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Johnson v. The City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

April 24, 2017





         Plaintiff Cartell Johnson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's lawsuit arises from his early morning arrest on May 17, 2014. Defendant Michael Williams, an officer of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), made the arrest after learning that plaintiff was identified as a perpetrator in an outstanding investigation card (“I-card”). More than two years earlier, defendant NYPD Detective Michael Enright caused the I-card to be issued after fellow officers received a domestic violence complaint from plaintiff's former girlfriend, who alleged that plaintiff grabbed her by her hair, pushed her into a wall, and grabbed her cellphone and broke it during an incident that took place in January 2012.

         The parties have consented to reassignment of this case to me for all purposes pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Docket Entry 28. Defendants now move for summary judgment. Docket Entry 30. Although the amended complaint asserts various claims against the named defendants, plaintiff states in his response to defendants' motion that he does not oppose judgment dismissing each of his claims except one for false arrest against defendant Williams. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition at 2 (“Pl.'s Mem.”), Docket Entry 39. For the following reasons, defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's false arrest claim against defendant Williams is GRANTED.


         The following facts present the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff.[1] See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). On January 1, 2012, NYPD Officer Marilyn Morock of the 67th Precinct received a report of a domestic dispute from plaintiff's ex-girlfriend, who is identified herein as S.B. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶¶ 1-2; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶¶ 1-2. According to the police report prepared by Officer Morock, S.B. stated that Johnson, her ex-boyfriend and the father of her son, yelled at her, “grab[ed] her by the hair and pushed her into the wall, ” grabbed her cellphone and broke it, “pushed their son to the ground, ” and then fled the scene. Detective Bureau Case Log for Complaint No. 2012-067-00012 (“Case Log”) at 1, Sanborn Decl., Ex. 4, Docket Entry 38-4. The same report identifies the offense committed by Johnson as criminal mischief in the third degree, a Class E felony, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 145.05.[2] Id.

         Officer Morock also prepared a Domestic Incident Report (“DIR”) in connection with S.B.'s allegations. The DIR reiterates the accusations made by S.B. against Johnson noted above and adds that S.B. alleged that Johnson “began pushing me and screaming that he was going to kill me.” NYPD Domestic Incident Report, dated January 1, 2012, at 2, Siskind Decl., Ex. B, Docket Entry 33-2. The DIR lists the offenses committed by Johnson as criminal mischief in the fourth degree, a Class A misdemeanor, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 145.00, and harassment in the second degree, a violation under N.Y. Penal Law § 240.26. Id. at 1.

         On January 4, 2012, Enright, a detective in the 67th Precinct Detective Squad, initiated the process of having an I-card issued for plaintiff based upon the complaint made by S.B. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶¶ 5-6; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶¶ 5-6; Enright Dep. Tr. at 22:13-23:19, Sanborn Decl., Ex. 1, Docket Entry 38-1. An I-card is an internal NYPD form issued by an officer when there is a suspect, witness, or perpetrator to be investigated. Enright Dep. Tr. at 5:8-6:17; see also Henning v. City of New York, 2012 WL 2700505, at *1 n.2 (E.D.N.Y. July 5, 2012) (“The NYPD issues I-cards, inter alia, to give notice of persons sought for whom there is probable cause for arrest. [I-cards] have been described as investigation cards used by members of the NYPD to alert other members of probable cause to arrest a subject.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The I-card was issued at 11:30 p.m. on January 7, 2012. See Investigation Card for Cartell Johnson (“Johnson I-card”), Sanborn Decl., Ex. 2, Docket Entry 38-2. Earlier that evening, at about 9:45 p.m., Detective Michael Braithwaite conducted a follow-up interview with S.B. over the telephone. S.B. told Braithwaite that when she went to Johnson's apartment to drop off school supplies for their child, Johnson “was very angry and started to yell at her and call her a slut.” Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶ 3; Case Log at 6. S.B. also told Braithwaite that Johnson was “standing very close to her, ” she “thought she was about to be assaulted, ” and that when she “took out her phone . . . to call 911, ” he “took her phone and broke it” before fleeing the scene. Case Log at 6. Morock's report, the DIR, and Braithwaite's report of the follow-up interview with S.B. each identify plaintiff as the individual who committed the acts S.B. described. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶ 4; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶ 4.

