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Bridgeforth v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 28, 2018

JASMINE BRIDGEFORTH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          WILLIAM H. PAULEY III, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The City of New York (the “City”), Detective John Zerafa, Police Officer Rafael Sanchez, Police Officer Mohammed Khan, Sergeant Demetrios Lee, and former Deputy Inspector Luis Despaigne (“Defendants”) move for summary judgment in this action brought by Jasmine Bridgeforth, Delano Broadus, and David Fairfax (“Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs bring claims of false arrest, excessive detention, fabrication of evidence, unreasonable search, failure to intervene, and municipal liability. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Events Prior to Officers' Arrival

         This case arises out of a chaotic sequence of events at Bridgeforth's one-bedroom apartment where five adults and one toddler resided. (Declaration of Elizabeth Bardauskis in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF Nos. 78-82 (“Bardauskis Decl.”), Ex. L.) Bridgeforth shared the apartment with Broadus (her ex-husband), F.B. (their three-year old daughter), Necola Sims (Broadus' new girlfriend), and two other adults-Fairfax and Sara Hau-Sans. (Local Rule 56.1 Statement in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion, ECF No. 100 (“Plaintiffs' 56.1 Statement”), ¶¶ 56-58, 65.) On the evening of October 8, 2014, all six were in the apartment, along with another friend, Eric Kirkland. (Plaintiffs' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 62, 65.)

         Although Broadus was dating Sims, he had rekindled his relationship with Bridgeforth. (Declaration of Plaintiffs' Counsel Rylan Lozar Relating to Appendices in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion, ECF No. 97 (“Lozar Appendices Decl.”), Ex. 1 (“Broadus Dep.”), at 44:2-8; Ex. 3 (“Bridgeforth Dep.”), at 25:20-25.) After a day of drinking, Sims walked in on Broadus and Bridgeforth having sex. (Broadus Dep., at 44:6-8.) Sims became enraged, fought with Bridgeforth, and then left the apartment. (Broadus Dep., at 42:5-14.) Later that evening, Sims returned to the apartment, and Bridgeforth and Broadus left. (Plaintiffs' 56.1 Statement ¶ 69.) Thereafter, Fairfax and Sims also went out, leaving F.B., Hau-Sans, and Kirkland alone in the apartment. (Plaintiffs' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 69-70.)

         II. Officers' First Search

         At 2:33 a.m., Sims called 911 from a payphone near Bridgeforth's apartment, and informed the 911 operator that Plaintiffs were holding her against her will and beating her. (Declaration of Elizabeth Bardauskis in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF Nos. 78-82 (“Bardauskis Decl.”), Ex. S (“NYPD Complaint Follow-up”); Declaration of Plaintiffs' Counsel Ryan Lozar Relating to Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion, ECF No. 98 (“Lozar Decl.”), Ex. 6 (“911 Call Transcript”).) She also reported that Plaintiffs had guns, knives, and chains, and were holding another woman hostage. (911 Call Transcript, at 5:9-15, 7:15-17.)

         Fifteen minutes later, a large contingent of police officers, including Sanchez, Khan, and Lee, arrived at the scene, and interviewed Sims on the street. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. Z, at DEF43.) Sims reiterated what she had told the 911 operator, including that she had been held at knifepoint and that Plaintiffs were forcing her into prostitution and keeping her handcuffed to a radiator. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. P (“Bridgeforth Arrest Report”), at DEF11; Ex. R (“Broadus Arrest Report”), at DEF1.) Specifically, Sims stated that Plaintiffs required her to “make hits on Craig's List, or else she was going to be put out at Hunts Point . . . .” (Lozar Appendices Decl., Ex. 4 (“Sanchez Dep.”), at 28:10-12.) The officers understood Hunts Point to be an area known for prostitution. (NYPD Complaint Follow-up; Sanchez Dep., at 35:21-25.)

         Sims also reported that Bridgeforth “struck her with a closed fist causing physical injury to her left upper lip and eye.” (Bridgeforth Arrest Report, at DEF11.) Sims had swelling to her lip and left eye as a result of her earlier fight with Bridgeforth. (Bardauskis, Ex. U (“NYPD Aided Report”).) Sims told the police officers that another “naked black female who appeared to be a teenager” named “Gloria” was still handcuffed in the apartment. (NYPD Complaint Follow-up.) Finally, Sims told police that a young child was also in the apartment. (Bridgeforth Arrest Report, at DEF11.) The officers found Sims cogent and credible. (Lozar Appendices Decl., Ex. 6 (“Guenther Dep.”), at 22:6-24; Lozar Decl., Ex. 32, at DEF140.)

         After speaking with Sims, the officers knocked on Bridgeforth's apartment door. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. M. (“Unusual Occurrence Report”), at DEF268.) About ten minutes later, Hau-Sans opened the door and allowed the officers in “to look around.”[1] (First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 18 (“FAC”) ¶ 24; Sanchez Dep., at 40:18-23.) Hau-Sans told police that no one named Gloria was in the apartment. (Sanchez Dep., at 41:9-10.) Police officers took F.B. to St. Luke's Hospital for a wellness check, and later placed her in the custody of New York City Administration for Children's Services. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. DD, at DEF145; Bridgeforth Dep., at 32:16-22.)

         The officers searched Bridgeforth's apartment and found directions to a hotel known for prostitution and flyers advertising hourly rates for other hotels. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. V, at ¶ 420-PL421.) They did not find a woman named Gloria, nor did they find chains, handcuffs, or weapons. (Sanchez Dep., at 93:24-94:11; 139:19-23.)

