United States District Court, E.D. New York
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
K. BRODIE, United States District Judge.
Gerald Ikezi and Anthony Ukazu commenced the above-captioned
action on October 8, 2014, against Defendants the City of New
York, the New York Police Department (“NYPD”),
Police Officer Stephen Centore and Sergeant Robert Mercer.
(Compl. ¶¶ 4-7, Docket Entry No. 1.)
Plaintiffs' claims arise from a traffic stop during which
Officer Centore and Sergeant Mercer stopped Ikezi due to
alleged traffic infractions and detained Plaintiffs while the
officers investigated the validity of the vehicle's
license plate. (Id. ¶¶ 10-15.) Plaintiffs
bring claims for false arrest and excessive force under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, false arrest under New York state law,
and respondeat superior. (Id. ¶¶
16-24.) Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule
56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Defs. Mot. for
Summ. J. (“Defs. Mot.”), Docket Entry No. 30;
Defs. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs. Mot. (“Defs.
Mem.”), Docket Entry No. 31.) For the reasons discussed
below, the Court grants Defendants' motion and dismisses
the Complaint in its entirety.
March of 2014, Ikezi was working part-time in New York for an
Indiana-based car dealer, Prolific Customs, which conducted
business in New York. (Deposition of Gerald Ikezi
(“Ikezi Dep.”) 29-30, Docket Entry No. 32-1.)
Ikezi's “boss, ” Darryl Williams, asked Ikezi
to move one of the company's vehicles from Jamaica Avenue
in Queens, New York, to a more secure location in New York
City. (Id. at 29-30, 60-61.) Williams gave Ikezi the
keys to the car, the registration, proof of insurance and an
Indiana transporter license plate to place on the car while
Ikezi transported the car. (Id. at 58-59, 62.)
March 6, 2014, Ikezi picked up the car from Jamaica Avenue.
(Id. at 60-61, 65.) He attached the license plate to
the rear bumper and proceeded to drive the car to his home.
(Id. at 63.) Ikezi intended to park the car in the
driveway of his home in Addisleigh Park until he received
further instructions from Williams. (Id.) While
Ikezi was driving the car, his friend Ukazu sent him a text
message telling him that he was in the area. Id.
Ikezi stopped and picked up Ukazu. (Id. at 63-64.)
parties dispute the time at which the officers initiated the
traffic stop. According to the officers, they initiated the
stop at approximately 9:30 PM. (Deposition of Stephen Centore
(“Centore Dep.”) 6, Docket Entry No. 32-5.)
According to Plaintiffs, the officers initiated the stop
earlier than 9:30 PM. Ikezi recalls that the stop occurred
between “7:30 and 8:30 [PM], ” (Affidavit of
Gerald Ikezi (“Ikezi Aff.”) ¶¶ 5, 11,
Docket Entry No. 32-1), and Ukazu recalls that the stop
occurred between “8:00 and 8:30 [PM], ”
(Affidavit of Anthony Ukazu (“Ukazu Aff.”) ¶
10, Docket Entry No 37-2).
parties also dispute whether the officers had a valid reason
for initiating the stop. According to the officers, Ikezi was
driving on Jamaica Avenue with a passenger and approaching
the intersection at Francis Lewis Boulevard when they
observed him “veer” out of his lane and change
lanes without signaling. (Centore Dep. 5-9; Defs. Deposition
of Sergeant Mercer (“Defs. Mercer Dep.”) 11,
Docket Entry No. 32-6.) Based on that observation, Officer
Centore initiated the traffic stop because he believed Ikezi
may have been driving while intoxicated. (Centore Dep. 9.)
According to Ikezi, he was driving on Jamaica Avenue with
Ukazu as a passenger when he observed police lights and
sirens in his rearview mirror. (Ikezi Dep. 66.) He never
changed or swerved out of his lane and was unaware of the
reason the officers initiated the traffic stop. (Ikezi Aff.
¶¶ 5, 11.)
