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Mhina v. Colavita

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 15, 2020

JAMES P. MHINA, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY COLAVITA et al., Defendants.

          FOR THE PLAINTIFF: James P. Mhina Pro se

          FOR THE DEFENDANTS: City of Syracuse Corporation Counsel CHRISTINA F. DeJOSEPH, ESQ.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          GARY L. SHARPE SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff pro se James P. Mhina brings claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and New York State common law against defendants Anthony Colavita and David Buske, City of Syracuse Police Officers. (2d Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 24.) Before the court are Mhina's motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 201), and defendants' cross motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 202). For the reasons that follow, Mhina's motion is denied and defendants' motion is granted.

         II. Background[1]

         A. Facts[2]

         During 2007-2008, Officer Buske was assigned to the financial crimes section within the Criminal Investigations Division of the Syracuse Police Department (SPD). (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 202, Attach. 2.) During this time, Officer Buske filed two separate felony criminal complaints against Mhina. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         Officer Buske filed the first felony criminal complaint in December 2007, because Mhina attempted to cash a fraudulent check at a Citizens Bank in Syracuse, New York. (Id. ¶ 4.) This complaint was based on the affidavit of John Cruise, a corporate security employee at Citizens Bank. (Id. ¶ 5.) Specifically, Mhina deposited a check for $494, 620.00, which was returned to Citizens Bank several days later. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.) Mhina then went to a different Citizens Bank branch and deposited a check in the amount of $494, 620.00, which was drawn from a J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. (Id. ¶ 14.) Thereafter, J.P. Morgan Chase informed Cruise that the check was never issued by the Bank and should be considered counterfeit. (Id. ¶ 15.) Cruise's documentation of Mhina's attempts to cash these fraudulent checks was received by the SPD, which led to Officer Buske's filing of the December 2007 complaint against Mhina. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 17.)

         Officer Buske filed the second felony criminal complaint in February 2008 because Mhina attempted to cash a fraudulent check for $113, 260.50 at a Bank of America in Syracuse, New York. (Id. ¶ 6.) This complaint was based on the affidavit of Henry Heisey, Director of Special Investigations Unit at Life of the South Insurance Corporation (LOTS), and the affidavit of Amy Bidwell, a manager at the Bank of America in Syracuse. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) According to Heisey, Bidwell had provided information to LOTS regarding Mhina's production and deposit of a LOTS check for $113, 260.50, noting that the check was counterfeit and that the account from which the check was to be drawn from was closed. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20.) The Financial Crimes Unit received this information from Heisey, which, along with Bidwell's affidavit, led to Officer Buske's filing of the February 2008 complaint against Mhina. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 22.)

         On December 14, 2007, Officer Buske went to Mhina's workplace and asked Mhina to answer questions about the allegations relating to the counterfeit checks. (Id. ¶ 23.) Mhina signed a “Statement Cover Sheet” that informed Mhina of his Miranda rights and he voluntarily answered questions. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25.) In doing so, Mhina admitted to depositing the counterfeit checks because he thought “it was an easy way to get some money.” (Id. ¶ 25.) Mhina also admitted that he was giving “[]his statement knowing that [he was] going to be criminally charged.” (Id. ¶ 26.)

         Officers Colavita and Buske arrested Mhina on February 4, 2008, during which time Mhina alleges that Officers Colavita and Buske used a racial slur. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 35.) A grand jury indicted Mhina on nine counts relating to the forged checks. (Id. ¶ 28.) Following a jury trial in Onondaga County Criminal Court in Syracuse, Mhina was found guilty of six counts charged, including falsifying business records in the first degree and criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree. (Id. ¶ 29.) On appeal, the Fourth Department, Appellate Division reversed Mhina's conviction and granted a new trial based on a violation of Molinuex. (Id. ¶ 31); People v. Mhina, 110 A.D.3d 1445, 1446-47 (4th Dep't 2017).

         B. Procedural History

         Mhina filed this action on March 20, 2015. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After various dismissals, (Dkt. Nos. 11, 22, 115, 175), the only defendants remaining are Officers Colavita and Buske, and Mhina's only remaining claims are a false arrest claim under New York State law, malicious prosecution claims ...


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