Singletary v. Allen

Docket Number1:18-CV-01023 EAW-LGF
Decision Date02 March 2022
Citation588 F.Supp.3d 359
Parties Matthew SINGLETARY, Plaintiff, v. Don ALLEN, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of New York

Fares A. Rumi, Matthew A. Albert, The Phoenix Law Group PLLC, Darien Center, NY, for Plaintiff.

Jacob A. Piorkowski, The Tarantino Law Firm, LLP, Buffalo, NY, for Defendant Don Allen.

David M. Lee, Pro Hac Vice, Corporation Counsel the City of Buffalo, Maeve Eileen Huggins, City of Buffalo Law Department, Buffalo, NY, for Defendants Marcus Fears, James Whitaker, John Doe 1 and 2, John Doe 2-5.

David M. Lee, Corporation Counsel the City of Buffalo, Maeve Eileen Huggins, City of Buffalo Law Department, Buffalo, NY, for Defendant City of Buffalo.

Anthony M. Kroese, Peter F. Brady, Samantha Victoria Catone, Goldberg Segalla LLP, Buffalo, NY, for Defendant Juneteenth Festival Inc.




Plaintiff Matthew Singletary ("Plaintiff") commenced the instant lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state law alleging that moving defendants Officer Marcus Fears ("Fears"), Officer James Whitaker (Whitaker"), Officers John Doe 1-5, and the City of Buffalo (collectively "Moving Defendants"), among others, used excessive force against him, falsely arrested him, and illegally searched him. Presently before the Court is Moving Defendantsmotion for judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment. (Dkt. 75). For the reasons that follow, Moving Defendants’ motion is granted in part and denied in part.


The following facts are derived from Moving Defendants’ Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Dkt. 75-2) ("Moving Defendants’ Statement") submitted in support of their motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff's response to Moving Defendants’ Statement (Dkt. 81-1). Unless otherwise noted, these facts are undisputed.

The Juneteenth Festival is a multiday festival that takes place at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Buffalo, New York, and includes events and performances to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 1; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 1). The Juneteenth Festival is staffed by members of the Buffalo Peacemakers and security. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 2; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 2). The Buffalo Police Department also assigns officers to details so that they are available to respond to radio calls as needed. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 2; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 2).

On June 18, 2017, Plaintiff attended the Juneteenth Festival and was standing near the stage. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶¶ 3, 4; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶¶ 3, 4). Plaintiff testified that five individuals—at least some of whom he believes were police officers—formed a line and approached him. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 5; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff asserts that these individuals asked him for his backpack, immediately pepper sprayed his eyes, and slammed him to the ground. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 6; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 6).

Buffalo Police Officers Fears and Whitaker claim they observed members of Peacemakers initially interacting with Plaintiff. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 9; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 9 (admitting that this was Officers Fears’ and Whitaker's testimony)). Around the same time, Officers Fears and Whitaker claim that they received a radio call regarding a male with a possible knife making threats. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 9; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 9 (admitting that this was Officers Fears’ and Whitaker's testimony but noting that there is "no record of this radio call or any indication at all that this man with a knife call relates to the Plaintiff of even the Juneteenth festival")). Officers Fears and Whitaker claim that they began to approach Plaintiff and the Peacekeepers, and by the time they arrived, Plaintiff had been taken to the ground and pepper sprayed by individuals who appeared to Officers Fears and Whitaker to be security and members of the Peacekeepers. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 10; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 10 (admitting that this was Officers Fears’ and Whitaker's testimony)). Officers Fears and Whitaker also assert that Plaintiff's backpack had already been removed. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 10; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 10 (admitting that this was Officers Fears’ and Whitaker's testimony)). Officer Whitaker handcuffed Plaintiff and, with Officer Fears, walked Plaintiff to their police vehicle. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 11; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 11 (asserting that officers threw him into the police car, ignoring other individuals who claimed that Plaintiff had been assaulted)).

According to Moving Defendants, a crowd had gathered, people began shouting, and Officers Fears and Whitaker became concerned that the situation may escalate. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶¶ 12, 13). According to Plaintiff, the public was protesting the brutality Plaintiff had experienced and were "saying that Plaintiff had done nothing wrong." (Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 12). Officers Fears and Whitaker transported Plaintiff to a nearby police station, which Plaintiff asserts was against his will. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 13; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 13). Moving Defendants claim that at the police station, Plaintiff's backpack was searched, and he was questioned. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 14). Plaintiff asserts that he was fully searched twice while in handcuffs, and no one responded to his inquiry into why this was occurring. (Dkt. 81-1 at ¶¶ 14, 16).

Back at the Juneteenth Festival, Moving Defendants contend that officers tried to investigate. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 15). However, according to Moving Defendants, security and members of the Peacekeepers were unwilling to cooperate or provide further information. (Id. at ¶ 15; Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 15 (admitting that officers made such statements but arguing that such statements "sound somewhat nonsensical")).

Moving Defendants state that based on the lack of information, officers removed Plaintiff from handcuffs and did not file criminal charges against him. (Dkt. 75-2 at ¶ 16). Plaintiff does not contest that no formal charges were filed against him, but contends that he was handcuffed for an extended period of time and initially denied water to clear his eyes of pepper spray despite numerous requests. (Dkt. 81-1 at ¶ 16).


Plaintiff initially brought this action on September 17, 2018. (Dkt. 1). The operative pleading is the second amended complaint filed on January 25, 2021. (Dkt. 54).

Discovery closed on March 26, 2021. (Dkt. 46). On June 25, 2021, Moving Defendants filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment. (Dkt. 75). Plaintiff filed his opposition to the motion on August 6, 2021 (Dkt. 81), and Moving Defendants replied on August 20, 2021 (Dkt. 82).

I. Legal Standards Governing Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings

"Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings." McAuliffe v. Barnhart , 571 F. Supp. 2d 400, 402 (W.D.N.Y. 2008). "In deciding a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court should ‘apply the same standard as that applicable to a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), accepting the allegations contained in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.’ " Aboushama v. EMF Corp. , 214 F. Supp. 3d 202, 205 (W.D.N.Y. 2016) (quoting Mantena v. Johnson , 809 F.3d 721, 727-28 (2d Cir. 2015) ).

"In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint." DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C. , 622 F.3d 104, 111 (2d Cir. 2010). To withstand dismissal, a complaint must set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Turkmen v. Ashcroft , 589 F.3d 542, 546 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (internal quotations and citations omitted). "To state a plausible claim, the complaint's [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.’ " Nielsen v. AECOM Tech. Corp. , 762 F.3d 214, 218 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

II. Legal Standards Governing Motions for Summary Judgment

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment should be granted if the moving party establishes "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). The Court should grant summary judgment if, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the Court finds that no rational jury could find in favor of that party. Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) ).

"The moving party bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact...." Crawford v. Franklin Credit Mgmt. Corp. , 758 F.3d 473, 486 (2d Cir. 2014). "Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of...

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