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Lebron v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

June 22, 2018

ROBERT LEBRON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, JOSEPH NICOSIA, and FRANCISCO AVVEATO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          MARGO K. BRODIE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Robert Lebron commenced the above-captioned action on August 26, 2015 and filed an Amended Complaint on February 26, 2016, against Defendants the City of New York (the “City”), and Police Officers Joseph Nicosia and Francisco Avveato of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), (Compl., Docket Entry No. 1; Am. Compl., Docket Entry No. 11). Plaintiff asserts, inter alia, claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Nicosia and Avveato for false arrest and the denial of his right to a fair trial. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-47). Plaintiff's claims arise from his arrest on April 22, 2014 for, inter alia, criminal possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 14, 18, 24.) Defendants Nicosia and Avveato (“Defendants”) moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Defs. Mot. for Summ. J. (“Defs. Mot.”), Docket Entry No. 32; Defs. Mem. in Supp. of Defs. Mot. (“Defs. Mem.”), Docket Entry No. 32-7; Decl. of Paul Johnson in Supp. of Defs. Mot. (“Johnson Decl.”), Docket Entry No. 32-1.) By Memorandum and Order dated March 31, 2018, the Court granted the motion in part and denied it in part.[1] (Mem. and Order dated Mar. 31, 2018 (“March 2018 Decision”) 35, Docket Entry No. 38.) The Court also ordered Plaintiff to show cause why summary judgment should not be granted in favor of Officer Avveato as to the denial of the right to a fair trial claim based on Officer Avveato's lack of personal involvement. (Id.) The parties have submitted additional briefing on the issue. (Resp. to Order to Show Cause, Docket Entry No. 40; Reply to Order to Show Cause, Docket Entry No. 41.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Officer Avveato as to Plaintiff's claim for the denial of the right to a fair trial.

         I. Background

         The Court assumes familiarity with the facts as detailed in the March 2018 Decision and provides only a summary of the pertinent facts. (March 2018 Decision.) The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         On April 22, 2014, Plaintiff had an encounter with Officers Nicosia and Avveato, resulting in his arrest and prosecution. At the time of the incident, Plaintiff resided on Sunnyside Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, and worked at a garage located nearby. (Dep. of Robert Lebron (“Pl. Dep.”) 11:22-24, annexed to Decl. of Michael Lumer (“Lumer Decl.”) as Ex. 1, Docket Entry No. 34-1.) On the morning of April 22, 2014, Plaintiff was at the home of his longtime girlfriend, Tiffany Simon, who resided on Dumont Avenue in Brooklyn with their children. (Pl. Dep. 18:11-14, 49:6-8.) Plaintiff drove his children to school, drove Simon to work, and ORDER eventually went to work at the garage. (Pl. Dep. 18:11-23, 19:3-13, 20:5-8.) Plaintiff was driving his grandfather's Dodge Caravan (the “vehicle”), which his grandfather had loaned to Plaintiff and Simon. (Pl. Declaration (“Pl. Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-4, Docket Entry No. 35.)

         According to Plaintiff, he encountered Defendants at lunchtime when he went to Golden Krust restaurant to buy food. (Pl. Dep. 20:20-24.) As he was entering the restaurant, Plaintiff tried to give a panhandler money, when one of the Defendants told Plaintiff not to do so and threatened to arrest him if he did. (Pl. Dep. 21:6-11.) When leaving the restaurant, Plaintiff gave the panhandler money and the officer told Plaintiff he could go to jail if he acted “stupid[ly].” (Pl. Dep. 22:9-11.) Defendants denied ever having this encounter with Plaintiff. (Defs. Dep. of Officer Nicosia (“Defs. Nicosia Dep.”)[2] 128:5-20, annexed to Johnson Decl. as Ex. E, Docket Entry No. 33-3; Defs. Response to Pl. Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (“Defs. Resp. to Pl. 56.1”) ¶¶ 10-11, Docket Entry No. 33-1.)

