Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Second Circuit Updates – June 3, 2016

No criminal cases were decided by the Circuit today.

But there is an interesting civil case resulting from the plaintiff’s arrest by NYPD detectives,  on charges that were later dismissed. The plaintiff brought a civil suit against the defendants — several named NYPD detectives — under 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 .

The case is Figueroa v. Mazza et al.,  No. 14-4116-cv  (2d Cir. June 3, 2016)  (Circuit Judges: Kearse, Walker, and Cabranes; Judge Kearse dissents from part of the opinion).

In the plaintiff’s civil suit under 42 U.S.C.§ 1983  and state law, he raised the following claims against the detectives: (1) false arrest, (2) excessive force, (3) assault, (4) failure to intervene (because the detectives did not stop an unidentified police officer from beating him as he sat in a  police car), and (5) unlawful entry.

Of interest is Circuit’s discussion of the unlawful entry claim because it involves a 4th Amendment issue concerning the expectations of privacy of a guest in someone’s home. The district court had granted the detectives’ summary judgment motion on the unlawful entry claim, which challenged officers’ entry into the apartment of plaintiff’s mother, which is where they encountered and arrested him. The district court found the plaintiff had no legitimate expectation of privacy in his mother’s apartment because he did not “reside” there. The Circuit vacated this part of the district court’s  judgment.

The plaintiff then went to trial on all the remaining claims. The jury found for plaintiff  on the claims of false arrest, excessive force, and assault. There was a mistrial on the count of failure to intervene. The district court (in the EDNY),  however, overturned that result and granted judgment to the NYPD detectives under Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  The plaintiff appealed that decision (and he also asserted that the district court had abused its discretion in dismissing “unnamed defendants” from the case and in closing discovery).  The Circuit vacated the part of the district court’s judgment that rejected the plaintiff’s failure-to-intervene and unlawful-entry claims.

For criminal law practitioner, the Circuit’s discussion of the unlawful entry claim presents a relevant 4th Amendment issue. The district court ruled that the plaintiff  did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in his mother’s apartment — as a matter of  law — because he was not a resident there, and because he was about to leave the apartment when the police arrived and there was not evidence he intended to return to stay the night. As noted, the Circuit reversed this aspect of the judgment.

The facts of the apartment-entry were as follows: The detectives had tracked the plaintiff to his mother’s apartment. (They were investigating a possible kidnaping, of a child).  She opened the door to their knock.  And the plaintiff,  on seeing the detectives, stepped in front of his mother to try to close the door, but the detectives forced the door open and took him away. (Of course, the detectives claim “Samuel [Figueroa] invited them in.”).

The Plaintiff (in his deposition) said he was about to leave his mother’s apartment when the police arrived. He did not say whether he intended to return later that day to stay the night. But for more than a year before the arrest, he had been regularly “staying at his mother’s apartment three nights a week.”

The Circuit concluded that the district court’s emphasis that the plaintiff did not “reside” at the apartment was misplaced. Op. at 40. And the district court also appeared to have concluded that because the plaintiff “‘was about to leave the apartment” when police arrived, “he did not qualify as an overnight guest and thus could not claim a legitimate expectation of privacy  in the property.” Op. at  40.

The Circuit held that “‘overnight guest’ or not,” the plaintiff “enjoyed a degree of acceptance into his mother’s home sufficient to trigger” 4th Amendment protection. Op at 42 .  Overnight guests are looked upon with favor by the 4th Amendment, but not because “a person’s intent to stay in a dwelling on a particular night” is talismanic, “but because a host’s willingness to take in a guest to sleep … indicates  that the host has accepted the person into the private sphere of the household.” Op. at 41. Thus, “without drawing hard lines concerning what kind of guest counts as an ‘overnight’ one,” “a person’s status as an ‘overnight guest’ matters because sleeping in a dwelling says much about one’s connection with the property and one’s expectations while present there[.]” Id. n.17.  Accordingly, the Circuit concluded that the plaintiff’s “unlawful-entry claims should have survived a motion for summary judgment.”

The Circuit did affirm the district court’s ruling for the detectives on the claims of false arrest, excessive force, and assault. Regarding probable cause, because this is a §1983 case, the Circuit  said: “We need not determine whether probable cause was indeed present.” “Even if it was not, defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the basis of qualified immunity because …an officer ‘of reasonable competence’ could have concluded that the arrest was justified by probable cause.” Op. at 17. As for the assault and excessive force claims, it found the “defendants did nothing more than ‘grip[]’ Samuel’s shoulders, and ‘push[]’ him out of his mother’s apartment to the waiting police car.” And  it upheld the district court’s other rulings.

Judge Kearse dissented from the majority’s determination that there was enough “arguable” probable cause to entitle the detectives to qualified immunity.

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