Ahern v. City of Syracuse

Citation411 F.Supp.2d 132
Decision Date13 January 2006
Docket NumberNo. 5:01-CV-577 HGMGHL.,5:01-CV-577 HGMGHL.
PartiesBenjamin AHERN, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF SYRACUSE, Sean Goodeve, Individually and in his official capacity as a Syracuse Police Officer in and for the City of Syracuse, and P. Hanley, Individually and in his official capacity as a Syracuse Police Officer in and for the City of Syracuse, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

W. Patrick Mullin, Syracuse, NY, for Plaintiff.

Terri Bright, Corporation Counsel, City Of Syracuse (James P. McGinty, of counsel), Syracuse, NY, for Defendants.


MUNSON, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff, Benjamin Ahern, brings this civil rights action for damages, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive force, assault and battery, false arrest and false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and negligent employment, supervision, and training against defendants the City of Syracuse ("City"), and Syracuse Police Department ("SPD") Officers Sean Goodeve and P. Hanley (collectively "defendants"). Currently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff opposes defendants' motion. For the reasons that follow below, defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Complaint and Procedural History

On March 30, 2001, plaintiff filed a complaint in New York State Supreme Court against defendants. On April 13, 2001, plaintiff filed an amended complaint in the New York State Supreme Court. Plaintiff asserted a federal cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants alleging that Goodeve and Hanley used excessive force in securing his arrest for violating a local ordinance, which proscribed skateboarding. Plaintiff also asserted that defendants: violated his state constitutional rights; committed assault and battery against him; subjected him to false arrest and malicious prosecution; and that the City negligently employed, supervised and trained members of the SPD. On April 20, 2001, defendants removed plaintiff's action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York and shortly thereafter filed their answer to plaintiff's amended complaint. The parties have since engaged in discovery and defendants now bring this motion for summary judgment.

Before proceeding further, the court must address and resolve a dispute between the parties with respect to the timeliness of defendants' reply papers. In a letter to the court, plaintiff's counsel asserts that defendants' reply papers, in accordance with Local Rule 7.1(b)(1)(C), were due fourteen calendar days from the date on which the opposition papers were served by the opposing party. Plaintiff's counsel argues that because his client's opposition papers were hand-delivered to defendants' counsel's office on July 29, 2002, the deadline for serving reply papers was no later than August 12, 2002. The court agrees with plaintiff's counsel's calculation: the day of service for plaintiff's opposition papers was July 29, 2002; thus, fourteen days later, exclusive of the date of service, was August 12, 2002. As plaintiff's counsel notes, however, the parties stipulated to extend the motion filing package deadline to August 13, 2002. Plaintiff's counsel, however, did not receive defendants' reply papers until August 14, 2002, and requests that the court disregard defendants' reply papers.

In a letter to the court, defendants' counsel replied to plaintiff's counsel's arguments by asserting that defendants filed their motion package just prior to 5:00 p.m. on August 13, 2002, and that given the late hour and the past difficulty they had experienced in attempting to serve plaintiff's counsel, they opted to mail their reply papers. Defendants' counsel argues that plaintiff's counsel acknowledges having received defendants' reply papers on August 14, 2002, and that because no surreply is permitted under the rules, plaintiff endured no prejudice by the brief tardiness of defendants' reply papers. In this instance, the court finds that the brief tardiness of defendants' reply papers was harmless and declines to disregard them.

Before proceeding to the facts, the court must address a deficiency in plaintiff's opposition papers. In responding to Defendants' six-page, thirty-four paragraph Statement of Material Facts, plaintiff's counsel strayed from the requirements of Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). Although plaintiff's counsel filed a six-page, thirty paragraph "counter-statement of facts" in which he "dispute[d] Defendants' Statement of Material Facts," see Dkt. No. 27, Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, his response failed to "mirror the movant's Statement of Material Facts by admitting and/or denying each of the movant's assertions in matching numbered paragraphs." L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The Local Rules are not empty formalities and the court is of course aware that "Any facts set forth in the Statement of Material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by the opposing party." Id. Plaintiff's failure to inform the court of the bases for his disagreement with defendants' Statement of Material Facts has done anything but facilitate the court's judgment. Nonetheless, in the interest of judicial economy, the court exercises its discretion to "conduct an assiduous review of the record in order to weigh the propriety of granting" defendants' motion. Jones v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 309 F.Supp.2d 343, 346 n. 4 (N.D.N.Y. 2004) (citing Monahan v. New York City Dep't of Corrections, 214 F.3d 275, 291 (2d Cir.2000)). The court finds that plaintiff's counsel's response papers, i.e., the Counter-Statement of Material Facts and Memorandum of Law, have sufficiently controverted certain facts asserted by defendants in their Statement of Material Facts, albeit without the convenience of matching numbered paragraphs. Therefore, the following constitutes the court's compilation of established material facts, as well as the parties' disputed accounts, based upon those facts set forth in Defendants' Statement of Material Facts and Memorandum of Law, and Plaintiff's Counter-Statement of Facts and Memorandum of Law.

