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Mitchell v. City of New York

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

October 28, 2016

MELINDA MITCHELL, individually and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, HARVEY MITCHELL, individually and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, a municipal entity, NYC POLICE OFFICER JAMES SCHUESSLER, Shield No. 28718, RICHARD ROES, 1-50 NEW YORK CITY POLICE SUPERVISORS AND COMMANDERS, JOHN DOES, 1-50 NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICERS, individually, and in their official capacities, jointly and severally, POLICE OFFICER JOSEPH BRINADZE, NYPD CAPTAIN JOSEPH GULOTTA, NYPD SERGEANT DANIELLE ROVENTINI, and NYPD LIEUTENANT KATHLEEN CAESAR, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: February 20, 2015

         Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Lewis A. Kaplan, Judge), granting appellees' motion for summary judgment and dismissing appellants' claims. We hold that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the New York City Police officers had probable cause to arrest appellants for trespass. The district court therefore improperly dismissed appellants' false arrest claim. We affirm as to all other claims.

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

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

          Before: WINTER, POOLER, and SACK, Circuit Judges

          WINTER, Circuit Judge

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

         BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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


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