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Dufort v. City of New York

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

October 27, 2017

Ryan Dufort, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of New York, Joseph Marotta, Jae Shim, Thomas Conforti, William Schmittgall, and John and Jane Does 1 through 10, Defendants-Appellees, Richard A. Brown, Patrick O'Connor, and Michael Vozzo, Defendants.

          Argued: May 3, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. No. 12 Civ. 2283 - Steven M. Gold, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff-appellant Ryan Dufort appeals from a memorandum and order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Steven M. Gold, M.J.) granting summary judgment to the defendants, the City of New York and New York City police officers Joseph Marotta, Jae Shim, Thomas Conforti, and William Schmittgall (collectively, "Defendants"), on Dufort's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and violation of due process. Dufort was arrested and charged in connection with a 2006 bar brawl that left one victim dead and another severely injured, but was ultimately acquitted by a jury of any criminal wrongdoing.

         The district court concluded that (1) Dufort's false arrest claims failed because his arrest was supported by probable cause; (2) his malicious prosecution claims failed, both because his prosecution was supported by probable cause, and the chain of causation between the arrest and the ultimate prosecution was broken by the District Attorney's decision to pursue charges and the grand jury's decision to issue an indictment; and (3) his due process claims, which were premised on Dufort's assertion that the Defendants intentionally suppressed or distorted exculpatory evidence at trial, failed as a matter of law because the allegedly suppressed evidence was elicited at trial.

         We conclude that the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Dufort's false arrest and malicious prosecution claims was premature, because disputed questions of material fact remain regarding key aspects of the criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution. We further conclude that those same questions of material fact preclude a grant of qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage. We agree with the district court, however, that Dufort's due process claims fail as a matter of law. We therefore AFFIRM in part and VACATE and REMAND in part the judgment of the district court.

          Kayla C. Bensing (Edwin G. Schallert, on the brief), Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Kathy C. Park, Assistant Corporation Counsel (Fay Ng, on the brief) for Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Walker, Livingston, and Lynch, Circuit Judges.

          John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiff-appellant Ryan Dufort appeals from a memorandum and order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Steven M. Gold, M.J.)[2] granting summary judgment to the defendants, the City of New York and New York City police officers Joseph Marotta, Jae Shim, Thomas Conforti, and William Schmittgall (collectively, "Defendants"), on Dufort's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and violation of due process. Dufort was arrested and charged in connection with a 2006 bar brawl that left one victim dead and another severely injured, but was ultimately acquitted by a jury of any criminal wrongdoing.

         The district court concluded that (1) Dufort's false arrest claims failed because his arrest was supported by probable cause; (2) his malicious prosecution claims failed, both because his prosecution was supported by probable cause, and the chain of causation between the arrest and the ultimate prosecution was broken by the District Attorney's decision to pursue charges and the grand jury's decision to issue an indictment; and (3) his due process claims, which were premised on Dufort's assertion that the Defendants intentionally suppressed or distorted exculpatory evidence at trial, failed as a matter of law because the allegedly suppressed evidence was elicited at trial.

         We conclude that the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Dufort's false arrest and malicious prosecution claims was premature, because disputed questions of material fact remain regarding key aspects of the criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution. We further conclude that those same questions of material fact preclude a grant of qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage. We agree with the district court, however, that Dufort's due process claims fail as a matter of law. We therefore AFFIRM in part and VACATE and REMAND in part the judgment of the district court.

         BACKGROUND

         Dufort's suit stems from his arrest and prosecution in New York state court on charges of murder in the second degree and manslaughter in the first degree that resulted in his acquittal by a jury. On this appeal, we take the facts, most of which are not in dispute, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Taggart v. Time Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991).

