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John v. Lewis

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 31, 2017

HARRIS JOHN, Plaintiff,
P.O. MATTHEW LEWIS, Shield No. 25652, and THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendants. HARRIS JOHN, Plaintiff,


          PAMELA K. CHEN, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Harris John (“Plaintiff” or “John”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Police Officers Matthew Lewis (“P.O. Lewis”) and Anthony Canale (“P.O. Canale”), and the City of New York (the “City”), based on events relating to his arrests on October 8, 2012, and December 14, 2012. Plaintiff has filed two separate Complaints in this court: the first on September 16, 2015, against P.O. Lewis and the City (Dkt. 1 in No. 15-cv- 5346 (“Compl. I”)); and the second on December 2, 2015, against P.O. Canale and the City (Dkt. 1 in No. 15-cv-6853 (“Compl. II”)). The two cases have been consolidated.[1]

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss both Complaints. For the reasons below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


         I. THE FACTS[2]

         A. Two Arrests and the Indictment

         On or about October 8, 2012, P.O. Lewis stopped Plaintiff while he was walking on the street, searched him, and asked for identification. (Compl. I ¶¶ 8-9, 11.) The officer requested Plaintiff's identification for the claimed purpose of completing a stop and frisk report. (Compl. I ¶ 11.) P.O. Lewis then searched Plaintiff's wallet and arrested him for possession of forged credit cards (the “October Arrest”). (Compl. I ¶ 12.) About two months later, on or about December 14, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested again (the “December Arrest”), this time by P.O. Canale. (Compl. II ¶¶ 6, 10.) At the time of this arrest, Plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle that P.O. Canale stopped for a traffic violation. (Compl. II ¶ 6.) P.O. Canale then conducted a full search of the vehicle, including the trunk. (Compl. II ¶¶ 6-7.) During the search, P.O. Canale found a bag containing gift cards in the trunk of the vehicle. (Compl. II ¶ 8.) The driver of the car, Plaintiff, and another passenger were arrested. (Compl. II ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff was prosecuted in Queens County Criminal Court in connection with both arrests, and was represented by Garnett H. Sullivan, Esq., the same counsel representing him in this civil case. (Dkt. 21 (“Sullivan Decl.”) ¶¶ 2-3, 5; Compl. I ¶ 14; Compl. ¶ 12.) For his October Arrest, Plaintiff was charged in criminal complaint number 54141 with Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree pursuant to New York Penal Law (“NYPL”) § 170.20.[3] (Dkt. 21-1 at ECF 2.)[4] For his December Arrest, Plaintiff was charged in criminal complaint number 64839 with Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree. (Dkt. 21-2.)

         Plaintiff was then indicted under a single Indictment No. 483-2013 (the “Indictment” or “Indictment 483”), which contained, inter alia, fifty-one charges of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the second degree arising from both the October and December Arrests. (Dkt. 16-4.) Of the fifty-one charges, only three of them related to his October Arrest. (Id. at 4- 5.)

         B. State Criminal Proceeding

         1. Suppression Hearing & State Court Decision

         The Honorable Ira H. Margulis (“Judge Margulis”) of the New York State Supreme Court held a three-day suppression hearing pertaining to the Indictment to determine whether there was any basis to suppress the evidence recovered from Plaintiff in connection with his two arrests. (Dkt. 16-5.) In a Decision and Order dated March 4, 2015 (“Suppression Order”), Judge Margulis held, inter alia, that “the stop, frisk, search, seizure, and arrest of [John on October 8, 2012] violated [his] rights”, and granted Plaintiff's motion to suppress the items recovered on October 8, 2012, and any statements Plaintiff made at the time of the arrest. (Dkt. 9-4 (“Suppression Order”) at ECF 8-9.) However, Judge Margulis found no basis to suppress the evidence recovered during the December Arrest and stated, “Officer Canale possessed probable cause to believe that evidence of criminal activity existed and therefore acted lawfully . . . .” (Id. at ECF 10).

