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Ramos v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 31, 2017



          EDGARDO RAMOS, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiffs Sarah Ramos, Angel Suarez, and William Suarez bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York State law against the City of New York, Detectives Abdiel Anderson, Jose Marrero, and David J. Roberts, Sergeant Angel Bones, and Police Officer Jonathan Wally (together, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs assert claims for, among other things, unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution in violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         Before this Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background[1]

         On August 2, 2012, Plaintiffs Sarah Ramos and her husband, Angel Suarez, went to a lot located between 2315 and 2317 Morris Avenue in the Bronx, New York. Defs. 56.1 ¶ 3. The lot is situated between two buildings and includes a front area, shed, and back area accessible only through the shed. Pls. 56.1 ¶ 45. Plaintiffs claim that the area, which they describe as a community garden, had plants and pigeon coops, and that a dog was kept on the lot. Id. at ¶¶ 45, 48.

         That day, dressed in plainclothes, Detective Jose Marrero and non-party Detective Lopez of Bronx Narcotics were conducting observations for suspicious drug activity in the area of 183rdStreet and Morris Avenue. Defs. 56.1 ¶ 2. At approximately noon, Detective Marrero communicated via radio to a field team that included Sergeant Angel Bones and Detectives David Roberts and Abdiel Anderson (together, the “Officer Defendants”), that he had observed a drug transaction take place at the lot, [2] that the alleged buyer was female, Hispanic, and light- skinned, and that she had left the lot and was headed northbound on Morris Avenue towards 184th Street. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 7. Specifically, Defendants rely on Detective Marrero's deposition in which he stated that he saw Ramos direct a woman to Angel and Angel give the woman small objects in exchange for U.S. currency. October 26, 2016 Deposition of Jose Marrero (“Marrero Dep.”) (Doc. 66, Ex. O) 15:22-17:21.

         Plaintiffs dispute that Detective Marrero actually observed a drug transaction and claim that that he only saw a woman enter the shed with a man and then exit the shed and look at an object in her hands.[3] Pls. 56.1 ¶ 3. Plaintiffs rely on the testimony Detective Marrero gave at a General Order 15 hearing (“GO-15”) held on the same day as the arrests at approximately 6:00 pm. At the hearing Detective Marrero stated:

There was a female white that arrived at the location, she entered, she said hello to a female Hispanic that was standing in front of the clubhouse. And then she met up with a male Hispanic, with a . . . white tank top, which she then entered the location with. Thereafter, a second male Hispanic, with a white t-shirt followed in. Moments later, the female white, came out of the location. I noticed that she looked at something in her hands . . . She then continued outside . . . the clubhouse and said . . . goodbye to the Hispanic that she had initially said hello to. She left the location. We put that description over the point-to-point radio, to members of the field team . . . later they stopped [her] in the vehicle and found her in possession of some quantity of crack-cocaine.

Id. at 62. Notably, Defendant Marrero made no mention at the GO-15 hearing of actually witnessing the hand-to-hand exchange between Angel and the woman.

         After receiving the radio communication from Detective Marrero, Detective Roberts arrested the woman and upon searching her, found two bags of crack cocaine in her purse.[4]Defs. 56.1 ¶¶ 8-9. Sergeant Bones and Detective Anderson were present for the woman's arrest but did not arrest her themselves. Id. at ¶ 10. Sergeant Bones informed Detective Marrero- who was not present for the arrest-that the woman had been arrested and that drugs were recovered from her purse. Id. at ¶ 12.

         After the woman's arrest, Detectives Roberts and his non-party partner Detective Gines, along with Detective Anderson, and Sergeant Bones proceeded to the lot area. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14. While en route, Detective Marrero radioed that he saw a man with a white tank top, who he had previously seen interacting with the woman, leaving the lot and walking northbound on Morris Avenue. Id. at ¶ 15. Detectives Roberts and Gines found a man matching the description, who was later identified as Angel, and stopped him. Id. at ¶ 19. Defendants claim that Detective Gines arrested Angel Suarez. Following Angel's arrest, Detective Roberts proceeded to the lot area where he saw Sergeant Bones standing with a woman later identified as Sarah Ramos, and a non-party male, David George. Id. at ¶¶ 22, 25. Both Ramos and George were subsequently arrested inside of the lot. Id. at ¶ 25.

         At some point after arriving at the lot, the Officer Defendants were made aware that a man, later identified as William Suarez, was inside the shed. Id. at ¶ 26. The parties' allegations diverge significantly with respect to the events leading up to William's arrest.

