Spagnuolo v. Suffolk County et al
MEMORANDUM & ORDER granting 104 Motion to Substitute Party; granting 107 Motion to Substitute Party; granting 111 Motion for Summary Judgment; The Court GRANTS the County Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 111.) The Court also GRANTS Plaintiff's motions to substitute. (Docket Entries 104, 107.) The Clerk of the Court is directed to amend the caption by substituting the Public Administrator of Suffolk County for Sharon Hubbard. With the exception of this party, the Clerk of the Court is directed to terminate all other remaining Defendants. The only claims that remain are Plaintiff's claims against the Public Administrator of Suffolk County for (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress, and (3) slander in connection with a 911 call. So Ordered by Judge Joanna Seybert on 9/28/2017. C/M; C/ECF (Valle, Christine)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
PETER V. SPAGNUOLO,
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
-againstSUFFOLK COUNTY, SUFFOLK COUNTY
POLICE DEPARTMENT, RICHARD DORMER, former
police commissioner DETECTIVE MARLENE
TULLY, DETECTIVE DENNIS MURPHY, JAMES
RHOADS, commanding officer, JOHN DOE’S
NUMBERS 1-5, those Officers being
Officers who assisted in the arrest,
investigation and/or prosecution
of plaintiff, SUFFOLK COUNTY
SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, and SHARON
Peter V. Spagnuolo, pro se
120 E. Main Street
Mount Kisco, NY 10549
Joseph DeDonato, Esq.
Morgan Melhuish Arvidson Abrutyn & Lisowski
39 Broadway, 35th Floor
New York, NY 10006
Kyle O. Wood, Esq.
H. Lee Dennison Building
100 Veterans Memorial Highway
P.O. Box 6100
Hauppauge, NY 11788
Kyle O. Wood, Esq.
Susan A. Flynn, Esq.1
Office of the County Attorney
H. Lee Dennison Building
The docket lists Ms. Flynn’s appearance for Suffolk County
100 Veterans Memorial Highway
P.O. Box 6100
Hauppauge, NY 11788
SEYBERT, District Judge:
This case arises out of a stolen diamond ring.
interested buyer, had contacted Sharon Hubbard (“Hubbard”), the
seller, through Craigslist.
Hubbard was robbed, and Plaintiff was
misidentified as the perpetrator and then arrested.
Defendants, which is a group composed of Suffolk County, the
Suffolk County Police Department, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s
Department, former police commissioner Richard Dormer, commanding
officer James Rhoads, Detective Marlene Tully, Detective Dennis
Murphy, and five John Does.
Three motions are pending. First, the County Defendants
move for summary judgment.
(Docket Entry 111.)
motions concern Sharon Hubbard, who passed away after this lawsuit
was filed. Plaintiff seeks to substitute the Public Administrator
of Suffolk County, as the temporary administrator for the Estate
of Sharon Hubbard, in place of the deceased.
(Docket Entries 104,
For the following reasons, the Court grants all three
The Court begins with a general overview, adding greater
detail in the analysis to come.
But first, as an initial matter,
the Court notes that Spagnuolo failed to file a Local Rule 56.1
Nevertheless, “[a] district court has broad
discretion to determine whether to overlook a party’s failure to
comply with local court rules.”
Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., Inc.,
258 F.3d 62, 73 (2d Cir. 2001).
Pertinently, a court may review
the entire record even if one of the parties fails to file a Local
Rule 56.1 Statement.
The Court will do so here and cite only
the portions of the County Defendants’ 56.1 Statement supported by
In May 2011, Hubbard advertised a diamond ring she wished
to sell on Craigslist. (Hubbard’s Stmt. Defs.’ Ex. C, Docket Entry
111-5.) One month later, a prospective buyer named “Pete” met
Hubbard at her home, drew a gun, or what appeared to be a gun,
robbed her, and then fled. (Defs.’ 56.1 Stmt., Docket Entry 1112, ¶ 10–11.)
Two witnesses, including Corey Bonavia (“Bonavia”),
rented studio space from Hubbard and were present during the
(Id. ¶ 9.)
For the ensuing analysis, the timeline of events is
May 9th:2 Hubbard provided “firstname.lastname@example.org” (Spagnuolo) and
“email@example.com” (an individual later identified as
Christopher Wolkoff) with her telephone number via email.
