Hogan et al v. Lewis County, New York et al
MEMORANDUM-DECISION & ORDERED, that Vandewaters summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 94) is GRANTED in its entirety. All of Plaintiffs claims against Vandewater are hereby DISMISSED; and it is further ORDERED, that Roses summary judgment motion (Dkt. No . 96) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Mark Hogans malicious prosecution claim against Rose, Elizabeth Hogans loss of consortium claim, Plaintiffs request for punitive damages, and Stanfords cross-claim against Rose are DISMISSED; Mark Hogans negligence claim against Rose can proceed; and it is further ORDERED, that the Clerk shall TERMINATE defendant Vandewater from the docket. Signed by Senior Judge Lawrence E. Kahn on October 16, 2020. (sas)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
MARK HOGAN, et al.,
FRANK ROSE, et al.,
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
This is the latest episode in an interminable litigation saga involving Plaintiffs Mark and
Elizabeth Hogan and several of their neighbors in Grieg, New York that has lasted over a decade
and occupied both the federal and state court systems. This action, in which Plaintiffs have sued
both their neighbors and various local officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York law,
concerns disputes over property boundaries and rights as well as allegations of tortious conduct
tangentially related to these property disputes. Four motions for summary judgment were
initially filed in this action. See Dkt. Nos. 82, 83, 94, 96. In a June 1, 2020 opinion, the Court
addressed two of these motions. See Dkt. No. 116.
This Memorandum-Decision and Order concerns the remaining two motions for
summary judgment—one filed by defendant David Vandewater, a neighbor of the Hogans, Dkt.
Nos. 94 (“Vandewater Motion”); 94-37 (“Vandewater Statement of Material Facts,” or
“Vandewater SMF”); 95 (“Vandewater Memorandum”), and the other filed by the Hogans’ other
neighbor, defendant Frank Rose, Dkt. Nos. 96 (“Rose Motion”), 96-1 (“Rose Statement of
Material Facts,” or “Rose SMF”), 96-36 (“Rose Memorandum”). Plaintiffs filed responses in
opposition to both motions. See Dkt. Nos. 107 (“Response to Vandewater Motion”); 107-4
(“Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Vandewater Motion”); 107-2 (“Response to
Vandewater Statement of Material Facts” or “Response to Vandewater SMF”); 107-3 (“Hogan
Additional Statement of Material Facts (Vandewater),” or “Hogan Additional SMF
(Vandewater)”); 113 (“Response to Rose Motion”); 113-26 (“Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in
Opposition to Rose Motion”); 113-24 (“Response to Rose Statement of Facts,” or “Response to
Rose SMF”); 113-25 (“Hogan Additional Statement of Material Facts (Rose),” or “Hogan
Additional SMF (Rose)”). Both defendants filed replies. See Dkt. Nos. 112 (“Vandewater
Reply”); 112-1 (“Vandewater Reply Memorandum of Law”); 115 (“Rose Reply Memorandum
of Law”). Rose also seeks summary judgment on a cross-claim brought by defendant Wilber
Stanford. See Rose Motion; Rose Reply. Stanford did not file any responsive briefing regarding
this cross-claim. Docket.
For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the Vandewater Motion in its entirety, and
grants in part while denying in part the Rose Motion.
A. Factual Background
The following facts are relevant to the instant motions for summary judgment. The Court
below recounts the details of two prior legal actions involving factual and legal issues that
overlap with those in this case, because orders in those cases provide necessary context for the
present dispute. The Court also summarizes the facts as developed in the parties’ summary
1. The Parties and Their Properties
Grieg’s Hiawatha Lake subdivision is situated around two lakes, Hiawatha Lake #1 and
Hiawatha Lake #2. Vandewater SMF ¶ 2; Rose SMF ¶ 2; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 2. The Lots
around Hiawatha Lake #1 are generally identified as Lake Lots Nos. 1-41. Rose SMF ¶ 5;
Response to Rose SMF ¶ 5. “Great Lot 24” surrounds the Lake Lots, adjoining each at its rear,
non-lakeside boundary. Rose SMF ¶ 5; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 5. Vandewater owns Great Lot
24. Rose SMF ¶ 3; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 3; Vandewater SMF ¶ 2; Response to Vandewater
SMF ¶ 2. Rose owns Lake Lots 23 and 24. Rose SMF ¶ 6; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 3. Mark
Hogan owns Lake Lots 19, 20, 21, and 22, which are contiguous with Rose’s Lots 23 and 24 and
bounded on the rear by Vandewater’s Great Lot 24. Rose SMF ¶ 7; Hogan Additional SMF
(Rose) ¶ 19.
2. The West Action and the Prior Federal Action
In 2006, several members of the West family, who at the time owned property around
Hiawatha Lake, filed suit against the Hogans, seeking a determination as to the ownership of a
disputed parcel of land and requesting damages for alleged trespass, among other claims and
requests for relief. See West v. Hogan v. Vandewater, No. 2006-535 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. April 7,
2010) (the “West Action”). As relevant here, the Hogans in that suit brought a third-party
complaint against Vandewater seeking, inter alia, a declaration regarding a right of way across
Vandewater’s property to access the Hogans’ Lots 19, 21, and 22. See West Action, Order and J.
Upon Verdict (the “West Order”) at 3; Rose SMF ¶ 13; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 13.
In that case, the Hogans and Vandewater reached a stipulation as to the Hogans’ right of
way to their Lots 19, 21, and 22, and this stipulation was memorialized in the court’s order
resolving that portion of the dispute. West Order at 5–6; Rose SMF ¶ 17; Response to Rose SMF
¶ 17. Specifically, on April 7, 2010, Judge Merrell ordered that the location of the right of way
for the Hogans’ Lots 19, 21, and 22 is:
[A]long the common right of way from Chase Lake Road as it
proceeds along the east side of Hiawatha Lake 1 and then proceeds
in a clockwise direction around Hiawatha Lake 1 to that right of
way’s intersection with the southeasterly corner of Lot 23, thence
along the back lot lines of Lots 19–23, at a width of 12 feet from
those back lot lines, terminating at the northerly lot line of Lot 19.
West Order at 5–6.
Subsequent to the West Order, the Hogans filed a lawsuit in this District in 2011 against
Vandewater and Rose, among other defendants (the “Prior Federal Action”). That suit largely
revolved around a dispute over the location of the back line of Rose’s Lot 23, and, accordingly,
over the physical location of the right of way designated in the West Order by reference to
Rose’s back lot line. See Rose SMF ¶¶ 40–42; Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 40–42; Hogan v. Cty.
of Lewis, No. 11-CV-754, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109702, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. July 14, 2017) (“The
parties and the court believed at the time [of the West Order] that they had resolved the issue of
the easement. Unfortunately that was not the case. A dispute arose as to where the back line of
Rose’s Lot 23 was located.”).
As detailed in Judge Rothstein’s 2017 opinion after a bench trial in that case, the Hogans
had identified and proceeded to use a path to their Lots 22, 21, and 19 that the Hogans
maintained was located along the back lot line of Rose’s Lot 23 in accordance with the West
Order, but that Rose believed to be a pathway above the back lot line, through the middle of his
property. Hogan, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109702, at *5–6. This dispute concerned Vandewater as
well, as his Great Lot 24 abuts the back of Rose’s Lot 23. Id. The parties presented competing
surveys to justify their respective understandings of the location of the back lot line of Lot 23,
with the Hogans presenting 2003 and 2005 surveys by their expert, Stephen Moncreif (“2003
Moncreif Survey” and “2005 Moncreif Survey”), and the defendants presenting a 2014 survey by
their expert, Duane Frymire (“Frymire Survey”). Id. at *10–17.
The court in the Prior Federal Action ultimately credited the Frymire survey, which
confirmed Vandewater and Rose’s understanding of the location of the back lot line of Lot 23.
Id. at *13–14. Relatedly, the court found that in utilizing his imagined right of way, Mark Hogan
had been traversing an area owned by Rose. Id. at *23.
