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Chillemi v. Town of Southampton

United States District Court, E.D. New York

December 20, 2017

Craig J. Chillemi, Plaintiff,
The Town of Southampton, Eric Sickles, James Kiernan, and Thomas Tully, Defendants.


          Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

         Plaintiff Craig Chillemi (“Chillemi” or “plaintiff”) brings this action against defendants the Town of Southampton (“the Town”) and Officer Eric Sickles (“Officer Sickles” or “Sickles”), Lieutenant James Kiernan (“Lieutenant Kiernan” or “Kiernan”), and Detective Thomas Tully (“Detective Tully” or “Tully”) (together with the Town, “defendants”), arising out of Officer Sickles's arrest of Chillemi on July 8, 2009 in Hampton Bays, New York. Chillemi brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983” or “§ 1983”) for the alleged violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Chillemi asserts claims for false arrest/false imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure, fabrication of evidence, compelled self-incrimination, and Monell liability.[1] More specifically, in connection with his arrest for unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and possession of a controlled substance, plaintiff alleges that defendants fabricated evidence against him in order to end his relationship with Detective Tully's daughter. (See Decl. in Opp. re Mot. for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 81, “Chillemi Decl., ” at ¶ 26 (“Officer Sickles, Lieutenant Kiernan, and Detective Tully fabricated evidence that led to my arrest and the subsequent charges brought against me in an attempt to end my relationship with Tara Tully. The evidence they fabricated was: that I was driving a vehicle, had drugs in my possession, and made incriminating statements. I did not make any incriminating statements; I was not driving a vehicle; and I did not possess any drugs at the time of my false arrest. Anything to the contrary was fabricated.”).)

         Presently before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth in detail below, the Court grants the motion on the compelled self-incrimination claim and on all claims against Tully, but denies the motion in all other respects because of genuine disputes of material fact that exist with respect to the remaining claims against defendants Sickles, Kiernan, and the Town.

         In particular, as a threshold matter, the Court concludes that, although defendants argue that the claims are barred by Chillemi's guilty plea to lesser charges arising from the arrest, construing the evidence most favorably to plaintiff, his guilty plea may have been involuntary because plaintiff may have entered the plea based upon the erroneous belief that his plea would not impact his ability to remain in the work release program. Plaintiff has stated that he entered the plea based upon that understanding and the colloquy at the plea proceeding, which certainly creates an ambiguity as to whether such an understanding among the parties to that effect existed. Thus, plaintiff has set forth sufficient evidence to create a disputed issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment on this issue.

         With respect to the false arrest claim, plaintiff argues that he was arrested by Sickles on fabricated misdemeanor charges of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and possession of cocaine because Sickles did not like the fact that Chillemi was dating Tara Tully (“Tara”[2]), who is the daughter of Detective Tully. More specifically, Chillemi has submitted a sworn statement that he was not even driving the vehicle on the night in question, and that Sickles also falsely claimed that he had a bag of cocaine in his possession. Tara also has stated under oath that she was driving the car, not Chillemi. Thus, plaintiff has created a genuine issue of disputed fact as to whether there was probable cause for Sickles to arrest him on July 8, 2009. Those same disputed issues of fact preclude summary judgment on the claim that the pat-down at the time of his arrest was an unconstitutional search, as well as on the fabrication of evidence claim relating to the allegations that Sickles falsely claimed that Chillemi was driving the vehicle, had cocaine in his possession, and confessed.

         Although defendants argue that Kiernan is entitled to summary judgment because he had no personal involvement in the allegedly unconstitutional actions by Sickles, the Court disagrees. There is evidence that Kiernan arrived at the scene shortly after the arrest and administered the oath for the General Traffic Complaint and Misdemeanor Information signed by Sickles on July 8, 2009. As to Kiernan's knowledge of the allegedly unconstitutional nature of Sickles's search and arrest, plaintiff relies upon the involvement of both Sickles and Kiernan in his 2007 arrest and the circumstances surrounding that encounter, as well as the fact that Tara told Chillemi that Kiernan is her godfather. Moreover, Chillemi disputes Kiernan's claim that, during the July 2009 arrest, Chillemi tried to make a deal with him to avoid arrest. Thus, Chillemi asserts that Kiernan fabricated incriminating statements by Chillemi at the scene of the arrest. Construing the evidence most favorably to plaintiff, there is an issue of fact as to whether Kiernan was aware that Sickles was fabricating evidence against Chillemi on July 8, 2009 and failed to intervene to prevent the alleged constitutional violation, and whether Kiernan fabricated incriminating statements by Chillemi.

