Hulett v. City of Fowler, 5:14-CV-152.

Citation253 F.Supp.3d 462
Decision Date30 May 2017
Docket Number5:14-CV-152.
Parties Brad L. HULETT, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF SYRACUSE, Frank Fowler, in his official capacity, William Coleman, individually and in his official capacity, William Galvin, Jr., individually and in his official capacity, Central New York Regional Transportation Authority doing business as CNY Centro, Inc., Michael Robinson, individually and in his official capacity, Lester Wallace, individually and in his official capacity, Eastern Paramedics, Inc., doing business as Rural/Metro Corporation, Matt Maule, individually, and Kyle Dreverman, individually, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York

LAW OFFICE OF ERIN G. VAN VLECK, LLC, Attorneys for Plaintiff, P.O. Box 83526, Fairbanks, AK 99708, OF COUNSEL: ERIN G. VAN VLECK, ESQ.

GUY LAW FIRM, PLLC, Attorneys for Plaintiff, 3569 Pleasant Valley Road, Syracuse, NY 13215, OF COUNSEL: FREDERICK GUY, ESQ.

CITY OF SYRACUSE LAW DEPARTMENT, Attorneys for Defendants, City of Syracuse, Frank Fowler, William Coleman, and William Galvin, Jr., 233 East Washington Street, 300 City Hall, Syracuse, NY 13202, OF COUNSEL: MARY L. D'AGOSTINO, ESQ.

MACKENZIE HUGHES LLP, Attorneys for Defendants, Central New York Regional Transportation Authority, Lester Wallace, and Michael Robinson, Mackenzie Hughes Tower, 440 South Warren Street, Suite 400, Syracuse, NY 13202, OF COUNSEL: STEPHEN T. HELMER, ESQ., NEIL J. SMITH, ESQ., WILLIAM B. HUNT, ESQ.

GOLDBERG, SEGALLA LAW FIRM, Attorneys for Defendants, Eastern Paramedics, Inc., Matt Maule, and Kyle Dreverman, 5786 Widewaters Parkway, Syracuse, NY 13214, OF COUNSEL: AARON M. SCHIFFRIK, ESQ., HEATHER K. ZIMMERMAN, ESQ., MOLLY M. RYAN, ESQ.

DAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge


B. The Centro defendants... 483
C. The City defendants...491
1. Excessive Force & Assault and Battery... 491
2. False Arrest and Imprisonment... 494
3. Malicious Prosecution... 496
4. Medical Indifference... 497
5. Municipal Liability... 498
i. Monell liability... 499
ii. State Law... 502
6. Officer Coleman's Liability under the ADA... 503
D. The Rural/Metro defendants... 504
1. Medical Indifference under § 1983... 504
2. Medical "Negligence" under New York law... 505
3. i. Standard of Care... 505
ii. Causation... 505
iii. The Parties' Experts... 506
E. Spoliation... 507
1. The Centro defendants... 508
2. The Rural/Metro defendants... 509

Plaintiff Brad Hulett ("Hulett" or "plaintiff") filed this civil rights action seeking compensatory and punitive damages for injuries he sustained on May 3, 2013, when two police officers tasered and forcibly removed him from a public bus after he refused their commands to sit down. Plaintiff's operative complaint asserts claims against three remaining groups of defendants:

First, Hulett asserts a medical indifference claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as disability discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and New York's Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL") against defendants Central New York Regional Transportation Authority ("Centro"), Centro bus driver Lester Wallace ("bus driver Wallace"), and Centro bus hub supervisor Michael Robinson ("Sup'r Robinson") (collectively the "Centro defendants").

Second, Hulett asserts § 1983 claims for excessive force, false arrest, malicious prosecution, and medical indifference as well as state law claims for negligence, false imprisonment, and assault and battery against defendants City of Syracuse (the "City"), Frank Fowler in his official capacity as Chief of the Syracuse Police Department ("SPD") ("Chief Fowler"), SPD Officer William Coleman ("Officer Coleman"), and SPD Sergeant William Galvin, Jr. ("Sergeant Galvin") (collectively the "City defendants").

Third, Hulett asserts a § 1983 medical indifference claim as well as a state law claim for medical negligence against Eastern Paramedics, Inc., an ambulance service doing business as Rural/Metro Corporation ("Rural/Metro"), and two of its employees: Paramedic Matt Maule ("Paramedic Maule") and Emergency Medical Technician Kyle Dreverman ("EMT Dreverman") (collectively the "Rural/Metro defendants").