         I. The Attack

         The story of this case began when, on October 7, 2006, Dufort and four friends-Christopher Baez, Sebastian Yoon, Jeffrey Shih, and John Bae-went to the Pastel Karaoke bar in Queens, New York. Dufort, who was fifteen years old at the time, was wearing a maroon, zip-up, hooded sweatshirt with a white "American Eagle" logo on it. Earlier in the evening, Dufort and his four companions had gone to a nearby construction site to gather pieces of pipe in order to defend themselves "just in case" an altercation occurred. Surveillance video shows Dufort entering Pastel Karaoke shortly after midnight with a one-and-a-half-foot pipe concealed in his sweatshirt. When they arrived at the club, the five friends met up with a larger group of about twenty students from Bayside High School, some of whom were affiliated with a local gang known as the "Ghost Shadows." This group spent most of the night in some of the club's private karaoke rooms.

         At approximately 3:00 AM on the morning of October 8, a separate group of teenagers-Jung Hwa Lee, Hwa Young Park, Mink-ki Shin, and In Hee Yoo-arrived at Pastel Karaoke. At 3:50 AM, as this group attempted to leave, Lee and Shin were attacked in the central area of the bar. During the altercation, Sebastian Yoon entered a private room occupied by Dufort and his friends and informed them that a fight had broken out. Some of Dufort's friends ran out to participate in the fight. Dufort also left the private room when the fight began, and surveillance footage shows him walking down a corridor holding his length of pipe. There is no surveillance footage, however, of the attack itself. Dufort claims that when he entered the bar area he witnessed a group of ten to twenty men assaulting the victims, and that he stepped over either Lee or Shin, who was lying on the ground, in order to leave the bar. Dufort maintains that he never participated in the fight, and that he never used physical force against either victim. Surveillance footage shows Dufort leaving the bar with a group of other young men, some of whom were holding bats. One other young man in a red, button- down shirt, who is holding a bat, is seen leaving the building moments after Dufort.

         II. The Criminal Investigation

         Lee and Shin were rushed to Flushing Hospital, where Lee was pronounced dead. Shin survived, but sustained a severe head injury that required nine staples to close. Hwa Young Park, who had witnessed part of the attack, accompanied the victims to the hospital, and was interviewed there by police at approximately 5:30 AM. Park then accompanied the police to the 109th Precinct, where she spoke with Detectives Joseph Marotta and Jae Shim. At the police station, Detective Marotta showed Park surveillance video and still images from the bar and asked her if she could identify various individuals appearing in the footage, including Dufort, as Lee and Shin's assailants. Park replied that one of the attackers, whom she had only seen from behind, was wearing a red shirt that was similar in color to Dufort's sweatshirt. However, she stated that she did not recognize Dufort's face, or any other distinguishing characteristics, and that she could not see whether the jacket had any logo or other insignia on it. She could only confirm that she had seen a person wearing a similar colored shirt participate in the attack, and that she had only seen this person from behind. In a deviation from normal police procedure, Detectives Marotta and Shim did not contemporaneously document Park's statements to them in a "Complaint-Follow Up Informational Report, " or "DD5" form.

         Two other individuals who had been at Pastel Karaoke that night-David Han and Eric Kim-were also questioned by Marotta. Both confirmed that Dufort could be seen in the surveillance footage, but neither had seen him participate in the brawl. Id. At some point after the attack, police also spoke with one of Dufort's friends, Tom Yoon, who stated that Dufort had previously claimed to be a member of the "Ghost Shadows" gang, and that he had tried to recruit Yoon.

         Three days after the attack, on October 11, 2006, police arrested[3] Dufort and brought him to the precinct, where Detectives Marotta and William Schmittgall interviewed him in the presence of his parents. Dufort told the detectives that he had been at Pastel Karaoke the night of the attack, but that he did not participate in the brawl. Later that evening, the detectives had Dufort participate in a lineup. During the lineup, Dufort was wearing a maroon sweatshirt that was similar or identical to the one he had worn on the night of the attack. No other participant in the lineup was wearing a red shirt. Park and five other witnesses were asked if they could identify Dufort as one of the assailants. Park was the only witness to identify Dufort as a person involved in the attack. At trial, Park admitted that her identification of Dufort at the lineup was based solely on the fact that Dufort was wearing a sweatshirt similar in color to the shirt or jacket worn by one of Lee and Shin's attackers.[4] Dufort's attorney, William F. Mackey, Jr., who accompanied him to the lineup, submitted an affidavit stating, among other things, that, while they were at the precinct, an unidentified detective told him that the police knew Dufort was not involved in the attack but wanted him to be a witness against other individuals who were involved.