         These same disputed issues of fact preclude summary judgment in favor of defendants Sickles and Kiernan at this stage on grounds of qualified immunity. In other words, if a rational jury credits plaintiff's version of the events and finds that Sickles fabricated evidence against Chillemi during the course of an unconstitutional search and arrest, and Kiernan became aware of the unconstitutional nature of the arrest and failed to intercede at the scene to prevent any further unlawful detention, no qualified immunity would exist for either defendant.

         With respect to defendant Tully, the Court concludes that summary judgment is warranted in his favor on all claims because there is simply no evidence in the record of his personal involvement in any of the alleged unconstitutional acts by Sickles, or that he was in a position to intercede during the arrest. Although plaintiff speculates that he may have been involved because of an alleged desire to prevent his daughter from dating Chillemi, such speculation is insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. In short, even construing the evidence most favorably to plaintiff, no rational jury could find Tully responsible for the alleged unconstitutional acts of Sickles on July 8, 2009.

         Finally, because plaintiff does not allege that he made any statements to the police following his arrest, he cannot have a compelled self-incrimination claim. Although he does assert that Sickles fabricated a confession in order to support the arrest, that allegation should proceed (as noted above) as a fabrication of evidence claim. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted on the compelled self-incrimination claim.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The Court takes the following facts from Chillemi's and defendants' respective Rule 56.1 Statements of Fact, and any admissible affidavits, depositions, and exhibits.[3] The Court construes the facts in the light most favorable to Chillemi, the nonmoving party. See Capobianco v. City of New York, 422 F.3d 47, 50 n.1 (2d Cir. 2005). Where only one party's Rule 56.1 Statement is cited, the other party does not dispute the facts alleged or has offered no admissible evidence to refute that fact.

         1. Background Information

         Plaintiff alleges that his relationship with Detective Tully's daughter, Tara, and Sickles's desire to date Tara, led to his being targeted for arrest by defendants, both in 2007 and in 2009.

         At the time of the relevant arrests in this case, Chillemi was involved in a romantic relationship with Tara. (Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement (“Defs.' 56.1”) ¶¶ 2, 25, 29, 42, 53.) Tara was the “estranged” daughter of defendant Tully, a detective in the police unit that arrested Chillemi in 2007 and again in 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 7, 26, 29, 51, 59, 63.)

         Chillemi never met or interacted with defendant Tully. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 4.) Although Tully was not involved in the investigation into Chillemi's alleged drug sales or either of his arrests, (id. ¶¶ 106-07), Chillemi alleges that Sickles “arrested Chillemi because Chillemi was dating a police officer's daughter, ” (Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement (“Pl.'s 56.1”) ¶ 90). Chillemi more broadly attributes this motive to all defendants, “claim[ing] that he was arrested due to the defendants' disapproval of his romantic relationship with Defendant Tully's daughter.” (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 99.)

         Tara was not only estranged from her father, but she also had not lived with him since she was born. (Id. ¶ 100.) Tully claims that he did not know Chillemi and Tara were dating until after Chillemi's 2009 arrest, (id. ¶ 101), but Tara disputes this fact, (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 101 (citing Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for Summary Judgment (“Defs.' Mem.”), ECF No. 80, Ex. M (“Tara Tully Tr.”) at 72 (claiming “[her father] knew” they were dating in 2009))).