Ikezi stopped the vehicle, the officers approached the
vehicle - Officer Centore approached the driver's side of
the vehicle where Ikezi sat and Sergeant Mercer approached
the passenger side of the vehicle where Ukazu sat. (Ikezi
Dep. 66-67; Centore Dep. 12-13.) As the officers were
approaching the vehicle, they noticed the Indiana transporter
plate on the car and believed the license plate was forged or
stolen because the license plate appeared to be a sticker
affixed to a metal backing. (Centore Dep. 8-9; Defs. Mercer
Dep. 23-25.) After he approached the vehicle, Officer Centore
asked Ikezi for his license, registration and proof of
insurance for the vehicle. (Ikezi Dep. 67-69.) Based on his
experience, the lack of an alcohol odor or any other signs of
intoxication, Officer Centore concluded that Ikezi was not
intoxicated. (Centore Dep. 31-32.)
Officer Centore questioned Ikezi, Sergeant Mercer focused on
investigating the validity of the license plate. (Pls.
Deposition of Sergeant Mercer (“Pls. Mercer
Dep.”) 24-27, Docket Entry No. 37-4.) Sergeant Mercer
detained Ukazu to safely complete the investigation and to
prevent Plaintiffs from possibly fleeing. (Id.)
Sergeant Mercer asked Ukazu for his identification and asked
him to step out of the vehicle. (Id.) Sergeant
Mercer then handcuffed Ukazu and directed him to sit on the
curb. (Id. at 26.)
Officer Centore observed Sergeant Mercer detaining Ukazu, he
proceeded to do the same with Ikezi - he asked Ikezi to step
out of the vehicle, handcuffed him, and directed him to sit
on the curb. (Centore Dep. 14-15.) According to Plaintiffs,
they requested that the officers handcuff them with their
hands in front of their body because they both had shoulder
injuries that could be aggravated if they were handcuffed
with their hands behind their backs. (Ikezi Dep. 69; Ukazu
Aff. ¶¶ 6-7.) According to Plaintiffs, the officers
ignored their requests, (id.), but according to the
officers, Plaintiffs never made such requests, (Centore Dep.
handcuffing Plaintiffs, the officers began checking
Plaintiffs' identification and the paperwork related to
the vehicle. (Ukazu Dep. 44.) The officers removed the
license plate from the vehicle to inspect it more closely,
and began peeling the laminated portion of the license plate
from the metal backing. (Id.) Ikezi requested that
the officers stop damaging the license plate because it
belonged to Williams. (Id.) Sergeant Mercer called
the NYPD's automobile crime division, the NYPD's
automobile loss unit and the Indiana state police to
determine whether the license plate was valid, and ultimately
determined that the license plate was valid. (Defs. Mercer
Dep. 26.) According to the officers, at approximately 10:00
PM, Plaintiffs were uncuffed and released. (Centore Dep.
22-23.) Ikezi agrees that the detention ended at
approximately 10:00 PM. (Ikezi Aff. ¶¶ 5, 11.)
Ukazu recalls that detention ended at approximately 10:00 or
10:30 PM. (Ukazu Aff. ¶ 10.)
result of being handcuffed behind his back, Ikezi's
shoulder injury was exacerbated and he continues to suffer
from pain and a decreased range of motion in his shoulder.
(Ikezi Aff. ¶ 12; Ikezi Dep. 95-97.) Ukazu suffered at
the time of the incident and continues to suffer
“severe pain” in his shoulder as a result of the
officers handcuffing him behind his back. (Ukazu Aff. ¶
Standard of review
judgment is proper only when, construing the evidence in the
light most favorable to the non-movant, “there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a); Davis v. Shah, 821 F.3d 231, 243 (2d Cir.
2016); see also Cortes v. MTA NYC Transit, 802 F.3d
226, 230 (2d Cir. 2015). The role of the court “is not
to resolve disputed questions of fact but only to determine
whether, as to any material issue, a genuine factual dispute
exists.” Rogoz v. City of Hartford, 796 F.3d
236, 245 (2d Cir. 2015) (first quoting Kaytor v. Elec.
Boat Corp., 609 F.3d 537, 545 (2d Cir. 2010); and then
citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 249-50 (1986)). A genuine issue of fact exists when
there is sufficient “evidence on which the jury could
reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 252. The “mere existence of a scintilla of
evidence” is not sufficient to defeat summary judgment.
