United States District Court, E.D. New York
JOHN SCOTT, MICHAEL ANTHONY MEJIA, SUSAN MEJIA, and GENNESSIS FERNANDEZ, Plaintiffs,
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, POLICE OFFICER PETER EVERETTE SHIELD # 6655 PSA 9, POLICE OFFICER CAPOLLA PSA 9, LIEUTENANT BRIAN VANDERSCHUYT PSA 9, POLICE OFFICER SMITH DORSAINT SHIELD # 12613, POLICE OFFICER JAY SMITH PSA 9, SERGEANT JOSEPH MULLER, POLICE OFFICER DARREN ILLARDIESU UNIT 10, POLICE OFFICER JASON CARMAN PSA9, POLICE OFFICER JAMES SOUTHERNTON ESU UNIT 10, SERGEANT DOMINIC CASALINO ESU UNIT 10, SERGEANT ELIZABETH MERO SHEILD # 3379, and UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICERS, all in their capacity as individuals, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.
assert causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New
York common law against numerous individual police officers
(collectively, the "Individual Defendants").
(See Fourth Am. Compl. ("FAC") (Dkt. 87).)
Plaintiffs also name the City of New York (the
"City") as a Defendant in this action. Plaintiffs,
however, do not assert an independent Monell claim
against the City; rather, its claims against the City are
premised on vicarious liability under respondeat
superior for any common-law torts for which any
individual officer is held liable. (FAC ¶ 40.)
claims arise out of an encounter with Defendants early in the
morning of April 2, 2014 that culminated in the arrests of
Scott and M. Mejia on charges of obstruction of governmental
administration in the second degree in violation of New York
Penal Law § 195.05 ("OGA").
move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 for
summary judgment on: (1) all Plaintiffs' federal claims
for unlawful entry; (2) Scott, M. Mejia, and S. Mejia's
federal claims for false arrest; (3) M. Mejia and S.
Mejia's federal claims for excessive force; (4) Scott and
M. Mejia's federal claims for malicious prosecution; (5)
Scott's state-law claim for malicious prosecution; (6)
Scott's state-law claim for malicious abuse of process;
(7) Scott, M. Mejia, and S. Mejia's federal claims for
denial of the right to a fair trial; (8) Fernandez's
federal claim for invasion of privacy; and (9) all
Plaintiffs' federal and state claims (including
Scott's federal excessive force claim, which is otherwise
not at issue in this motion) insofar as asserted against
Defendants Southerton, Casalino, Carman, and Illardi. (Not.
of Mot. ("Mot.") (Dkt. 99); Mem. in Supp. of Mot.
("Mem.") (Dkt. 102).)
following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART
and DENIED IN PART.
Statement of Facts
court bases the following statement of facts on the
parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements and the admissible
evidence submitted therewith. (See Defs. R. 56.1
Statement (Dkt. 101); Plfs. R. 56.1 Resp. ("56.1
Resp.") (Dkt. 104); Defs. Reply 56.1 ("56.1
Reply") (Dkt. 107).) The court construes the evidence in
the light most favorable to Plaintiffs and draws all
reasonable inferences in their favor. See, e.g..
Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Bankers Leasing Ass'n.
Inc., 182 F.3d 157, 160 (2d Cir. 1999) (collecting
cases). Where the facts are in dispute, the court credits
Plaintiffs' version of events if they are supported by
record evidence. Id. However, to the extent that
Plaintiffs fail to controvert specific factual statements set
forth in Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement with
citations to admissible evidence (see, e.g., 56.1
Resp. ¶¶ 10-11, 28), the court credits
Defendants' version of events and deems those facts
undisputed for the purpose of deciding this motion. See
Costello v. N.Y.S. Nurses Ass'n, 783 F.Supp.2d
656, 661 n.5 (S.D.N.Y.2011).
in the morning on April 2, 2014, the Individual Defendants
were each on-duty officers of the New York City Police
Department. (56.1 Resp.¶ 1.) At this time, Plaintiffs
were present in Apartment 1A (the "Apartment")
located in the building at 1-05 Astoria Blvd., Queens, New
York (the "Building"). (Id. ¶¶
5-7.) Around 1:31 am, the Individual Defendants received a
radio run indicating an ongoing family dispute in an
apartment located within the Building. (Id. ¶
2.) Approximately ten minutes later, the Individual
Defendants received a second radio run indicating that shots
had been fired inside the Apartment. (Id. ¶ 3.)
