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Vargas v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 30, 2017

MOISES VARGAS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SANDRA L. TOWNES United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Moises Vargas, Jr. ("Plaintiff) brings this action against defendant City of New York ("Defendant" or "City"), principally alleging false arrest in connection with an altercation that occurred on May 17, 2012, and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs arising from that altercation. Defendant now moves for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff cannot establish a basis for municipal liability and lacks the evidence to make out false arrest, deliberate indifference, and other claims against any individual defendants. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Except as otherwise indicated, the following facts are either undisputed or drawn from a transcript of Plaintiff s July 23, 2014, deposition ("Plaintiff s Deposition"), which is attached to the Declaration of Omar J. Siddiqi in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (the "Siddiqi Declaration") as Exhibit A. Plaintiff was born in Puerto Rico in 1964 and attended high school in the Bronx. (Plaintiffs Deposition, pp. 8-9). He completed eleventh grade, but dropped out of school after the first of his two daughters was born. (Id., pp. 8-11). Over the next 25 years or so, he worked in various capacities: as a handyman, in a YMCA, as a steel mechanic, and in the film industry. (Id., p. 9).

         In 2007, Plaintiff was working as a supervisor on a contruction project, overseeing twenty workers involved in building a Walgreeens pharmacy on Staten Island. (Id., pp. 22, 60). One day, while leaving a deli where he had just had lunch, he was struck by a car and thrown 20 to 25 feet. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, MRIs taken after this accident revealed eight herniated discs: four in his upper spine and four in his lower back. (Id., pp. 21, 23).

         Plaintiff worked intermittently for a few more months before he stopped working altogether in the Winter of 2007. (Id., pp. 60-61). Plaintiff was unemployed thereafter, with the exception of a four-to-six month period in 2010 or 2011 during which he was employed by a film production company to supervise workers. (Id., pp. 59, 61-62). Plaintiff was on public assistance at the time of his July 2014 deposition and testified that he had been on public assistance for the preceding five or six years. (Id., p. 10).

         The May 17, 2012, Incident

         Plaintiff was not working on May 17, 2012, when he received a call from Maria Lindo, a friend who lived at 212 Heberton Avenue in Staten Island. (Id., pp. 31, 50). She asked that Plaintiff come to her house because she wanted to ensure that work on her flooring was being done properly. (Id.). Plaintiff agreed to do so and drove to her house, arriving sometime late in the morning. (Id., pp. 32-33; Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Defendant's 56.1 Statement"), ¶ 1; Response to Rule 56.1 Statement ("Plaintiffs 56.1 Statement"), ¶ 1).

         Using a cane, Plaintiff walked from his van to the steps of Lindo's house, where he proceeded to sit down. (Plaintiffs Deposition, pp. 30, 32). Lindo invited him inside, but Plaintiff declined, saying that he did not "feel like going up." (Id., p. 32). Lindo then left to take her dog for a walk, telling Plaintiff that the handyman was expected to arrive momentarily. (Id.). She did not tell Plaintiff who the handyman was, but expressed the expectation that Plaintiff would know him because he had "seen him around." (Id.).

         Ten to fifteen minutes after Plaintiff arrived at Lindo's house, another man drove up in a small car. (Id., pp. 37-38, 50; Defendant's 56.1 Statement, ¶ 2; Plaintiffs 56.1 Statement, ¶ 2). The man was white, about 50 years old and, according to Plaintiff, "looked like an addict but a clean addict." (Plaintiffs Deposition, p. 34). Plaintiff claims that he knew the man-later identified as Frank Papapietro-was not the handyman, (id., p. 33), although it is unclear precisely why. Plaintiff initially testified that he knew the man was not the handyman because he had "never seen him before." (Id., p. 33). Plaintiff later testified to the contrary, stating that he "had seen him around the neighborhood" in "back corners where people cop drugs, " and had seen him steal power tools and other things from people's garages. (Id., pp. 37, 41-42, 51).

         Plaintiff confronted Papapietro, asking either what he was doing there or what he wanted. (Id., pp. 33, 38, 50). It is unclear whether Papapietro answered. Plaintiff initially testified that Papapietro said he was "just looking around, " prompting Plaintiff to ask "for what?" (Id., p. 33). Later, Plaintiff testified that the man did not answer at all. (Id., pp. 50-51).

         Although Plaintiffs testimony was inconsistent with regards to whether Papapietro responded verbally, he testified unequivocally that Papapietro responded physically seconds after Plaintiff first confronted him. According to Plaintiff, the man surprised him with a punch to the right temple, causing him to drop his cane. (Id., pp. 33, 42-43). The man then attempted to strike Plaintiff with a pipe, which he had concealed behind his back. (Id., pp. 38-39, 43). Plaintiff not only frustrated that attempt, but managed to knock the man down and to wrest control of the pipe from him in the process. (Id., pp. 34, 39, 43). Plaintiff claims that he did not swing the pipe at his assailant, but threw it as far away as he could. (Id., pp. 39-40). Indeed, Plaintiff claims that he could not recall intentionally striking the assailant at any time, though he may have hit him with his head or elbow in the course of the struggle. (Id., pp. 39-40, 43).

         Plaintiff then fell and the two men rolled on the ground. (Id., p. 43). Papapietro eventually regained his feet, but Plaintiff had a problem standing up. (Id.). Papapiero then tackled Plaintiff, sending him flying three to five feet backwards. (Id., pp. 43, 58-59). Plaintiff landed flat on his back on a concrete driveway and "was immobilized, " with "no strength at all." (Id., pp. 40, 52). Although his adversary "could have done anything" to him at that point, onlookers immediately broke up the fight. (Id., p. 40).