         Tully was not involved in any investigation into Chillemi's alleged drug sales, (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 106), and he was not present at the scene of either of Chillemi's arrests by the Southampton Town Police Department (“SHTPD”), (id. ¶ 107). Although it is uncontroverted that Tully had no involvement in Chillemi's arrests, Chillemi disputes the claim that Tully had no knowledge of Chillemi prior to this lawsuit. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 99.)

         The three individual defendants were all members of the SHTPD, which was the department involved in the arrest of Chillemi both in 2007 and 2009. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 7, 12, 14.) Kiernan and Sickles both worked in the Street Crimes Unit (“SCU”), and Kiernan was the supervising sergeant of the SCU during this period. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 14.) Tully had previously worked in the SCU, but was a detective in another unit during the relevant period. (Id. ¶ 12; Defs.' Mem., Ex. L (“Thomas Tully Tr.”) at 8-9.)

         Tara stated that she knew Kiernan through her father. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 7.) Kiernan also admitted this connection with Tara, and that he “kn[ew] that she was Chillemi's girlfriend at the time of the underlying events.” (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Kiernan said that he did not, however, “know [Tara] on a personal level.” (Id. ¶ 9.) Sickles stated that he knows Tara as Tully's daughter, and “knew of” Tara in August 2007. (Id. ¶ 11.) Defendants assert that Tully never had conversations with Kiernan or Sickles about Tara dating Chillemi. (Id. ¶¶ 102, 104.)

         Chillemi also alleges that his arresting officer (Sickles) had a romantic interest in Tara. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 90 (explaining that “Sickles arrested Chillemi because . . . Sickles ha[d] a romantic interest in Tara Tully; Sickles asked Tara Tully on a date both before and after Chillemi's 2009 arrest”); Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 91.) Tara testified that she had a couple of interactions with Sickles after Chillemi's arrest that made her “uncomfortable, ” and that Sickles “asked her out on a date ‘like twice.'” (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 92-93.) She said that she did not take it entirely seriously, but it made her feel uncomfortable. (Id. ¶ 93.)

         2. Chillemi's August 2007 Arrest

         Chillemi was first arrested by the SHTPD on August 5, 2007 and charged with several counts of drug possession and sale. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 29, 34.) It was while furloughed[4] from his resulting 2007 sentence that Chillemi was arrested again in 2009, by the same police unit, and subjected to the alleged civil rights violations that gave rise to the instant complaint. (Id. ¶ 52.)

         The SHTPD unit that arrested Chillemi both times was the SCU, a plain-clothes, primarily narcotics unit.[5] (Id. ¶ 12.) The SCU began investigating Chillemi in 2007 for “doing drugs and selling drugs” out of his home in Southampton. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Undercover SCU officers purchased cocaine from Chillemi “[o]n two or three separate occasions.” (Id. ¶ 23.) The Town then obtained a search warrant, and the SCU and the Town's Emergency Services Unit (“ESU”) executed a lawful search of Chillemi's home on August 5, 2007.[6] (Id. ¶¶ 24-27.)

         At the time of his 2007 arrest, Chillemi was living with Tara[7] and two other roommates. (Id. ¶ 25.) Chillemi and Tara were home along with one of their roommates and another man when “at least ten” police officers from the SCU and ESU arrived at their house to execute the search warrant. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.) Chillemi was the first removed from the house; Sickles arrested him. (Id. ¶ 31.) Defendants assert that all four occupants were arrested, and that Tara was brought to the police station, questioned, and processed, but was not charged. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 32.) Chillemi disputes this fact, contending that Tara had not been arrested in the first place. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         Tully was not present at the raid on the house or at the police station. (Id. ¶ 30.) Tara has no knowledge that her father was “involved in any way, ” or that charges were brought against Chillemi because her father wanted to end their relationship. (Id.) As to defendant Kiernan's involvement, it is undisputed that Kiernan did not talk to Tara at the time of this first arrest. (Id. ¶ 32.)

         The police recovered “heroin, cocaine, and some pills” from their 2007 search. (Id. ¶ 34.) Chillemi pleaded guilty to the sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree and was sentenced to four years in prison. (Id. ¶ 35.) Chillemi never made complaints to the SHTPD about “anything that happened in the course of his August 5, 2007 arrest before pleading guilty.” (Id. ¶ 36.)