         Later that day, while returning to the garage after lunch, Plaintiff drove past Defendants as they sat in a marked police car on Sunnyside Avenue. (Pl. Dep. 31:2-20, 45:4-13; Pl. Dep. of Officer Nicosia (“Pl. Nicosia Dep.”) 25:9-15, annexed to Lumer Decl. as Ex. 4, Docket Entry No. 34-4.) Plaintiff's garage was less than one block from where he saw Defendants. (Pl. Nicosia Dep. 83:8-84:16; Initialed Google Street Map, annexed to Lumer Decl. as Ex. 5, Docket Entry No. 34-5.) Plaintiff pulled up to his garage, parked the vehicle, and walked to the gate of his garage with his keys in hand to open the gate. (Pl. Dep. 23:14-17, 24:20-24.)

         A few minutes after arriving at the garage, while Plaintiff was standing at the gate with his keys, Defendants appeared at the garage and told Plaintiff to “get the f - - k back” in the vehicle. (Pl. Dep. 23:18-19.) Plaintiff was shocked and did not understand the command or why Defendants were approaching him. (Pl. Dep. 24:1-8.)

         The parties dispute whether Plaintiff was driving recklessly or violating vehicle or traffic laws while driving to his garage. According to Defendants, they approached Plaintiff because he was speeding, driving recklessly, and violating vehicle and traffic laws. (Defs. Resp. to Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 20-22.) Defendants contend that Plaintiff was “traveling at a high rate of speed, ” above the speed limit, and was “driving recklessly” because Sunnyside Avenue is narrow and abuts a park where Plaintiff could have hit someone while traveling at the high rate of speed.[3] (Defs. Nicosia Dep. 27:6-25.) Plaintiff denies speeding, driving recklessly, or violating any vehicle or traffic laws while driving along Sunnyside Avenue. (Pl. Dep. 42:23-43:8.)

         Defendants admit that they ordered Plaintiff to get back into the vehicle but deny using any profanity. (Defs. Resp. to Pl. 56.1 ¶ 25.) Plaintiff understood the command but did not get back into the vehicle. (Defs. Resp. to Pl. 56.1 ¶ 26; Defs. Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (“Defs. 56.1”) ¶ 5, Docket Entry No. 32-6.) Plaintiff also concedes that he did not re-enter his vehicle after Defendants approached him. (Pl. Dep. 24:1-3.)

         Defendants handcuffed Plaintiff after he refused to get back into the vehicle, placed him in a police vehicle, seized his keys, and one or both of the officers searched the vehicle. (Pl. Dep. 25:6-11, 26:5-7, 48:14-19; Defs. 56.1 ¶¶ 6, 7.) While searching the vehicle, one of the officers told Plaintiff that he found a bottle of pills in the vehicle, and displayed the bottle to Plaintiff. (Pl. Dep. 29:8-10.) Plaintiff told the officer that the pills belonged to his “wife.”[4] (Pl. Dep. 29:14-17.)

         Although the parties agree that one of the officers found the bottle of pills in the vehicle, they dispute where in the vehicle the officer found the bottle and whether there was a prescription label on the bottle. Plaintiff contends that the bottle of pills was in the locked glove compartment of the vehicle. (Pl. Dep. 43:9-44:5; Pl. Decl. ¶¶ 6-8.) Plaintiff also claims that the pills were in the original pill bottle provided by the pharmacy, (Pl. Dep. 26:13-27:6, 43:9-18), but that one of the officers tore the label from the bottle after showing it to him. (Pl. Dep. 44:6- 16.) Defendants deny removing any label from the pill bottle. (Defs. Resp. to Pl. 56.1 ¶ 35.) Defendants claim to have found the pill bottle in the center console of the vehicle, and that the bottle did not have a label. (Defs. Nicosia Dep. 47: 8-10, 47:20-35, 68:14-69:10.)

         The parties also dispute whether Plaintiff resisted arrest. Defendants contend that Plaintiff refused to produce his hands when asked to do so and turned his body away from the officers while being placed under arrest. (Defs. Nicosia Dep. 63:16-20.) Plaintiff denies resisting arrest. (Pl. Decl. ¶ 9.)

         Defendants took Plaintiff to the 75th precinct and later to Central Booking. (Pl. Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (“Pl. 56.1”) ¶ 53, Docket Entry No. 37; ...


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