         2. Guilty Plea

         Thereafter, on May 18, 2015, before the Honorable Michael Aloise (“Judge Aloise”) of the New York State Supreme Court, the prosecutor made a motion to add a misdemeanor charge of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree (NYPL § 170.25) and then from that charge offered a plea to Disorderly Conduct (NYPL § 240.20). (Dkt. 16-6 at 3-4; Sullivan Decl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff, represented by Mr. Sullivan, pled guilty to disorderly conduct “with respect to [Indictment] 483” and was sentenced to time served. (Dkt. 16-6 at ECF 5.) Two certificates of dispositions were issued for the October and December Arrests. The certificate of disposition numbered 311519, which lists an arrest date of October 8, 2012, states that the case disposition is “covered by case on diff[erent] arrest 00483-2013.” (Dkt. 16-2.) The certificate of disposition numbered 27354, which lists an arrest date of December 14, 2012, indicates that Plaintiff pled guilty to disorderly conduct on May 18, 2015.[5] (Dkt. 16-3.)

         The parties dispute whether Plaintiff's guilty plea to Disorderly Conduct disposed all charges in Indictment 483. Plaintiff contends that his guilty plea did not pertain to the charges arising from the October Arrest. (Compl. I ¶ 18 (alleging that “plaintiff was not convicted of the charges brought against him or any lesser included offense.”).) Plaintiff further alleges that, at the plea proceeding, the charges related to his December arrest were “dismissed upon motion of the prosecutor.” (Compl. II ¶ 17.)[6]


         Plaintiff filed his first Complaint in this court on September 16, 2015, against P.O. Lewis and the City (Compl. I), and his second Complaint on December 2, 2015, against P.O. Canale and the City (Compl. II). In these two Complaints, Plaintiff originally asserted ten claims, eight of them against both individual Defendants. These claims alleged violations of both federal and State constitutional law. However, on June 3, 2016, Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew his malicious prosecution and State constitutional claims.[7] Plaintiff's remaining claims between the two Complaints therefore are: (1) false arrest and false imprisonment; (2) unreasonable search and seizure; (3) violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; (4) violation of the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment; (5) malicious abuse of process (only as to P.O. Canale); and (6) municipal liability (only as to the City).

         Defendants have moved to dismiss all of Plaintiff's remaining claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 12(b)(6). On January 30, 2017, Defendants filed a supplemental motion to dismiss. On March 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response.



         Both parties have attached a number of exhibits to their memoranda of law, and request that the Court consider them in deciding Defendants' motion. Of particular relevance is the additional information about Plaintiff's State criminal prosecution. Defendants have filed, as exhibits, the following documents: (1) the arrest report pertaining to Plaintiff's October Arrest (Dkt. 16-1), (2) the certificate of disposition pertaining to Plaintiff's October Arrest (Dkt. 16-2), (3) the certificate of disposition pertaining to Plaintiff's December Arrest (Dkt. 16-3 at ECF 2), (4) Indictment No. 483-2013 (Dkt. 16-4), (5) Judge Margulis' Suppression Order dated March 4, 2015 (Dkt. 9-4[8] or Dkt. 16-5), (6) the transcript of the May 18, 2015 plea hearing pertaining to Indictment No. 483-2013 (Dkt. 16-6), and (7) Waiver of Right to Appeal and Other Rights form executed by Plaintiff (Dkt. 18-1). Plaintiff has filed the criminal complaints for Plaintiff's October and December Arrests. (Dkt. 21-1, 21-2.) For the reasons explained below, the Court takes judicial notice of all the exhibits, but not for the truth of the matters asserted therein; rather, the Court considers only the existence and legal effect of these documents.

