United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' POST-TRIAL
K. HELLERSTEIN United States District Judge.
Michael Clark and Catherine Roach move to vacate the
jury's verdict and ask the Court to grant, alternatively,
judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. Fed.R.Civ.P.
50(b); 59(a). They contend that the evidence does not support
the verdict of $225, 000 compensatory damages and $100, 000
punitive damages, for falsely arresting plaintiff Martin
Walsh and causing him to be maliciously prosecuted. They
contend also that the verdict is inconsistent with the
jury's finding that defendant Jason Lunsford is not
liable to plaintiff.
motion is denied. The evidence amply supports the verdict
against Roach and Clark; the jury was properly instructed;
and there were no evidentiary errors in the court's
Lunsford, Clark and Roach were all working as law enforcement
officers for the New York Police Department on the night of
the incident. Plaintiff Martin Walsh is a senior court clerk
in New York State Criminal Court and a peace officer,
authorized to make arrests for crimes committed within his
presence, whether on or off duty. Walsh also worked during
off-duty hours as an armed security guard for Ambassador
Protection Services. Tr. 57-59.
Year's Eve, December 31, 2013, Walsh was working as a
security guard at the Hilton Hotel located at Sixth Avenue
and 54th Street in Manhattan. He was posted in front of an
"exit only" door to prevent pedestrians from
entering the Hilton through that door. Tr. 61 -62. The
purpose of establishing this exit only door on New Year's
Eve was to prevent non-guest pedestrians from cutting through
the hotel in attempt to get closer to Times Square. Tr. 41,
approximately 6:15 p.m., David Vadala approached Walsh at a
"jogging" pace and attempted to push his away past
Walsh and into the hotel, exclaiming, "I gotta get in
here." Tr. 62. Vadala grabbed Walsh by the lapels of his
coat and shoved him into the exit door, trying to get past
Walsh. Tr. 62-63. Walsh then punched Vadala in the face to
free himself and sought to arrest him. Tr. 65. The two
tumbled to the ground, and other security guards and nearby
police officers came to the scene. Vadala "resisted
violently, " and it took the effort of several officers
to subdue Vadala and place him in handcuffs. Tr. 66-67.
During the struggle, Vadala yelled, "I'm retired,
I'm retired, " which Walsh interpreted to mean that
Vadala was a retired police officer. Tr. 67.
Vadala was restrained, defendant Lieutenant Jason Lunsford,
an officer on the scene, spoke with Walsh. Lunsford was from
the 75th precinct in Brooklyn, but was assigned to midtown
Manhattan to provide extra security on New Year's Eve.
Walsh told Lunsford that he had arrested Vadala in his
capacity as a peace officer. Tr. 68. Lunsford responded that
the police would handle the arrest, and instructed Walsh, as
the complainant, to go to the nearby 18th precinct, and file
a complaint against Vadala. Tr. 69. Lunsford took Walsh's
ID as a precaution, and Walsh voluntarily walked to the 18th
precinct, unescorted. Tr. 71. Vadala, by contrast, was
handcuffed, transported to the 18th precinct in a police car,
and placed in a holding cell or interrogation room. Tr. 68,
testified that when he arrived at the 18th precinct to file a
complaint against Vadala, he was told to wait in a room.
After some time, defendant Officer Michael Clark entered the
room, leaned over the edge of a desk, pointed at Walsh, and
stated, "I don't know if you know how things work in
the police department, but you gotta shit-can this job."
Tr. 74. Walsh responded, "I can't do that, "
and Clark "stormed" out of the room. Tr. 75.
minutes later, Sergeant Catherine Roach, the desk sergeant in
charge of the 18th precinct that night and Officer
Clark's superior, entered the room and asked Walsh what
had happened. Walsh told her and said that he had come to the
precihct to file a complaint against Vadala. Roach responded,
"OK, we'll see about that, " and walked out of
the room. Tr. 76. A few minutes later, Roach returned with
Lunsford, who had arrived at the precinct. Walsh again
explained what had happened, and asked if he needed a lawyer.