The parties have spent the past few years engaged in a protracted period of wide-ranging, contentious discovery1 that has included, inter alia , the assertion of cross-claims between various co-defendants as well as the stipulated dismissal of all of Hulett's claims against Onondaga County, Correctional Medical Care, Inc., and Onondaga County Sheriff's Office employees Kevin Walsh, Sonya Santana, Ralph Messina, and Kevin Murphy.

In December 2016, the Centro defendants, the City defendants, and the Rural/Metro defendants (collectively "defendants") each moved separately for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. Hulett opposed each of these three motions and cross-moved for summary judgment in his own favor as to each set of defendants.

All six motions were fully briefed and oral argument was heard on April 28, 2017 in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.2


On June 18, 1991, when he was about thirteen years old, Hulett was struck by a pair of passing trains as he crossed a set of railroad tracks outside Syracuse, New York. A series of invasive surgeries, including one that resulted in the removal of a portion of his shattered skull, saved plaintiff's life but left him with life-long physical and cognitive injuries, including a paralysis of his left arm, generalized left-side weakness, a visible indentation of his skull, and a noticeably altered speech pattern.

Following the train accident, Hulett completed a lengthy period of post-operative rehabilitation before eventually returning home, where he bounced around to a series of different public schools in the Syracuse area before deciding he "did not care to" graduate. Since that time, plaintiff has managed to live independently in the Syracuse area. And although he does not drive a car and is forced to walk with a noticeable left-sided limp, plaintiff has always managed to navigate the City just fine. Prior to the incident at issue in this case, plaintiff enjoyed bicycling and regularly took advantage of the bus system.

Unfortunately, Hulett has also been in a number bicycle accidents over the years. Of particular note is one that occurred on July 14, 2006, when plaintiff was thrown from his bicycle and run over by a truck pulling a trailer, an event which ruptured his spleen and fractured his spine

. Remarkably, plaintiff again recovered but added a serious back problem to his list of permanent injuries. Ever since, plaintiff has preferred to stand rather than sit when he travels by public bus—sitting for any length of time aggravates the pain in his back.

On May 3, 2013, Hulett boarded a Centro bus headed toward the main transit hub located in downtown Syracuse. Once there, plaintiff intended to switch to a different Centro bus that would take him to a Wal–Mart in East Syracuse, where he could purchase a new vacuum cleaner for his apartment. Plaintiff rode in his now-customary standing position on this first bus without incident. According to plaintiff, he has never fallen down while standing on a Centro bus.

At about noon, Hulett reached Centro's main transit hub and switched buses, boarding Centro bus number 1249 driven by Centro bus driver Wallace. A surveillance video submitted by the parties shows that plaintiff boarded the bus without assistance, assumed a standing position on the right side of the aisle behind a yellow or white line, and grasped a vertical pole or grab bar with his good right hand. The video also appears to show that plaintiff was wearing a medical bracelet around his left wrist. According to plaintiff, he had received the bracelet from a hospital the day before, where he had presented complaining of back pain from a go-cart collision that took place at a local mall.

Before bus 1249 departed, bus driver Wallace told Hulett that he had to take a seat. Plaintiff refused. Wallace then exited the bus and called for his supervisor, Robinson, who boarded the bus along with Officer William Coleman, a uniformed SPD officer who may have been working private security for Centro. Sup'r Robinson instructed Hulett to sit down. When plaintiff again refused, Sup'r Robinson told Officer Coleman "[s]ee if you can't have him have a seat or your [sic ] gonna have to take him off [the bus]."

Officer Coleman then told Hulett to sit down or get off the bus. Plaintiff again refused and continued to maintain his standing, right-handed grip on the bus's grab bar. Officer Coleman can be seen making a short-lived attempt to remove plaintiff's right hand from the bus's grab bar and then, following a brief verbal exchange between plaintiff and Sup'r Robinson that occurred while Officer Coleman summoned backup, Sergeant William Galvin, Jr. arrived.

The two SPD officers then boarded the bus and again demanded that Hulett either sit down or exit the bus. When plaintiff again refused to sit, the officers lifted plaintiff's shirt to expose the skin of his back, tasered him at least twice, removed him from the bus head-first, and wrangled him onto the ground outside. The audio transcript of the surveillance video demonstrates that the two officers actually engaged in a brief, but apparently unhurried, discussion about the most effective location to deploy the taser against plaintiff's back. For instance, one officer can be seen gesturing at plaintiff's back while stating "[w]ith the probes that's a direct hit right...

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