702 F.2d 393 (2nd Cir. 1983), 549, Batista v. Rodriguez

Docket Nº:549, Docket 82-7545.
Citation:702 F.2d 393
Party Name:Louis BATISTA, Manuel Padin and Felix Padin, Jr., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Michael RODRIGUEZ, Robert J. Nadrizny and the City of Bridgeport, Defendants, The City of Bridgeport, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:March 11, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 393

702 F.2d 393 (2nd Cir. 1983)

Louis BATISTA, Manuel Padin and Felix Padin, Jr., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Michael RODRIGUEZ, Robert J. Nadrizny and the City of

Bridgeport, Defendants,

The City of Bridgeport, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 549, Docket 82-7545.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 11, 1983

Argued Jan. 20, 1983.

Page 394

Raymond B. Rubens, Asst. City Atty., Bridgeport, Conn., for defendant-appellant.

Burton M. Weinstein, Bridgeport, Conn. (Weinstein & Weiner, P.C., Bridgeport, Conn., of counsel), for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before MANSFIELD and MESKILL, Circuit Judges, and NEAHER, District Judge. [*]

MANSFIELD, Circuit Judge:

Once again we are asked to delineate the contours of municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). The City of Bridgeport appeals from a final order entered after a jury trial in the District of Connecticut (Warren W. Eginton, Judge ) denying its motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) to set aside the verdict of the jury, which found the City liable to the plaintiffs for compensatory damages. Because we conclude that the complaint fails to state a claim entitling plaintiffs to relief against the City and the record furnished to us, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, is insufficient to permit a reasonable juror to find that the City caused the plaintiffs to suffer any deprivation of their constitutional rights, we reverse.

The case arises out of a clash between the plaintiffs (Louis Batista, Manuel Padin and Felix Padin) and Bridgeport police on November 8, 1976, and events which occurred nine months later, on August 9, 1977, at a hearing held by a special Board of Inquiry of the Bridgeport Board of Police Commissioners with respect to the alleged violation by police officers of plaintiffs' rights on November 8, 1976. According to the plaintiffs on November 8 they were cleaning up burning trash in front of Batista's house, when two Bridgeport police officers, Michael Rodriguez and Robert Nadrizny, approached Manuel Padin, demanded his name and address, and instructed him to get off the street. In response to Padin's request for an explanation, one officer grabbed him by the throat and the other struck him over the head. Felix Padin, Manuel Padin's brother, and Louis Batista ran over to investigate and Batista allegedly announced that he was a state correctional officer. All three were then arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. In addition, Felix Padin was charged with assaulting a police officer. All charges against the three were ultimately dismissed.

The plaintiffs further testified that upon their arrival at police headquarters, officer Nadrizny dragged Manuel Padin out of the police car by the hair, struck him repeatedly, and smashed him into a doorway. He was treated for his injuries on the next day, after he had spoken with his lawyer.

Not surprisingly, the police officers' account of the events differs substantially from that of plaintiffs. Officer Nadrizny testified that on November 8, 1976 all police cars in the area were alerted to be on the lookout for certain persons engaged in burning trash cans, who were described as two black or Puerto Rican males, one wearing a knee-length plaid or tweed coat and the other a short jacket. Nadrizny and Rodriguez spotted two youths matching the description, standing next to a smouldering trash can. When the officers approached the youths and asked questions, the youths allegedly cursed at the officers and refused to cooperate. Nadrizny then arrested the youth later identified as Manuel Padin. As he was placing Manuel Padin in the car,

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Felix Padin allegedly pulled on the officer's arm and then struck Nadrizny in the chest and attempted to strike the policeman in the face. Felix Padin was then placed under arrest. Louis Batista approached the police at this point, said he was a "cop, too," and allegedly tried to hinder the police from placing Felix Padin in the police car. Batista was then placed under arrest for interfering with a police officer. All three were transported to police headquarters for booking.