         In determining the adequacy of a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint.” See DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002)). However, even if the complaint does not expressly cite a document, “the [C]ourt may nevertheless consider it where the complaint ‘relies heavily upon its terms and effect, ' which renders the document ‘integral' to the complaint.” Chambers, 282 F.3d at 153; see also L-7 Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy, LLC, 647 F.3d 419, 422 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Sira v. Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 67 (2d Cir. 2004)); Sira, 380 F.3d at 67 (document not expressly cited in the complaint was “incorporated into the pleading because [it] was integral to [plaintiff's] ability to pursue” his cause of action). The Court may also take judicial notice of public records integral to the complaint but not attached to it, so long as the Court does not use such records to establish the truth of the matter asserted therein. Roth v. Jennings, 489 F.3d 499, 509 (2d Cir. 2007); see also Williams v. Kellogg Co., 628 F. App'x. 59, 60 (2d Cir. 2016) (summary order) (noting that the court may consider matters of which judicial notice may be taken in deciding a rule 12(b)(6) motion) (citation omitted); Fed.R.Evid. 201 (“The court may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it . . . can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.”).

         Pursuant to these principles, the Court takes judicial notice of all documents submitted by the parties, but for a limited purpose. The Indictment and Suppression Order are clearly public records.[9] See e.g., Bejaoui v. City of New York, No. 13-CV-5667, 2015 WL 1529633, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2015) (recognizing disagreement among district courts in the Second Circuit as to whether incident reports, arrest reports, and police complaints may be judicially noticed, but still taking notice of plaintiff's State court indictment and criminal court order to establish their existence and legal effect); see also Global Network Commc'ns, Inc. v. City of New York, 458 F.3d 150, 157 (2d Cir. 2006) (“A court may take judicial notice of a document filed in another court not for the truth of the matters asserted in the other litigation, but rather to establish the fact of such litigation and related filings.” (quoting Int'l Star Class Yacht Racing Ass'n v. Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A., Inc., 146 F.3d 66, 70 (2d Cir. 1998))).

         Regarding the other exhibits proffered by Defendants, they assert that the Court may consider them because they are “integral” to the Complaints and are also documents that are judicially noticeable. The Court, however, does not find any of these exhibits “integral” to Plaintiff's Complaints. The Second Circuit has cautioned, “mere notice or possession is not enough” to render a document “integral.” See Nicosia v., Inc., 834 F.3d 220, 231 (2d Cir. 2016) (citing Global Network Commc'ns, Inc., 458 F.3d at 156); see also Chambers, 282 F.3d at 153 (noting that a document is “integral” to the complaint when the complaint “relies heavily upon [the document's] terms and effect”); Global Network Commc'ns, , 458 F.3d at 156- 57 (noting that where the “integral to the complaint” exception is recognized, the extrinsic document is usually a “contract or other legal document containing obligations upon which the plaintiff's complaint stands or falls”). Here, it is far from clear that Plaintiff, in drafting the Complaints, “heavily relied” on all of exhibits Defendants submitted. See Williams v. City of New York, No. 14-cv-5123, 2015 WL 4461716 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 21, 2015) (“A document is not ‘integral' simply because its contents are highly relevant to a plaintiff's allegations . . . .”); see also Allyn v. Rockland Cty., No. 12 CV 5022, 2013 WL 4038602, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 30, 2013) (disregarding documents submitted on motion to dismiss where there was “no indication in the record that plaintiff relied on [them] in drafting the complaint”). Neither Complaint references any of these exhibits. See Weaver v. City of N.Y., No. 13-cv-20, 2014 WL 950041, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2014) (not finding arrest report “integral” to plaintiff's allegations, where complaint contained no reference to it). Moreover, “[e]ven if a document is ‘integral' to the complaint, it must be clear on the record that no dispute exists regarding the authenticity or accuracy of the document.” DiFolco, 622 F.3d at 111 (quoting Faulkner v. Beer, 463 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted)). That is not the case here. Plaintiff asserts that the certificate of disposition relating to the October Arrest[10] “does not accurately reflect” the disposition of the October Arrest. (Dkt. 21 at ¶ 6.)

