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Roundtree v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 12, 2018

JUEL ROUNDTREE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, LIEUTENANT CHRISTOPHER CHENG, OFFICER STEPHEN MALONE, and JOHN DOE OFFICERS (1-4) Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          GREGORY H. WOODS, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Juel Roundtree was walking with friends late one night on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. Several New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) officers approached and accused Mr. Roundtree and his friends of drinking in public. Suddenly, and without provocation, the officers assaulted and arrested Mr. Roundtree. Although a criminal prosecution of Mr. Roundtree ensued, the charges against him were ultimately dismissed.

         Mr. Roundtree brings this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state law, alleging, among other things, that Defendants falsely arrested him, used excessive force during his arrest, falsely imprisoned him, maliciously prosecuted him, and denied his right to a fair trial. Defendants City of New York (“City”), Lieutenant Christopher Cheng, and Officer Stephen Malone move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) for partial judgment on the pleadings with respect to all of Mr. Roundtree's claims except his federal claim for malicious prosecution. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         Shortly after midnight on February 27, 2012, Mr. Roundtree was walking in Manhattan with his common-law wife and a few friends. Third Amended Complaint (ECF No. 44), ¶ 12 (“TAC.”). They were not engaged in any criminal activity. Id. ¶ 12. Suddenly, several police officers approached the group, including Lieutenant Cheng, who had his hand on his weapon. Id. ¶ 14. Lieutenant Cheng “walked a few feet away, picked up a container out of the gutter, and falsely accused the entire group of drinking in public.” Id. After Lieutenant Cheng demanded identification, Mr. Roundtree produced his New York State “F.D.N.Y. Fireguard License.” Id. ¶ 15. Lieutenant Christopher Cheng said he “didn't like” that form of identification and asked Mr. Roundtree to produce a different one. Id. As Mr. Roundtree was producing another form of identification, Lieutenant Cheng yelled, “lock this fat n****r, the f**k up!!” Id. Lieutenant Cheng then ordered “4 rookies” to arrest Mr. Roundtree. Id.

         The “rookies” threw Mr. Roundtree against a vehicle and handcuffed him tightly. TAC ¶ 16. The officers struck Mr. Roundtree in the back, attempted to trip him to the ground, and slammed him into the side of a van. Id. ¶ 19. None of the officers tried to intervene. Id. ¶ 23. Finally, the officers drove Mr. Roundtree to the Midtown South precinct where he was strip-searched and left in a holding cell without food or water for fourteen hours. Id. ¶¶ 19-21. Thereafter, Mr. Roundtree alleges that the officers gave false statements about the incident that resulted in the criminal prosecution of Mr. Roundtree. Id. ¶ 24.

         On August 28, 2012, while the criminal charges were still pending, Mr. Roundtree was struck by a speeding taxi. Pl.'s Opp'n (ECF No. 83) (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), at 2. As a result, he suffered “an impact stroke” during which he “flatlined” twice, causing “traumatic brain injury, loss of memory, [and] various cognitive defects and deficiencies.” Id. Thereafter, he experienced “a melancholy state of mind” during which “basic life activities became desultorally [sic] disorganized.” Id. Mr. Roundtree also alleges that he suffered “partial paralysis, loss of income, [and] mental disorientation, ” causing “limited psychosis” and homelessness following the accident. Id.

         The criminal charges against Mr. Roundtree were dismissed on March 19, 2013. TAC ¶¶ 47, 54. According to Mr. Roundtree, he received proof of the favorable resolution of the case approximately 90 days later. Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. Thereafter, he contacted several attorneys about filing a civil action against the City. Id. One attorney agreed to represent Mr. Roundtree, but approximately three or four months later informed Mr. Roundtree that he would not take the case. Id. At some point during those three or four months, Mr. Roundtree was arrested and detained in connection with an unrelated incident. Id. While detained, he experienced frequent delays in receiving his mail, and also received damaged mail. Id.

