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Gomez v. The City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 15, 2017

KELVIN GOMEZ, Plaintiff,


          NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS United States District Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Kelvin Gomez alleges that Defendants, the City of New York (the "City"), Police Officer Thomas Farley and Detective Kironde Eberhardt (the "Officer Defendants"), and five unknown police officers (the "John Doe Defendants"), violated Plaintiffs state and federal rights in connection with his arrest and prosecution on state assault charges. (Compl. (Dkt. 1).) Before the court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the "Motion"). (Defs.' Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Defs. Mot.") (Dkt. 19).) For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Underlying Assault

         The following account is drawn from Plaintiffs New York State criminal court complaint (the "NYS Criminal Complaint").[1] (See NYS Crim. Compl (Dkt. 16-3).) Arthur DeSouza (the "Complainant") was assaulted on January 14, 2013, between 7:50 and 7:55pm (the "Assault"). As the Complainant was leaving the Skyview Center mall in Flushing, New York, the assailant followed him into an elevator, out of the mall, and across the street. The assailant then struck the Complainant from behind with a sharp object and fled the location. The Complainant suffered a laceration from his right eye to his right ear.

         B. Plaintiff s Allegations

         On May 16, 2013, Plaintiff was arrested by Defendant Farley and other unnamed officers from the New York City Police Department ("NYPD"). (Compl. ¶¶ 12-13.) Plaintiff was charged with multiple state counts in connection with the Assault. (Id. ¶ 17.) He maintains his innocence (id. ¶ 18), and alleges that his arrest arose out of improper practices by the Officer Defendants. Plaintiff first discusses a photo array conducted by the Officer Defendants. (Id. ¶ 16.) The Complainant allegedly pointed to two photographs, neither of which was of Plaintiff, and said he "was undecided between those photographs." (Id.) Officer Farley "refused to accept this and told [the Complainant] to think about it some more. Officer Farley then improperly pointed out [Plaintiffs photo] and suggested non-verbally ... that [the Complainant] should go with [that photo]." (Id.) The Complainant selected the photo of Plaintiff. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also alleges that the Officer Defendants "facilitate[d]" Plaintiffs arrest by falsely claiming that Plaintiff was known to be a gang member who carried a bladed weapon. (Id. ¶ 15.) The Officer Defendants then "forwarded [these] false allegations to the Queens County District Attorney" (the "State Prosecutors") "in order to justify the arrests and to persuade the [State Prosecutors] to commence [Plaintiffs] criminal prosecution." (Id. ¶ 23.) For a period of two and a half years, Plaintiff "was caused to appear in criminal court multiple times to defend himself against these charges. (Id. ¶ 18.) On July 20, 2015, the charges were dismissed. (Id. ¶19.)

         Plaintiff asserts that the City, "as a matter of policy and practice, has with deliberate indifference failed to sanction or discipline police officers" who violated individual rights, and has also failed to properly supervise NYPD officers, "thereby causing and encouraging police officers[] including defendants in this case, to engage in unlawful conduct." (Id. ¶¶ 31-34.)

         C. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initiated this action on March 15, 2016, asserting claims against all individual Defendants under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York State law for false arrest, [2] malicious prosecution, and unlawful search, and under Section 1983 alone for denial of the right to a fair trial and failure to intervene; and asserting claims against the City of New York for derivative liability under New York State law and municipal liability under Section 1983 pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services. 436 U.S. 658 (1978V (Compl. ¶¶ 43-110.) On November 3, 2016, Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). (Defs. Mot.) Both parties have attached numerous evidentiary exhibits to their filings on Defendants' Motion, requiring the court to assess the propriety of extrinsic evidence submitted on a 12(c) motion.


         A. Judgment on the Pleadings

         "After the pleadings are closed[, ]... a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). When assessing motions under Rule 12(c), courts "employ the same standard applicable to dismissals" under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Arab Bank. PLC Alien Tort Statute Litis., 808 F.3d 144, 151 (2d Cir. 2015), as amended (Dec. 17, 2015) (alterations omitted) (quoting Johnson v. Rowley, 569 F.3d 40, 43 (2d Cir. 2009)). The court must therefore "accept as true factual allegations made in the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs." Id. (alterations omitted) (quoting Town of Babylon v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, 699 F.3d 221, 227 (2d Cir. 2012)). This leniency, however, is "inapplicable to legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must plead specific facts sufficient to support a plausible inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. While 'the plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'" Doe v. Columbia Univ., 831 F.3d 46, 54 (2d Cir. 2016) (internal citations and alterations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         B. Consideration of Extrinsic Evidence

         As a general rule, courts "do not consider matters outside the pleadings in deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim." Nakahata v. N.Y.-Presbyterian Healthcare Sys., Inc., 723 F.3d 192, 202 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). "Rather, where matter outside the pleadings is offered and not excluded by the trial court, the motion to dismiss should be converted to a motion for summary judgment." Id. at 202-03 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d)). "[I]n some cases, " however, "a document not expressly incorporated by reference in the complaint is nevertheless 'integral' to the complaint and, accordingly, a fair object of consideration on a motion to dismiss. A document is integral to the complaint 'where the complaint relies heavily upon its terms and effect.'" Goel v. Bunge. Ltd., 820 F.3d 554, 559 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Chambers v. Time Warner. Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002)).


         Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings as to all claims. (Defs. Mot.; see also Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. ("Defs. Mem.") (Dkt. 16-10) at 1-2.) Plaintiffs opposition papers withdraw "any possible claims against John Doe defendants" and concede the "non-viability" of his claims of malicious prosecution and unlawful search as against all Defendants. (PL's Opp'n to Defs. Mot. ("PL Opp'n") (Dkt. 16-19) at 2, 4.) The court therefore dismisses these claims with prejudice.

         Turning to Plaintiffs remaining claims against Defendants Farley and Eberhardt, the court finds that Plaintiff has adequately pleaded claims of false arrest (under Section 1983 and New York law), denial of a fair trial (under Section 1983), and failure to intervene (under Section 1983) as against both Officer Defendants in their individual capacities.[3] Plaintiffs Monell claim against the City of New York, however, must be dismissed. Defendants' Motion does not address Plaintiffs claim that the City is "vicariously liable for the defendant officer[s'] acts" under the New York State Constitution (see Compl. ¶ 93), and so that claim survives the Motion.

         A. False Arrest (Section 1983 and State Law)

         Plaintiff asserts a claim of false arrest under Section 1983 and New York law on the grounds that his arrest was unsupported by probable cause. (Compl. ¶¶ 44-48.) Defendants assert that probable cause existed (Defs. Mem. at 5-8), and further argue that the Officer Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity (id at 8-10). The parties have submitted multiple evidentiary exhibits to support their allegations regarding this claim. The court finds, however, that the submitted documents are neither appropriate for consideration on a Rule 12(c) motion, nor adequate to support converting the Motion into a motion for summary judgment. Based solely on the factual allegations in the Complaint, the court finds that Plaintiffs false arrest claim is sufficiently pleaded against both Officer Defendants.

         1. Legal Standards

         a. False Arrest

         Claims for false arrest under Section 1983 "are analyzed pursuant to the same standards as the applicable state law's false arrest tort." Nzegwu v. Friedman, 605 F.App'x 27, 29 (2d Cir. 2015) (summary order) (citing Jocks v. Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 134 (2d Cir. 2003)). To prevail on a false arrest claim under New York law, "a plaintiff must show that (1) the defendant intended to confine him, (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." Id. (quoting Jocks, 316 F.3d at 134-35).

         "The existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes justification and is a complete defense to an action for false arrest." Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 728 F.3d 149, 155 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Wevant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996)). "Probable cause to arrest exists when the authorities have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been committed by the person to be arrested." Schwartz v. Marcantonatos, 567 F.App'x 20, 22 (2d Cir. 2014) (summary order) (quoting Lennon v. Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 424 (2d Cir. 1995)).

          b. Qualified Immunity

         Under federal law, "[a] police officer is entitled to qualified immunity where (1) his conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known, or (2) it was objectively reasonable for him to believe that his actions were lawful at the time of the challenged act." Schwartz, 567 F.App'x at 22 (alteration omitted) (quoting Jenkins v. City of New York, 478 F.3d 76, 87 (2d Cir. 2007)). Similarly, "under New York law, qualified immunity in the context of a claim of false arrest depends on whether it was objectively reasonable for the police to believe that they had probable cause to arrest." Jones v. Parmley, 465 F.3d 46, 64 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Simnkin v. City of Troy, 638 N.Y.S.2d 231, 232 (N.Y.App.Div. 1996Y): see also Jenkins, 478 F.3d at 86-87.

         "There is no doubt that the right to be free from arrest without probable cause was clearly established at the time of [Plaintiffs] arrest." Schwartz, 567 F.App'x at 22-23 (quoting Jenkins, 478 F.3d at 87). Plaintiffs federal and state "false arrest claim[s] therefore turn[ ] on whether the officers' probable cause determination was objectively reasonable. 'An officer's determination is objectively reasonable if there was arguable probable cause at the time of the arrest-that is, if officers of reasonable competence could disagree on whether the probable cause test was met." Gonzalez, 728 F.3d at 157 (quoting Jenkins, 478 F.3d at 86-87).

         2. Extrinsic Evidence Submitted by the Parties

         Both parties have submitted evidentiary exhibits that appear to be material to the issue of probable cause. The court declines to consider the evidence at this time, however, because none of it is "integral to the complaint." Goel, 820 F.3d at 559 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The court also declines to convert Defendants' Motion into a summary judgment motion under Rule 12(d) because the available evidence, standing alone, does not establish a comprehensive record. The court therefore deems it appropriate to defer a summary judgment ruling until the parties complete discovery.

         a. Records from the ...

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