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Bennett v. Vidal

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 25, 2017

LAZARUS BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
P.O. HENRY VIDAL, TAX ID No. 931378, Individually and in his Official Capacity, SERGEANT JOSEPH HARNETT, TAX ID No. 938641, Individually and in his Official Capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John G. Koeltl United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Lazarus Bennett, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 against Police Officer Henry Vidal (“Officer Vidal”) alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and denial of the right to a fair trial.[1] Officer Vidal moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 dismissing all of the claims against him.

         I.

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. On September 23, 2014, around 1:00 p.m., Officer Vidal was at a fixed post at 113th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan when he observed four or five men chasing another individual. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 1.)[2] One member of the group was waving a kitchen knife at the victim, while the others were yelling, “Get him! Get him!” (56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 2, 4.)

         Officer Vidal began to chase the group, and they ran through a housing project toward 3rd Avenue. (56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 5-6.) One of the suspects then broke off and ran to the right while the rest continued straight toward 3rd Avenue. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 7.) Officer Vidal testified that he observed the plaintiff to be the individual who ran to the right and that he observed him run into a building near the corner of 113th Street and 3rd Avenue, which was later identified as 2065 3rd Avenue. (56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 8-9; Bennett Decl. ¶ 2.) The plaintiff maintains that he was never a member of the group and could not have entered the building at 2065 3rd Avenue because he did not have key access to that particular building. (Pl.'s 56. 1 Stmt. ¶¶ 1-10; Bennett Decl. ¶¶ 7-8.) Officer Vidal followed the rest of the group toward 3rd Avenue, where he eventually apprehended “L.J., ” who was later identified as the knife wielder. (56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 10, 13-14, 27.)

         At some point during the chase, Officer Vidal called for backup and put out a description over the radio. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 11.) The description read “looking for 5MBS 1 has knife, all wrng hoodie---n 4 wrng blu jeans 1 wrng green jeans.” (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 12.) On that day, the plaintiff, a black male, was wearing a black hoodie and blue sweatpants. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 17.) When backup arrived, Officer Vidal turned L.J. over to another police officer and continued searching for the other suspects. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 15.)

         The plaintiff testified that he left his home, which was located at the corner of 3rd Avenue and East 115th Street, at 1:08 p.m., only minutes after Officer Vidal witnessed the group of men chasing the victim. (56.1 Stmts. ¶¶ 1, 16.) The plaintiff further stated that after he left his apartment, he cut through the housing projects located from 112th to 115th Streets on 3rd Avenue. (56.1 Stmts. ¶18; Pl.'s Dep. 27:13-31:15 and Exs. A and B.) Officer Vidal maintains that the plaintiff “cut through the exact building [he] believed he had seen plaintiff run into earlier, ” (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19), but the plaintiff disputes ever entering or leaving that building. (Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19; Bennett Decl. ¶¶ 6-10.)

         After cutting through the projects, the plaintiff stopped to speak with his aunt, who had come out of her apartment after hearing the commotion of the chase. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 29; Serrano Dep. 13:4-11, 20:2-13, 23:5-7.) Officer Vidal saw the plaintiff standing nearby and placed him under arrest at 1:29 p.m. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 24.) According to Officer Vidal, he recognized the plaintiff to be one of the individuals chasing the victim earlier, and arrested the plaintiff after seeing him come from the building at 2065 3rd Avenue. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 22-24.)

         The plaintiff was charged with Attempted Gang Assault and Criminal Possession of a Weapon. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 38.) Shortly after the plaintiff's arrest, his mother, Shanen Dora James, went to the police precinct where she inquired about her son. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 34.) The plaintiff's mother did not tell any police officer that she had been with the plaintiff moments before Officer Vidal witnessed the knife chase. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 36.) She eventually notified the plaintiff's attorney of this fact at the plaintiff's arraignment, and the plaintiff's attorney then told the assistant district attorney. (56.1 Stmts. ¶ 37.) At his arraignment, the plaintiff's bail was set at $5, 700, an amount beyond his means, and the plaintiff was remanded to custody. (Meehan Decl. Ex. D.)

         Two days later, the district attorney's office moved to dismiss all charges against the plaintiff, and he was released. (Meehan Decl. Ex. E.) Overall, the plaintiff spent approximately three days in jail.

         II.

         The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution.” Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). The moving party bears the initial burden of “informing the district court of the basis for its motion” and identifying the matter that “it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the case will identify the material facts and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994); see also McKay v. City of N.Y., 32 F.Supp.3d 499, 502-03 (S.D.N.Y. 2014).

         III.

         Officer Vidal moves for summary judgment on the plaintiff's false arrest claim based on qualified immunity.

         Section 1983 claims for false arrest are “substantially the same” as false arrest claims under New York law. Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996). In New York, false arrest claims require a showing that “(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 ...


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