(Id. ¶¶ 3, 5; Pl.’s Br., Docket Entry 116, at 2–3 ¶ 6.)
May 10th: Hubbard received a telephone call from an individual
named “Pete.” (Defs.’ 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6.)
May 11th: Hubbard was robbed of her diamond ring.
(Id. ¶¶ 8,
May 12th: Hubbard selected Spagnuolo as the perpetrator in a
photo array. (Id. ¶ 15.)
May 31st: Spagnuolo was arrested after Hubbard and Bonavia
identified him in physical line-ups. (Id. ¶¶ 16–18.)
June 3rd: A grand jury indicted Spagnuolo for first-degree
robbery and third-degree robbery. (Id. ¶ 22.)
November 17th: Christopher Wolkoff confesses to the crimes.
(Id. ¶ 24.)
Following this timeline, the District Attorney’s Office moved to
dismiss the indictment pending against Spagnuolo.
(Id. ¶ 25.)
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on August 28, 2012. (Docket
The County Defendants moved for summary judgment on the
federal-law false arrest, imprisonment, and prosecution claims as
Plaintiff seeks to substitute the Public Administrator of Suffolk
County, as the temporary administrator for the Estate of Sharon
Hubbard, in her place.
(Docket Entries 104, 107.)
Unless otherwise stated, all dates occurred in the year 2011.
The County Defendants’ Summary Judgment Motion
As an initial matter, the Clerk of the Court is directed
to terminate the Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk
County Sheriff’s Department.
These departments are non-suable
entities because it is an “administrative arm,” which does “not
have a legal identity separate and apart from the municipality.”
Rose v. Cty. of Nassau, 904 F. Supp. 2d 244, 247 (E.D.N.Y. 2012).
Summary judgment is proper only if the records reveals
no genuine issues of material fact.
Rodriguez v. Vill. Green
Realty, Inc., 788 F.3d 31, 39 (2d Cir. 2015) (citing FED. R. CIV.
“Material facts are those which ‘might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law,’ and a dispute is
‘genuine’ if the ‘evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’”
Coppola v. Bear
Stearns & Co., 499 F.3d 144, 148 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510,
91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)).
If the moving party has satisfied this
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’”
Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 160 (2d Cir. 2002) (emphasis
in original) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586–87, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed. 2d
“Mere conclusory allegations or denials will not
Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323 (2d Cir. 1986).
McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir.
“experienced attorney,” so the Court need not read his papers
See Chira v. Columbia Univ., 289 F. Supp. 2d 477, 482
imprisonment, and malicious prosecution claims.
(Compl. ¶¶ 154–
The County Defendants have invoked qualified immunity as an
(Defs.’ Br., Docket Entry 111-19, at 14–15.)
shields government officials from civil damages liability unless
the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was
Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664, 132 S. Ct. 2088, 2093, 182
L. Ed. 2d 985 (2012).
As the Supreme Court made clear, “qualified
immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law.’”
Walczyk v. Rio, 496 F.3d 139, 154
(2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106
S. Ct. 1092, 1096, 89 L. Ed. 2d 271 (1986)).
False arrest and imprisonment claims require, among
other things, evidence “that ‘the defendant intentionally confined
the plaintiff without his consent and without justification.’”
Jean v. Montina, 412 F. App’x 352, 353 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting
Pertinently, a malicious prosecution claim requires proof that
“‘the defendant initiated a prosecution against the plaintiff,’”
“‘lacked probable cause to believe the proceeding could succeed,’”
and “‘acted with malice.’”
Id. (quoting Rohman v. N.Y. City
Transit Auth., 215 F.3d 208, 215 (2d Cir. 2000)).
is a complete defense for false arrest and imprisonment claims,
and continuing probable cause is a complete defense for malicious
Betts v. Shearman, 751 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir.
2014); see also Johnson v. Constantellis, 221 F. App’x 48, 50 (2d
Cir. 2007) (“If probable cause existed at the time of arrest, it
continues to exist at the time of prosecution unless undermined
‘by the discovery of some intervening fact.’” (quoting Kinzer v.
Jackson, 316 F.3d 139, 144 (2d Cir. 2003))).