The issue of the location of the back line of Lot 23 was determinative of the resolution of
several claims in that action, including one in particular that arose from events relevant to the
present suit. Judge Rothstein made the following factual findings: Rose had steel cables,
sawhorses, and no trespassing signs installed on the Hogans’ purported right of way, in an effort
to prevent Mark Hogan from traversing the path; and at different times, Mark Hogan removed
each of those items from the path, and then drove away with the items in his all-terrain vehicle
(“ATV”). Id. at *21–23. The Hogans claimed that the placement of these items invaded their
lawful right of way and constituted a private nuisance. Id. at *23. The Court found, pursuant to
the Frymire Survey, that this path was part of Rose’s property and not part of the Hogans’ right
of way, and that Rose thus had a legal right to place those items where he did, and accordingly
held that Rose’s placement of those items did not constitute a private nuisance. Id. at *24.
3. The Facts as Provided by the Parties
The Hogans’ claims against Rose and Vandewater center around two separate series of
events. First, on several occasions, Rose and Vandewater each contacted the police regarding
alleged criminal conduct by Mark Hogan involving trespass on Rose and Vandewater’s
respective properties and other alleged violations. In connection with these events, the Hogans
assert a defamation claim against Vandewater and § 1983 malicious prosecution claims against
Second, Mark Hogan recounts that he injured himself in 2015 while traversing what he
then maintained was his right of way. In connection with this injury, which Mark Hogan asserts
was caused by prior excavation work on the area conducted by Rose, Hogan brings premises
liability negligence claims against both Rose and Vandewater.
a. Facts Relevant to the Malicious Prosecution and Defamation Claims
On different occasions, both Rose and Vandewater contacted the police to report alleged
criminal conduct by Mark Hogan.
i. Rose’s Contact with Law Enforcement
On multiple occasions between the conclusion of the West Action and the issuance of the
2017 order in the Prior Federal Action, Rose installed “No Trespassing” signs, cables, and
sawhorses on the path that Mark Hogan treated as his right of way during that period, in order to
prevent Mark Hogan from using that path. Rose SMF ¶¶ 27, 31; Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 27,
31. On various occasions, Mark Hogan removed those items. Rose SMF ¶ 28; Response to Rose
SMF ¶ 28. After Mark Hogan removed them, he put them in his vehicle and took them away
from the area. Hogan Additional SMF (Rose) ¶ 85. As explained, Rose maintained during this
period that Mark Hogan was illegally using this path, Rose SMF ¶¶ 27–31, while Mark Hogan
maintained during the same period that this path was his right of way designated in the West
Order, Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 27–31. At present, Mark Hogan still asserts that this path was
his legally designated right of way, at least at the time. Id.
On May 15, 2010, Rose contacted the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department to report that
Mark Hogan had stolen Rose’s cables and sawhorses. Rose SMF ¶ 33; Response to Rose SMF ¶
33. Rose gave a supporting deposition to Deputy Brett Croneiser, who responded to Mr. Rose’s
complaint, along with Sergeant Ryan Lehman, on the same date; e-mailed the two officers
photographs of the incidents that Rose had received from his security cameras on May 14 and
15, 2010; and contacted the Sheriff’s Department on May 29, 2010, when he next observed Mr.
Hogan on his property. Rose SMF ¶ 33; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 33. Mark Hogan maintains that
the photographs Rose provided to the officers were “incorrect and/or altered.” Response to Rose
SMF ¶ 38.
Mark Hogan was subsequently arrested and charged with petit larceny on May 29, 2010,
as a result of Rose’s complaint and the photographic evidence he provided to the Lewis County
Sheriff’s Department on May 15, 2010. Rose SMF ¶ 34; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 34. This petit
larceny charge was ultimately dismissed on speedy trial grounds. Hogan Additional SMF (Rose)
On May 30, 2010, Mark Hogan returned the cables and sawhorses he had removed to the
Lewis County Sheriff’s Department. Rose SMF ¶ 36; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 36.
Rose states that after contacting the police, e-mailing them photographic evidence, and
giving a supporting deposition on May 15, Rose did not have any further contact with the
authorities regarding Mark Hogan’s alleged criminal conduct. Rose SMF ¶¶ 38–39. Mark Hogan,
by contrast, maintains that, weeks later, Rose “repeatedly emailed Defendant District Attorneys
Moser and Petzoldt as well as Lewis County Sheriff Deputy Lehman successfully urging them to
take further legal action against him.” Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 38–39.
ii. Vandewater’s Contact with Law Enforcement
Mark Hogan recounts six instances over a period of roughly six years in which
Vandewater contacted the police regarding Mark Hogan’s alleged criminal conduct, the first five
of which relate only to his malicious prosecution claims, and the sixth of which relates only to
his defamation claim. See Hogan Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶¶ 24–49.
On or about May 15, 2010, Defendant Vandewater contacted the Lewis County Sheriff’s
Department and reported that Plaintiff Mark Hogan had trespassed on his property. Id. ¶ 24.
Vandewater provided the Sheriff’s Department with a supporting deposition and photographic
evidence purporting to depict the trespass. Id. ¶ 25. Mark Hogan maintains that he had been
traveling on what he believed to be his right of way subsequent to the West Order, rather than
trespassing on Vandewater’s property. Id. ¶ 26. On or about May 15, 2020, Mark Hogan was
charged with trespass, based on Vandewater’s supporting deposition. Id. ¶ 27.
In early October 2010, Vandewater reported to police that Mark Hogan had trespassed on
his property by parking a red Chevrolet pickup truck on Vandewater’s land on October 3. Id. ¶¶
29–30. To support his accusation, Vandewater provided police with photographic images from a
nearby camera purporting to depict Mark Hogan’s truck, and a supporting deposition. Id. ¶¶ 31,
33. Mark Hogan maintains that the man in the photographs provided to police was not him, and
that the truck in the photograph was not his truck. Id. ¶ 31. Mark Hogan maintains that “his
truck” had a yellow license plate and a large “4x4" sticker on the rear, while the truck in the
photographs had a white license plate and no sticker on the rear. Id. In his affirmation attached to
his response to the Vandewater Motion, Mark Hogan maintains that Vandewater at the time had
a friend who owned a red truck with a white license plate and no sticker on the rear of the car.
Dkt. 107 ¶ 17. He asserts, “upon information and belief,” that Vandewater planted his friend’s
truck, took photographs of the parked truck, and provided those photographs to police. Id.
Vandewater requested that New York State police pursue criminal charges against Mark Hogan,
and on October 9, 2010, Mark Hogan was charged with trespass based on Vandewater’s
supporting deposition. Id. Hogan Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶¶ 32–33. In his reply
declaration, Vandewater insists that the truck depicted in the photograph is Mark Hogan’s truck.
Dkt. No. 112 ¶¶ 18–19.
On July 3, 2011, Vandewater contacted the New York State Police and accused Mark
Hogan of trespass. Hogan Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶ 34. As is evident from the supporting
deposition Mark Hogan attaches as an exhibit, Vandewater accused Mark Hogan of driving his
blue Volkswagen onto Vandewater’s property and making a K-turn with the vehicle on the way
to his driveway. Response to Vandewater Motion, Ex. P. Mark Hogan states that he did not
commit trespass, and that he was at the time taking a necessary route around a boulder
Vandewater had placed that hindered Mark Hogan’s access to his own driveway. Hogan
Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶ 36.
On or about August 27, 2011, Vandewater contacted the New York State Police and
accused Mark Hogan of stealing a “No Trespassing” sign from Vandewater’s property. Id. ¶ 37.
The state police subsequently inspected Mark Hogan’s truck and house and did not find a sign.
Id. ¶ 38. Mark Hogan denies having stolen a sign. Id. Vandewater and his son provided the
police with supporting depositions. Id. ¶ 39. Vandewater requested in his deposition that police
ensure that Mark Hogan was prosecuted. Id. On August 28, 2011, Mark Hogan was charged with
petit larceny, based on the aforementioned supporting depositions. Id. ¶ 40.
