New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

THOMPSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-019-010, Claim No. 103031


Synopsis


Case Information

UID:
2003-019-010
Claimant(s):
DAVID L. THOMPSON The Court has sua sponte amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
THOMPSON
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The Court has sua sponte amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
103031
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Claimant's attorney:
ARNOLD J. KAPLAN, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZTER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: James E. Shoemaker, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 25, 2003
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant, David L. Thompson, brings this claim alleging false imprisonment and malicious prosecution in relation to a speeding ticket issued to him on March 26, 2000, by the New York State Police in the Town of Wayland, Steuben County, New York. The unified trial of this claim was held in the Binghamton District on May 5, 2003.


On March 26, 2000, at approximately 10:00 p.m., claimant was operating a rented vehicle with three companions traveling from New York City back to his home in Ontario, Canada. He was stopped at approximately 10:00 p.m. on Interstate 390 northbound, in the Town of Wayland, Steuben County, New York, by Trooper John M. Miller of the New York State Police. Trooper Miller testified he observed a vehicle on this unlit portion of the highway traveling 90 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone. After the stop, Trooper Miller ran a license check and found that the claimant's license had been suspended due to unpaid parking violations in New York City.
Trooper Miller placed the claimant under arrest on two charges, namely: (1) speeding in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1180 (d); and (2) aggravated unlicensed operation for driving with a suspended license in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 511 (1) (a). Trooper Miller advised claimant that he had to leave his vehicle at the scene because his driving privileges were under suspension.

Claimant was transported from the scene by Trooper Miller to the Justice Court of the Town of Wayland, Steuben County, where he appeared before the Hon. Charles W. Lauder. Claimant was required to post a $450.00 cash bail, which he was able to do with the assistance of Trooper Miller who transported him to a nearby ATM to obtain the necessary cash and then returned him to the court to post bail. Claimant was told to return on May 18, 2000 for a trial relative to the above-mentioned charges. Claimant left the court at that time and was driven back to Ontario, Canada, by one of his traveling companions.


On May 18, 2000, claimant returned from Canada to the Town of Wayland Court at which time Trooper Miller did not appear and the court adjourned the case until June 15, 2000. The claimant again appeared for trial on June 15, 2000, at which time Trooper Miller again failed to appear. This time the court dismissed the charges and claimant's bail was refunded.


Between claimant's appearances on May 18, 2000 and June 15, 2000, claimant received a letter from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) indicating that a mistake had been made; that the parking summons which he was alleged to have incurred and failed to pay had been entered incorrectly; and apologizing for any inconvenience this erroneous information may have caused. (Cl's Ex. 1). Consequently, his driving privileges in New York should not have been suspended. Claimant stated that he incurred substantial monetary damage and inconvenience as a result of his arrest on March 26, 2000 and his two subsequent trips back to the Town of Wayland Court on May 18, 2000 and June 15, 2000.


At trial, the State produced Trooper John M. Miller, a six and one-half year veteran of the New York State Police. On the date of this incident, Trooper Miller explained he was in a marked unit, working traffic enforcement and monitoring the speed of various vehicles with radar. The Trooper testified that is was dark that evening and it was impossible for him to see the operator of the claimant's vehicle. However, when claimant's vehicle entered his radar field traveling northbound on Interstate 390 he received a reading of 90 m.p.h. Trooper Miller pursued and stopped the claimant's vehicle, since the posted speed limit in that area was 65 m.p.h. Trooper Miller testified he issued claimant a ticket for speeding in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law 1180 (d) based upon his radar results, while he relied on the computer information he received regarding the claimant's license suspension in issuing a ticket for aggravated unlicensed operation in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 511 (1) (a). In all other respects, the Trooper's testimony is consistent with that of the claimant.


The State also called Mark Vredenburg of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (hereinafter referred to as "DMV"), who has been employed by DMV for the past 17 years and is the principal clerk in the violation's unit. Mr. Vredenburg testified that due to an operator error the claimant was wrongly listed as having been suspended for failure to answer a summons. However, the DMV did correct the error and forwarded a corrective notice to the claimant dated May 17, 2000. (Cl. Ex 1).


Based upon the foregoing, claimant maintains that he has proven causes of action against the State for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. Claimant also alleges that the State Police are guilty of racial profiling in relation to his initial stop and arrest.



False Imprisonment
In order to successfully prove a claim for false imprisonment, claimant must establish that: (1) the defendant intended to confine him; (2) he was conscious of the confinement; (3) he did not consent to the confinement; and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged. (
Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 457-458, cert den sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929). There is no genuine dispute regarding claimant's establishment of the first three factors and because claimant was arrested without a warrant, he has established a prima facie case of false imprisonment. (Broughton, 37 NY2d at 458). In other words, when an arrest is without a warrant, as here, there is a presumption that the arrest was unlawful, thereby shifting the burden to the State to establish a privilege for the confinement by establishing reasonable cause for said arrest. (Broughton, 37 NY2d at 458; Stratton v City of Albany, 204 AD2d 924). Whether there was probable cause to arrest claimant will, of course, depend upon the particular facts and circumstances preceding his arrest.