Dorsaint, Smith, Muller, and Everette responded first,
arriving at the Apartment around 1:45 am. (Id.
¶ 4.) At some point thereafter, they were joined by
Capolla and Vanderschuyt. (Id. ¶ 10.) When the
officers arrived, the door to the Apartment was closed but S.
Mejia opened the door after Dorsaint knocked. (Id.
¶ 7.) From their vantage point, the Defendants then on
the scene were able to see into the Apartment and observed
drops of blood on the floor. (Id. ¶¶
and M. Mejia joined S. Mejia (M. Mejia's mother) by the
door. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) At some point in
their ensuing exchange with the officers, someone began
filming the encounter. (See Video (Dkt. 100-10).)
Muller asked to enter the apartment to ensure that all
occupants were safe, explaining first that the officers were
responding to a noise complaint and then, after M. Mejia
refused to permit them to enter, that they had received
multiple domestic disturbance calls; at no point did Muller
refer to the shots fired call or the blood on the floor.
(56.1 Resp. ¶ 12; Video; Jan. 11, 2017 Tr. of M. Mejia
Dep. ("M. MejiaTr.") (Dkts. 100-6, 103-13) at
27:10-28:17.) Scott, M. Mejia, and S. Mejia verbally refused
to permit the officers to enter the Apartment and, over the
course of at least the next five minutes, engaged in an
at-times heated discussion with Muller about the propriety of
the officers' request to enter the Apartment. (56.1 Resp.
¶¶ 13-14; Video.) At several points during their
discussion, M. Mejia attempted to defuse the situation by
quieting the other Plaintiffs then present. (Video.) M. Mejia
does appear somewhat animated in the video but did not raise
his voice when speaking to the officers. (Id.) At no
time did any of the Plaintiffs physically block or prevent
any Individual Defendant from entering the Apartment; indeed,
over the course of their discussion, Muller and another
officer can be seen advancing into the Apartment without
incident. (56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 13-14; Video.) Meanwhile,
Fernandez, who at the time was a minor, was in her bedroom
with the door closed in a state of partial undress. (56.1
Resp. ¶ 19.)
point, the Defendants present entered the apartment. The
specific sequence of the events that followed is unclear from
the record, but the parties generally agree that, upon
entering the Apartment, Everette, Capolla, Muller, and
Vanderschuyt arrested Scott. (Id. ¶ 16.) It
appears that a considerable amount of force was used to
effect this arrest, but Scott's excessive force claim is
not at issue in this motion, and so the court will not
describe it in detail. Dorsaint arrested M. Mejia by throwing
him to the floor, putting handcuffs on him, and placing his
foot on his neck. After subduing M. Mejia, Dorsaint pulled
out a taser and pointed it at M. Mejia's face while
saying "you see this right here motherfucker? This is
for you." (Id. ¶¶ 17, 36.) Mero (who
by this time had joined the other Individual Defendants)
arrested S. Mejia by pulling S. Mejia's hands behind her
back, knocking S. Mejia's head against the door,
handcuffing S. Mejia, throwing S. Mejia to the floor, and
putting her knee on S. Mejia's back. (Id.
¶¶ 18, 39-40.) When Mero slammed S. Mejia's
head against the door, S. Mejia told Mero that she had brain
injuries due to seizures and asked Mero not to hit her head;
likewise, when Mero put her knee on S. Mejia's back, S.
Mejia told Mero that she had back problems and asked her to
desist. (May 21, 2018 Tr. of S. Mejia Dep. ("S. Mejia
Tr.") (Dkts. 100-8, 103-10) at 54:11-22.) According to
S. Mejia, Mero responded to these pleas with derisive
laughter and sarcastically asked S. Mejia whether she
"need[ed] a wheelchair to go to bookings."
(Id. at 54:22; see also id. at 54:11-22.)
Mejia was then transported to a marked police vehicle.
(Id. at 59:1-15.) She has no memory of what happened
between the time she was thrown on the ground and the time
she was placed in the police vehicle. (Id.)
Mejia did not suffer any physical injuries beyond an averred
"displeasure" to his neck. (Id.