On July 3, 2014, Vandewater contacted the New York State Police and accused Mark
Hogan of trespass and criminal mischief. Id. ¶ 41. Vandewater notified the State Police that
Plaintiff had driven an SUV over a snow stake and left “ruts” in the grass on Vandewater’s
property. Id. ¶ 42. In his supporting deposition to police, Vandewater stated that he “witnessed
Mr. Hogan in his black Lexus SUV traveling from his cottage at a high rate of speed” and “both
heard and observed Mr. Hogan drive his vehicle over 3 of the fiberglass stakes.” Id. ¶ 45. At his
deposition in this action, Vandewater testified that he did not see who was driving the vehicle but
assumed that the driver was Mark Hogan because it was his vehicle. Id. ¶ 46. Mark Hogan denies
having committed these actions. Id. ¶ 41. Vandewater signed two informations charging Mark
Hogan with trespass. Id. ¶ 43.
As confirmed in Mark Hogan’s affirmation and Vandewater’s reply declaration, all of
these charges were ultimately dismissed on speedy trial grounds. Dkt. No. 107 ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 112
In his reply declaration, Vandewater generally insists on the veracity of the
aforementioned accusations and charges and on his good-faith intentions in reporting Mark
Hogan’s alleged conduct to police. Dkt. No. 112 ¶¶ 15–25.
On September 3, 2016, Vandewater reported to the New York State Police that Mark
Hogan had removed several traffic cones from state land. Vandewater SMF ¶ 12; Response to
Vandewater SMF ¶12. In his affirmation attached to his response to the Vandewater Motion,
Mark Hogan maintains that, less than an hour earlier, Vandewater had confronted Mark Hogan
and accused him of stealing the cones, and that in response, Mark Hogan “assured him that they
belonged to [him], not the state, and were not ‘stolen.’” Dkt. 107 ¶ 29. No arrest resulted from
this report. Vandewater SMF ¶ 12.
b. Facts Relevant to Negligence Claims
Mark Hogan maintains that on September 3, 2015, while the Prior Federal Action was
pending, he injured his shoulder in a slip-and-fall accident that occurred on what he at that time
regarded as his right of way to his Lots 19, 21, and 22. Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 49, 52, 65
(citations omitted). Rose and Mark Hogan agree that the spot of land on which this occurred was
along the path that Mark Hogan treated as his right of way between the issuance of the West
Order in 2010 and the resolution of the Prior Federal Action in 2017. Rose SMF ¶ 52; Response
to Rose SMF ¶ 52.
Mark Hogan maintains that his fall was the result of erosion due to excavation work
performed by either Rose or someone else at Rose’s direction, next to and underneath the right of
way. Id. ¶¶ 50, 72. According to Mark Hogan, this excavation work “hollowed out the ground
beneath Plaintiff’s right of way[,] which allowed Plaintiff’s foot to fall through the ground.” Id. ¶
50. The parties agree that “[t]he general area where Mr. Hogan allegedly fell is wooded,
unimproved, and wild, having rough, hilled terrain and a steep embankment caused by a
disruption in the earth on the side of a hill. Rose SMF ¶ 53; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 53.
The parties also appear to agree that Mark Hogan was aware to some extent of the
relevant risks associated with surmounting this embankment. In 2010, “Mr. Rose had a red rope
line strung up along the edge of the steep embankment to warn anyone traversing the top of the
embankment of the drop-off and prevent them from inadvertently falling over the side of the
embankment.” Rose SMF ¶ 55; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 55. As Mark Hogan acknowledges, he
testified in a 2012 deposition in the Prior Federal Action that he was aware that “the erosion and
instability had existed since 2006 or 2007.” Response to Rose SMF ¶ 60. Rose states, and Mark
Hogan does not deny, that he testified in a deposition in this action that he had fallen and been
injured in the area in the past, on an unspecified date, within several yards of where he fell in
2015 and likewise within what he at the time of that deposition regarded as his right of way
pursuant to the West Order. Rose SMF ¶ 62; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 62. Mark Hogan had
spent significant time on and around the embankment in the years preceding his 2015 fall, as he
performed clearing work in the area after the conclusion of the West Action, cutting down trees
and removing foliage and brush on multiple occasions, including between 2010 and 2012 and in
July 2014. Rose SMF ¶ 74; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 74.
Despite acknowledging his awareness at the time of his fall of hazards posed by the
embankment, Mark Hogan maintains that he was not aware of the precise extent of the risk of
falling through the embankment, a risk that had been exacerbated by excavation work conducted
either by Rose or someone working on Rose’s behalf on an unspecified date. Response to Rose
SMF ¶¶ 56–62, 72. Mark Hogan maintains that the effects of this excavation were visible only
from the vantage point of Rose’s property, and that Mark Hogan had never viewed the
embankment from that angle. Response to Rose SMF ¶ 50. Rose denies having performed any
excavation work or directed anyone else to do so in the area where Mark Hogan allegedly fell.
Rose SMF ¶ 72.
The parties agree that in May 2010, Vandewater had marked a suggested alternative route
for Mark Hogan to use as his right of way, further into the woods and further away from Rose’s
cabins on his property. Rose SMF ¶¶ 63–64; Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 63–64. Mark Hogan
maintains, however, that this route was not safely traversable, because it was blocked by downed
trees. Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 63–64. Mark Hogan also states in his affirmation that this
alternate path was not in his right of way as understood by reference to Lot 23’s back line in
either the Moncreif or Frymire surveys. Dkt. No. 113 ¶ 23.
Rose highlights what he regards as discrepancies in Mark Hogan’s medical records
documenting his alleged injury from this fall. Mark Hogan’s medical records from Lewis County
Hospital indicate that he went to the emergency room on September 4, 2015, and that he stated to
a medical professional during that visit that he was suffering from a right shoulder injury he
sustained while hiking the previous day, on September 3, 2015. Rose SMF ¶¶ 63–64; Response
to Rose SMF ¶ 66. Mark Hogan’s September 9, 2015 medical report from OrthoVirginia
documents that Mark Hogan injured his shoulder while hiking on August 27, 2015. Rose SMF ¶
67. Mark Hogan’s October 19, 2015 “Operative Report” from Harborside Surgery Center
likewise indicates that Mark Hogan sustained a shoulder injury while hiking on August 27, 2015.
Id. Mark Hogan maintains that the August 27 date is inaccurate and is based in both documents
on a mistaken notation by his orthopedist at OrthoVirginia. Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 66–67.
Rose submits as evidence what he represents are photographs taken from his security
cameras between August 27, 2015 and September 3, 2015, none of which depict Mark Hogan
falling or injuring his shoulder. Rose SMF ¶ 69; Dkt. No. 96-10. Mark Hogan states that these
photographs do not depict the area where he fell. Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 69–70. He also
maintains that these photographs omit certain periods of time within that date range. Id.
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs courts to grant summary
judgment if “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). A fact is “material” if it “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.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, while “[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or
unnecessary” will not preclude summary judgment, “summary judgment will not lie if . . . the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; see
also Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991) (“Only when no reasonable trier of
fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party should summary judgment be granted.”).
The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis
for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that the moving party claims will
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986). Similarly, a party is entitled to summary judgment when the nonmoving party
has failed “to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which
that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322.
In attempting to repel a motion for summary judgment after the moving party has met its
initial burden, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). At the same time, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Hence, “a court’s duty in reviewing a motion for summary
judgment is ‘carefully limited’ to finding genuine disputes of fact, ‘not to deciding them.’”
Macera v. Vill. Bd. of Ilion, No. 16-CV-668, 2019 WL 4805354, at *8 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 30,
2019) (Kahn, J.) (quoting Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P’ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224
(2d Cir. 1994)).
A. Malicious Prosecution
1. Against Rose
Mark Hogan asserts a claim for malicious prosecution against Rose in connection with
the petit larceny charge that arose from Mark Hogan’s alleged theft of cables, sawhorses, and
“No Trespassing” signs from Rose’s property. For the reasons that follow, Rose’s motion for
summary judgment is granted as to this claim.