         3. Furloughed on Work Release

         Chillemi was furloughed in or around March or April 2009 and entered a work release program. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 37, 40; see also supra note 5.) Before his release, Chillemi completed a six-month drug counseling/rehabilitation program. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 38.) Chillemi was required to have a stable address in order to participate in the program. (Id. ¶ 41.) When Chillemi was released, he and Tara began living together in Manorville, NY, and he began working full- time in an industrial cleaning job. (Id. ¶¶ 42-44.) Chillemi began to earn additional free time and was eventually home for five days for every two nights that he had to return to Lincoln Correctional Facility. (Id. ¶ 45.) During this period, Chillemi reported to a parole officer or “somebody like a parole officer.” (Id. ¶¶ 47; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 47.)

         4. Chillemi's July 2009 Arrest

         According to defendants, Sickles became aware that Chillemi was no longer incarcerated during the summer of 2009; informants told undercover officers that Chillemi was out of prison and dealing drugs again. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 48, 50.) The SCU identified Chillemi as “a relatively big drug dealer, ” so he was “never off their radar.” (Id. ¶ 49.)

         On July 8, 2009, Chillemi was out on furlough. (Id. ¶ 52.) Chillemi went out to lunch with Tara and a friend, Jason Incardona, and then Chillemi and Tara drove Incardona back to his house after lunch. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 54.) The group drove to and from lunch in a car that Chillemi had rented, but which Chillemi claims Tara drove even though she was not on the rental agreement. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 54; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 58.)

         Here, the versions of events diverge: Sickles asserts that he observed Chillemi driving, with Tara in the passenger seat. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 58.) Defendants also contend that the SHTPD had run Chillemi's license a few days earlier and it had come back suspended. (Id. ¶ 60.) The SHTPD had tried to follow Chillemi on another occasion, and Sickles asserts that he knew that Chillemi had a suspended license on the date of his arrest. (Id. ¶¶ 59-60.) Chillemi disputes that he had a suspended license at the time; rather, he has submitted a sworn statement that he had a valid interim license in his pocket that “was completely disregarded by Officer Sickles.” (Chillemi Decl. ¶¶ 12, 14.) Moreover, Chillemi disputes that he was driving the car at all on the day in question and, instead, asserts that Tara was driving. (Id. ¶ 13.) Tara also has testified that she was driving the vehicle on July 8, 2009, not Chillemi. (Tara Tully Tr. at 45.) Chillemi further asserts that he and Incardona went into Incardona's house when they returned from lunch, and that Tara waited outside in the car for a couple of minutes before an unmarked police car pulled up to the house. (Id. ¶¶ 55-56.)

         Contrary to Chillemi, Sickles states that he followed Chillemi and caught up to him “as Chillemi arrived at Incardona's house.” (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 61.) Sickles further contends that he got out of the car, had a conversation with Chillemi, and placed Chillemi under arrest for aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. (Id. ¶¶ 62-63.) The exact timing is unclear, but when the SHTPD ran Chillemi's license after his arrest, it was listed as “suspended.” (Id. ¶ 60 (citing Defs.' Mem., Ex. F (“NYSID Report”) at 2).) Chillemi, as noted above, claims that his license was not suspended at the time of the July 8, 2009 arrest. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 57.)

         Sickles further asserts that he then searched Chillemi incident to arrest and found a bag of cocaine inside Chillemi's right side pants pocket.[8] (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 63-64.) Chillemi disputes Sickles's account; he claims that “Officer Sickles did not find a bag of cocaine on [him] after a search incident to his arrest; Sickles produce [sic] a baggy with white powder in it.” (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 62.) Chillemi also contends that Sickles told him that “he had waited to arrest [him] until [he] was with Tara Tully.” (Chillemi Decl. ¶ 16.)