Subsequently, Batista and the Padins filed a formal complaint with the Police Department of the City of Bridgeport, alleging that the two police officers violated Department Rule No. 76, which requires police to treat persons fairly and humanely and to use only necessary physical force. On August 9, 1977, a hearing was held on this complaint before a special Board of Inquiry of the Board of Police Commissioners ("Board"). According to the complainants (who later became the plaintiffs in this action), they and their lawyer were kept waiting for hours and were subjected to "rude examination" by the Board. In addition, while the complainants were being examined by counsel for the police officers, the complainants' lawyer was ordered out of the hearing by the President of the Board of Police Commissioners in violation, the City concedes, of a settlement stipulation entered in Barros v. Walsh, No. B-482 (D.Conn., Dec. 20, 1973) ("Barros decree"). The Board did not take disciplinary action against police officers Rodriguez and Nadrizny.

On February 24, 1978, the three plaintiffs brought an action for damages under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 in the District Court of Connecticut against the two police officers, who were named in the first three counts, and against the City, named in the fourth count only. There is no dispute that in the first three counts the plaintiffs stated a sufficient complaint under Sec. 1983 against the police officers by claiming that on November 8, 1976, the plaintiffs were arrested without probable cause and that the Padins were subject to physical abuse by police officers acting under color of law.

The Fourth Count alleged that as part of a pattern of civil rights violations the Board of Police Commissioners acted wrongfully at the hearing on August 9, 1977. 1 Plaintiffs claimed injury because they were kept waiting hours, were insulted, and denied the right to counsel. They also claimed

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injury because the City failed to take disciplinary action against the officers who were alleged in the first three counts to have unlawfully arrested and assaulted the plaintiffs. Count 4, however, did not purport to assert a claim for damages against the City based on the alleged arrests and assault by the police officers which had occurred nine months earlier. In the course of the proceedings, the plaintiffs never attempted to amend the Fourth Count to allege damages caused by the City based on the November 8, 1976 incident. 2

At the close of trial the court charged the jury with respect to the first three counts, instructing that if the jury found that the police officers had arrested the plaintiffs without probable cause the jury was then to decide, first, whether the police officer making the arrests believed in good faith that he had a right to make the arrest and, second, whether he had a reasonable basis for such a belief. If so, the officers would not be liable. The interrogatories submitted to the jury did not refer specifically to this good faith-reasonable basis defense but simply asked whether the jury believed that the plaintiffs had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the police had arrested the plaintiffs without probable cause. The jury found in favor of the police officers on the first three counts.

With respect to the Fourth Count, the court charged that it "involves the treatment of the plaintiffs by the Board of Police Commissioners." The court did not predicate the City's liability on a finding that the City caused the alleged unlawful conduct of the officers. The interrogatory submitted to the jury on the Fourth Count asked only whether the jury found that the evidence established "a pattern on the part of the City of Bridgeport of repeated condonation of conduct constituting a violation of civil rights." The court did not define what was meant by such a "pattern of conduct." The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs on the Fourth Count and awarded compensatory damages of $3,000 to each of the Padins and $8,500 to Batista.

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 the City moved to set aside the verdict on the grounds that the verdict on the Fourth Count was inconsistent with the verdict on the first three counts and contrary to law. The district court denied the motion. It acknowledged that the complaint was a "somewhat confusing document," but that the court's charge on Count 4 "concentrated the attention of the jury solely on the actions of the Board of Police Commissioners, and in no sense on the actions of the police officers during the prior arrests of the three individual plaintiffs." The court nevertheless also found that it was possible to read the Fourth Count as referring back to the earlier counts because of the identification of the police department in paragraph 12 and "an ambiguous incorporation of the conduct of the police officers" in paragraph 13. The court concluded that the jury could have determined that the arrests were made without probable cause but that the individual policemen reasonably believed in good faith that they had a right to make the arrests. The court declared, however, that "this is not a case involving allegations of deficient training." The court ruled that this...

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