“Because ‘accusers must be allowed room for benign misjudgments,’ the New York
Court of Appeals has held that the law ‘places a heavy burden on malicious prosecution
plaintiffs[.]’” Rothstein v. Carriere, 373 F.3d 275, 282 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Smith–Hunter v.
Harvey, 95 N.Y.2d 191, 195 (N.Y. 2000)). In order to prevail, a plaintiff must establish that (1)
the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the proceeding terminated favorably to the
plaintiff; (3) there was no probable cause for the criminal charge; and (4) the defendant acted
maliciously. Id. Mark Hogan’s claim fails on the first prong.
Normally, a citizen who reports a crime to law enforcement authorities cannot be held
liable for malicious prosecution under § 1983. Indeed, in § 1983 actions in general, state actors
generally can be held liable, while private citizens generally cannot be. Betts v. Shearman, 751
F.3d 78, 84–86 (2d Cir. 2014) (noting that “[u]nder 42 U.S.C. § 1983, constitutional torts are
only actionable against state actors or private parties acting ‘under the color of’ state law,” and
that a private citizen is only so regarded when he acts “in concert with the state actor to commit
an unconstitutional act.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). In the context of malicious
prosecution claims in particular, the existence of the institution of the public prosecutor generally
precludes liability for private citizens who report crimes, because it is typically not within the
private citizen’s power to determine whether charges are brought, but rather within the absolute
power of the public prosecutor. White v. Frank, 855 F.2d 956, 962 (2d Cir. 1988) (“Unlike the
private prosecutor, the public prosecutor is absolutely immune from suit for malicious
prosecution. The exercise of independent judgment by the public prosecutor and his active role
in initiating criminal prosecutions may decrease the likelihood that a complaining witness will be
considered to have ‘caused’ or ‘procured’ the prosecution, thus defeating grounds for liability
under this initial prong of the common law standard.”) (internal quotation marks and citations
Rose argues, inter alia, that Mark Hogan has failed to establish the “initiation” prong of
his malicious prosecution claim, because he has failed to sufficiently allege or provide evidence
indicating that Rose had the requisite level of involvement in the relevant criminal prosecution or
that his statements to police were false. Rose Mem. at 9, 14.1
Under the “initiation” prong of a malicious prosecution claim, a private citizen who
reports a crime to law enforcement authorities can only be held liable if she (1) “played an active
role in the prosecution, such as giving advice and encouragement or importuning the authorities
to act,” Rothstein, 373 F.3d at 293–94 (internal quotation marks omitted), or (2) provided
information to law enforcement authorities that was “known to be false,” Bornschein v. Herman,
304 F. Supp. 3d 296, 302 (N.D.N.Y. 2018) (Kahn, J.) (quoting Rivers v. Towers, Perrin, Forster
& Crosby Inc., No. 07-CV-5441, 2009 WL 817852, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. March 27, 2009)).
Regarding the first route for establishing a private citizen’s initiation of criminal prosecution, “a
defendant must do more than report a crime or give testimony.” Manganiello v. City of New
York, 612 F.3d 149, 163 (2d Cir. 2010). With respect to the second route, a defendant who gives
false testimony is not liable, unless she does so knowingly. Bornschein, 304 F. Supp. 3d at 302
(“[A] mistake does not support liability for malicious prosecution.”).
Rose moves in the alternative for both judgment on the pleadings and summary
judgment with respect to this claim. See generally id. It is within the Court’s “complete
discretion” whether to treat Rose’s motion as the former or the latter. See, e.g., Carione v. United
States, 368 F. Supp. 2d 186, 191 (E.D.N.Y. 2005). Because Mark Hogan had adequate notice
that Rose intended to move for summary judgment on this claim, and because the motion for
summary judgment has been fully briefed as to this claim with evidence submitted by both sides,
the Court treats Rose’s motion as one for summary judgment and not judgment on the pleadings.
See Groden v. Random House, Inc., 61 F.3d 1045, 1052 (2d Cir. 1995); Bruno v. City of New
York, No. 17-CV-7552, 2019 WL 690340, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2019).
Mark Hogan fails to establish liability through the first route, because according to the
evidence he has presented, Rose did little more than report a crime to police and provide
testimony. See Manganiello, 612 F.3d at 163. Courts that have held that a private citizen initiated
a criminal proceeding due to her active involvement in the prosecution have tended to base this
conclusion on more extensive forms of participation by the private citizen defendant in the
criminal process than occurred in this case. See, e.g., Mara v. MacNamara, No. 14-CV-1095,
2015 WL 4392956, at *1, *4 (D. Conn. July 15, 2015) (holding that the “initiation” prong was
satisfied where the defendant private security officer personally participated in the plaintiff’s
arrest and drove the plaintiff and town police to the university security office for interrogation);
Fowler v. Robinson, No. 94-CV-836, 1996 WL 67994, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 1996) (finding a
social worker liable for false arrest based on an officer’s testimony that the social worker
“wanted [plaintiff] arrested” and was “rather insistent that [plaintiff] be charged,” and that “in
light of the paucity of evidence presented to him,” if the defendant social worker “had not been
so adamant,” he would not have arrested the plaintiff).
Mark Hogan contends that Rose’s involvement exceeded merely contacting the police
and providing a supporting deposition. Mark Hogan asserts that after he was charged with petit
larceny, Rose “repeatedly emailed Defendant District Attorneys Moser and Petzoldt as well as
Lewis County Sheriff Deputy Lehman successfully urging them to take further legal action
against him.” Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 38–39. But this assertion is not substantiated by the
evidence that Mark Hogan submits in support. Mark Hogan cites an exhibit containing e-mails in
which Rose informs these recipients of various allegations against Mark Hogan and encourages
criminal prosecution. See Dkt. No. 113-8. But none of these allegations appear to relate to the
charges with which this malicious prosecution claim is concerned: in none of these e-mails does
Rose mention Mark Hogan’s theft of cables, sawhorses, or “No Trespassing” signs. See id.
Mark Hogan also fails to establish the “initiation” prong via the second route, as he has
not presented evidence indicating that Rose knowingly provided false statements to police
regarding Mark Hogan’s theft of cables, sawhorses, and “No Trespassing Signs.” Indeed, it is
logically impossible that Rose knowingly provided false statements to police, because there is no
genuine dispute regarding whether the allegations in question were true.
Mark Hogan admits that he removed these items from the spot of land in question. See
Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 28, 85. His contention that the allegations of theft and trespass are
false is premised crucially on his factual claim that the land in question, namely the path that
Mark Hogan established after the West Order in accordance with the 2003 Moncreif Survey, was
his right of way. See Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 27–31. By Mark Hogan’s logic, Rose knowingly
lied to police in alleging that Mark Hogan had stolen items from Rose’s property, when in fact
Mark Hogan had removed items that Rose impermissibly placed on what Rose knew to be Mark
Hogan’s property. Hogan Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶ 109 (“Defendant Rose knew or
should have known that Plaintiff was legally justified in removing obstacles in his ROW and
taking steps to make sure they were not replaced.”).
But as discussed, the court in the Prior Federal Action put the issue of ownership to rest.
The court in that case credited the Frymire survey, which confirmed Rose’s understanding of the
location of the back line of Lot 23. Hogan, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109702, at *13–14. Relatedly,
the court found that in using what Mark Hogan regarded as his right of way, he had been
traversing Rose’s property, id. at *23, and that Rose, as the owner of the property, had a legal
right to place the cables, sawhorses, and “No Trespassing” signs where he did, id. at *24.
Mark Hogan is barred by collateral estoppel from relitigating the issue of who owned the
area in which Rose placed these items. “Under collateral estoppel, once a court has decided an
issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue
in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case.” Allen v. McCurry, 449
U.S. 90, 94 (1980). While neither defendant has explicitly raised a collateral estoppel defense,
the Court applies the doctrine nonetheless, as “[a] district court may raise the issue of collateral
estoppel sua sponte.” Osen LLC v. United States Cent. Command, No. 18-CV-6069, 2019 WL
4805805, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2019) (collecting Second Circuit cases).