¶¶ 37-38.) S. Mejia did not have any visible
injuries but told someone present that her head had been
injured, and, at some point while she was in the police car,
Vanderschuyt directed other officers present uncuff her and
summon an ambulance. (56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 31, 42-43; Mero
Memobook (Dkt. 103-19) at Bates No. D004712.) However, when
the ambulance arrived, she refused medical attention. (56.1
Resp. ¶¶ 42-43.)
hearing the commotion, Fernandez put on a pair of shorts and
began walking towards the door of her bedroom. (Aug. 20, 2018
Tr. of G. Fernandez Dep., dated Aug. 20, 2018
("Fernandez Tr.") (Dkt. 100-14) at 30:24-31:11.) As
she was reaching for the doorknob, the door opened from the
other side and Muller, Vanderschuyt, and an unidentified male
officer entered. (56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 20-21; Fernandez
Tr. at 34:8-24.) At this point, Fernandez had nothing
covering her upper body but was holding a tank-top in her
hands, which she raised palms forward. (Fernandez Tr. at
34:18-35:11.) Fernandez told the officers to leave because
she was not fully dressed. (Id. at 41:12-16.) The
officers, however, remained in the room for several minutes;
one officer (either Vanderschuyt or the unknown third
officer) shined his flashlight around the room. (Id.
at 42:23-43:7.) Muller, meanwhile, continually shined his
flashlight toward Fernandez's bare breasts and made a
face "like if a four-year-old got cotton candy."
(Id.) After a few minutes, one of the other officers
told Muller that they should leave and let her finish getting
dressed. (Id. at 43:11-18.) At no point did the
officers ask Fernandez any questions or otherwise speak to
her. (56.1 Reply ¶ 6.) Fernandez was not arrested,
handcuffed, or otherwise touched by the officers. (56.1 Resp.
responded to the location but did not enter the Building or
the Apartment at anytime. (Id. ¶44.) No
Plaintiff saw Casalino (then Southerton's supervisor) at
the scene. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47.)
these events, Scott and M. Mejia (who were both taken into
custody and booked) were prosecuted on charges of OGA and
resisting arrest. (Id. ¶ 27; see also
M. Mejia Tr. at 45:2-13.) Scott was released on his own
recognizance after his initial appearance. (May 1, 2017 Tr.
of J. Scott Dep. (Dkts. 100-9, 103-13) at 63:10-11; M. Mejia
Tr. at 47:2-7.) Dorsaint signed the criminal complaint
against Scott and M. Mejia, which also included sworn
testimony from Smith regarding Scott's alleged resistance
when Smith tried to arrest him. (56.1 Resp. ¶ 28.)
According to the complaint, the officers were responding to a
911 call when they heard screaming from the Apartment (the
door to which was partially open when they arrived).
(Criminal Compl. (Dkt. 100-9) at 2.) The complaint further
alleges that the officers observed blood and could smell
bleach in the Apartment, and that both Scott and M. Mejia
came to the door and began yelling and screaming while
refusing to permit the officers to enter. (Id.)
Finally, the complaint alleges that both Scott and M. Mejia
writhed and twisted their bodies in an attempt to evade
arrest. (Id.) All charges against Scott and M. Mejia
were ultimately dismissed on speedy trial grounds. (56.1
Resp. ¶ 29.)
Mejia was summonsed on a charge of disorderly conduct but she
was not detained beyond her initial arrest. (Id.
¶¶ 30-31.) S. Mejia did not learn about the summons
until some time later when she went to the Queens County
Criminal Court and was informed that she was subject to an
outstanding bench warrant. (Id. ¶¶ 32-34.)
A week or so thereafter, S. Mejia appeared before a judge,
who dismissed the case. (Id. ¶ 35.)
filed their complaint in this court on February 18, 2016.
(Compl. (Dkt. 1).) Plaintiffs amended their complaint several
times to add and remove defendants before filing the FAC on
June 20, 2018. (See FAC.) Discovery proceeded before
Magistrate Judge Steven Tiscione and involved considerable
motion practice. Discovery closed on November 2, 2018.
(See Sept. 14, 2018 Scheduling Order.)
served notice of the instant motion on February 1, 2019.
(See Mot.) Plaintiffs served their opposition on
March 1, 2019. (See Mem. in Opp. to Mot.
("Opp.") (Dkt. 105).) Defendants replied on March
22, 2019. (See Reply in Further Support of Mot.
("Reply") (Dkt. 108).)
judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.
Civ. Pro. 56(a). "A 'material' fact is one
capable of influencing the case's outcome under governing
substantive law, and a 'genuine' dispute is one as to
which the evidence would permit a reasonable juror to find
for the party opposing the motion." Figueroa v.
Mazza, 825 F.3d 89, 98 (2d cir. 2016) (citing
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986)). "The movant may discharge this burden by
showing that the non-moving party has 'failed to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party's case, and on which that party
will bear the burden of proof at trial."'
