118 F.3d 938 (2nd Cir. 1997), 848, Murphy v. Lynn

Docket Nº:848, Docket 96-2392.
Citation:118 F.3d 938
Party Name:Ernesto MURPHY, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. John LYNN, individually and as a Town of Clarkstown Police Officer, Daniel Weisberg, individually and as a Town of Clarkstown Police Officer, Town of Clarkstown, Town of Clarkstown Police Department, and Police Chief William Collins, Defendants, John Lynn, individually and as a Town of Clarkstown Police Office
Case Date:July 08, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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118 F.3d 938 (2nd Cir. 1997)

Ernesto MURPHY, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

John LYNN, individually and as a Town of Clarkstown Police

Officer, Daniel Weisberg, individually and as a Town of

Clarkstown Police Officer, Town of Clarkstown, Town of

Clarkstown Police Department, and Police Chief William

Collins, Defendants,

John Lynn, individually and as a Town of Clarkstown Police

Officer, Daniel Weisberg, individually and as a

Town of Clarkstown Police Officer,

Defendants-Appellants.

No. 848, Docket 96-2392.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 8, 1997

        Argued Jan. 22, 1997.

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        John Nicholas Iannuzzi, New York City (Donald J. Yanella, Iannuzzi & Iannuzzi, New York City, on the brief), for Plaintiff-Appellee.

        Gregg D. Minkin, White Plains, NY (Elizabeth Weiss, Joseph A. Maria, White Plains, NY, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellants.

        Before: KEARSE and JACOBS, Circuit Judges, and GLEESON, District Judge [*].

        KEARSE, Circuit Judge:

        Defendants John Lynn and Daniel Weisberg, who at the pertinent times were police officers in the Town of Clarkstown, New York (the "Town"), appeal from a final judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York following a jury trial before Charles L. Brieant, Judge, ordering them to pay plaintiff Ernesto Murphy $50,000 in damages, plus $89,888.17 in attorneys' fees and expenses, on his claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994) for malicious prosecution of criminal charges against him. On appeal, Lynn and Weisberg contend principally that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the grounds that Murphy failed to establish (1) that he had suffered a post-arraignment deprivation of a liberty interest protected by the Fourth Amendment, (2) that the criminal proceeding against him had been commenced without probable cause, and (3) that that proceeding had terminated in his favor. Defendants also challenge the award of attorneys' fees. Finding no merit in their contentions, we affirm.

       I. BACKGROUND

        The events leading to this lawsuit had their beginnings in a traffic stop initiated by Lynn, during which Murphy was given minor traffic citations. The testimony at trial presented sharply conflicting versions of what happened during the stop. Because the jury found in favor of Murphy, and because defendants contend that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we take the evidence in the light most favorable to Murphy, drawing all permissible inferences in his favor and crediting the testimony of his witnesses, as the jury was entitled to do. Viewed in that light, the evidence revealed the following.

  1. The Events of November 13, 1989

            On the evening of November 13, 1989, Murphy and his girlfriend Mayra Arrendondo, young adults with no history of arrests or of any sort of violent behavior, were driving home in the car of Arrendondo, who had just picked up Murphy at his place of work. Murphy, who was driving, had a restricted driver's license that, without limiting him as to time of day, permitted him to drive a car only to and from work and to accomplish "necessary" tasks. Arrendondo's car was not running smoothly that evening, and in order to prevent it from stalling while stopped at a red light, Murphy caused the engine to idle faster than normal by depressing the gas pedal; when he released the clutch upon the changing of the light, the car lurched slightly. Moments later, on a deserted stretch of road, Murphy was stopped by Lynn.

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            Addressing Murphy and Arrendondo, Lynn quickly became rude and abusive. He asked Murphy questions in rapid-fire style without giving him a chance to answer; as Lynn returned to his police car with Arrendondo's registration and Murphy's license, he referred to Murphy and Arrendondo as "Fuckin' bastards." Some 20-30 minutes later, Lynn issued tickets to Murphy for making an unsafe start and for driving with a restricted license. He also instructed Murphy that he was not to drive this "fuckin' vehicle." As Lynn left the side of Arrendondo's car to return to his police car, and Murphy and Arrendondo were exchanging seats so that Arrendondo could drive, Arrendondo asked Murphy why he had been ticketed. Murphy responded, "It doesn't fuckin' matter. I am going to lose my license anyway."