         Moreover, although Defendants assert that “judicial notice may be taken of public records, including ‘arrest reports, criminal complaints, indictments, and criminal disposition data, '” (see Dkt. 19 at 2 (citing Awelewa v. New York City, No. 11-cv-778, 2012 WL 601119, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2012)), district courts disagree about the extent to which material related to an underlying criminal case should be considered when resolving 12(b)(6) motions with respect to false arrest claims. See Alvarez v. Cty. of Orange, N.Y., 95 F.Supp.3d 385, 397-98 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (comparing cases); see also Bejaoui, 2015 WL 1529633, at *7 (hesitating to find that district courts can rely on arrest reports and other public records in deciding motion to dismiss, given disagreement in this district and absence of Second Circuit's explicit approval). The Second Circuit has noted that “[b]ecause the effect of judicial notice is to deprive a party of the opportunity to use rebuttal evidence, cross-examination, and argument to attack contrary evidence, caution must be used in determining that a fact is beyond controversy under Rule 201(b).” Costello v. Flatman, LLC, 558 F. App'x. 59, 61 (2d Cir. 2014) (summary order) (quoting Int'l Star Class Yacht Racing Ass'n, 146 F.3d at 70).

         For these reasons, the Court takes judicial notice of the exhibits proffered by the parties not for the truth of the matters asserted in them, but only to establish their existence and legal effect, or to determine what statements they contain.[11] Roth, 489 F.3d at 509 (“If the court takes judicial notice, it does so in order to determine what statements they contained-but . . . not for the truth of the matters asserted.”); U.S. v. Miller, 626 F.3d 682, 687 n.3 (2d Cir. 2010) (“While we take judicial notice of the decisions handed down by the other courts in this case, . . . we do not pass on the merits of any of these decisions[.]”); see also Garcia-Garcia v. City of New York, No. 12 Civ 1302, 2013 WL 3832730, at *1 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 22, 2013) (taking judicial notice of criminal complaints and indictments for the limited fact that plaintiff was arrested and charged with certain crimes).[12]


         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the FRCP, a defendant may move for dismissal on the ground that the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must plead sufficient facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014). However, a complaint that “tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement'” will not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 555 U.S. at 557). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 668. Rather, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A complaint should be dismissed where a plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible[.]” Id. at 570.


         Plaintiff brings his suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”), which provides a cause of action against a “person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “Section 1983 itself creates no substantive rights; it provides only a procedure for redress for the deprivation of [federal] rights established elsewhere.” Thomas v. Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 142 (2d Cir. 1999) (citing City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985)); see Bailey v. City of New York, 79 F.Supp.3d 424, 440 (E.D.N.Y. 2015). To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must plausibly allege “(1) that the defendants deprived him of a right ‘secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States'; and (2) that they did so ‘under color of state law.'” Giordano v. City of New York, 274 F.3d 740, 750 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999)); see Flynn v. James, 513 F. App'x 37, 39 (2d Cir. 2013).

         A. False Arrest

         A Section 1983 claim for false arrest “derives from [the] Fourth Amendment right to remain free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to remain free from arrest absent probable cause.”[13] Jaegly v. Couch, 439 F.3d 149, 151 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996)); see United States v. Valentine, 539 F.3d 88, 93 (2d Cir. 2008) (“[A]n arrest [without a warrant] must be supported by probable cause or else it violates the Fourth Amendment.”). “In analyzing § 1983 claims for unconstitutional false arrest, [courts] generally look[] to the law of the state in which the arrest occurred.” Dancy v. McGinley, 843 F.3d 93, 107 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Jaegly, 439 F.3d at 151). Under New York law, a plaintiff must establish, inter alia, that “the defendant intentionally confined him without his consent and without justification.” Id. (quoting Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852); see also Ackerson v. City of White Plains, 702 F.3d 15, 19 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing Broughton v. State of New York, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456 (1975)). The existence of probable cause to arrest “is a complete defense to an action for false arrest.” Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852 (quoting Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98, 102 (2d Cir. 1994)); see also Dancy, 843 F.3d at 107 (citing Jaegly, 439 F.3d at 152). An officer has probable cause to arrest when he has “knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a crime.” Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 728 F.3d 149, 155 (2d Cir. 2013) (emphasis in original) (quoting Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852). “Therefore, ‘[w]hether an officer is authorized to make an arrest ordinarily depends, in the first instance, on state law.'” Dancy, 843 F.3d at 107 (alteration in original) (quoting Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 36 (1979)).