II. Facts

On July 13, 2000, plaintiff and two acquaintances, Kevin Page and John Cronin, were skateboarding around the City. Specifically, plaintiff, Page and Cronin skateboarded on Marshall Street, at the Everson Museum, and in the Armory Square area. In the Armory Square area, plaintiff skateboarded on Walton and Clinton Streets. See Dkt. No. 25, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶¶ 1-5. As officers assigned to the Division of Community Policing, SPD Officers Hanley and Goodeve patrolled the City's streets on bicycles. Id. at ¶ 6. Officers Hanley and Goodeve, inter alia, enforced the City's Revised General Ordinances Section 16-14.1,1 which prohibits skateboarding in the City's Special Assessment District.2 See Dkt. No. 25, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 8. At some time during the early evening hours, Officers Hanley and Goodeve informed Page and Cronin that skateboarding was not permitted in the downtown area and asked them to inform plaintiff of same. See Dkt. No. 26, Defs.' Mem. of Law at 1. Nevertheless, Officer Hanley later observed plaintiff skateboarding on Walton Street and told him that he could not skateboard on the street. See Dkt. No. 25, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 7. Soon thereafter, Officer Goodeve also observed plaintiff skateboarding on Walton Street and Clinton Street, pursued him on his bicycle and instructed him to dismount his skateboard. See Dkt. No. 26, Defs.' Mem. of Law at 1. Although plaintiff concedes that he heard someone shout "stop," he contends that he was unaware who made such a command and toward whom the command was made. See Dkt. No. 28, Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 2. In any event, when plaintiff did not comply with Officer Goodeve's request, Officer Goodeve rode his bicycle in front of plaintiff and thereby forced him to stop at the 400 Block of Clinton Street.3 See Dkt. No. 25, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 11; Dkt. No. 32, Finn Aff. at Ex. M, Incident Report.

The occurrence and exact sequence of the following events is unclear because the parties' accounts vary widely; however, it is clear to the court that what was initially a mere violation of a City quality of life ordinance escalated to a physical altercation between the parties, which resulted in the custodial arrest of plaintiff. According to defendants, Officer Goodeve simply approached plaintiff and plaintiff became aggressive. See Dkt. No. 26, Defs.' Mem. of Law at 1. Officer Goodeve then observed plaintiff step back, and he inferred that plaintiff was about to flee on foot. In response, Officer Goodeve grabbed plaintiff's left arm to prevent him from fleeing whereupon plaintiff clenched his fists and puffed out his chest in a threatening manner. See Dkt. No. 26, Defs.' Mem. of Law at 1-2. Officer Goodeve then advised plaintiff that he was under arrest for the skateboarding violation and attempted to corral him. Officer Goodeve maintains that when he attempted to place plaintiff under arrest, a struggle ensued in which plaintiff twisted his body and attempted to pull away. Officer Hanley then joined the fracas and secured plaintiff's right arm. Plaintiff, however, struggled against the officers as they attempted to handcuff him, which caused him to fall to the ground. See id. at 2.

Plaintiff disputes defendants' account of his arrest. Plaintiff alleges that upon stopping in front of him, Officer Goodeve dismounted his bicycle and then without provocation: engaged in confrontational dialogue; immediately grabbed him; and began to handcuff him. See Dkt. No. 28, Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 2. Plaintiff maintains that he did not turn his back to Officer Goodeve. See id. Plaintiff alleges that when Officers Goodeve and Hanley handcuffed him, one of...

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