            Lynn, overhearing Murphy's response but thinking it was directed at him, asked Murphy what he had said. Though Murphy said he had been responding to Arrendondo, Lynn ordered Murphy to the side of the police car and demanded that he repeat his statement. When Murphy reluctantly did so, Lynn responded by violently grabbing Murphy's shirt, spinning him around, and slamming him against the police car, shouting, "fuckin' black--you black bastard." Lynn kicked Murphy's legs and hit him in the back of the neck. Lynn continued to hit him and appeared to be out of control; Murphy pleaded with Lynn to "[c]alm down" and said he would go with Lynn to the police station but did not want to go with Lynn alone or to be handcuffed. Arrendondo pleaded with Lynn to stop hitting Murphy; she was repeatedly told to "[s]hut the fuck up." Lynn radioed for police backup and then, for a time, did calm down. However, as other officers appeared on the scene, Lynn began to wrestle with Murphy again, and eventually other officers joined in. During the ensuing melee, Murphy was hit and otherwise physically abused by at least three other police officers, among them Weisberg. After the physical struggle ended, Murphy and Arrendondo were arrested and incarcerated overnight.

  2. The Criminal Proceeding

            On the following day, November 14, 1989, Murphy was arraigned before a town court judge on the basis of accusatory instruments charging him with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors, and with two counts of felony assault. The complaints were signed by Lynn and Weisberg. After his arraignment on these charges, Murphy was released on his own recognizance, on the condition that he return to court whenever his presence was required, and he was ordered not to leave the State of New York while the criminal charges were pending. During the ensuing year, Murphy was required to, and did, appear at some eight court hearings.

            Murphy was offered a plea bargain that would have resulted in the dismissal of all other charges against him if he would plead guilty to a charge of misdemeanor assault; he refused to plead guilty to any charge. In May 1990, the allegations against him were presented to a grand jury, which indicted him on two counts of felony assault in the second degree and on one count of resisting arrest.

            Under New York's speedy-trial statute, the prosecution was required to be ready for trial within six months after the filing of the first accusatory instrument. See N.Y.Crim. Pro. L. § 30.30 (McKinney 1992). In the summer of 1990, not yet having been tried, and more than six months having elapsed since the November 14, 1989 filing of the complaints against him, Murphy moved in county court for dismissal of the criminal proceeding, contending that his state-law right to a speedy trial had been violated. After an evidentiary hearing at which an assistant district attorney and defense attorneys testified, the court ruled that Murphy's speedy-trial rights had been violated. The court found that more than seven months had elapsed between the filing of the complaints and the prosecutor's declaration of readiness on June 26, 1990. Having heard the witnesses, the court found that at least six months of that time was attributable solely to delay by the prosecution and that there was no excuse for the delay. Accordingly, in December 1990, the court granted Murphy's

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    motion to dismiss the indictment. The dismissal was with prejudice. See N.Y.Crim. Pro. L. §§ 210.20(1)(g), (4) (McKinney 1993).

  3. The Present Action

            In November 1993, Murphy commenced the present § 1983 action against Lynn and Weisberg, as well as the Town, its police department, and its police chief. The complaint asserted claims of, inter alia, false arrest, use of excessive force during the arrest, and malicious prosecution, in violation of Murphy's rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. It also alleged that Lynn and Weisberg had committed perjury before the grand jury in order to secure Murphy's indictment.

            In October 1994, the district court dismissed all of Murphy's claims on the ground that they were barred by the three-year statute of limitations. Murphy appealed, contesting only the dismissal of the § 1983 claims for malicious prosecution. In Murphy v. Lynn, 53 F.3d 547 (2d Cir.1995) ("Murphy I "), this Court reversed the dismissal of the malicious prosecution claims, noting that they had not accrued until the criminal charges against Murphy were dismissed in December 1990 and hence were asserted within the three-year period. See id. at 548. We declined to address defendants' substantive arguments in support of dismissal, noting that further factual development of the record was warranted. See id.

            Following the remand in Murphy I, a jury trial was held on the claims of malicious prosecution. After the close of evidence, the court dismissed the claims against the Town and the police department, holding that no basis for municipal liability had been shown; it dismissed the claim against the police chief because no evidence had been presented as to his personal involvement in any wrongdoing. Murphy's claims against Lynn and Weisberg were submitted to the jury.

            The court instructed the jury that, in order to succeed on a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983,...

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