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff's false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure claims should be dismissed because the claims are barred under (1) Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), (2) the doctrine of collateral estoppel (as to the December Arrest and P.O. Canale only), and (3) the common law defense of conviction. While the Court does not find that Plaintiff's claims are barred under Heck, it finds that Plaintiff's false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure claims are precluded under the doctrine of collateral estoppel as to P.O. Canale and under the common law defense of conviction as to P.O. Lewis.

         1. Heck Bar

         Defendants assert that Plaintiff's false arrest claims are barred by Heck. In Heck, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's Section 1983 claims, explaining that, when the success of such claims “require[s] the plaintiff to prove the unlawfulness of his conviction or confinement, ” the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can “prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Id. at 486-87. Defendants argue that Plaintiff may not proceed on his false arrest claims without implying the invalidity of his conviction. Plaintiff simply replies that “a judgment in favor of plaintiff in this action would not necessarily imply the invalidity of plaintiff's disorderly conduct conviction given the circumstances of that plea.”[14](Dkt. 20 at 6.) Both parties, however, overlook a critical point.

         It is Second Circuit law that a plaintiff not in State custody, who thus does not have a habeas corpus remedy available, may bring a § 1983 action, even if a successful claim would “necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction.” Leather v. Eyck, 180 F.3d 420, 424 (2d Cir. 1999). In Leather, the court held that Heck did not bar an arrestee's Section 1983 suit when the arrestee was convicted for driving while impaired and was only fined rather than imprisoned. Id. at 422. The court reasoned, “[b]ecause Leather is not and never was in the custody of the State, he . . . has no remedy in habeas corpus. Having escaped the jaws of Heck, Leather should therefore be permitted to pursue his § 1983 claim in the district court.” Id. at 424. A year after deciding Leather, the Second Circuit further explained that “Heck acts only to bar § 1983 suits when the plaintiff has a habeas corpus remedy available to him (i.e., when he is in state custody). . . . Because it does not appear that [plaintiff] is presently in state custody, his § 1983 action is not barred by Heck.” Green v. Montgomery, 219 F.3d 52, 60 n.3 (2d Cir. 2000); see also Huang v. Johnson, 251 F.3d 65, 75 (2d Cir. 2001) (“In light of our holding in Leather, and in light of both the Spencer majority's dictum and the fact that the Spencer concurrences and dissent ‘revealed that five [Supreme Court J]ustices hold the view that, where federal habeas corpus is not available to address constitutional wrongs, § 1983 must be, ' we conclude that [the plaintiff's] Section 1983 claim must be allowed to proceed.” (quoting Jenkins v. Haubert, 179 F.3d 19, 26 (2d Cir. 1999)).

         Here, there is no evidence that Plaintiff is currently incarcerated, and thus the Court can infer that Plaintiff is not “in custody.” Therefore, Heck does not bar Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims. See, e.g., Chillemi v. Town of Southhampton, 943 F.Supp.2d 365, 375 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (noting that “Section 1983 remains a possible remedy when there is no other federal avenue through which to bring a claim” and finding that Heck did not bar plaintiff's claims); Hope v. City of New York, No. CV-08-5022, 2010 WL 331678, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 22, 2010) (finding its prior reliance on Heck in dismissing § 1983 claims to be erroneous where plaintiff had spent no time in custody); see also Houston v. City of New York, No. 06-CV-2094, 2013 WL 1310554, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2013) (noting that the court need not consider whether plaintiff's claims are barred by Heck because plaintiff was never in custody for that charge); Barmapov v. Barry, No. 09-CV-3390, 2001 WL 32371, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 5, 2011) (“[T]here is no evidence that Plaintiff is currently incarcerated . . . . Thus, Heck does not preclude Plaintiff from advancing claims against Defendant in a § 1983 action because Plaintiff cannot challenge his conviction through a habeas petition.”).

         Accordingly, the Court finds Heck to be inapplicable here and does not bar ...

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