         The Officer Defendants claim that Detective Marrero saw William run towards the back of the lot and throw an object over the fence. Id. at ¶¶ 27-29. They further claim that Detective Anderson, found three bags containing crack cocaine by William's feet where he was seized, and upon a search of the area on the other side of the fence, found an additional thirty-five bags of crack-cocaine. Id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiffs claim, however, that William was already in the back area of the lot when the Officer Defendants arrived, that he did not have drugs in his possession, and that he did not throw anything over the fence. Pls. 56.1 ¶ 28. William was arrested behind the shed. Defs. 56.1 ¶ 31; Pls. 56.1 ¶ 69. Defendants claim that William was searched incident to the arrest and that $3, 786 in cash was found on his person. Id. at ¶ 34. Defendants also claim that upon searching Angel, they retrieved $365 in cash. Id. at ¶ 35. After the arrests, Plaintiffs were gathered at the front of the lot and eventually taken to the 48th Precinct where they were processed. Pls. 56.1 ¶ 77.

         Detective Anderson, as the assigned arresting officer, was responsible for completing the arrest paperwork. Defs. 56.1 ¶ 36. Plaintiffs were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree with intent to sell, criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, and criminal sale of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. Pls. 56.1 ¶ 106. The Officer Defendants claim that the information Detective Anderson included in the arrest reports was based on the information he had received from Detective Marrero who observed the drug transaction. Defs. 56.1 ¶ 38. Detective Anderson also signed the Criminal Complaint against Plaintiffs. Id. at ¶ 39.

         On September 21, 2012, a grand jury returned a true bill against Plaintiffs. Pls. 56.1 ¶ 107. Both Angel and William filed a motion to inspect the grand jury minutes and dismiss the indictment. On March 22, 2013, the criminal court denied Angel's motion to release the grand jury minutes and found that although the evidence before the grand jury was “quite thin, ” it was legally sufficient to support the charges against Angel. Pierre Decl. Ex. K. Without caveat, the court also denied William's motion to release the grand jury minutes and found that the evidence before the grand jury was sufficient to support the charges against him. Id. Ex. L. On June 10, 2015, after “numerous” court appearances, all of the charges against Plaintiffs were dismissed on speedy trial grounds, pursuant to N.Y.C.P.L. § 30.30. Pls. 56.1 ¶ 115, Defs. 56.1 ¶ 43.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed the Complaint on August 3, 2015 asserting five causes of action: (1) Section 1983 claim for violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights; (2) Monell liability; (3) violation of the New York State Constitution; (4) malicious prosecution; and (5) respondeat superior. Doc. 1. Defendants City of New York, Detectives Marrero, Anderson, and Roberts filed an Answer on November 9, 2015. Doc. 16. On December 21, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, adding Sergeant Angel Bones and Police Officer Jonathan Wally as defendants. Doc. 18. Approximately one year later, on December 16, 2016, Defendants filed a letter requesting a pre-motion conference to seek leave to file a motion for summary judgment. Doc. 58. On February 6, 2017, Plaintiffs informed the Court that they were withdrawing their excessive force claims, including the only claim against Police Officer Wally, and also clarified that they were not asserting a Monell claim. Doc. 63. Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on February 24, 2017. Doc. 64.

         III. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “An issue of fact is ‘genuine' if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Senno v. Elmsford Union Free Sch. Dist., 812 F.Supp.2d 454, 467 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing SCR Joint Venture L.P. v. Warshawsky, 559 F.3d 133, 137 (2d Cir. 2009)). A fact is “material” if it might “affect the outcome of the litigation under the governing law.” Id. (quoting Miner v. Clinton Cty. N.Y., 541 F.3d 464, 471 (2d Cir. 2008)). The party moving for summary judgment is first responsible for demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party meets its burden, “the nonmoving party must come forward with admissible evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to avoid summary judgment.” Saenger v. Montefiore Med. Ctr., 706 F.Supp.2d 494, 504 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Jaramillo v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 536 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2008)).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant.” Brod v. Omya, Inc., 653 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Williams v. R.H. Donnelley, Corp., 368 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2004)). However, in opposing a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party may not rely on unsupported assertions, conjecture, or surmise. Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995). The non-moving party must do more than show that there is “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” McClellan v. Smith, 439 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, “the non-moving party must set forth significant, probative evidence on which a reasonable fact-finder could decide in its favor.” Senno, 812 F.Supp.2d at 467-68 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 256-57 (1986)).

         Nonetheless, “summary judgment may not be granted simply because the court believes that the plaintiff will be unable to meet his or her burden of persuasion at trial. There must either be a lack of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position or the evidence must be so overwhelmingly tilted in one direction that any contrary finding would constitute clear error.” Danzer v. Norden Sys., Inc., 151 F.3d 50, 54 (2d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Section 1983

         Section 1983 grants a right of action to any “citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof” who has been deprived of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” by a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) a right secured by the Constitution or federal law was violated by defendants, and (2) the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). Here, Plaintiffs allege, among other things, that they were falsely arrested, subjected to an unreasonable search and seizure, and maliciously prosecuted in violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         1. ...

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