Id. The court's function is to decide
“whether, after resolving all ambiguities and drawing
all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, a rational
juror could find in favor of that party.” Pinto v.
Allstate Ins. Co., 221 F.3d 394, 398 (2d Cir. 2000).
Claims against the NYPD
named the NYPD as a Defendant. (Compl. ¶ 7.) However,
the NYPD is a non-suable state entity. Section 396 of the New
York City Charter provides that “[a]ll actions and
proceedings for the recovery of penalties for the violation
of any law shall be brought in the name of the City of New
York and not in that of any agency, except where otherwise
provided by law.” N.Y. City Charter, chap. 17 §
396. This provision “has been construed to mean that
New York City departments, as distinct from the City itself,
lack the capacity to be sued.” Ximines v. George
Wingate High Sch., 516 F.3d 156, 159-60 (2d Cir. 2008)
(per curiam); see also Jenkins v. City of New York,
478 F.3d 76, 93 n.19 (2d Cir. 2007) (“[T]he NYPD is a
non-suable agency of the City.”); Morris v. N.Y.C.
Police Dep't, 59 F. App'x 421, 422 (2d Cir.
2003) (affirming dismissal of claims asserted against the
NYPD due to non-suable-entity status). Accordingly, the Court
dismisses Plaintiffs' claims against the NYPD.
Section 1983 claims
allege that the officers violated their Fourth and Fifth
Amendment rights when the officers (1) conducted an
investigatory stop and detention without reasonable
suspicion, (2) arrested them without probable cause and (3)
used excessive force in the course of the arrest. (Compl.
section 1983, individuals may bring a private cause of action
against persons “acting under color of state law”
to recover money damages for deprivations of their federal or
constitutional rights. Matusick v. Erie Cty. Water
Auth., 757 F.3d 31, 55 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983). To establish a viable section 1983 claim, a
plaintiff must show “the violation of a right secured
by the Constitution and laws of the United States” and
that “the alleged deprivation was committed by a person
acting under color of state law.” Vega v. Hempstead
Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 87-88 (2d Cir. 2015)
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
move for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs have
failed to show that the officers' conduct violated
Plaintiffs' constitutional rights and, in the
alternative, that the officers are entitled to qualified
immunity. (Defs. Mem. 6-20.) The Court addresses
Defendants' arguments below.
argue that Plaintiffs' false arrest claims fail as a
matter of law because, based on Ikezi's traffic
infractions and on the appearance of the license plate: (1)
the officers had reasonable suspicion to initiate an
investigatory stop and to conduct an investigatory detention,
and, (2) in the alternative, the officers had probable cause
to arrest Plaintiffs. (Defs. Mem. 6- 14.) Plaintiffs argue
that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion for an
investigatory stop or detention, nor did they have probable
cause for an arrest. (Pls. Mem. in Opp'n to Defs. Mot.
(“Pls. Opp'n”) 9-26, Docket Entry No. 34.)
New York law, ‘to prevail on a claim of false arrest 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.'” Nzegwu v. Friedman, 605 F.
App' x. 27, 29 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Jocks v.
Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 135 (2d Cir. 2003)). “A
[section] 1983 claim for false arrest is substantially the
same as a claim for false arrest under New York law.”
Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 728 F.3d
149, 155 (2d Cir. 2013). Accordingly, the Court considers
Plaintiffs' state and federal false arrest claims under
the section 1983 framework.
Court first considers whether Defendants had reasonable
suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop and detention and
then separately considers whether they had probable cause.
argue that the officers had reasonable suspicion to initiate
an investigatory stop based on Ikezi's traffic
infractions and reasonable suspicion to conduct an
investigatory detention based on their observation of the
license plate and their belief that it may have been forged
or stolen. (Defs. Mem. 9-14.) Plaintiffs argue that the
investigatory stop and detention were unlawful because the
officers lacked the reasonable suspicion necessary to
initiate a traffic stop, nothing about the license plate gave
the officers reason to believe that it was forged or
fictitious, the officers had no reason to handcuff them
during the course of the detention, and the officers
unnecessarily prolonged the duration of the detention. (Pls.
