, and released the following day when prosecutors declined prosecution of the case.

On July 2, 2013, Plaintiff brought suit against the City of New York and the NYPD personnel involved in his arrest. Plaintiff alleged deprivation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the form of false arrest, excessive force, and failure to intervene. At the close of discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons set forth in the remainder of this Opinion, the Court grants Defendants' motion.


A. Factual Background

On January 31, 2013, a woman advised NYPD officers at the Queensboro Plaza subway station that she had mistakenly left her purse on a train; that the purse contained several credit cards, including one issued by Capital One (the "Credit Card"); and that approximately $1, 120 in unauthorized purchases had been made on the Credit Card - including several from the MTA - at the time she called Capital One to report its loss. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 1-2). The NYPD began an investigation into the matter.

A few days later, on February 6, 2013, police learned that one of the unauthorized purchases related to a Metrocard and, further, that the Metrocard was still in use. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 3). The following day, Defendant Anthony Cuadrado, an NYPD officer, viewed surveillance footage at the 42nd Street/Times Square subway station of a woman holding the complaining victim's wallet as she made multiple purchases of Metrocards. ( Id. at ¶ 4). Officer Cuadrado later determined that one of the Metrocards was continuing to be used late at night at the F train station located at East Houston Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan (the "Second Avenue Station"). ( Id. at ¶ 5).

On February 26, 2013, Officer Cuadrado and other NYPD officers went to the Second Avenue Station in an effort to apprehend the individual who was using the fraudulently-obtained Metrocard. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 6). MTA personnel modified the turnstiles so that an alert light would flash if the Metrocard were used. ( Id. ). No alerts were observed that evening, so officers repeated the process the following evening, February 27, 2013. ( Id. at ¶ 7).[3] At approximately 11:45 p.m., one of the turnstiles alerted as Plaintiff used the Metrocard. NYPD officers approached Plaintiff, advised him that the Metrocard had been purchased with a stolen credit card, and placed him under arrest. ( Id. at ¶¶ 7-8; see Pl. 56.1 Opp. ¶ 7 (disputing that the officers identified themselves before placing Plaintiff under arrest)). Plaintiff was handcuffed by Defendant Anthony Botta in connection with his arrest. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 8).

Plaintiff executed a written Miranda waiver and spoke with Officer Cuadrado; the parties dispute whether execution of the waiver took place before or after his questioning. ( Compare Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 9-10, with Pl. 56.1 ¶ 9). While disclaiming knowledge of the female purchaser of the Metrocard, Plaintiff explained that he obtained the card from his wife, who in turn had obtained it from her father. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 9-10). The following day, February 28, 2013, Plaintiff was released when the District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the charges. ( Id. at ¶ 12).

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed his complaint in this action on July 2, 2013, bringing claims for false arrest, excessive force (in the form of excessively tight handcuffs), and failure to intervene; he filed an amended complaint on November 21, 2013. (Dkt. #1, 6). On September 8, 2014, Defendants moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. #17-20). Plaintiff filed his opposition papers on October 8, 2014. (Dkt. #21), and the briefing was complete with the filing of Defendants' reply papers on October 22, 2014 (Dkt. #22-23).


A. The Standard for Summary Judgment Motions

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment may be granted only if all the submissions taken together "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, " and is genuinely in dispute "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson ). The movant may discharge this burden by showing that the nonmoving party has "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; see also 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" (internal quotation marks omitted)).

If the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must "set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial" using affidavits or otherwise, and cannot rely on the "mere allegations or denials" contained in the pleadings. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 250; see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24; Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009). The nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), and cannot rely on "mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of the facts to overcome a motion for summary judgment, " Knight v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d 9, 12 (2d Cir. 1986) (quoting Quarles v. Gen. Motors Corp., 758 F.2d 839, 840 (2d Cir. 1985)). Furthermore, "[m]ere conclusory allegations or denials cannot by themselves create a genuine issue ...

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