         Plaintiff then crawled to his cell phone and called 911. (Id., pp. 40, 52-53). The police responded "very fast, " arriving less than two minutes after the fight started. (Id., p. 44). Soon, there were 20 officers on the scene-all, or mostly, young and mostly white. (Id.). Nonetheless, Plaintiff remained on the phone until an unmarked, black car arrived, four to five minutes later. (Id., pp. 45, 55). At his deposition, Plaintiff claimed that he could not recall what he said during that call because he was in pain, agitated, and "emotionally distraught." (Id., p. 53). However, he testified that he did not tell the 911 operator that he needed medical assistance "because ... the black car came and I hung up." (Id., p. 55).

         Plaintiff claims that he asked officers at the scene for medical treatment. According to Plaintiff, he asked for medical treatment immediately when the officers arrived and approached him. (Id., p. 54). Plaintiff could not recall exactly what he said, but claims that he indicated that he had "a bad back" or "a condition, " was in pain, and needed to go to the hospital or to see a doctor. (Id., p. 55). He may have also asked them to call an ambulance, but he received no assistance. (Id., p. 55).

         Initially, the uniformed officers handcuffed Papapietro. (Id., p. 34). Thereafter, two plainclothes officers who arrived in the black car spoke to Papapietro. (Id., pp. 46-47). Plaintiff could not describe these officers, except to say that they were in their mid- to late-40s and were "white, real white." (Id., p. 45).

         Plaintiff does not know exactly what Papapietro told the plainclothes officers. (Plaintiffs 56.1 Statement, ¶ 8). Following this conversation, however, the police took the handcuffs off Papapietro and handcuffed Plaintiff instead. (Plaintiffs Deposition, pp. 34, 46-47). The police did not say anything to Plaintiff, other than to inform him that he was under arrest. (Id., pp. 47-48). Plaintiff claims that he did not struggle while being handcuffed and that none of the officers punched, hit, or kicked him. (Id.; Defendant's 56.1 Statement, ¶ 12; Plaintiffs 56.1 Statement, ¶ 12). Yet, according to Plaintiff, the police placed him in a police car by picking him up off the ground and tossing him face-first into the back seat. (Id., pp. 48-49, 54).

         Two officers then drove Plaintiff to the 120th Precinct. (Id., p. 49; Defendant's 56.1 Statement, ¶ 11; Plaintiffs 56.1 Statement, ¶ 11). There, the arresting officer, Craig Spataro, created an arrest report which charged Plaintiff with assault with intent to cause physical injury with a weapon, criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, and menacing in the third degree. (Plaintiffs Deposition, pp. 45-46; Defendant's 56.1 Statement, ¶ 10; Plaintiffs 56.1 Statement, ¶ 10). Papapietro was also brought to the precinct but was not arrested. (Plaintiffs Deposition, pp. 49). Although Plaintiff complained that he was in "extreme pain" and specifically told the desk sergeant that he had eight herniated discs, Plaintiff was not given medical treatment but was told to "shut up." (Id., pp. 34, 55-56). In contrast, the police called an ambulance to tend to Papapietro. (Id., pp. 34, 49).

         While the parties agree that Plaintiff was eventually taken to the hospital, the parties disagree as to when that occurred. Defendant has adduced evidence that Plaintiff was transported to Richmond University Medical Center sometime on May 18, 2012-the day after he was arrested-and was treated there for a muscle spasm in his back. (See Defendant's 56.1 Statement, ¶ 14). Plaintiff, however, claims that he was taken to the hospital 40 to 60 hours after he was arrested, and not on May 18. (Plaintiffs Deposition, p. 19; Plaintiffs 56.1 Statement, ¶ 14). Indeed, Plaintiff testified that he was taken to the hospital only after a non-white court officer noticed that he was limping with tears in his eyes and said that Plaintiff could not "go to see the judge like that." (Plaintiffs Deposition, p. 35).

         En route to the hospital, Plaintiff had a conversation about the delay in medical treatment with the "white cop" who escorted him. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, the officer explained:

I'm the only cop that takes people to see the doctor and I wasn't in yesterday. If somebody is really hurting they got nobody to take them to the doctor. That's the way it is, budgets, talk to the mayor or something, wiseguy. (Id.).

         By all accounts, Plaintiff did not receive extensive treatment. Plaintiff testified that he received only "a pill, " (id.), but did not provide any other details. According to Defendant, medical records establish that Plaintiff was given both Flexeril (a muscle relaxant) and an injection of Toradol I.M. (a nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drug). (See Defendant's 56.1 Statement, ¶¶ 14-15).

         According to Plaintiff, he first appeared before a judge a day or two after he visited the hospital. (Plaintiffs Deposition, p. 36). The judge appeared to be willing to release Plaintiff on recognizance until the prosecutor discovered that Plaintiff had an outstanding warrant, which had been issued in the Bronx in 1984. (Id.). Plaintiff was then taken to the Bronx, where bail was originally set at $1, 000 but then increased to $5, 000 after the prosecutor represented that a machete had been found at 212 Heberton Avenue. (Id.). Plaintiff admits that he knew there was a machete on the property, but claims that he "didn't know exactly" where the machete was located. (Id., p. 41). Plaintiff also testified, however, that he was charged with "a felony because the machete was involved." (Id., p. 63).

         Plaintiff spent nine days in jail on Rikers Island before his relatives could raise the $5, 000 bail. (Id., pp. 36, 58, 67-68). He then spent the next year and one-half fighting the charges that were pending against him, appearing in court approximately once every two months. (Id., p. 64). On September 5, 2013, after Plaintiff had made "a little more" than ten appearances, the Criminal Court of the City of New York, Richmond County, dismissed all ...


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