Coggins v. Cnty. of Nassau

Decision Date02 December 2013
Docket NumberNo. 07–CV–3624 (JFB)(AKT).,07–CV–3624 (JFB)(AKT).
Citation988 F.Supp.2d 231
PartiesDarryl T. COGGINS, Plaintiff, v. COUNTY OF NASSAU, Nassau County Police Department, Police Officer James Vara, In his Individual and Official Capacity, Police Officer Craig Buonora, In his Individual and Official Capacity, Sergeant Pickering, In his Individual and Official Capacity, Lieutenant Delargy, In his Individual and Official Capacity, and John Does 1–10, In Their Individual and Official Capacities, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York


Frederick K. Brewington and Valerie M. Cartright, Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, Hempstead, NY, for Plaintiff.

Diane C. Petillo, Office of the Nassau County Attorney, Mineola, NY, Laurence Jeffrey Weingard and Mitchell F. Senft, Law Office of Laurence Jeffrey Weingard, New York, NY, for Defendant.


JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Darryl T. Coggins (“Coggins” or Plaintiff) brings this action against Defendants County of Nassau (Nassau County or “the County”); Nassau County Police Department (NCPD); Police Officers James Vara (Vara) and Craig Buonora (Buonora), in their individual and official capacities; Sergeant Pickering (Pickering), in his individual and official capacity; Lieutenant Delargy (Delargy), in his individual and official capacity; and John Does 1–10, in their individual and official capacities (collectively, Defendants), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1985, and New York State tort law.

A grand jury empaneled by the Nassau County District Attorney's Office (the “DA's Office”) indicted Coggins on March 17, 2005, on charges of unlawful possession of a weapon and resisting arrest. Coggins contends that Defendants actively prosecuted him despite knowing he was innocent. Specifically, he alleges that Buonora and Vara conspired to and did, inter alia, falsify police reports, affidavits, and memorandum books; fabricate evidence; and commit perjury during grand jury proceedings. Indeed, after the DA's Office dismissed the criminal charges against Coggins, it indicted Buonora for perjury. Buonora pleaded guilty.

Presently before the Court are two motions. First, Coggins moves to file a Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”) in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Rehberg v. Paulk, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 1497, 182 L.Ed.2d 593 (2012). The County, NCPD, Vara, Pickering, and Delargy (collectively, the “County Defendants) oppose, arguing that amendment would be futile. Second, Buonora moves to dismiss the TAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Buonora argues he is entitled to absolute immunity from the only well-pleaded cause of action—the one under § 1983.

For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Coggins's motion to amend, and grants in part and denies in part Buonora's motion to dismiss the TAC. In particular, the Court holds, in light of the Supreme Court decision in Rehberg, that defendants Vara and Buonora have absolute immunity with respect to any alleged perjury in the grand jury, or any alleged conspiracy to present false testimony to the grand jury, and such alleged evidence cannot be used to support any other Section 1983 claim concerning the initiation or maintenance of a prosecution. Thus, to the extent that the Section 1983 claims are based upon such conduct, the motion to dismiss is granted. However, as discussed herein, the motion to dismiss the Section 1983 claims in the entirety is denied because the TAC alleges unconstitutional conduct against Vara and Buonora far beyond perjury and/or conspiring to commit perjury in the grand jury. For example, it is alleged that defendant Vara improperly stopped, detained, assaulted, and chased Coggins on October 9, 2004. In addition, it is alleged that Vera and Buonora conspired to alter the version of what transpired that night, which led to the falsification and omission of evidence from police reports, resulting in a malicious prosecution. These allegations in support of the Section 1983 and related claims are completely independent of the alleged perjury in the grand jury and are not barred under the doctrine of absolute immunity under Rehberg. It is clear that Rehberg is not meant to be an absolute immunity cloak that, once a police officer testifies in the grand jury, suddenly shields him or her from all allegedly unconstitutional acts even if they are outside the scope of the grand jury appearance. To the extent defendants suggest that plaintiff will be unable to prove these other allegations of unconstitutional wrongdoing, such arguments are premature at the motion to dismiss stage, and the Court, in its discretion, declines to consider any summary judgment motion at this time because discovery is not complete. Defendants may renew the absolute immunity argument in a summary judgment motion once discovery is complete. Thus, the motion to dismiss all the federal claims, and related state law claims, in their entirety on absolute immunity grounds is denied, and plaintiff's motion to amend such claims in the TAC is granted. The claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1986 and the false arrest and imprisonment claims, however, are untimely and must be dismissed.1

I. Background
A. Factual Background

The Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the underlying lawsuit and only details the allegations to the extent they are relevant to resolving the motions, are alleged for the first time in the TAC, or both. The Court assumes the following allegations to be true only for purposes of deciding the motions and construes them in the light most favorable to Coggins, the nonmovant.

