Davis v. City of N.Y.

Decision Date09 October 2012
Docket NumberNo. 10 Civ. 0699(SAS).,10 Civ. 0699(SAS).
Citation902 F.Supp.2d 405
PartiesKelton DAVIS, William Turner, Edwin Larregui, Anthony Anderson, Shawne Jones, Hector Suarez, Adam Cooper, David Wilson, Geneva Wilson, Eleanor Britt, Roman Jackson, Kristin Johnson, Lashaun Smith, Andrew Washington, Patrick Littlejohn, Raymond Osorio, Vaughn Frederick, and R.E., by her parent D.E., individually and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. The CITY OF NEW YORK and New York City Housing Authority, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York


Katharine E.G. Brooker, Esq., Daniel H. Wolf, Esq., Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, New York, NY, Debo P. Adegbile, Esq., Christina Swarns, Esq., Johanna B. Steinberg, Esq., Jin Hee Lee, Esq., Johnathan Smith, Esq., Ria Tabacco, Esq., NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., New York, NY, Steven Banks, Esq., William D. Gibney, Esq., Steven Wasserman, Esq., Nancy Rosenbloom, Esq., Marlen S. Bodden, Esq., Legal Aid Society of New York, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Brenda E. Cooke, Judson Vickers, Wesley Bauman, Lisa Richardson, George Soterakis, Pernell Telfort, Assistant Corporation Counsel, New York City Law Department, New York, NY, for Defendant City of New York.

Steven Jay Rappaport, Esq., New York City Housing Authority, New York, NY, for Defendant NYCHA.


SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, District Judge.


This putative class action challenges the policies and practices that the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) use to enforce prohibitions against trespassing on public housing property. The lawsuit alleges that defendants' actions have resulted in a widespread pattern of unlawful stops, questioning, frisks, searches, and arrests of NYCHA residents and their invited guests.1

This is the second of three lawsuits before this Court that challenge the NYPD's stop and frisk practices.2 Like the other two cases, and like many of its predecessors, this suit “thrusts to the fore difficult and troublesome issues regarding a sensitive area of police activity.” 3 Nearly forty-five years ago, faced with a rising tide of urban violence and what Justice William O. Douglas called “powerful hydraulic pressures” 4 to give police an upper hand, the Supreme Court first confronted “the practical and constitutional arguments pressed with great vigor on both sides of the public debate over the power of the police to ‘stop and frisk’—as it is sometimes euphemistically termed—suspicious persons.” 5

In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution permits stops when the police have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. But the precise contours of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable stops remain fiercely debated in the courts, the newspapers, and the streets.

Because they focus on people residing or present in public housing, the practices at issue in this lawsuit are more narrow than those addressed in either Terry or Floyd v. City of New York, both of which involved street stops. But they are no less consequential. Indeed, for many residents, the tension at the heart of this lawsuit is also a central part of their daily lives: what one scholar has called the “decades-long battle by NYCHA tenants for a life both dignified and safe.” 6

The perspective of plaintiff Eleanor Britt highlights this challenge. Britt, a sixty-four year old African American woman, has lived in NYCHA housing for more than thirty-five years.7 Like generations of NYCHA residents before her, she is a member of an anti-crime tenant organization.8 She testified at her deposition that she would like the police to conduct more vertical patrols through her building, because “it helps us keep the building safe .... [T]he more their presence is seen, the less problems we would have.” 9 But Britt has also witnessed serious police misconduct:

I have seen the police approach young men in the building and I have seen them just grab them and thrown them up against the wall and frisk them .... [I]t seems like there is a disparity in the way they deal with Black as opposed to White .... [I]t is a little excessive when they are dealing with people of color.10

Ensuring both dignity and safety may be challenging but it is absolutely necessary. The police officers who patrol NYCHA buildings must act within the limits imposed by the federal and state constitutions. This lawsuit presents difficult and close questions. The key one is this: are defendants acting within constitutional limits in their presumably sincere efforts to provide a safe environment for the residents of public housing? Or, in their zeal to provide that protection, are they violatingthe rights of the very residents (and guests) whom they seek to protect?

Nine of the original eighteen plaintiffs settled their claims. Of the remaining nine, eight have been arrested for trespass by the NYPD 11 and five live in NYCHA housing.12 They have brought twelve causes of action against the NYPD and NYCHA under federal, state, and local laws and under the United States and New York State constitutions. Defendants have moved for partial summary judgment on most of these claims. The parties agreed to brief these motions in two parts: the first part, adjudicated here, addresses the individual circumstances of plaintiffs' arrests and tenancies. 13 The second part, which has yet to be briefed, will address defendants' practices and policies. For the reasons explained below, defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.


Summary judgment in defendants' favor is appropriate only if they show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that they are] entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” 14 “An issue of fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit.” 15

Because they are moving for summary judgment, defendants “bear[ ] the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” 16 To defeat defendants' motions, plaintiffs ‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,’ 17 and “may not rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” 18

In deciding these motions, I must “construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party,” that is, to plaintiffs, “and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant [s],” that is, against defendants.19 However, [c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.’ 20 “The role of the court is not to resolve disputed issues of fact but to assess whether there are any factual issues to be tried.” 21


Plaintiffs have brought claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act); the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981); the United States Housing Act; Article I, Sections 11 and 12 of the New York State Constitution; the New York State Human Rights Law; and the New York City Human Rights Law. I address the legal standards applicable to each of these claims below.

IV. DISCUSSIONA. The Arrested Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment Claims Against the City for Unlawful Terry Stops and False Arrest

1. Legal Standard for a Stop

The Fourth Amendment guarantees that [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” 22 [T]he police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot, even if the officer lacks probable cause.’ 23 This form of investigative detention is now known as a Terry stop.24 “While ‘reasonable suspicion’ is a less demanding standard than probable cause and requires a showing considerably less than preponderance of the evidence, the Fourth Amendment requires at least a minimal level of objective justification for making the stop.” 25 ‘The officer [making a Terry stop] ... must be able to articulate something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.’ 26 “Reasonablesuspicion is an objective standard; hence, the subjective intentions or motives of the officer making the stop are irrelevant.” 27

It is sometimes the case that a police officer may observe, “a series of acts, each of them perhaps innocent in itself, but which taken together warrant [ ] further investigation.” 28 “An individual's presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime.” 29 However, “the fact that the stop occurred in a ‘high crime area’ [may be] among the relevant contextual considerations in a Terry analysis.” 30 A court “must look at the totality of the circumstances of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing.” 31 [T]he proper inquiry is not whether each fact considered in isolation denotes unlawful behavior, but whether all the facts taken together support a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.” 32

2. Legal Standard for an Arrest

The Fourth Amendment prohibits arrests in the absence of probable cause. Such cause exists “when the officers have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person...

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