Moroughan v. Cnty. of Suffolk

Decision Date20 January 2021
Docket NumberNo. 12-CV-0512 (JFB) (AKT),12-CV-0512 (JFB) (AKT)
Citation514 F.Supp.3d 479
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
Parties Thomas M. MOROUGHAN, Plaintiff, v. The COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, et al., Defendants.

Plaintiff Thomas M. Moroughan is represented by Mirel Fisch and Anthony M. Grandinette of the Law Office of Anthony M. Grandinette, 114 Old Country Road, Suite 420, Mineola, New York 11501.

The Nassau County defendants are represented by Peter James Johnson, Jr., Joanne Filiberti, and Christopher D. Clarke of Leahey & Johnson, P.C., 120 Wall Street, Suite 2220, New York, New York 10005.

The Suffolk County defendants are represented by Suffolk County Attorney Dennis M. Brown and Assistant County Attorney Brian C. Mitchell, H. Lee Dennison Building, 100 Veterans Memorial Highway, Hauppauge, New York 11788.

Defendant John Hunter is represented by Annemarie S. Jones of Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles, LLP, One CA Plaza, Suite 225, Islandia, New York 11749.


Joseph F. Bianco, Circuit Judge Plaintiff Thomas M. Moroughan ("plaintiff") brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" § 1983") and the laws of the State of New York against: the County of Suffolk ("Suffolk County" or "Suffolk"), the Suffolk County Police Department (the "SCPD"), Suffolk Detectives Ronald Tavares, Charles Leser, Eugene Geissinger, Nicholas Favata, and Alfred Ciccotto, Detective/Sergeant William J. Lamb, Sergeant Jack Smithers, Suffolk Police Officers William Meaney, and Jesus Faya, and Suffolk John Does 1-10 (collectively, the "Suffolk County defendants"); the County of Nassau ("Nassau County" or "Nassau"), the Nassau County Police Department (the "NCPD"), Sergeant Timothy Marinace, Inspector Edmund Horace, Commanding Officer Daniel Flanagan, Detective/Sergeant John DeMartinis, Officer Edward Bienz, NCPD Chief of Patrol John Hunter,1 and Nassau John Does 1-10 (collectively, the "Nassau County defendants") (collectively, with the Suffolk County defendants, the "moving defendants"); and Nassau County Police Officer Anthony D. DiLeonardo2 (collectively, the "defendants").

Plaintiff's claims arise from an incident on February 27, 2011, at approximately 1:17 a.m., on Oakwood Road in Huntington, New York, where plaintiff alleges DiLeonardo unlawfully shot and beat him while DiLeonardo was off-duty and intoxicated, and plaintiff was then falsely arrested and prosecuted to cover-up DiLeonardo's unconstitutional use of excessive force. In particular, plaintiff summarizes the allegations as follows:

On February 26 into February 27, 2011, Defendants Nassau County Police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo and Nassau County Police Officer Edward Bienz, who were off-duty at the time, were out in Huntington Village with their respective girlfriend and wife, and consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication. While on their way home, they were driving erratically and almost ran Plaintiff, Thomas Moroughan, who was driving a taxi, off the road. His girlfriend, Kristie Mondo, was in the taxi with him. The officers got lost on the way, and shortly thereafter Moroughan happened upon them while they were stopped on the side of Oakwood Road, in Huntington, New York. Moroughan yelled at DiLeonardo regarding the dangerous mariner in which DiLeonardo was driving. Bienz started [exiting] his vehicle, at which point Moroughan decided to leave the area. Thereafter, at approximately 1:17 AM, DiLeonardo took out ... his gun and fired all five rounds at the taxi, while walking toward it. Three bullets struck the taxi, two of which hit Moroughan—one in the chest and one in the arm. DiLeonardo then ran up to the driver's side door, smashed the window with the butt of his gun, and assaulted Moroughan. While the two struggled, Moroughan managed to put the car in reverse, and fled to Huntington Hospital. Eventually DiLeonardo and Bienz, who were struck by Moroughan's open car door as he backed up and fled, were also transported to the hospital. Over two dozen police personnel, from both [the SCPD] and [the NCPD], responded to the hospital, and numerous others responded to the scene. Among them, was the SCPD Homicide Squad, the NCPD Deadly Force Response Team ("DFRT") which is a group of four high-ranking members of the NCPD that responds to incidences where officers use deadly physical force. Despite DiLeonardo's obvious signs of intoxication, and his commission of several crimes, and despite the fact that probable cause did not exist to arrest or charge Moroughan with any crimes, the NCPD[,] DFRT[,] and the SCPD[,] particularly (but not exclusively) its Homicide Squad, agreed to arrest and charge Moroughan with Assault in the Second Degree, a class D felony, and Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree, a class B misdemeanor. Several days later, the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office pulled the investigation from the SCPD Homicide Squad, and several months after that, dismissed both charges against Moroughan.