Coggins is a Black male.2 Early on October 9, 2004, Vara stopped Coggins because of his race and color, not because he had committed any legal violation. (TAC ¶ 24.) Vara never justified the stop to Coggins. ( Id. ¶¶ 25–26.) Instead, after attempting to determine whether Coggins was intoxicated, Vara called for backup, physically assaulted Coggins when Coggins asked what was going on, and placed his hand on his gun. ( Id. ¶ 27.) Coggins ran, fearing for his life. ( Id.) At the same time, Buonora arrived on the scene, began chasing after Coggins, and yelled, “Shoot him in the back, shoot him in the back.” ( Id. ¶ 28.) Coggins escaped, but he surrendered that afternoon and was arrested and charged with two counts of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 265.02(3) and (4). ( Id. ¶¶ 28, 31.) Coggins remained in jail for two days—until October 11, 2004. ( Id. ¶ 31.)

According to Coggins, from this encounter until the DA's Office dropped the charges in August 2005, defendants—despite knowing that Coggins was innocent—“conspired to deprive Plaintiff of his due process rights; specifically by attempting to prolong [his] unlawful detainment without probable cause, investigation, and rule of law,” and “attempting to cover up” their misconduct. ( Id. ¶¶ 88, 90.) Defendants allegedly fabricated evidence, made false reports, failed to adhere to procedures and regulations, and failed to properly investigate the incident. ( Id. ¶ 89.)

In particular, Coggins alleges that Buonora and Vara conspired with each other by, inter alia, agreeing to an altered version of what transpired on October 9, and making a conscious decision to omit and falsify information in their reports, evidence, and other paperwork. ( Id. ¶¶ 32, 35, 66.) For instance, even though he actively participated in the pursuit, Buonora allegedly failed to complete an incident report or other paperwork related to Coggins's detention, chase, and arrest. ( Id. ¶ 33.) Buonora also allegedly knew that documents regarding Coggins's detention, arrest, and prosecution contained false information and omitted relevant facts. ( Id. ¶ 52.) He also allegedly had three meetings with the DA's Office during which he falsely represented he had found a weapon. ( Id. ¶ 51.) Buonora falsely reported and testified that he had heard a metal object hit the ground, saw it was a gun, and stayed with the gun until a Floral Park officer relieved him. ( Id. ¶¶ 59–60.) Coggins claims Buonora never refuted such evidence in any reports, statements to his supervisors, or the grand jury. ( Id. ¶ 52.) Vara, meanwhile, also allegedly falsified official documents related to the October 9 events. ( Id. ¶ 34.) He allegedly submitted a false report on October 26, 2004, stating that he was in foot pursuit, heard a metal noise, observed a black object on the ground, safeguarded a weapon, and broadcasted a radio description of Coggins. ( Id. ¶ 63.) He also allegedly failed to record his three attempts to breathalyze Coggins. ( Id. ¶ 64.) According to Coggins, NCPD officers routinely have engaged in such improper practices, “particularly in situations where blacks and/or black males are involved.” ( Id. ¶ 37; see also id. ¶ 91 (Defendants Nassau and Nassau Police permitted and tolerated the egregious improper conduct by issuing official claims that the harassment was justified, failing to seriously discipline or prosecute the Defendant Officers. As a result of this conduct, Defendant Police Officers were caused to and encouraged to believe that individuals could be falsely arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned under circumstances requiring the use of falsified evidence and testimony.”).)

On March 17, 2005, the DA's Office presented Coggins's case to a grand jury. ( Id. ¶ 38.) The grand jury indicted Coggins on the weapons charges and for resisting arrest in violation of Penal Law § 205.30. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Coggins alleges that both officers perjured themselves before the grand jury. ( Id. ¶ 53.) In July 2005, a Floral Park Officer informed Coggins's counsel that “the story [Vara and Buonora] were telling was inaccurate.” ( Id. ¶ 40.) Specifically, the Floral Park Officer “informed counsel that he was the...

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