Courts have applied the doctrine to bar relitigation of the issue of ownership, where that
issue was determinative of the viability of a claim in a prior action. See, e.g., Truong v. Truong,
No. 03-CV-3423, 2007 WL 415152, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2007) (barring relitigation of the
issue of the plaintiff’s ownership of funds in a bank account and of the lawfulness of the
defendant’s action of blocking the plaintiff’s access to those funds, where those issues were
decided in the defendant’s favor in a prior civil action); Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hoi Yat Kam, No.
10-CV-1652, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 207259, *24-25 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 3, 2013) (barring
relitigation of the issue of ownership of medical clinics for purposes of a civil claim under a state
insurance statute, when the issue had already been resolved against the defendants in a prior
The resolution of the very issue that is determinative here, namely the ownership of the
spot of land from which Mark Hogan removed the cables, sawhorses, and “No Trespassing”
sign, was necessary to the court’s judgment in favor of Rose in the Prior Federal Action. See
Allen, 449 U.S. at 94. Specifically, the issue of ownership was essential to the court’s conclusion
that Rose’s placement of these items did not constitute a private nuisance. Hogan, 2017 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 109702, at *24.
Moreover, Mark Hogan must establish not only that Rose’s representation to police that
he owned the land in question was false, but further that it was knowingly false. See Bornschein,
304 F. Supp. 3d at 302. That Rose’s understanding of the location of his back lot line was
ultimately vindicated in the Prior Federal Action at the very least strongly suggests that he had
some basis for his position on the matter and thus that he made the relevant report to police in
Mark Hogan has thus failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact bearing on the
“initiation” prong of his malicious prosecution claim against Rose. The Court grants Rose’s
motion for summary judgment as to this claim.
2. Against Vandewater
Vandewater argues for summary judgment with respect to Mark Hogan’s malicious
prosecution claims, inter alia, on the ground that Vandewater was not sufficiently involved in
any of the relevant criminal prosecutions to have “initiated” them. Vandewater Mem. at 3–4. The
Court agrees, and grants summary judgment as to these claims for this reason alone.
By Mark Hogan’s account, in all but the August 27, 2011 report, Vandewater did little
more than report alleged crimes to police and provide testimony. See Hogan Additional SMF
Mark Hogan also maintains that Rose provided photographs of the alleged incident to
police that were “incorrect and/or altered.” Response to Rose SMF ¶ 38. In support of this factual
claim, Mark Hogan cites to a series of photographs that do not evidently prove or disprove his
statement. See id.; Dkt. Nos. 113-15 to -19. He provides no context or explanation that might
illuminate what these photographs depict, or how they bear on his contention that Rose
manufactured photographic evidence in this instance. Accordingly, the Court declines to find a
genuine dispute as to the authenticity of the photographs that Rose provided to law enforcement
or as to Rose’s state of mind in providing them.
(Vandewater) ¶¶ 24–49. For reasons explained, Mark Hogan cannot establish “initiation” on the
basis of such conduct by a private citizen. See Manganiello, 612 F.3d at 163.
With respect to the August 27, 2011 report, the Court also finds Vandewater’s
involvement to be insufficient to establish “initiation.” As described, Vandewater contacted the
New York State Police and accused Mark Hogan of stealing a “No Trespassing” sign from
Vandewater’s property. Id. ¶ 37. In the course of his supporting deposition, Vandewater
requested that police ensure that Mark Hogan was prosecuted. Id. ¶ 39. Given that reporting a
crime and providing testimony is as a matter of law insufficient to constitute “initiation,” see
Manganiello, 612 F.3d at 163, the Court declines to find that a complaining witness’s mere
heated exhortation in the course of such testimony that the accused be charged erases a private
defendant’s immunity, particularly in the absence of any evidence that such exhortation crucially
influenced the public prosecutor, cf. Fowler, 1996 WL 67994, at *6.
Regarding whether Vandewater knowingly made false statements to police, the Court
notes that, with the exception of his factual claims with respect to the October 2010 report, Mark
Hogan provides evidence bearing only on the veracity of Vandewater’s accusations and not on
his state of mind in uttering them to police. See Hogan Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶¶ 24–49.
As already discussed, providing false statements to police does not constitute “initiation” unless
such statements are knowingly false. See Bornschein, 304 F. Supp. 3d at 302.
And while Mark Hogan has asserted, with respect to the October 2010 report, that
Vandewater knowingly made false statements to police and provided police with fabricated
evidence, Mark Hogan has not created any genuine factual dispute on this point. Mark Hogan
contends, specifically, that Vandewater staged photographs of his friend’s truck parked on
Vandewater’s property and provided them to police to support his accusation that Mark Hogan
had committed trespass. Hogan Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶¶ 29–32; Dkt. 107 ¶ 17.
Mark Hogan’s sworn statement in his supporting affirmation that Vandewater
orchestrated this plot, “upon information and belief,” Dkt. 107 ¶ 17, is not competent evidence at
the summary judgment stage, because it is not based on personal knowledge. See Estate of
Gustafson v. Target Corp., 819 F.3d 673, 677 (2d Cir. 2016); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4).
Mark Hogan asks the Court, in the alternative, to draw the inference that this plot
occurred, based on certain circumstantial evidence. As described, to support his accusation that
Mark Hogan committed trespass by parking his red Chevrolet pickup truck on Vandewater’s
land, Vandewater provided police with photographic images purporting to depict Mark Hogan’s
truck. Hogan Additional SMF (Vandewater) ¶¶ 29–33. Mark Hogan maintains that the truck in
the photograph could not have been his, because “his truck” had a yellow license plate and a
large “4x4” sticker on the rear, while the truck in the photographs had a white license plate and
no sticker on the rear. Id. ¶ 31. In his affirmation attached to his response to the Vandewater
Motion, Mark Hogan maintains that Vandewater at the time had a friend who owned a red truck
with a white license plate and no sticker on the rear of the car, Dkt. 107 ¶ 17, by which Mark
Hogan means to suggest that the truck in the picture is likely to be Vandewater’s friend’s truck.
As an initial matter, the Court notes that the referenced photographs are black-and-white.
Dkt. No. 107-1. This, combined with the grainy nature of the photographs and the truck’s
significant distance from the camera makes it impossible for the Court to discern any bumper
sticker and to ascertain the color of the license plate or the truck.
But even if all such features of the vehicle were discernible in these photographs, the
Court would decline to draw the tenuous inferences that Mark Hogan requests. He asks the Court
to infer from the fact that Vandewater has a friend who owns a red truck with a white license
plate, not only that the truck in the picture is that friend’s truck, as opposed to any other red truck
with a white license plate, but also that Vandewater instructed his friend to place the truck there
for the purpose of taking photographs to deliver to police. But the Court is required to draw only
“reasonable” inferences in favor of the non-moving party, see Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150, and this
is one is too speculative even to satisfy this lenient standard.
Accordingly, the Court grants Vandewater’s motion for summary judgment as to Mark
Hogan’s malicious prosecution claims.
Mark Hogan asserts a defamation claim against Vandewater based on his report to police
that Mark Hogan had stolen traffic cones from state land. Vandewater argues for summary
judgment with respect to this claim on various grounds, including that this statement is protected
by a qualified privilege. Vandewater Mem. at 7. On this ground alone, the Court grants summary
judgment as to Mark Hogan’s defamation claim.
In New York, “[d]efamation is the making of a false statement which tends to expose the
plaintiff to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace, or induce an evil opinion of him in the
minds of right-thinking persons, and to deprive him of their friendly intercourse in society.” Elias
v. Rolling Stone LLC, 872 F.3d 97, 104 (2d Cir. 2017). “To make a claim for defamation under
New York law, a plaintiff must allege ‘(1) a false statement that is (2) published to a third party
(3) without privilege or authorization, and that (4) causes harm, unless the statement is one of the
types of publications actionable regardless of harm.’” Cain v. Atelier Esthetique Inst. of Esthetics
Inc., 733 F. App’x 8, 11 (2d Cir. 2018) (quoting Elias, 872 F.3d at 104).
