Lauderdale v. City of N.Y.

Decision Date19 March 2018
Docket Number15-cv-1486 (JGK)
PartiesCURTIS LAUDERDALE, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:

The plaintiff, Curtis Lauderdale, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of New York, Police Officer Lisa McCalla, Undercover Agent 276 ("UC 276"), Detective Antoine Chess, and Lieutenant Charles Hyland alleging claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and denial of the right to a fair trial. The defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 dismissing all the claims against them.

I.

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

For the purposes of their motion for summary judgment, the defendants -- accepting the plaintiff's facts as true, as they must -- have argued that this is a case of mistaken identity.

On the evening of April 25, 2014, and early morning hours of April 26, 2014, the New York City Police Department ("NYPD") was running a "buy-and-bust" operation in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. UC 276 Dep. 34; UC 279 12. An undercover agent -- UC 276 -- was working on Bleecker Street to identify individuals selling drugs. Undercover Agent 279 ("UC 279") -- another undercover agent -- was working alongside UC 276 as a "ghost". UC 279 Dep. 13, 31. Officer McCalla was in a car near the location on Bleecker Street with two other officers. McCalla Dep. 12-13. UC 279 was speaking in real time via point to point radio to the team in the car, reporting descriptions of UC 276's movements and the people he was speaking with. UC 279 Dep. 24-25; McCalla Dep. 11-13, 29.

In the course of the undercover operation, in the early morning of April 26, 2014, UC 276 engaged an individual in front of Thunder Jacksons Bar in a drug-related conversation. UC 276 Dep. 17; UC 279 Dep. 13-14; Trial Tr. 36-37 (Bahrenburg Ex. H). UC 276 and the individual were standing in a group of people under the awning of the bar because it was raining hard. UC 276 Dep. 18-19; McCalla Dep. 30. UC 276 told the individual that he wished to purchase cocaine, and the individual responded that he could get UC 276 cocaine. UC 276 Dep. 20. The individual and UC 276 then walked to meet another individual, later identified as Ruben Rivera, and UC 276 told Rivera that he wished to purchase cocaine. UC 276 Dep. 20-22, 29-30; UC 279 Dep. 15. UC276 then handed Rivera money and Rivera gave UC 276 a glassine of powder. UC 276 Dep. 22.

During this time, UC 279 was communicating with the field team, reporting back the movements of UC 276 and the individuals with whom he was speaking. UC 279 Dep. 24-25; McCalla Dep. 13, 29-30. UC 279 gave a description of the two individuals speaking with UC 276, including a description of their clothing and their location. UC 279 Dep. 24-25; McCalla Dep. 30. From her vantage point in the car, Officer McCalla was also able to observe UC 276, the individual and Rivera in conversation under the awning of Thunder Jacksons. McCalla Dep. 25-27.

After the purchase was complete, UC 276 gave a positive buy sign to UC 279. UC 276 Dep. 22; UC 279 Dep. 14, 16, 31-32. UC 279 reported the positive buy to the field team, who approached and apprehended two individuals outside of Thunder Jacksons.1 UC 279 Dep. 14, 16; McCalla 29-30. The two individuals who were apprehended were Rivera and the plaintiff. When the field team moved in, UC 276 walked across the street. UC 276 Dep. 25, 31. While crossing the street, UC 276 observed Rivera and the plaintiff in police custody and gave a signal confirming that those were the two individuals who participated in the drugsale. UC 276 Dep. 25, 31; UC 279 Dep. 23. UC 279 relayed the positive identification to the entire field team, including McCalla, who was still in the car. UC 279 Dep. 23; McCalla Dep. 29-30. UC 279 then crossed the street and confirmed with UC 276 that the two individuals apprehended were the correct individuals. UC 279 Dep. 16; UC 276 Dep. 23. Officer McCalla arrived on the scene after the plaintiff and Rivera were already in handcuffs. McCalla Dep. 27, 30; McCalla Wade Hearing Tr. 23, 28. The plaintiff was put in a police vehicle and brought to a police precinct. Defs.' Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 25-26.

The plaintiff does not dispute that UC 276 engaged in a conversation with an individual outside Thunder Jacksons who agreed to sell him cocaine and brought him to Rivera, who sold him an imitation substance. The plaintiff simply denies that he was that individual. The plaintiff's description of the events of the night is as follows.

The plaintiff was at Thunder Jacksons on the night of August 25, 2014. Lauderdale Dep. 35. At some point in the evening, he went outside to smoke a cigarette. Id. at 40-41. He stood under the bar's awning because it was raining. Id. While outside, the plaintiff overheard another individual, whom he later identified as Rivera, loudly announcing that he haddrugs and was willing to sell them. Id. at 48-50. The plaintiff asked Rivera to get out of his face. Id. The plaintiff swears that he did not speak with anyone about procuring drugs outside the bar that evening, nor did he see or speak with UC 276 at any point during the night, although he spoke with one person about buying a cigarette. Id. at 42-43.

When the plaintiff started to go back inside to get his bag, he was grabbed by a plainclothes police officer. Id. at 43. The plaintiff asked why he was being stopped and the police officer said "I don't even know what this is about, I was told to come lock you up." Id. at 43-44. The police officer also spoke into his shirt collar "let me find out if I got the right one." Id. at 43. The police officer permitted the plaintiff to retrieve his bag from the bar before placing the plaintiff in handcuffs. Id. at 44-45. The officers then placed the plaintiff in a van with Rivera and he was transported to the police precinct and sent to Central Booking. Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 16.

The plaintiff was arraigned on April 26, 2014 and charged with one count of violating Public Health Law 3383(2), which prohibits the manufacturing, sale, or possession with the intent to sell of an imitation controlled substance. Bahrenburg Decl. Ex. F; Georges Decl. Ex. H.

The plaintiff was acquitted at a bench trial on July 23, 2015. Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 20; Georges Decl. Ex. I. UC 276, UC 279, and McCalla were the only witnesses at the trial. After finding the plaintiff not guilty, the Judge stated that he "found that all of the witnesses testified credibly." Trial Tr. 89 (Bahrenburg Decl. Ex. H).

In his third amended complaint, the plaintiff brings claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, and denial of the right to a fair trial.2 The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims.

II.

The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of thelitigation 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. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts that are material and "[o]nly 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 (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 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if any evidence in the record from any source would enable a reasonable inference to 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 nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "maynot 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).

III.

UC 276 and Officer McCalla move for summary judgment on the false arrest claim on the basis that they each had probable cause -- or arguable probable cause -- to arrest the plaintiff.

Section 1983 claims for false arrest are "substantially the same" as false arrest claims under New York law. Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996). In New York, false arrest claims require a showing that "(1) the defendant intended to confine the plaintiff, (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." Id. at 853 (citations omitted); see also Pelayo v. Port Auth., 893 F. Supp. 2d 632, 639 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).

An arrest of a criminal suspect by a law enforcement officer with probable cause is a "privileged" confinement even if it is non-consensual. Decker v. Campus, 981 F. Supp. 851, 856 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). Thus, for arrests by law enforcement officers, "[t]he existence of probable cause to...

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