As the Second Circuit explained, the qualified-immunity
analysis “turn[s] on whether the defendant officers’ probable
cause determination was objectively reasonable--that is, whether
there was ‘arguable’ probable cause to arrest.”
Betts, 751 F.3d
at 83 quoting Jenkins v. City of N.Y., 478 F.3d 76, 87 (2d Cir.
“A police officer has arguable probable cause ‘if either
(a) it was objectively reasonable for the officer to believe that
probable cause existed, or (b) officers of reasonable competence
could disagree on whether the probable cause test was met.’”
McCarthy v. Roosevelt Union Free Sch. Dist., --- F. Supp. 3d ---,
2017 WL 4155334, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 19, 2017) (quoting Figeuroa
v. Mazza, 825 F.3d 89, 100 (2d Cir. 2016)). The inquiry is “whether
any reasonable officer, out of the wide range of reasonable people
who enforce the laws in this country, could have determined that
the challenged action was lawful.”
Figeuroa, 825 F.3d at 100
(emphasis in original); see also Escalera v. Lunn, 361 F.3d 737,
743 (2d Cir. 2004) (“[T]he analytically distinct test for qualified
immunity is more favorable to the officers than the one for
probable cause.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Here, the officers had arguable probable cause to arrest
Spagnuolo and charge him with robbery.
A person is guilty of
first-degree robbery “when he forcibly steals property and when,
in the course of the commission of the crime or of immediate flight
therefrom, he or another participant in the crime . . . [d]isplays
what appears to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun
or other firearm.”
N.Y. Penal Law § 160.15(4).
A person is guilty
of third-degree robbery “when he forcibly steals property.”
Penal Law § 160.05.
Before Spagnuolo was arrested, Hubbard identified him in
a photo array as the man that drew a gun, or what appeared to be
a gun, robbed her of a diamond ring, and the record contains no
evidence that the officers guided Hubbard to select him.
EBT Tr., Def.’s Ex. D, Docket Entry 111-6, 51:11–24.)
that evidence, “[a] positive photo identification by an eyewitness
is . . . sufficient to establish probable cause to arrest.”
Celestin v. City of N.Y., 581 F. Supp. 2d 420, 431 (E.D.N.Y. 2008).
identified him in a physical line-up.
Fabrikant v. French, 691
F.3d 193, 216 (2d Cir. 2012) (“[A] law enforcement official has
probable cause to arrest if he received his information from some
person, normally the putative victim or eyewitness, unless the
circumstances raise doubt as to the person’s veracity.”) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted; alteration in original).
Spagnuolo has offered no evidence to show that the officers should
have doubted either Hubbard’s or Bonavia’s veracity. Cf. DiStefano
v. Sedita, No. 11-CV-1125, 2014 WL 349251, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 31,
veracity] arise is when there exists a prior relationship between
the victim and the accused that gives rise to a motive for a false
accusation.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
other words, a “reasonable officer, out of the wide range of
reasonable people who enforce the laws in this country, could have
determined that the challenged action was lawful.”
825 F.3d at 100 (emphasis in original).
None of the cited discrepancies affect this probablecause analysis, including “the height descriptions, which did not
match the plaintiff, and the existence of other suspects.”
Greene v. City of N.Y., No. 08-CV-0243, 2017 WL 1030707, at *20
(E.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2017), appeal docketed, No. 17-1920 (2d Cir.
June 16, 2017); Fogelman v. Donato, 111 F. Supp. 3d 282, 285
(E.D.N.Y. 2015) (“Neither an arrestee’s protestations of innocence
vitiate probable cause.”).
Thus, the Court concludes that it was
not “manifestly unreasonable” for the officers to arrest Spagnuolo
and charge him.
See Jean, 412 F. App’x at 354 (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted).
One other point bears mentioning.
In the context of the
malicious prosecution claim, Spagnuolo contends that the officers
(Pl.’s Br. at 2 ¶ 6; 7 ¶ 14.)
To set the stage, after
the real perpetrator confessed, a dismissal proceeding took place
in the County Court of Suffolk County.