         The I-card references the report filed by Officer Morock on January 1, 2012, lists “Cartell Johnson” as the subject, and indicates that Johnson is sought as a perpetrator and that there is probable cause to arrest Johnson for “Criminal Mischief, ” in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 145.05, a Class E felony. It appears from the face of the I-card that it was issued by Detective Braithwaite.

         The next event of significance to this case did not occur until more than two years later. Late in the evening on May 16, 2014, plaintiff visited the 70th Precinct stationhouse located in Brooklyn, New York, to pick up his friend's car keys. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶¶ 7-8; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶¶ 7-8. Defendant Williams, who was at the front desk, asked plaintiff for his driver's license to ensure that he could lawfully assume control of his friend's car. Williams Dep. Tr. at 6:15-7:9, Sanborn Decl., Ex. 6, Docket Entry 38-6. Plaintiff provided Williams with an identification document but, because it was not a driver's license, Williams conducted a computer name check to determine whether, in fact, plaintiff had a valid license. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶¶ 9-11; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶¶ 9-11; Williams Dep. Tr. at 7:10-18. Approximately ten minutes after conducting the name check, at 2:40 a.m. on May 17, 2014, plaintiff was placed under arrest. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶ 16; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶ 16; Williams Dep. Tr. at 17:3-6. What precisely transpired during those ten minutes is a matter of some dispute between the parties.

         According to Williams, the computer name check he conducted revealed an “active” I-card for plaintiff. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶ 12; Williams Dep. Tr. at 7:19-8:8. Accordingly, Williams testified, he “immediately called the 67th Precinct Detective Squad” and spoke with an individual he could not identify by name, who informed Williams that “the I-card was still active and that . . . there was probable cause to arrest plaintiff.” Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶ 13; Williams Dep. Tr. at 12:5-23. Williams further testified that when he informed his supervisor, Sergeant Valenti Khazin, that there appeared to be a 2012 “complaint [that] was still open” relating to plaintiff, Khazin instructed Williams to arrest Johnson. Williams Dep. Tr. at 13:12-24; Arrest Report, Siskind Decl., Ex. I, Docket Entry 33-9. Until he reviewed the I-card, Williams had no reason to arrest plaintiff. Williams Dep. Tr. at 14:20-23.

         During the course of processing Johnson's arrest, Williams called the Kings County District Attorney's Office to report that an arrest had been made. Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶ 20; Williams Dep. Tr. at 18:5-19:2. At some point later that day, however, the King's County District Attorney's Office declined prosecution because the “statute of limitations ha[d] run.” Defs.' R. 56.1 ¶ 22; Declined Prosecution Form, Siskind Decl., Ex. J, Docket Entry 33-10. Accordingly, plaintiff was released from custody at about 6:15 p.m. on May 17, 2014. Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶ 45; Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶ 45.

         Plaintiff's version of events differs from defendants' recounting in several respects. First, contrary to Williams' testimony, plaintiff claims that the I-card was not active at the time of his arrest, and that it was in fact “closed” on April 3, 2012. Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶ 28; Case Log at 13.[3]Plaintiff further asserts that the I-card was not reactivated by Detective Enright until late on May 17, 2014, after Johnson's early morning arrest and after he was released from custody. Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶¶ 41-45. Plaintiff also claims that once the I-card was discovered and Johnson was placed under arrest, Williams failed to “obtain instructions from the appropriate authority, ” in violation of NYPD policy. Pl.'s R. 56.1 ¶¶ 52-57; see also NYPD Patrol Guide Procedure No. 208-23 at 2, Sanborn Decl., Ex. 10, Docket Entry 38-10. Detective Enright testified at his deposition that the “appropriate authority” in this case would have been the detective who initially issued the I-card ...

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