         III. Plaintiffs Are Arrested and Questioned

         Three hours later, Fairfax returned to the apartment and was arrested for unlawful imprisonment and criminal contempt. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. O, at DEF27; DEF109.) Shortly after that, police officers at the scene initiated a citywide “level one” mobilization search for Gloria. (Sanchez Dep., at 142:11-16.) When Broadus and Bridgeforth returned to the apartment around 7:00 a.m. after a night of collecting cans, the police arrested them. (Plaintiffs' 56.1 Statement ¶ 121.) They charged Bridgeforth with endangering the welfare of a child and Broadus with endangering the welfare of a child, unlawful imprisonment, and assault. (Bridgeforth Arrest Report, at DEF11; Broadus Arrest Report, at DEF1.) The officers also arrested Hau-Sans and Kirkland. (Lozar Decl., Exs 4; 5; 30, at DEF366-DEF367.) A short time later, the officers determined that “Gloria did not exist” and that “Sims [had] embellished her account of the details that occurred inside the apartment, ” including “adding a fictitious female named Gloria to her encounter.” (Unusual Occurrence Report.) As a result, the citywide search was called off. (Guenther Dep., at 61:8-11.) By the time the police wrapped up at the apartment, all the adults except Sims had been arrested and everyone was taken to the precinct.

         At the precinct, Detective Zerafa interviewed all six adults. (Lozar Appendices Decl., Ex. 5 (“Zerafa Dep.”), at 14-16; NYPD Complaint Follow-up.) Sims repeated her earlier allegations. (Zerafa Dep., at 33:13-35:13; NYPD Complaint Follow-up.) Zerafa found Sims “upset and . . . frightened.” (Zerafa Dep., at 34:17-18.) Plaintiffs explained that Sims was actually Broadus' girlfriend and was making up a story to get back at him. (Broadus Dep., at 53:18-54:10; Bridgeforth Dep., at 89:7-8.) Eventually, Sims admitted to the police that she was engaged in a romantic relationship with Broadus. (Sanchez Dep., at 71:12-15.)

         IV. Zerafa Applies for Search Warrant and Conducts Second Search

         With the help of an assistant district attorney, Zerafa applied for a warrant to conduct a second search of Plaintiffs' apartment. (Lozar Decl., Ex. 43 “Search Warrant Affidavit”).) In his affidavit, Zerafa affirmed that there was probable cause that the officers would find handcuffs, chains, weapons, and other items indicative of prostitution. (Search Warrant Affidavit, at 1-5.) Zerafa did not disclose in his affidavit that police officers had conducted an earlier search of the apartment and found none of those items except for hotel flyers. He also did not disclose that Sims lied regarding the existence of Gloria and had admitted to a romantic relationship with Broadus. (Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 155.) A magistrate judge granted the search warrant. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. X “Search Warrant”.)

         Around 9:45 p.m., Zerafa, Despaigne, and other non-party officers conducted a second search of Bridgeforth's apartment. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. W, at DEF38.) They recovered a laptop, cell phones, keys, and wigs, but again found none of the items Sims had described. (See Bardauskis Decl., Ex. Q; Ex. W, at DEF38; Guenther Dep., at 31:11-21.)

         V. Plaintiffs Are Released

         On October 10, the District Attorney of the County of New York (“DA”) declined to prosecute Plaintiffs. (Bardauskis Decl., Ex. Y.) Plaintiffs were released from jail that evening, after having been detained for approximately 36 hours. (FAC ¶ 40; Lozar Decl., Ex. 26, at 5-6.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried and that the facts as to which there is no such issue warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law.” McLee v. Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 1997). “The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists . . . .” Rodriguez v. City of N.Y., 72 F.3d 1051, 1060-61 (2d Cir. 1995).

         If the moving party meets its burden, “the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted). “A dispute about a ‘genuine issue' exists for summary judgment purposes where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could decide in the non-movant's favor.” Beyer v. Cty. of Nassau, 524 F.3d 160, 163 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). In countering a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he non-moving party may not rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 1998).

         Summary judgment is proper “where a defendant . . . reveal[s] that the plaintiff cannot establish an essential element of the claim, on which element the plaintiff has the burden of proof, and the plaintiff has failed to come forth with evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable juror to return a verdict in his or her favor on that element.” In re Omnicom Grp., Inc. Sec. Litig., 597 F.3d 501, 509 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). “In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party.” Flanigan v. Gen. Elec. Co., 242 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir. 2001).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Plaintiffs' Local Rule 56.1 Statement

         Local Rule 56.1 requires a party moving for summary judgment to provide “a separate, short and concise statement, in numbered paragraphs, of the material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried.” (Local Civ. R. 56.1.) The opposing party “shall include a correspondingly numbered paragraph responding to each numbered paragraph in the statement of the moving party, and if necessary, additional paragraphs containing a short and concise statement of additional facts as to which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue to be tried.” (Local Rule 56.1.)

         “Local Rule 56.1 is designed to place the responsibility on the parties to clarify the elements of the substantive law which remain at issue . . . .” Monahan v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Corr., 214 F.3d 275, 292 (2d Cir. 2000) (emphasis added). “[P]arties are not permitted to controvert a moving party's material facts with conclusory or unsupported statements . . . .” Loucar v. Bos. Mkt. Corp., 294 F.Supp.2d 472, 478 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). Moreover, “legal arguments . . . belong in briefs, not Rule 56.1 statements, and so are ...


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