(Pl.’s Opp'n to Hunter's Br. at 1-2.)

Based upon these allegations, plaintiff asserts that the individual defendants violated his constitutional rights by subjecting him to a false arrest, malicious prosecution, and/or due process violations (involving the fabrication of evidence against him) to conceal DiLeonardo's unconstitutional conduct. Plaintiff further asserts that these defendants conspired to violate his constitutional rights by falsely arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning plaintiff while shielding DiLeonardo and Bienz from investigation or prosecution for their criminal acts. Plaintiff also brings a municipal liability claim under § 1983 against Nassau County. Finally, plaintiff alleges a number of state law claims against the defendants arising from this incident.

The defendants deny these factual allegations and defend against the various claims on multiple grounds. For example, DiLeonardo contends that his use of force was lawful because plaintiff attempted to run him over with his car when DiLeonardo got out of his own car, and thus he fired his gun at plaintiff because he feared for his life. The moving defendants assert that the arrest and prosecution of plaintiff was supported by probable cause because it was based upon DiLeonardo's sworn statement regarding the incident, and there was no reason to question the veracity or reliability of that statement. The defendants also deny any alleged fabrication of evidence or conspiracy. In short, the defendants deny that they were involved in the violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights in any way.

Presently before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by all defendants, except DiLeonardo. For the reasons set forth in detail below, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

First, the Court concludes that the claims brought against the members of the NCPD Deadly Force Response Team ("DFRT") (Hunter, Horace, Flanagan, and DeMartinis), as well as the claims against Marinace, cannot survive summary judgment. The DFRT is an administrative team that responds to incidents involving the use of deadly physical force by NCPD officers, conducts an investigation, and provides a written report the following day to the NCPD Commissioner. Plaintiff points to no evidence or information obtained by the DFRT, or given to the DFRT, that was inconsistent with the statements in the DFRT report. Moreover, it is uncontroverted that (1) the DFRT did not conduct an independent investigation of the incident; (2) the DFRT did not participate in any interview of plaintiff during which plaintiff claims Suffolk County officers fabricated a confession; and (3) the DFRT report was never given to the SCPD, or the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, or relied upon in any way in connection with plaintiff's arrest and prosecution. The same is true for Marinace. His role in the aftermath of the incident was simply to be the caretaker supervisor at the hospital to check on the well-being of Bienz and DiLeonardo. He conducted no independent investigation, and none of his paperwork (such as the Firearm Discharge Report or the Workers’ Compensation forms for DiLeonardo's injuries) was used in connection with plaintiff's arrest or prosecution. Plaintiff seeks to draw an inference of their knowledge of the fabrication of evidence, as well as their involvement in decisions regarding charges to be brought against plaintiff, from their mere presence at the hospital and Second Precinct during which they had communications with Suffolk County police officials. Participation in a conspiracy or the fabrication of evidence, however, cannot be based upon unsubstantiated speculation and conjecture about what could have been said at a certain meeting or in a particular discussion. More is necessary under the law to overcome a summary judgment motion and require a defendant to proceed to trial for a violation of a plaintiff's civil rights. Even construing the evidence most favorably to him, plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient evidence to create a material issue of disputed fact on the claims against the DFRT members and Marinace. In short, given the uncontroverted facts, no rational juror could find that any DFRT member or Marinace violated plaintiff's constitutional rights, or conspired to do so. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted as to these defendants on all federal and state claims.3 Because the federal claim against Nassau County is based upon this alleged unconstitutional conduct of the DFRT members, and the underlying claim against the DFRT members does not survive summary judgment, Nassau County's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's municipal liability claim is also granted.

Second, with respect to the remaining individual defendants, the summary judgment motions are denied in their entirety. As to these defendants, unlike the DFRT members and Marinace, plaintiff has put forth evidence of their involvement in some aspect of the substantive investigation, arrest, and initiation of charges...

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