         Based on the surveillance video from Pastel Karaoke, and Park's identification of Dufort's jacket, on October 13, 2006, Detective Marotta swore to a criminal complaint charging Dufort with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, first-degree gang assault, and second-degree assault.

         III. The Criminal Prosecution

         In early 2007, Assistant District Attorneys Andrea Eckhardt and Michael Vozzo presented evidence to a grand jury seeking the indictment of Dufort and six other defendants in connection with the attack on Lee and Shin. Park's lineup identification was the only grand jury evidence directly identifying Dufort as one of the assailants. Both Park and Detective Marotta, who also testified regarding the lineup, indicated to the grand jury that Park had identified Dufort as an assailant. Neither revealed to the grand jury that the identification was based only on the color of his sweatshirt nor that at least one other male seen leaving Pastel Karaoke shortly after the attack wore a similarly colored shirt.[5] The parties have introduced conflicting evidence regarding whether ADAs Eckhardt and Vozzo were aware that Park's identification was based soley on the color of Dufort's clothing before they initiated the prosecution against him. Jonathan Putt, another person who was present at Pastel Kareoke on the night of the attack, provided testimony to the grand jury placing Dufort on the scene with a pipe. Specifically, Putt testified that he was in a private room with Dufort and others when Sebastian Yoon entered the room and announced that a fight had broken out; that Dufort had followed the others to the site of the fight, taking a pipe with him; and that when John Bae stated that he had hit one of the victims and that the pipes were "really good" because they did not bend, Dufort expressed his agreement.

         Months later, on November 28, 2007, one of Dufort's co- defendants, Sebastian Yoon, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for an agreement to provide testimony against the remaining defendants. At his plea allocution, Yoon implicated other assailants in the attack, but when he did not mention Dufort, ADA Eckhardt asked him whether Dufort had participated in the brawl. Yoon replied, "I think he punched."

         Dufort spent nearly five years incarcerated at Rikers Island Prison Complex in New York City awaiting trial.[6] In May of 2011, Dufort, along with Bae, Baez, and two others, was tried for the attack on Lee and Shin. Park testified at trial. She could not identify Dufort in the courtroom. After the prosecutor showed Park the surveillance video, she testified that she recognized Dufort in the video, but that she recognized him by his clothing, rather than by his face. The jury returned guilty verdicts for Dufort's four co- defendants and acquitted Dufort of all charges.

         IV. The Present Civil Suit

         On May 8, 2012, Dufort brought the present action against the City of New York and Detectives Marotta, Shim, and Schmittgall, as well as Detective Thomas Conforti and several other police officers. Dufort also initially named several prosecutors as defendants, but he abandoned those claims during the course of the proceedings. He also substantially narrowed his claims against the remaining defendants.

         On April 10, 2015, the Defendants moved for summary judgment on Dufort's remaining claims. These included claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the individual defendants for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and denial of due process, as well as a state law claim against the City of New York asserting a state law malicious prosecution claim premised on a theory of respondeat superior liability. On April 28, 2016, the district court granted the Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to all of Dufort's remaining claims, holding that there was no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Dufort's arrest and subsequent prosecution were supported by probable cause. The district court also justified granting summary judgment on Dufort's malicious prosecution claim on the independent ground that Dufort could not show that the defendant police officers "caused" his prosecution, because the District Attorney's decision to prosecute and the grand jury's indictment interrupted the chain of causation between the allegedly wrongful arrest and trial. The district court granted summary judgment on Dufort's due process claim, because Dufort had not proved that the evidentiary record at his criminal trial was unfairly distorted.

         Dufort now timely appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         A district court's grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. Pʹship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). On a motion for summary judgment, the court must "resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." Estate of Gustafson ex rel. Reginella v. Target Corp., 819 F.3d 673, 675 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Stern v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., 131 F.3d 305, 312 (2d Cir. 1997)). Summary judgment is appropriate only if the pleadings, the discovery and the disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment ...


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