Lantheus Med. Imagine. Inc. v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co.,
255 F.Supp.3d 443, 451 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (alteration adopted)
(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
determine whether an issue is genuine, 'the inferences to
be drawn from the underlying affidavits, exhibits,
interrogatory answers, and depositions must be viewed in the
light most favorable to the party opposing the
motion."' Mikhaylov v. Y & B Trans.
Co., No. 15-cv-7109 (DLI), 2019 WL 1492907, at *3
(E.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2019) (alterations adopted) (quoting
Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 202 (2d
Cir. 1995)). Nonetheless, the non-movant "may not rely
on mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of
the facts to overcome a motion for summary judgment."
Fletcher v. Atex, Inc., 68 F.3d 1451, 1456 (2d Cir.
1995) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
move for summary judgment on all but one of Plaintiffs'
federal and state claims. The court begins by addressing
Plaintiffs' federal claims, each of which is asserted
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, before turning to
Plaintiffs' state-law claims.
Plaintiffs' § 1983 Claims
order to state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege (1) that she has been deprived of a right, privilege
or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States, and (2) that this deprivation occurred under color of
law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; accord Pitchell v.
Callan, 13 F.3d 545, 547 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing
Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981)). In
this case, Plaintiffs claim that the Individual Defendants,
acting under color of law, violated rights secured to them
under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by: (1) unlawfully
entering their home, arresting them, and prosecuting them
without probable cause; (2) using excessive force in
effecting their arrests; (3) denying them the right to a fair
trial; and (4) invading Fernandez's right to privacy. The
court addresses each of these claims below.
M. Mejia, and S. Mejia claim that the Individual
Defendants' warrantless entry in to the Apartment
violated their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments. Defendants argue that their entry into the
Apartment was permissible under the emergency aid exception
to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement or, in the
alternative, that it was objectively reasonable for
Defendants to believe that the emergency aid exception
applied, thus entitling them to qualified immunity. (Mem. at
5-10.) Based on the factual record the court holds that
Defendants had, at the least, an arguably reasonable basis to
conclude that the emergency aid exception justified their
entry and, accordingly, grants Defendants summary judgment on
Fourth Amendment protects the rights of people "to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const, amend.
IV. "It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law
that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant
are presumptively unreasonable." Brigham City v.
Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006) (quoting Groh v.
Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559 (2004) (internal quotation
marks omitted)). At the same time, however, "[i]t is
well settled ... that the warrant requirement must yield ...
where exigent circumstances demand that law enforcement
agents act without delay." Callahan v. City of New
York, 90 F.Supp.3d 60, 69 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (citation
exigency obviating the requirement of a warrant is the need
to assist persons who are seriously injured or threatened
with such injury." Brigham City, 547 U.S. at
403; see also Kerman v. Citv of New York, 261 F.3d
229, 235 (2d Cir. 2001) ("[P]olice officers may enter a
dwelling without a warrant to render assistance to a person
whom they reasonably believe to be in distress."
(citation omitted) (alteration adopted)). Whether an
officer's belief is reasonable is assessed under an
objective standard in light of the totality of the
circumstances confronting her at the time she effects entry.
See Callahan, 90 F.Supp.3d at 69; see also
Thompson v. Clark, 364 F.Supp.3d 178, 190 (E.D.N.Y.
2019) (police may enter dwelling without a warrant to render
emergency aid "if, based on the totality of the
circumstances known to the investigating officers at the time
of entry, it was objectively reasonable for them to do
so" (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).
the doctrine of qualified immunity bars § 1983 claims
against public officials where either "(a) the
defendant's action did not violate clearly established
law, or (b) it was objectively reasonable for the defendant
to believe that his action did not violate such law."
Garcia v. Does,779 F.3d 84, 92 (2d Cir. 2015)
(citing Russo v. City of Bridgeport,479 F.3d 196,
211 (2d Cir. 2007)): see also Hunter v. Bryant, 502
U.S. 224, 229 (1991) ("The qualified immunity standard
gives ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting all but
the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).
"Qualified immunity serves to protect police from
liability and suit when they are required to make on-the-spot
judgment in tense circumstances." Tierney v.
Davidson,133 F.3d 189, 196 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation
omitted) (alteration adopted). In the context of a
warrantless entry pursuant to the emergency aid exception,
qualified immunity bars liability "if, given the
circumstances confronting [an] officer, it is at least