“New York courts recognize a qualified privilege for statements made to police officers
about suspected crimes.” Udechukwu v. City of New York, 333 F. Supp. 3d 161, 172 (E.D.N.Y.
2018) (collecting cases). In order to overcome this qualified privilege, a plaintiff must
demonstrate either constitutional malice or common law malice. See Liberman v. Gelstein, 80
N.Y.2d 429, 437–438 (N.Y. 1992).
Constitutional malice, a concept developed in defamation jurisprudence involving public
official and public figure plaintiffs, refers to the publication of a statement with “knowledge that
[the statement] was false or . . . reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Id. at 438
(alteration in original) (quoting New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279–80 (1964)).
“The Supreme Court has defined reckless disregard for the truth as a ‘high degree of awareness
of . . . probable falsity.’” Suozzi v. Parente, 202 A.D.2d 94, 101 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 1994)
(quoting Gertz v Robert Welch, Inc., 418 US 323, 332 (1974)).
Common law malice is “spite or ill will.” See Liberman, 80 N.Y.2d at 437. To establish
common law malice, it is not sufficient to demonstrate that the defendant generally harbors
animosity toward the plaintiff, or that the plaintiff and defendant have a history of conflict. See
id. at 539; Shapiro v. Health Ins. Plan of Greater New York, 7 N.Y.2d 56, 64 (1959). The
plaintiff must show, more specifically, that spite or ill will motivated the allegedly defamatory
statement at issue. Liberman, 80 N.Y.2d at 439 (“[S]pite or ill will refers not to defendant's
general feelings about plaintiff, but to the speaker’s motivation for making the defamatory
statements.”). And malice must be the sole motivation. See id. (“If the defendant’s statements
were made to further the interest protected by the privilege, it matters not that defendant also
despised plaintiff.”); Golden v. Stiso, 279 A.D.2d 607, 608 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t 2001)
(“Once a qualified privilege is shown to exist, the burden of proof shifts to the plaintiff to
establish that the communication was not made in good faith but was motivated solely by
Summary judgment is warranted as to Mark Hogan’s defamation claim, because he has
failed to create a genuine factual dispute bearing on the existence of either form of malice and
thus has failed to overcome Vandewater’s qualified privilege. In an attempt to demonstrate
Vandewater’s malice, Mark Hogan submits a sworn statement that less than an hour before
Vandewater reported to police that Mark Hogan had stolen traffic cones from state land,
Vandewater had confronted Mark Hogan and accused him of stealing the cones, and in response,
Mark Hogan had “assured him that they belonged to [him], not the state, and were not ‘stolen.’”
Dkt. 107 ¶ 29; see also Pls.’ Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Vandewater Mot. at 11 (“Plaintiff had
already told Vandewater that the cones belonged to him. Thus, he knew the statement to [the
police officer] was false.”).
Importantly, Mark Hogan does not represent that he provided Vandewater with any
evidence to support his denial of the accusation. According to Mark Hogan, he merely asserted
that he was not guilty. Based on well-established principles in constitutional malice
jurisprudence, such a denial is as a matter of law not sufficient to demonstrate a defendant’s
recklessness in publishing a statement that contradicts the denial.
It is common in the context of defamation claims brought by public officials and public
figures against newspapers for a plaintiff to argue that her denial of accusations of criminality or
other wrongdoing when contacted by a journalist demonstrates that malice motivated the
subsequent publication. Courts have consistently rejected such arguments. See, e.g., Edwards v.
National Audubon Soc., 556 F.2d 113, 121 (2d Cir. 1997) (“Surely liability under . . . New York
Times v. Sullivan cannot be predicated on mere denials, however vehement[.]”); Contemporary
Mission v. New York Times Co., 842 F.2d 612, 624 (2d Cir. 1988) (holding that church
officials’ denying having accused priests of forging documents for their ordinations when
contacted for comment prior to an article’s publication did not establish a newspaper’s liability
for allegedly defamatory statements on the subject); MiMedx Grp., Inc. v. Sparrow Fund Mgmt.
LP, No. 17-CV-7568, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169669, at *26 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2018) (noting
that “allegations that a speaker knew of a plaintiff’s denial of wrongdoing are insufficient to
establish actual malice,” and collecting cases).
This principle is based on an understanding that “such denials are so commonplace in the
world of polemical charge and countercharge that, in themselves, they hardly alert the
conscientious reporter to the likelihood of error.” Edwards, 556 F.2d at 121. Something
analogous is true in the circumstances of this case. Because it is unremarkable that a person
accused of a crime would deny the charge, Vandewater’s knowledge of Mark Hogan’s asserted
denial cannot by itself establish constitutional malice.
Mark Hogan also has not established common law malice. He and Vandewater’s
relationship is undoubtedly colored by hatred and their interpersonal history filled with lawsuits
and other forms of disputes. And the circumstances arguably suggest that Vandewater spitefully
contacted law enforcement to report a relatively trivial alleged violation. But Mark Hogan has
presented no evidence indicating that spite or ill will was the sole motivation behind the police
report in question, as opposed to a partial motivation alongside a desire to report what
Vandewater perceived to be a crime. See Liberman, 80 N.Y.2d at 439.
Because Mark Hogan has not created any factual dispute as to the existence of malice, he
has failed to overcome Vandewater’s qualified privilege. Summary judgment is accordingly
granted as to Mark Hogan’s defamation claim.
Vandewater and Rose move for summary judgment on Mark Hogan’s respective
negligence claims against them. For the reasons that follow, Vandewater’s motion for summary
judgment is granted with respect to this claim, while Rose’s is denied.
1. Against Vandewater
“[A] person who lacks ownership or control of property cannot fairly be held accountable
for injuries resulting from a hazard on the property.” Galindo v. Town of Clarkstown, 781
N.Y.S.2d 249, 252 (N.Y. 2004). More precisely, a defendant cannot be held liable unless she
owns, occupies, controls, or has made “special use” of the property. See, e.g., Aversano v. City
of New York, 265 A.D.2d 437, 437 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t 1999) (“It is well settled that
liability for a dangerous or defective condition on property is generally predicated upon
ownership, occupancy, control or special use of the property . . . Where none is present, a party
cannot be held liable for injuries caused by the dangerous or defective condition of the
property”) (internal quotation marks omitted) (ellipses in original); Wisdom v Reoco, LLC, 162
A.D.3d 1380, 1381 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 2008); Greco v. City of Buffalo, 128 A.D.3d 1461,
1463 (N.Y. App. Div. 4th Dep’t 2015).
It is undisputed that Mark Hogan fell and was injured on the path that he treated as his
right of way between the issuance of the West Order and the conclusion of the Prior Federal
Action in 2017—that is, a path along Lot 23’s back line as depicted in the 2003 Moncreif survey.
See Rose SMF ¶ 52; Response to Rose SMF ¶ 52; see also Dkt. No. 107 ¶ 26 (“On or about
September 3, 2015, I was walking on my legally designated right of way as delineated by the
Moncreif survey, stipulation of Vandewater, and Order of Judge Merrell.”). As Judge Rothstein
determined in the Prior Federal Action, this path that Mark Hogan persists in calling his “legally
designated right of way” was in fact on Rose’s property. Hogan, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109702,
at *13–14, *23.3 Mark Hogan thus fell and was injured on property owned by Rose and not
Vandewater. For reasons discussed, Mark Hogan is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel
from arguing otherwise.
He does not, alternatively, argue or present any evidence that Vandewater occupied,
controlled, or made special use of the property. Rather, Mark Hogan asserts that Vandewater
believed at the time that the location of the alleged injury was on his property, and that this belief
begat a duty to maintain the property in a safe condition. See Pls.’ Mem. of Law in Opp’n to
Vandewater Mot. at 14 (“At that time, all parties accepted that the land belonged to Vandewater.
It was not until July 2016 that a new survey was argued to control . . . However, at the time of
Plaintiff’s fall, September 2015, Plaintiff, Vandewater, and Rose operated under the assumption
that the earlier surveys were correct.”). The factual premise that the parties agreed that this area
belonged to Vandewater is questionable, to say the least, given that the Prior Federal Action
arose precisely from a disagreement over this issue.
