Heard v. City of N.Y.

Decision Date10 August 2018
Docket NumberNo. 15-CV-6469 (JGK),15-CV-6469 (JGK)
Citation319 F.Supp.3d 687
Parties Gerard HEARD, Plaintiff, v. The CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

Jessica Massimi, Ryan Joseph Lawlor, Darren Thomas Moore, Jonathan Scott Wachlarz, The Law Offices of Michael S. Lamonsoff, PLLC, New York, NY, for Plaintiff.

Joshua Mathew Friedman, New York City Law Department, New York, NY, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:

In this action, Gerard Heard has sued Police Officer James Roche alleging claims of false arrest and denial of the right to a fair trial, in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See also Garnett v. Undercover Officer C0039, 838 F.3d 265, 276 n.6 (2d Cir. 2016) (concluding that a fair trial claim may arise under either the Fifth Amendment or the Sixth Amendment, as applied pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, or both).1 Officer Roche arrested Heard after allegedly discovering a knife and pepper spray in plain view in a vehicle in which Heard was a passenger, and Heard was later charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. Heard alleges that Officer Roche did not have probable cause to believe that Heard possessed the knife and pepper spray. Officer Roche has moved pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for summary judgment, arguing that he did not violate Heard's constitutional rights and that he is at least entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, Officer Roche's motion is granted.

I.

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

On January 19, 2015, Heard left a night club in the Bronx and entered an automobile owned by Byron Washington. Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 4. Washington was seated in the driver's seat of the vehicle. See id. ¶ 9. Heard was seated in the back, left seat of the car behind the driver. Id. ¶ 5. Another person named Luis Toro was also in Washington's vehicle, seated in the back, right seat of the car behind the front passenger seat. Id. ¶ 6. Heard alleges that, in addition to Washington, Toro, and himself, three women were also present in Washington's vehicle -- one woman was seated in the front passenger seat and two other women were seated in the back seat with Heard and Toro. Pl.'s 56.1 Counterst. ¶ 35. Officer Roche denies the presence of the three women. Def.'s Repl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 35.

Washington began to drive the vehicle away from the night club. See Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8; Friedman Decl. Ex. B, at 44. Officer Roche, who was on foot patrol with other police officers outside the night club, stopped Washington's vehicle. Id. ¶¶ 7–8. Heard later testified that the vehicle had traveled only about ten feet before the police officers stopped it. Friedman Decl. Ex. B, at 44-45. After stopping the vehicle, one of the police officers removed Washington from the driver's seat, and then Officer Roche entered the driver's seat to turn the vehicle off and take the key out of the ignition. Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 9-11.

Officer Roche testified that when he entered the driver's seat of the vehicle, he observed a gravity knife and a bottle that bore a label indicating that it contained pepper spray on top of the center console of the vehicle, which was located between the driver's seat and the front passenger seat near a cup holder and the gear shift. Id. ¶¶ 12-15, 21, 27; see Friedman Decl. Ex. D, at 19. Officer Roche later testified that he asked Heard, Washington, and Toro if the knife and the pepper spray belonged to them, and all three individuals denied ownership. Friedman Decl. Ex. D, at 45-46.

Heard contends that neither he, Toro, nor Washington were ever questioned about ownership of the knife and pepper spray. Heard Decl. ¶¶ 3-5; see Friedman Decl. Ex. B, at 65. Toro also testified that he was not questioned about ownership of the knife and pepper spray. Friedman Decl. Ex. C, at 56. Heard testified that, after Washington was removed from the vehicle, a police officer ordered Heard to open his door, and once Heard unlocked the door he was pulled from the vehicle and immediately put in handcuffs. Friedman Decl. Ex. B, at 48, 50, 54. Heard could not recall whether there was a center console between the front seats. Friedman Decl. Ex. B, at 52. Toro testified that he could not see the center console from where he was sitting in the vehicle. Friedman Decl. Ex. C, at 55. Washington testified that there was no center console in the car but that he could not remember if there was anything in the cup holders of the vehicle that night. Friedman Decl. Ex. F, at 49. Washington further testified that he could not recall whether there was a gravity knife or pepper spray in the vehicle at the time he was stopped. Id. at 48.

According to Officer Roche, after he found the knife and pepper spray, Heard, Washington, and Toro were arrested and taken to the precinct. Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 25; Friedman Decl. Ex. B, at 58. Heard contends that the women who were present in the car were not arrested or questioned. Pl.'s 56.1 Counterst. ¶ 40. Heard was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 28, and was detained for approximately thirty-two hours. Pl.'s 56.1 Counterst. ¶ 67. Heard's charges were dismissed when he acceded to an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. Id. ¶ 68.

Heard filed this § 1983 action alleging that Officer Roche's conduct violated the plaintiff's right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from false arrests and his right under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to a fair trial.2 Officer Roche now moves for summary judgment with respect to Heard's false arrest claim, arguing that (1) Heard's arrest was based upon probable cause; and (2) Heard's arrest was supported by arguable probable cause, and therefore that Officer Roche is entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Officer Roche also moves for summary judgment with respect to Heard's claim for denial of the right to a fair trial, arguing that Heard has failed to demonstrate that Officer Roche fabricated evidence likely to influence a jury's verdict or that Officer Roche forwarded such evidence to prosecutors.

II.

Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) ; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 318, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ; Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "The trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter that "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts which are material and "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962) ); see also Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible." Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532 (2d Cir. 1993) ; see also Howard v. City of New York, 302 F.Supp.2d 256, 259 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), aff'd, 363 F. App'x 805 (2d Cir. 2010).

III.
A.

Officer Roche moves for summary judgment dismissing Heard's false arrest claim. Officer Roche argues that, because he discovered the gravity knife and pepper spray in plain view and none of the people in the vehicle claimed ownership of these items, he was justified pursuant to the automobile presumption in attributing ownership of these items to Heard, one of the passengers in the vehicle. See N.Y. Penal Law § 265.15. Therefore, Officer Roche argues that the arrest of Heard was supported by probable cause. Moreover, Officer Roche argues that he is at least entitled to qualified immunity because he had arguable probable cause to arrest Heard for ownership of the gravity knife and the pepper spray.

"[A]n arrest must be supported by probable cause or else it violates the Fourth Amendment." United States v. Valentine, 539 F.3d 88, 93 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964) ). Section 1983, to the extent that it provides a remedy for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, protects an individual's right to be free from arrest without probable cause. S...

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