Roach responded, "Well, if that's the route you are
going to go, we're going to have to go farther with
this." Tr. 77. Roach and Lunsford then left the room.
After more time had passed, Roach returned and asked Walsh,
"Well, are you going to drop the charges?" Tr. 80.
After Walsh again stated he would not do that, Roach
responded, "All right. Turn around. Put your hands
behind your back. You're under arrest, " and
handcuffed Walsh. Id. Roach instructed Officer
Jhonny Milfort, a novice officer who was assigned to the 18th
precinct on temporary duty that night, to swear out the
complaint against Walsh charging him with assault. Tr.
212-213. Walsh spent the night in jail, and was arraigned the
following day. Tr. 111-12.
that evening, Roach and Clark interacted with Vadala as well.
Tr. 232, 292. When Vadala was first brought into the
precinct, Clark recognized Vadala because they served
together at the 18th precinct in the early 1990s. Tr. 285.
Clark and Vadala spoke three times that evening, and Roach
estimated that she spoke with Vadala for about an hour. Tr.
249, 336. They asked Vadala if he wanted to press charges
against Walsh, to enable them to make a joint offer to both
under which they would drop their complaints against each
other and accept a summons for a violation in lieu of arrest
and detention. Tr. 236-37, 277-78, 328-29, 333-34. Walsh made
it clear he was not interested in such a deal, and Roach and
Clark arrested both Walsh and Vadala for assaulting each
other. Clark told Vadala, "I'm sorry, it's going
through." Tr. 336.
arrived at the 18th precinct after Walsh had arrived.
Lunsford testified that he briefed Roach about the incident
between Walsh and Vadala, but did not recall speaking with
Clark. Tr. 162-63. Lunsford again spoke with Walsh and then
with Vadala, but did not recall any details other than
Vadala's complaint that Walsh had assaulted him. Tr. 164,
167. Lunsford testified that he offered a criminal summons to
both Walsh and Vadala. Tr. 173. This testimony was in tension
with the testimony of Clark, who stated that he and Roach
were the ones who offered the deal to Walsh and Vadala, not
Lunsford. Tr. 334. Lunsford left the precinct after Walsh
rejected the offer and was placed under arrest.
Roach and Clark's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
burden on a party seeking judgment as a matter of law
"is particularly heavy after the jury has deliberated in
the case and actually returned its verdict." Cross
v. N.Y.City Transit Auth., 417 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir.
2005). "In deciding such amotion, the court must give
deference to all credibility determinations and reasonable
inferences of the jury, and it may not itself weigh the
credibility of witnesses or consider the weight of the
evidence." Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat'l Realty
& Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998)
(citation omitted). Consequently, a Rule 50 motion may not be
granted unless "(1) there is such a complete absence of
evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings
could only have been the result of sheer surmise and
conjecture, or (2) there is such an overwhelming amount of
evidence in favor of the movant that reasonable and fair
minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against [it].
Williams v Cty. of Westchester, 171 F.3d 98, 101 (2d
Cir. 1999) (citation omitted).
prevail on a claim for false arrest under New York law, the
plaintiff must show "(1) the defendant intended to
confine [the plaintiff], (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." Singer v. Fulton Cty. Sheriff, 63
F.3d 110, 118 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Broughton v.
State, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456 (N.Y. 1975)). "The
existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes
justification and is a complete defense to an action for
false arrest, whether that action is brought under state law
or under § 1983." Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d
845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). "[P]robable cause to arrest exists
when the officers have 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." Jenkins v. City of N. Y., 478 F.3d 76,
84-85 (2d Cir. 2007).
and Clark argue that they had probable cause to arrest Walsh
as a matter of law because Vadala told them that Walsh had
punched him during the altercation at the Hilton Hotel, and
because Vadala had bruise marks on his face. Tr. 232, 287;
see Wahhab v. City of N. Y,386 F.Supp.2d 277, 287
(S.D.N.Y. 2005) ("Probable cause will generally be found
to exist when an officer is advised of a crime by a victim or
an eyewitness."); Panetta v. Crowley, 460 F.3d
388, 395 (2d Cir. 2006) ("[I]t is well-established that
a law enforcement official has ...