         Mr. Roundtree commenced this action pro se on August 19, 2015, ECF No. 2, and filed the TAC on April 17, 2017. ECF No. 44. The City filed this motion on June 19, 2017, before the individual defendants were served. ECF No. 60. On July 24 and August 1, 2017, respectively, the Court deemed the City's partial motion for judgment on the pleadings as Lieutenant Cheng and Officer Malone's responses to the TAC. ECF Nos. 67, 73.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), the Court employs the same standards as those applicable to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 160 (2d Cir. 2010). Thus, the Court “will accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in [plaintiff's] favor.” Id. (quoting Johnson v. Rowley, 569 F.3d 40, 43 (2d Cir. 2009)).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). For a claim to be plausible, the plaintiff must “plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant[s] [are] liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A complaint that offers “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without “further factual enhancement” will not survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         “On a 12(c) motion, the court considers ‘the complaint, the answer, any written documents attached to them, and any matter of which the court can take judicial notice for the factual background of the case.'” L-7 Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy, LLC, 647 F.3d 419, 422 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Roberts v. Babkiewicz, 582 F.3d 418, 419 (2d Cir. 2009)).

         Because he is proceeding pro se, the Court must liberally construe Plaintiff's submissions and interpret them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also, e.g., Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (“A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed' . . . .” (citation omitted)); Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 63 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013)) (“Where . . . the complaint was filed pro se, it must be construed liberally to raise the strongest claims it suggests.”). This mandate “applies with particular force when a plaintiff's civil rights are at issue.” Bell v. Jendell, 980 F.Supp.2d 555, 558 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Maisonet v. Metro. Hosp. & Health Hosp. Corp., 640 F.Supp.2d 345, 348 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)). However, “the liberal treatment afforded to pro se litigants does not exempt a pro se party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.” Id. at 559 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Rahman v. Schriro, 22 F.Supp.3d 305, 310 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (“[D]ismissal of a pro se complaint is nevertheless appropriate where a plaintiff has clearly failed to meet minimum pleading requirements.” (citing Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 65 (2d Cir. 1997))).

         III. Discussion

         A. Without Application of Equitable Tolling, Plaintiff's Federal False Arrest, Excessive Force, and Failure to Intervene Claims are Time-Barred

         The statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims is found in the “general or residual [state] statute [of limitations] for personal injury actions.” Pearl v. City of Long Beach, 296 F.3d 76, 79 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-50 (1989) (alterations in original)). In New York, that period is three years. See N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(5). “[T]he accrual date of a § 1983 cause of action is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law.” Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007); accord Pearl, 296 F.3d at 80. Section 1983 claims generally accrue when a plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury that is the basis of the claim. Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 518 (2d Cir. 2013). “The reference to knowledge of the injury does not suggest that the statute does not begin to run until the claimant has received judicial verification that the defendants' acts were wrongful. Rather, the claim accrues when the alleged conduct has caused the claimant harm and the claimant knows or has reason to know of the allegedly impermissible conduct and the resulting harm.” Veal v. Geraci, 23 F.3d 722, 724 (2d Cir. 1994) (internal alterations, quotation marks, and citations omitted).

         Mr. Roundtree's false arrest, excessive force, and failure to intervene claims each accrued when they occurred on February 27, 2012. See Dancy v. McGinley, 843 F.3d 93, 111 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Jaegly v. Couch, 439 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2006)) (“A cause of action for false arrest accrues at the time of detention.”) (internal citation omitted); Jennings v. Municipality of Suffolk Cty., No. 11-cv-00911-JFB-ARL, 2013 WL 587892, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 13, 2013) (quoting Fairley v. Collins, No. 09-cv-6894-PGG, 2011 WL 1002422, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2011)) (“In the context of an excessive force claim, the clock starts running ‘when the use of force occurred.'”).

         Accordingly, absent tolling, the statute of limitations on Mr. Roundtree's false arrest, excessive force, and failure to intervene claims expired on February 27, 2015. Plaintiff's initial complaint was filed on August 19, ...


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