But even if this factual claim were true, Vandewater could not be held liable for Mark
Hogan’s injury. Mark Hogan cites no legal authority for the proposition that a defendant acquires
a duty to maintain someone else’s property in a safe condition if the defendant mistakenly
believes that she owns the property; and there is no such pincriple.
The parties agree also that, in his deposition in this action, Mark Hogan was unable to
identify the precise location of his fall from photographs and could point only to a general area
encompassing parts of both Rose and Vandewater’s properties. See Rose SMF ¶ 51; Response to
Rose SMF ¶ 51. By the Court’s analysis, Mark Hogan’s inability to identify the location of his
fall with precision from photographs during a deposition is not necessarily inconsistent with his
representation that he recalls being injured while on his purported right of way.
Accordingly, Vandewater’s motion for summary judgment is granted as to Mark Hogan’s
2. Against Rose
Rose moves for summary judgment with respect to Mark Hogan’s negligence claim on a
variety of grounds. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Rose’s motion for summary
judgment as to this claim.
“New York landowners owe people on their property a duty of reasonable care under the
circumstances to maintain their property in a safe condition,” and this duty extends equally to
licensees, invitees, and trespassers. Tagle v. Jakob, 97 N.Y.2d 165, 168 (N.Y. 2001).
In New York, the contours of this duty vary depending on whether the hazardous
condition in question is a natural geographic phenomenon or an artificial one. A property owner
has no duty to protect visitors from a hazard posed by a natural geographic phenomenon if the
hazard is “open and obvious.” See Melendez v City of New York, 76 A.D.3d 442, 443 (N.Y.
App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2010) (collecting cases across appellate Departments).
But the rule differs for artificial hazards. Id. In the past, many New York courts held that
property owners had neither a duty to warn visitors of “open and obvious” dangers nor a duty to
protect visitors from them. See MacDonald v. City of Schenectady, 308 A.D.2d 125, 126 (N.Y.
App. Div. 3d Dep’t 2003) (noting the trend). But in recent years, all four Departments have
adopted the position that a hazard’s “open and obvious” quality negates only the defendant’s
duty to warn and not her duty of care. Niles v. 1109-1113 Manhattan Ave. Partners, LLC, No.
13-CV-5427, 2015 WL 6674833, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 30, 2015) (noting that “[a]ll four
Departments of the Appellate Division have rejected the proposition that a landowner is
completely insulated from liability because an allegedly dangerous condition is open and
obvious,” and collecting cases).4,5
The logic behind this distinction is clear. The “open and obvious” quality of a hazard
itself serves as a warning and thus appropriately negates a landowner’s duty to warn. See, e.g.
Cupo v. Karfunkel, 1 A.D.3d 48, 51 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t 2003) (noting that “a landowner
has no duty to warn of an open and obvious danger,” because “[u]nless a hazard is latent, a
person entering the property is just as aware as the landowner of the condition of the property
and the risks associated with it”). But this logic has no application to the distinct duty to maintain
a property in a reasonably safe condition. See id. Indeed, in application to the latter duty, this
principle would have the perverse consequence that “landowners would be least likely to be held
liable for failing to protect persons using their property from foreseeable injuries where the
hazards were the most blatant.” Id. at 52; see also Westbrook v. WR Activities-Cabrera Mkts., 5
A.D.3d 69, 73–74 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2004) (noting that the principle would “stand in
stark contrast to the basic concepts of premises liability: it would allow a landlord to leave
unrepaired a dangerous defect, as long as it was obvious enough”).
In his motion for summary judgment, Rose argues that the embankment was a natural
geographic phenomenon, and that the risk of falling through the embankment was “open and
obvious.” Rose Mem. at 19–22.
New York Courts do not appear to have extended this dichotomy to natural geographic
phenomena, to which courts have continued to apply the traditional categorical “open and
obvious” rule in cases involving a defendant’s duty to maintain property in a safe condition. See
Melendez, 76 A.D.3d at 443 (collecting cases).
Rose cites obsolete case law that predates this jurisprudential shift. See Rose Mem. at
20 (citing Russell v. Archer Bldg. Ctrs., 219 A.D.2d 772, 773 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t 1995)).
There is a genuine factual dispute as to whether the hazard at issue had a natural or
artificial cause. Rose suggests that the relevant risk was caused by natural erosion. Rose SMF ¶¶
53, 72. Mark Hogan, by contrast, maintains that the hazard in question was caused by excavation
that Rose conducted at some point between 2007 and 2015. Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 50, 60. He
submits as evidence that such excavation occurred his sworn statement that it has. See Response
to Rose SMF ¶¶ 56–62, 72; Dkt. No. 113 ¶ 18. Rose submits a sworn statement that he has not
conducted any excavation. See Rose SMF ¶ 72; Dkt. No. 86-2 ¶¶ 53, 55.
Rose argues that Mark Hogan’s sworn statement is not competent evidence at the
summary judgment stage, because it is not based on personal knowledge. Rose Reply at 9. But
while Mark Hogan does not explicitly state that he personally observed the excavation, the Court
can reasonably infer his personal knowledge of the excavation from the facts that he is Rose’s
neighbor and that he frequently traversed the area of the alleged excavation throughout the
relevant time period. See Barthelemy v. Air Lines Pilots Ass’n, 897 F.2d 999, 1018 (9th Cir.
1990) (“That Rule 56’s requirement of personal knowledge . . . ha[s] been met may be
inferred from the affidavits themselves.”) (internal citation omitted); Woods v. Amazon.com,
LLC, No. 17-CV-4339, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115003, at *9 (N.D. Ill. July 1, 2020) (“[A]n
affiant’s personal knowledge may be inferred from the affidavit itself, and in determining
whether to make such an inference, the Court can consider a variety of factors, including the
position of the affiant as well as his involvement in the matters he testifies to.”). The parties’
competing sworn statements regarding excavation, both based on personal knowledge, establish
a genuine factual dispute. See, e.g., Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. NET Transportation, Inc., No.
04-CV-316, 2006 WL 8447262, at *3 (D. Conn. May 4, 2006) (“In ruling on summary judgment,
the Court cannot credit averments made in plaintiff’s affidavit over that of the defendants.”).
Accordingly, in order to be entitled to summary judgment, Rose must establish the
absence of any genuine factual dispute relevant under the standard of liability that applies to
When a hazard is artificial, its “open and obvious” nature will only negate the
landowner’s duty of care if the hazard is also not “inherently dangerous.” See Niles, 2015 WL
6674833, at *4 (“[A] court is not precluded from granting summary judgment where a condition
was both open and obvious and not inherently dangerous.”) (citing Cupo, 1 A.D.3d at 51);
Segarra v. Delta Airlines, Inc., No. 18-CV-8135, 2020 WL 3127879, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. June 12,
2020) (“Even if a condition is open and obvious, a landowner’s failure to establish that the
condition is not inherently dangerous requires a court to deny summary judgment.”). “In
assessing inherent dangerousness, the Court may consider factors including the inherent nature
of the condition at issue, evidence of prior accidents, whether there is a statutory violation, the
frequency of inspections, photographs depicting the condition, and expert testimony.” Chaney v.
Starbucks Corp., 115 F. Supp. 3d 380, 386 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (collecting cases).
Rose has not addressed inherent dangerousness. See generally Rose Mem. He thus cannot
carry his initial burden to demonstrate the absence of a dispute of material fact bearing on his
satisfaction of his duty of care, regardless of whether he has shown the absence of a factual
dispute regarding the “open and obvious” nature of the relevant hazard. The Court need not
determine whether Rose has demonstrated the absence of the latter factual dispute.
Rose additionally argues that summary judgment is warranted because Mark Hogan has
admitted to cutting down trees and removing foliage and brush from the area of the embankment
on multiple occasions in the recent past, see Response to Rose SMF ¶ 74, and that this more
likely caused Mark Hogan’s injury than any excavation Rose undertook. Rose Mem. at 23–24.