(Pl.’s Br. at 7 ¶ 14.)
redacted, (Pl.’s Br. Ex. J, Dismissal Tr., at 145–52), but they
are allegedly cited in Spagnuolo’s opposition papers, including
Officer Tully’s deposition transcript. (Pl.’s Br. at 7 ¶ 14; Pl.’s
Br. Ex. F, Tully Dep. Tr., at 38-121, at 197:23–199:19.)3
that proceeding, the ADA apparently stated:
The Suffolk County Police Department conducted
a deficient investigation.
Moreover, the Suffolk County Police Department
failed to thoroughly investigate all the
evidence available to them or provided to this
Had the Suffolk County Police Department
conducted a complete investigation from the
outset, or provided this office with materials
that they had access to prior to the arrest
and indictment of Peter Spagnuolo, this
unfortunate situation would have been avoided.
(Tully Dep. Tr. at 198:14–16, 198:25–199:4, 199:9–15.)
To begin, Spagnuolo was indicted by a grand jury on
June 3, 2011. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 22; see also Indictment, Def.’s
Ex. L, Docket Entry 111-14.)
In New York, an “‘indictment by a
grand jury creates a presumption of probable cause.’”
v. City of N.Y., No. 12-CV-7454, 2017 WL 636415, at *35 (S.D.N.Y.
Feb. 14, 2017) (quoting Savino v. City of N.Y., 331 F.3d 63, 72
(2d. Cir. 2003)).
Pertinently, a plaintiff bears the burden of
rebutting that presumption only through evidence “‘that the police
witnesses have not made a complete and full statement of facts .
The relevant deposition excerpts are available on pages 88 and
89 of Spagnuolo’s opposition papers.
. . to the . . . District Attorney, that they have misrepresented
otherwise acted in bad faith.’”
Id. (quoting Colon v. City of
N.Y., 60 N.Y.2d 78, 82–83, 455 N.E.2d 1248, 1250–51, 468 N.Y.S.2d
But this bad-faith analysis “cannot be satisfied by
a showing of mere negligence.”
Minott v. Duffy, No. 11-CV-1217,
2014 WL 1386583, at *19 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 8, 2014); cf. Manganiello
v. City of N.Y., 612 F.3d 149, 165 (2d Cir. 2010) (rejecting a
qualified-immunity defense “given the ample evidentiary support”
that the officer “misrepresented the evidence to the prosecutors,
or failed to pass on material information, or made statements that
were false, and engaged in such misconduct knowingly”) (emphasis
Despite the ADA’s statements, Spagnuolo has failed to
present evidence that the “firstname.lastname@example.org” email address
was “intentionally withheld.”
Savino, 331 F.3d at 74.
officers--acted in bad faith, no reasonable juror could find that
[Spagnuolo] has overcome the presumption of probable cause that
arises from his indictment.”
See id. at 75.
Likewise, the Court dismisses Plaintiff’s state law false arrest
and false imprisonment claims on the same grounds.
See Kass v.
City of N.Y., 864 F.3d 200, 213–14 (2d Cir. 2017).
“Qualified immunity applies only to individuals” and
thus does not insulate Suffolk County from liability.
City of N.Y., 686 F. App’x 66, 67 (2d Cir. 2017).
plaintiff plausibly alleges that a city custom or policy caused
Spagnuolo has offered no evidence that Suffolk
County engaged in a systematic effort through a custom or policy
to violate his civil rights.
Thus, the Court GRANTS summary
judgment on any federal-law claims against Suffolk County.
Remaining State-Law Claims
As for the state-law battery claim and any excessive-
force claims under Section 1983, Spagnuolo contends that the
officers used excessive force when they handcuffed him.
circumstances, the Court must consider whether: “(1) the handcuffs
were unreasonably tight; (2) the defendants ignored the arrestee’s
pleas that the handcuffs were too tight; and (3) the degree of
injury to the wrists.”
Esmont v. City of N.Y., 371 F. Supp. 2d
202, 215 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) (citations omitted); see also Tompkins v.
City of N.Y., 50 F. Supp. 3d 426, 440 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (“New York
courts analyze assault and battery claims against police officers
using the same standard applicable to excessive force claims under
Spagnuolo concedes that he neither asked the
officers to loosen the handcuffs nor sought medical treatment.