Opp'n 18-20.) Viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to Plaintiffs, the Court finds that: (1) there are
disputed issues of material fact as to whether the initial
investigatory stop was constitutional, (2) the officers had
reasonable suspicion to conduct the investigatory detention
based on their observation that the license plate appeared to
be forged or fictitious, and (3) the scope and duration of
the investigatory detention were reasonable.
Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable
searches and seizures. United States v. Jenkins, 452
U.S. 207, 212 (2d Cir. 2006). “Temporary detention of
individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police,
even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose,
constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.”
Id. (quoting Whren v. United States, 517
U.S. 806, 809-10 (1996)). Police officers may temporarily
detain a person, absent probable cause, in limited
circumstances. United States v. Bailey, 743 F.3d
322, 336 (2d Cir. 2014) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392
U.S. 1, 22-25 (1968)); see also United States v.
Compton, 830 F.3d 55, 61 (2d Cir. 2016) (holding that
the Fourth Amendment allows a police officer to conduct an
investigatory detention if the officer has reasonable
suspicion (citing Bailey, 743 F.3d at 332));
United States v. Singletary, 798 F.3d 55, 59 (2d
Cir. 2015) (holding that “in appropriate circumstances
and in an appropriate manner, ” it is constitutionally
permissible “temporarily to detain a person to
investigate possible criminality even in the absence of . . .
probable cause” (quoting Bailey, 743 F.3d at
331-32)). Specifically, where a police officer has a
reasonable articulable basis to suspect that the individual
“is committing or has committed a criminal offense,
” a temporary investigatory stop and detention may be
reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Bailey, 743
F.3d at 336.
suspicion, like probable cause, is determined objectively
based on the information available to the police officers at
the time and not on their subjective state of mind.
United States v. Awan, 607 F.3d 306, 317 (2d Cir.
2010). While the requisite suspicion “is not a high
threshold, ” United States v. Lawes, 292 F.3d
123, 127 (2d Cir. 2002), it is “more than a hunch,
” and requires “specific and articulable facts
which, taken together with rational inferences from those
facts, provide detaining officers with a particularized and
objective basis for suspecting wrongdoing.”
Bailey, 743 F.3d at 336 (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted) (first citing Terry, 392
U.S. at 21; and then citing United States v. Arvizu,
534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002)); United States v. Rivera,
353 F. App'x. 535, 536 (2d Cir. 2009).
investigatory stop based on reasonable suspicion must be
“justified at its inception.” United States
v. Lopez, 321 F. App'x. 65, 67 (2d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 20); see also United
States v. Freeman, 735 F.3d 92, 96 (2d Cir. 2013)
(“Any events that occur after a stop is effectuated
cannot contribute to the analysis of whether there was
reasonable suspicion to warrant the stop in the first
instance.”). However, when deciding whether a plaintiff
has a viable section 1983 claim for unconstitutional
investigatory detention, where an officer made an initial
investigatory stop without reasonable suspicion, courts may
consider whether the officer developed reasonable suspicion
for the investigatory detention based on conduct the officer
observed after the initial unlawful stop. See
Jenkins, 478 F.3d at 91 n.16 (holding that “the
fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine cannot be invoked to
support a [s]ection 1983 claim” for false arrest where
the plaintiff argued that arrest was unlawful because the
initial stop was unlawful (citing Townes v. City of New
York, 176 F.3d 138, 145 (2d Cir. 1999)); Ellsworth
v. Wachtel, No. 11-CV-0381, 2013 WL 140342, at *8
(N.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2013) (dismissing a section 1983 false
arrest claim where the plaintiff argued that an arrest
following a unlawful stop was unconstitutional because
“the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine is not
available to assist a [section] 1983 claimant”);
Lawrence v. City Cadillac, No. 10-CV-3324, 2010 WL
5174209, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2010) (collecting cases). In
such cases, the officer's reasonable suspicion for the
investigatory detention must nevertheless meet the Fourth
Amendment requirements. See id.; see also
Bailey, 743 ...