At trial, claimant focused on his arrest in terms of the aggravated unlicensed operation charge based upon the admittedly erroneous DMV information. However, this court finds that claimant has overlooked the fact that Trooper Miller had reasonable cause to arrest claimant for the offense of speeding after clocking him traveling 90 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone in violation of Section 1180 (d) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law in the first instance. Based upon that offense alone, Trooper Miller had reasonable cause to arrest claimant and bring him before a local town justice for arraignment on that charge. (
Casler v State of New York, 33 AD2d 305). Additionally, based upon the evidence presented by the State, the court finds that Trooper Miller also had reasonable cause to arrest claimant for violating Vehicle & Traffic Law 511 (1) (a), aggravated unlicensed operation, based upon the teletype information he received via the State Police computer. The fact that Trooper Miller relied on an erroneous computer report does not alter this result. (Blanchfield v State of New York, 104 Misc 2d 21, 25). A police officer is justified in arresting a person without a warrant for "[a]ny offense when he has reasonable cause to believe that such person has committed such offense in his presence; and...[a] crime when he has reasonable cause to believe that such person has committed such crime, whether in his presence or otherwise." (CPL 140.10 [1]). Based on the evidence presented at trial, the court finds that the State adequately overcame the presumption by establishing that Trooper Miller had reasonable cause to arrest claimant without a warrant for both of the aforesaid charges. That having been said, the court notes that even if the second charge was categorized as unlawful, the existence of the lawful arrest on the speeding charge would prohibit any recovery in this case. (Burden v City of Niagara Falls, 44 AD2d 754). Consequently, the State has met its burden by establishing the arrest of claimant was privileged. As such, the cause of action for false imprisonment is dismissed.

Malicious prosecution
It is well settled that "[t]he tort of malicious prosecution protects the personal interest of freedom from unjustifiable litigation [citation omitted]." (
Broughton, 37 NY2d at 457). The essential elements of malicious prosecution are: (1) a commencement of a criminal proceeding against a claimant; (2) determination of the proceeding in favor of the accused; (3) the absence of probable cause for the criminal proceeding; and (4) actual malice. (Id.).

Here, there is no dispute that a proceeding was initiated given that claimant was arrested and charged as outlined above. The second element requires that the proceeding terminate favorably to the accused "[w]hen the final disposition of the proceeding involves the merits and indicates the accused's innocence [citations omitted]." (
MacFawn v Kresler, 88 NY2d 859, 860). Simply stated, this standard has not been met when "[t]he question of guilt or innocence remain[s] unanswered....." (Ward v Silverberg, 85 NY2d 993, 994). Here, as stated hereinabove, this court finds by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence, namely Trooper Miller's testimony, that claimant was, in fact, guilty of the speeding charge regardless of the aggravated unlicensed operation charge. As such, the court finds that the dismissal of these charges based upon the Trooper's failure to appear at trial, does not suffice as a favorable termination on the merits.

Even assuming that this court were to deem claimant to have established the second element, claimant has failed to establish the third and fourth elements required for a successful malicious prosecution claim. The third element requires the absence of probable cause for the criminal proceeding. Probable cause has been described as when no reasonably prudent person would have believed that claimant was guilty of the crimes charged, given the facts known or reasonably known to be true to defendant at the time the prosecution was initiated. (
Munoz v City of New York, 18 NY2d 6; Colon v City of New York, 60 NY2d 78, rearg denied 61 NY2d 670). As stated above, it was clear that Trooper Miller had probable cause to arrest claimant on both charges at the time of the arrest based upon the radar reading and the computer reading. Nor was there any proof at trial whatsoever relative to the fourth element, actual malice. Malice exists if the evidence shows that defendant "[c]ommenced the prior criminal proceeding due to a wrong or improper motive, something other than a desire to see the ends of justice served [citation omitted]." (Nardelli v Stamberg, 44 NY2d 500, 503). While the pleadings allege Trooper Miller's initial stop of claimant was based solely on racial factors, the evidence presented to the Court establishes otherwise. Here, the credible proof at trial establishes that at the time of the stop there was no way that Trooper Miller could have observed the race of the driver of the vehicle or any of its occupants in this unlit portion of the highway. In sum, the court finds a total absence of proof relative to actual malice. Rather, based upon the evidence produced at trial, this Trooper would have been derelict in his duty had he not stopped claimant for his excessive speed and charged claimant with the aforementioned violations based upon the facts and circumstances presented to the Trooper at the time of this incident.

Based upon the foregoing, the State's motion to dismiss made at the close of claimant's proof upon which the court reserved at trial, is now granted. Accordingly, Claim No. 103031 is hereby DISMISSED.


Any and all other motions on which the court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined are hereby denied.


ENTER JUDGMENT ACCORDINGLY.

November 25, 2003
Binghamton, New York

HON. FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Judge of the Court of Claims