(Pl.’s Dep. Tr., Defs.’ Ex. B, Docket Entry 111-4, 70:7–10, 143:16–
There are few, if any, “cases permitting a plaintiff to
establish an excessive force claim based on tight handcuffing in
the absence of a request to loosen them.”
at 215 (collecting cases).
Esmont, 371 F. Supp. 2d
At any rate, “[u]nsubstantiated claims
of nerve damage, in the absence of corroborating medical evidence,
are insufficient to support a claim of excessive force from
Thus, the Court GRANTS summary judgment on the
As for the County Defendants, four state-law claims
infliction of emotional distress, (2) negligent infliction of
emotional distress, (3) slander, and (4) negligence and reckless
Whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction is a
discretionary decision for the Court.
Henning v. City of N.Y.,
No. 09-CV-3998, 2012 WL 2700505, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. July 5, 2012).
Generally, if “all federal claims have been dismissed before trial,
pendent state law claims should be dismissed without prejudice and
left for resolution by the state courts.”
Although the case
is nearing trial, the Court agrees with the County Defendants that
Spagnuolo has abandoned his state-law claims by failing to respond
to the County Defendants’ argument.
Entry 115, at 10.)
claims as abandoned.
(Defs.’ Reply Br., Docket
Thus, the Court DISMISSES these state-law
See Elmessaoudi v. Mark 2 Restaurant LLC,
No. 14-CV-4560, 2016 WL 4992582, at *15 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2016)
(“Federal courts have the discretion to deem a claim abandoned
when a party moves for summary judgment on one ground and the party
opposing summary judgment fails to address the argument in any
way.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Plaintiff’s Motion to Substitute
While this action was pending, Sharon Hubbard died, and
the Suffolk County Surrogate’s Court then appointed the Public
Administrator of Suffolk County as a temporary administrator of
(See Pl.’s Mot., Docket Entry 104, at 3.)
seeks to substitute the Public Administrator in place of the
Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a deceased
party’s successor or representative may file a motion to substitute
when the party dies and the claims are not extinguished.
CIV. P. 25(a)(1).
In considering these motions, “the Court must
decide whether: (1) the motion was timely; (2) the claims survive
the decedent’s death; and (3) the party sought to be substituted
for the decedent is a proper party.”
Badalamenti v. Country
(E.D.N.Y. Dec. 5, 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation
First, the motion is timely. Generally, substitution
motions provide a ninety-day window, which begins after a notice
of death is served.
FED. R. CIV. P. 25(a)(1).
The statement of
death was put on the record on December 18, 2015.
Entry, Docket Entry 87.)
While it is true, as Hubbard’s lawyer
argues, that Plaintiff missed this deadline, he received five
extensions of time.
Dec. 18, 2016.)
(See docket entries between Dec. 28, 2015 and
“The Court is authorized to extend the time in
which to file a motion for substitution before or after the
expiration of the ninety-day period pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.
Kernisant v. City of N.Y., 225 F.R.D. 422, 427 (E.D.N.Y.
Plaintiff’s motion to be timely.
Second, the subject claims survives Hubbard’s death.
The Complaint asserts claims under Section 1983 and under New York
emotional distress. (Compl. ¶¶ 154–224.) Thus, they “set[ ] forth
claims of injury to person or property.”
Regalado v. Kohl’s Dep’t
Stores, Inc., No. 13-CV-5624, 2015 WL 8481881, at *1 (E.D.N.Y.
Third, the Public Administrator of Suffolk County is a
appointed it to be the temporary administrator of Sharon Hubbard’s
Roe v. City of N.Y., No. 00-CV-9062, 2003 WL 22715832, at
*2 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 19, 2003) (explaining that proper parties include
the deceased party’s representative who is “lawfully designated by
state authority to represent the deceased’s estate” (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted)).
(Docket Entry 111.)
Plaintiff’s motions to substitute.
The Court also GRANTS
(Docket Entries 104, 107.)
The Clerk of the Court is directed to amend the caption by
substituting the Public Administrator of Suffolk County for Sharon
With the exception of this party, the Clerk of the Court
is directed to terminate all other remaining Defendants.
[BOTTOM OF PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK]
infliction of emotional distress, and (3) slander in connection
with a 911 call.
/s/ JOANNA SEYBERT______
Joanna Seybert, U.S.D.J.
September __28___, 2017
Central Islip, New York
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?