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Crawley v. City of Syracuse

United States District Court, N.D. New York

August 3, 2018

CITY OF SYRACUSE; POLICE OFFICER VALLON SMITH, In his Individual Capacity; CHIEF OF POLICE FRANK FOWLER, In his Individual Capacity; and DOES 1-200, Defendants.


          HANCOCK ESTABROOK, LLP JOHN G. POWERS, ESQ. Attorneys for Defendants




         Plaintiff Maurice Crawley ("plaintiff" or "Crawley") filed this civil rights action seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory relief for injuries he sustained on July 28, 2016, when a Syracuse police officer forcibly arrested him. Plaintiff's operative complaint asserts claims against Syracuse Police Officer Vallon Smith ("Officer Smith"), Syracuse Chief of Police Frank Fowler ("Chief Fowler"), as well as the City of Syracuse ("the City"), and Does 1-200 (collectively "defendants") alleging federal and state law violations of his civil rights. Crawley asserts 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, and assault and battery against the individual defendants, as well as a claim pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) against the City. Plaintiff also asserts state law claims for false imprisonment and assault.

         Defendants moved to dismiss several of plaintiffs claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. They also moved for a more definite statement or, in the alternative, to strike part of plaintiff's complaint under Rule 12(e) and (f), respectively. Finally defendants move to bifurcate and stay discovery on plaintiff's Monell claim. Plaintiff opposed the motions and defendants replied. The motions were fully briefed and oral argument was held on July 31, 2018 in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.


         The following facts are drawn from the nine count complaint. For purposes of the motion to dismiss, plaintiff's facts are taken as true. The incident giving rise to this claim was captured on video; the internet link to the video is included in the complaint. On July 28, 2016, Officer Smith conducted a traffic stop in Syracuse. At the time, Crawley was sitting on his bicycle across the street from the stop and recorded the incident. Officer Smith yelled to plaintiff "say one word and your ass is going to jail, just so you know." Plaintiff responded that he could not hear him. Officer Smith approached Crawley and yelled "come here!" Plaintiff replied, "what are you doing officer? I didn't hear you." Defendant then demanded "give me your hand-turn around!" He then pulled Crawley off his bicycle, slammed him to the ground, and struck him on both sides of his head, face, and body. Officer Smith then said "don't fucking move, you understand me? I am going to fuck you up!" He continued to hit plaintiff in the face. Crawley yelled "I've got a defibrillator!" to which Smith replied "I don't give a fuck what you got! I told you to stop fucking coming around here." Officer Smith then hit plaintiff six or seven more times.

         Crawley was arrested as a result of the incident. He was charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree and Resisting Arrest. He was arraigned the following day, on July 29, 2016. He was ultimately convicted, on June 27, 2017, after a trial, of Harassment in the Second Degree.


         "To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the '[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Ginsburg v. City of Ithaca, 839 F.Supp.2d 537, 540 (N.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, (2007)). "Although a complaint need only contain 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(A)(2), more than mere conclusions are required." Id. "Indeed, '[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). "Dismissal is appropriate only where plaintiff has failed to provide some basis for the allegations that support the elements of his claims." Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (requiring "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face").

         "When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor." Morris v. N.Y. State Police, 268 F.Supp.3d 342, 359 (N.D.N.Y. 2017) (quoting Faiaz v. Colgate Univ., 64 F.Supp.3d 336, 344 (N.D.N.Y. 2014)). "In making this determination, a court generally confines itself to the 'facts stated on the face of the complaint, . . . documents appended to the complaint or incorporated in the complaint by reference, and . . . matters of which judicial notice may be taken.'" Id. (quoting Goel v. Bunge, Ltd., 820 F.3d 554, 559 (2d Cir. 2016)).


         Defendants move to dismiss all of Crawley's claims, except the § 1983 excessive force claim against Officer Smith, and the Monell claim against the City. They further request that plaintiff be required to replead ...

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