         5. Chillemi's Alleged Post-Arrest Statements

         By the time defendant Kiernan reported to the scene, Chillemi was already handcuffed and under arrest. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 66-67.) Kiernan asserts that he was aware that Incardona, who lived in the house where the arrest took place, was addicted to pills. (Id. ¶ 66.) Sickles showed Kiernan the bag of drugs he had found on Chillemi. (Id. ¶ 67.)

         Kiernan contends that Chillemi “asked to speak with [him], and was trying to cut a deal so he wouldn't be arrested and reported to the work release program.” (Id. ¶ 68.) In addition, according to defendants, “Chillemi made oral admissions at the scene at the time of the arrest; Sickles prepared a supplementary report memorializing them. Chillemi said: ‘I don't even think that coke is real. I made a fake bag up for someone.' The second admission was made to Kiernan, but Sickles overheard it: ‘I'm just getting started again. I barely have an ounce.'” (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 70.) Chillemi disputes these facts, and asserts that he made no such statements to Sickles or Kiernan. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 68-70 (citing Defs.' Mem., Ex. H (“Chillemi Tr.”) at 48:2-13, 56:13-21; Chillemi Decl. ¶ 17.)

         Chillemi was charged with possession of cocaine and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, both misdemeanors. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 75.) Chillemi was transported to headquarters for processing, (id. ¶ 71), and Tara was sent home, (id. ¶ 72).

         6. Sickles's Alleged Proposition and the SCU's “Sign Off”[9]on the Arrest

         Chillemi also asserts that Sickles spoke to Tara in a condescending way during the arrest. (Id. ¶ 91.) Chillemi further states that Sickles was propositioning Tara for a date, and that he said “something to the effect of, ‘hey, after this do you want to get something to eat?'” (Id.) Chillemi contends that Sickles had seen him driving a few times before his arrest, but had waited until Tara “was there to see it” to arrest him. (Id. ¶ 94.) Chillemi also asserts that Sickles told him “something to the effect of, ‘I can't believe you are home [from prison] so soon.'” (Id.)

         Chillemi further alleges that defendants Kiernan and Tully “knew that the statements made by Officer Sickles in the General Traffic Complaint and Misdemeanor Information were knowingly false.” (Compl. ¶¶ 32-33.) These statements included that Sickles had seen Chillemi driving the car (rather than Tara), and that he found a bag of cocaine in Chillemi's pocket. (Compl. ¶¶ 28-29.) Chillemi contends that Kiernan supervised Sickles and “signed off” on Sickles's improper conduct, including when Sickles “pull[ed] up on private property without probable cause and ma[de] false claims against him.” (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 87.) Kiernan administered the oath on the General Traffic Complaint. (Chillemi Decl., Ex. 2.) Chillemi also alleges that Tully was a supervisory officer who “knowingly acquiesced” to Sickles's unlawful arrest. (Id. ¶ 88.) Chillemi believes that Sickles worked under Tully, and that the arrest “amounted to Tully's personal wishes being carried out.” (Id.) Offering further support for his claims that defendants were aware of the impropriety of the arrest, Chillemi states that he heard other officers say that “they had to arrest Chillemi because he was dating a cop's daughter.” (Id. ¶ 89.)

         7. Chillemi's Plea Deal and Removal From Work Release

         Chillemi was incarcerated for three and a half months while awaiting disposition of the charges from his 2009 arrest. (Id. ¶ 75.) Chillemi did not go to trial but instead, on or around October 29, 2009, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of marijuana and facilitating aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. (Id. ¶ 78.) Chillemi claims that his plea was not voluntary, and that he took the plea because, “as it was explained to him by the judge in the Court, he would be able to return to the work release program.” (Id. ¶ 79.)

         The transcript shows that, during the plea, defense counsel (Mr. Ghanayem) stated for the record that the disposition was generous and made reference to the fact that Chillemi wanted to return to the work release program, and the prosecutor (Mr. Mashhadian) confirmed the accuracy of defense counsel's statement:

Mr. Ghanayem: And Your Honor, I would also like to put on the record that this is a generous disposition and it gives my client -- to maintain a work release program, which he has been doing very well in. We have talked about this with his family and he is very anxious to get ...

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