Mitchell v. City of N.Y.

Citation841 F.3d 72
Decision Date28 October 2016
Docket NumberDocket No. 14-0767-cv,August Term, 2014
Parties Melinda Mitchell, individually and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, Harvey Mitchell, individually and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs–Appellants, v. The City of New York, a municipal entity, NYC Police Officer James Schuessler, Shield No. 28718, Richard Roes, 1–50 New York City Police Supervisors and Commanders, John Does, 1–50 New York City Police Officers, individually, and in their official capacities, jointly and severally, Police Officer Joseph Brinadze, NYPD Captain Joseph Gulotta, NYPD Sergeant Danielle Roventini, and NYPD Lieutenant Kathleen Caesar, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)

JEFFREY A. ROTHMAN (Jonathan C. Moore & Joshua S. Moskovitz, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP, New York, NY, on the brief ) New York, NY, for PlaintiffsAppellants .

DRAKE A. COLLEY, for Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, NY, for DefendantsAppellees .

Before: WINTER, POOLER, and SACK, Circuit Judges.

WINTER

, Circuit Judge:

Melinda Mitchell and Harvey Mitchellwe will refer to them as Melinda and Harvey because they are not related—along with other similarly situated individuals, appeal from Judge Kaplan's dismissal of their complaint on a grant of summary judgment to appellees. We hold that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the appellee police officers had probable cause to arrest appellants for trespass. We therefore vacate the judgment. We remand the false arrest claim and appellees' claim of qualified immunity related to the false arrest. We affirm the dismissal of the malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and municipal liability claims.

BACKGROUND

This appeal is from a grant of summary judgment, and the following recitation of facts, therefore, views the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to appellants, the non-moving party. Rentas v. Ruffin, 816 F.3d 214, 220 (2d Cir. 2016)

(citation omitted).

In December 2010, Lieutenant Kathleen Caesar of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) responded to a report of a sexual assault at a brownstone located at 2142 Atlantic Avenue, in Brooklyn, New York. When Caesar arrived with another police officer, she saw two women, one of whom said she was robbed in the brownstone. After no one responded to her knocks at the front door, Caesar entered the premises through the back door. She found no one inside. On the first floor, she observed a bar area next to the kitchen, a room with a dance pole, and a living room with no furniture. Caesar concluded that the house was abandoned. She told her colleague Lieutenant John Hopkins of this and later made it a point to drive by the brownstone during her patrol shifts since she believed the brownstone might have been “being used for parties.” J. App'x at 104.

About a month later, on January 9, 2011, Melinda and Harvey attended a party at the 2142 Atlantic Avenue brownstone. While both were invited by acquaintances, neither knew who was hosting the party or who owned the property. To enter the brownstone, they opened a small unlocked gate, and proceeded through the front door. There were no signs prohibiting entrance to the building. There was, however, a realtor's for-sale sign on the property.

At about 2:15 a.m. on January 9, 2011, Caesar was driving by the brownstone when she saw three people standing on its stoop. She called Hopkins to inform him that suspicious activity might be taking place at the premises. After Hopkins, Captain Joseph Gulotta, and other officers arrived, Caesar knocked at the front door but no one answered. She tried to open the door, but it was locked. She and some of the officers proceeded to the rear of the property and entered the brownstone through the back door. Caesar then made her way through the brownstone, past “about 30 kids” to the front door to let in more officers. Id. at 127–128.

Inside, the officers found at least 30 people. According to appellants, space was set up for a party, with a bar, a projector screen, disco lights, running water, working heat, DJ equipment, and an area with a big TV and some couches. Gulotta testified at his deposition that he saw that electricity was being routed in from outside the house via extension cords. Gulotta also testified at his deposition that he smelled marijuana upon entering the brownstone, and another officer, James Schuessler, testified at his deposition that he recalled seeing six or eight “nickel” or “dime” bags containing what looked to be marijuana and crack cocaine on the floor of the brownstone.