To the contrary, the parties’ dispute over but-for causation is a factual dispute characteristically
unsusceptible to summary judgment. See, e.g., Montauk Oil Transp. Corp. v. S.S. Mut.
Underwriting Ass'n (Berm.), 859 F. Supp. 669, 681 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 1994) (noting that the
“issue of . . . causation . . . frequently involve[s] disputes of fact and [is] rarely appropriate for
resolution on summary judgment.”); Krofft Entertainment, Inc. v. CBS Songs, Div. of CBS, Inc.,
653 F. Supp. 1530, 1535 (S.D.N.Y Feb. 23, 1987) (noting that “dispute over causation presents a
proper jury question”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Finally, Rose argues for summary judgment on the ground that the alleged fall and injury
did not actually occur. Rose emphasizes discrepancies in Mark Hogan’s medical documentation
as to whether his fall occurred on August 27 or September 3, 2015. See Rose Mem. at 22. Rose
also submits what he represents is a series of security camera photographs of the area taken
throughout that period, none of which capture Mark Hogan. See id. at 22–23; Dkt. No. 96-10 to 11. Mark Hogan, for his part, states that the August 27 date listed on some medical
documentation was recorded in error; that the photographs do not capture the precise area in
which he fell; and that the photographs, which do not capture every moment that passed on
September 3, 2020, omit the moment of his injury. See Response to Rose SMF ¶¶ 65, 69–70.
Discrepancies as to the date of the fall in Mark Hogan’s medical records could only conceivably
bear on his credibility, and do not create the type of factual dispute that would warrant summary
judgment. See Curry v. City of Syracuse, 316 F.3d 324, 333 (2d Cir. 2003) (noting that
“credibility assessments, choices between conflicting versions of the events, and the weighing of
evidence are matters for the jury, not for the court on a motion for summary judgment”) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted). And, mindful of the Court’s obligation to restrict itself to
identifying disputes of fact, and to abstain from weighing the evidence, Mark Hogan’s sworn
statement that he fell in a place and at a time not captured by these photographs is sufficient to
create a genuine dispute as to whether the fall occurred.
Because Mark Hogan has presented competent evidence that he suffered an injury due to
an artificial hazard on Rose’s property, and because Rose has not met his burden to show that he
satisfied his duty of care toward Mark Hogan, Rose’s motion for summary judgment is denied as
to Mark’ Hogan’s negligence claim.
D. Loss of Consortium
Elizabeth Hogan asserts a claim for loss of consortium based on injuries that derive from
Mark Hogan’s involvement in the criminal justice system consequent to Rose and Vandewater’s
complaints to police. Pls.’ Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Rose Mot. at 14–15; Pls.’ Mem. of Law in
Opp’n to Vandewater Mot. at 15–16. Plaintiffs argue that Mark Hogan has spent long periods of
time away from Elizabeth Hogan due to his “constantly traveling to New York State for criminal
proceedings as a result of Defendants’ frivolous filing and supporting through false evidence
criminal complaints and charges against the Plaintiff,” and having been “taken into police
custody multiple times resulting in additional time spent away from his wife.” Pls.’ Mem. of Law
in Opp’n to Rose Mot. at 15; Pls.’ Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Vandewater Mot. at 16.
A claim for loss of consortium “represents the interest of an injured party’s spouse in the
continuance of a healthy and happy marital life,” Millington v. Southeastern Elevator Co., 22
N.Y.2d 498, 505 (N.Y. 1968). Loss of consortium encompasses “loss of support, . . . love,
companionship, affection, society, sexual relations, solace and more.” Carr v. French-American
Banking Corp., No. 88-CV-8607, 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2704, at 1–2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 6, 1991).
A claim for loss of consortium is a derivative action “from the occurrence of injury to one spouse
and the very fact of the marital relationship.” Haspil v. Church of St. Cyril, 128 Misc. 2d 968,
971 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1985) (citing De Angelis v. Lutheran Medical Center, 84 A.D.2d 17, 22
(N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t 1981)).
Summary judgment is granted as to Elizabeth Hogan’s claims for loss of consortium,
because they are premised solely on Mark Hogan’s malicious prosecution claims, which have
E. Punitive Damages
Rose and Vandewater request that the Court dismiss Mark Hogan’s punitive damages
claims against them. See Rose Mem. at 12–13; Vandewater Mem. at 10.
“Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for his willful or malicious conduct
and to deter others from similar behavior.” Milfort v. Prevete, 3 F. Supp. 3d 14, 23 (E.D.N.Y.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[T]o be entitled to an award of punitive damages, a
claimant must show a positive element of conscious wrongdoing.” New Windsor Volunteer
Ambulance Corps, Inc. v. Meyers, 442 F.3d 101, 121 (2d Cir. 2001).
Both motions for summary judgment are granted as to punitive damages. The Court
grants Vandewater’s motion as to punitive damages, because no claims against him remain. The
Court grants Rose’s motion as to punitive damages, because only a negligence claim remains
against him, and “punitive damages are not available for ordinary negligence.” Estate of Knaust
v. Contreras, No. 14-CV-2496, 2017 WL 3638440, at *11 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2017) (quoting
Munoz v. Puretz, 301 A.D.2d 382, 384 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2003)); see also Rice v.
University of Rochester Med. Ctr., 46 A.D.3d 1421, 1423 (N.Y. App. Div. 4th Dep’t 2017).
F. Stanford’s Cross-Claim
In answering Plaintiffs’ Complaint, Stanford asserted a cross-claim against all other
defendants, alleging that Stanford is entitled to contribution or indemnification in the event that
Plaintiffs obtain a verdict or judgment against him. Dkt. No. 33 ¶ 66. Rose seeks summary
judgment regarding this cross-claim, while Vandewater has not addressed this cross-claim.
Stanford did not file any responsive briefing regarding his cross-claim. Docket.
“Where a properly filed motion [for summary judgment] is unopposed and the Court
determines that the moving party has met its burden to demonstrate entitlement to the relief
requested therein, the non-moving party’s failure to file or serve any papers . . . shall be deemed
as consent to the granting or denial of the motion, as the case may be, unless good cause be
shown.” N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(b)(3). Under such circumstances, summary judgment is appropriate
where the movant’s argument for summary judgment is “facially meritorious.” See, e.g., Douglas
v. Smith, No. 05-CV-1000, 2009 WL 789450, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 20, 2009) (collecting cases).
Rose argues that Stanford’s cross-claim against him should be dismissed, because none
of Plaintiffs’ claims against Rose “overlap with or arise out of the same alleged facts or
circumstances as any of Plaintiffs’ claims against Mr. Stanford.” Rose Mem. at 25. Indeed, as
discussed in the Court’s prior summary judgment order, Plaintiffs’ claims against Stanford
concern events on September, 1 2016, in which neither Stanford nor Plaintiffs argue Rose was
involved. See Dkt. No. 116 at 5–8.
Because Rose’s argument for judgment as to Stanford’s cross-claim is “facially
meritorious,” See Douglas, 2009 WL 789450, at *7, Rose’s motion is granted as to Stanford’s
Accordingly, it is hereby:
ORDERED, that Vandewater’s summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 94) is GRANTED
in its entirety. All of Plaintiffs’ claims against Vandewater are hereby DISMISSED; and it is
ORDERED, that Rose’s summary judgment motion (Dkt. No. 96) is GRANTED in
part and DENIED in part. Mark Hogan’s malicious prosecution claim against Rose, Elizabeth
Hogan’s loss of consortium claim, Plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages, and Stanford’s crossclaim against Rose are DISMISSED; Mark Hogan’s negligence claim against Rose can proceed;
and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk shall TERMINATE defendant Vandewater from the docket;
and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk shall serve a copy of this Memorandum-Decision and Order
on all parties in accordance with the Local Rules.
IT IS SO ORDERED.6
October 16, 2020
Albany, New York
Due to the delays and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some
cases/motions were not disposed of prior to the end of the reporting period.
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