Upon entering the brownstone, the police told everyone to be quiet and then repeatedly asked who owned the property and who was hosting the party. Some people replied that they did not know who the owner was. When no one revealed the owner or host, Gulotta ordered the arrest of everyone present. The arrests were based on Gulotta's belief that everyone at the party had: (i) “trespass[ed]; (ii) “loiter[ed] for the purpose of using narcotics”; and (iii) “endanger[ed] the welfare of a child because there was a 12 year-old child present.” Id. at 582. The only issue raised in this appeal with regards to the arrests is whether there was probable cause for the arrests for trespass.

Melinda and Harvey were arrested and both were handcuffed. Melinda was handcuffed for approximately one hour by an officer who refused to loosen the handcuffs when she complained they were too tight. The handcuffs caused bruising to her wrist that required her to take Advil

and use an ice pack for two days. Harvey was handcuffed for 20 to 30 minutes; he alleged the handcuffs left marks on his arms but required no medical treatment.

All arrestees were processed at the precinct and their fingerprints and mug shots taken. Melinda was released with a “Desk Appearance Ticket” (“DAT”), which required her to appear in court at a later date. Harvey was processed through the Brooklyn Central Booking facility and arraigned.

After the arrests, several police officers each submitted statements entitled, “Supporting Deposition—Trespass in a Dwelling and Resisting Arrest,” to the Kings County District Attorney's Office. The statements attested to the officers' understanding that the brownstone was categorized as a Formal Trespass Affidavit Program (“FTAP”) dwelling and that the NYPD was the lawful custodian of the property.1 Notwithstanding the officers' statement at the time of the arrest, it is now undisputed that the brownstone was not part of FTAP. The record does not illuminate whether the building was privately owned or abandoned to City custody, although demonstrating City custody would have helped the defense to show probable cause for the trespass arrests.

The Kings County District Attorney's Office later declined to prosecute Melinda and others who received a DAT following the arrests at the brownstone. It also dropped all charges against Harvey pursuant to an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal.

On April 6, 2012, appellants filed their original complaint in the present action, in which they assert Section 1983 claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and excessive force. On November 5, 2012, appellants filed their amended complaint asserting the same Section 1983 claims.

After discovery, both parties moved for summary judgment. Appellees moved for summary judgment on all of appellants' claims, whereas appellants moved for partial summary judgment only on their federal and state law claims for false arrest and their state law claims for battery. The battery claim arising under New York law became moot, however, when the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed the decision of the Kings County Supreme Court that granted appellants leave to file late notices of their claims. Mitchell v. City of N.Y., 112 A.D.3d 940, 977 N.Y.S.2d 368, 370 (2013)

. On February 11, 2013, the district court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment in its entirety. Mitchell v. City of N.Y., No. 12 CIV. 2674 LAK, 2014 WL 535046, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 11, 2014). This timely appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment, “construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and drawing all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Costello v. City of Burlington, 632 F.3d 41, 45 (2d Cir. 2011)

(citation omitted). [I]t is well-settled that [this court] may affirm on any grounds for which there is a record sufficient to permit conclusions of law, including grounds nor relied upon by the district court.” Holcomb v. Lykens, 337 F.3d 217, 223 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

a) False Arrest
1) Probable Cause

We first address the district court's holding that the police had probable cause to arrest appellants. See Mitchell, 2014 WL 535046, at *3–*4

. “The existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes justification and is a complete defense to an action for false arrest” brought under Section 1983. Jenkins v. City of N.Y., 478 F.3d 76, 84 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “Probable cause ... exists when the [arresting] 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 to be arrested has committed or is committing a crime.” Id. at 84–85 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A court deciding whether probable cause existed must “examine the events leading up to the arrest, and then decide whether these historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to probable cause.” Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371, 124 S.Ct. 795, 157 L.Ed.2d 769 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Where “an arrest is not made pursuant to...

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