New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DECKER v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-018-457, Claim No. 106643, Motion No. M-68872


Defendant's motion for Summary Judgment is granted and the claim is DISMISSED.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
de SILVA & RHINEHARTBy: Robert F. Rhinehart, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Edward F. McArdle, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 14, 2005

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Defendant brings a motion seeking summary judgment. Claimant opposes the motion.

Claimant filed a claim as the result of injuries she sustained on the night of March 24, 2002, in the vicinity of Curley's Tavern, 809 Valley Drive, in the City of Syracuse. She alleges that on that night a State Trooper, without just provocation or legal authority, tackled her from behind, knocking her to the ground, possibly several times, causing her serious and permanent injuries. She sets forth three causes of action: negligent use of excessive force, false imprisonment, and assault and battery.

Defendant submits, in support of its motion, the deposition testimony of New York State Trooper Christopher Cronin and Claimant, Claimant's verified bill of particulars and a copy of an affidavit from Claimant's daughter, Colleen MacKay.[1] Claimant, in response, submits the affidavit of Claimant, the affidavit of Claimant's daughter, Colleen MacKay, and Exhibit 1, a picture of part of a white car, a sidewalk and a door; Exhibit 2, some of Claimant's medical records, Exhibit 3, a picture of Claimant's injuries, and Exhibit 4, copies of the ambulance records from March 24, 2002.

From reviewing the documents submitted, there are no key facts in issue. Claimant cannot recall anything that happened during the critical time frame leading to her injuries, nor has she submitted evidence in admissible form from anyone else to controvert the facts as set forth by Officer Cronin's deposition testimony. Claimant's injuries and the location where she fell, without more, do not raise an issue of fact. In the absence of any factual issues, this case can be determined as a matter of law. Accordingly, the Court finds the facts as follows:

On Sunday, March 24, 2002, Claimant left Cazenovia by herself, and drove her white Chevy Malibu to Syracuse. At the time, Claimant was wearing black jeans, some type of turtle neck, and a brown leather jacket with a hood. She arrived in Syracuse between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m., and drove to Curley's, a bar near her home, parking in the back parking lot. She put her purse in the trunk after removing her money and cigarettes. She then went into the bar, sat down and ordered a shot of Tequila with a soda on the side. She chatted with some people she knew in the bar, including a Jeff Barker. After talking for awhile, and having another shot of Tequila, she and Mr. Barker decided to leave Curley's around 7:30 p.m. Claimant and Mr. Barker left together and both got into Claimant's vehicle. Claimant drove to another bar, Pfohl's, on Salina Street approximately ten blocks away from Curley's. At Pfohl's, Claimant ordered another shot of Tequila with a soda on the side, and Mr. Barker ordered a draft beer. They sat at the bar and talked. Claimant had another shot of Tequila. At approximately 9:00 p.m., Claimant and Mr. Barker left Pfohl's. Claimant asked Mr. Barker to drive her vehicle home because she felt she had too much to drink to be driving. Mr. Barker, according to Claimant, drove north on Salina Street, and after about two blocks he began to drive fast. Claimant asked him to stop the car but he refused. Claimant testified that then Mr. Barker told her there was a deputy sheriff behind them, and he began driving even faster. He drove very fast until he finally returned to the back parking lot at Curley's. He told Claimant to run when he stopped the car. He exited the car first, then Claimant got out. Claimant has no recollection of what transpired for the next few moments. Trooper Cronin testified that he was driving a marked police car (actually a Chevrolet Tahoe), and he followed Claimant's vehicle for a period of time prior to arriving at Curley's. Trooper Cronin testified that Claimant's vehicle drove down different streets circling around until returning to Curley's back parking lot.[2] While en route, in addition to the excessive speed that Claimant's vehicle was traveling, Trooper Cronin also saw it swerve into oncoming traffic and cross a double solid yellow line. After turning into Curley's back parking lot, Claimant's vehicle stopped approximately 10 feet from the back door of Curley's and the trooper's vehicle, lights and siren still going, stopped approximately 10 feet behind it. Trooper Cronin testified that the occupants of the car both exited and started running away. He yelled, "Police, don't move." They continued moving, the driver of the vehicle went into Curley's. Trooper Cronin caught up to passenger of the vehicle, Claimant, and grabbed her leather coat. Trooper Cronin testified that when he grabbed her she spun to the right and then fell to the ground, chest down. Trooper Cronin handcuffed Claimant behind her back and then went into the bar to try to locate the driver of the vehicle. The driver had run through the bar and out the front door. Trooper Cronin went out the front door but there was no sight of the driver. He returned to where Claimant was, only a few minutes having expired, turned her over, and asked her who the driver was. He testified that she seemed so intoxicated she couldn't speak. Trooper Cronin saw then that Claimant was bleeding and called for an ambulance. He helped Claimant up off of the ground and took her next to her car, and the handcuffs were removed as soon as ambulance personnel arrived at the scene. Claimant's daughter arrived, and she served as a witness when Trooper Cronin searched Claimant's vehicle. Trooper Cronin testified that during the pursuit of the vehicle he saw the occupants moving around a lot, and he wasn't sure what they were doing, or why they were evading stopping. A marijuana pipe and marijuana were found in Claimant's purse; she was issued a ticket for unlawful possession of marijuana (Penal Law §221.05), a violation.
Claimant's first cause of action: negligent use of excessive force

Defendant argues that a claim of excessive force is akin to an assault and raises an issue of intentional conduct, not negligence; therefore this cause of action must be dismissed, as it is not recognized in this State. Even if a cause of action is mislabeled, the Court's evaluation of the claim does not end where the allegations of wrongdoing clearly set forth a cognizable claim. Here, Claimant clearly is asserting that Trooper Cronin used excessive force under the circumstances in stopping her, and an application of the legal principles to the facts of this case is necessary.

Where an allegation of excessive force arises within the context of the government making an arrest or investigatory stop the protections of the Fourth Amendment come into play, and the police officer's conduct must be analyzed by an objectively reasonable standard (Graham v Connor, 490 US 386, 396; Ostrander v State of New York, 289 AD2d 463, 464; Vizzari v Hernandez, 1 AD3d 431, 432). The reasonableness of the police officer's conduct must be judged from the officer's perspective at the scene, rather than in light of 20/20 hindsight (Graham v Connor, 490 US at 396).

Claimant argues that as the passenger in the vehicle Trooper Cronin followed during the high speed chase, the Trooper had no reason to try to stop her, or arrest her, since she had done nothing wrong. This argument fails. A passenger in a vehicle that has been lawfully stopped may be subject to precautionary police conduct, in line with the Fourth Amendment protections, to the same extent as the driver of the vehicle (see People v Robinson, 74 NY2d 773; People v Dunnigan, 1 AD3d 930). Here, Claimant's conduct in exiting a vehicle involved in several traffic infractions after a high speed chase, running and failing to heed the Trooper's direction to stop, certainly gave Trooper Cronin a reason to try and detain her. Moreover, viewed objectively, based upon the officer's perspective, working alone that night, his conduct in running after Claimant, grabbing the back of her jacket and stopping her is not excessive force as a matter of law. The Court finds that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on this cause of action.
Claimant's second cause of action for false imprisonment

A cause of action for false imprisonment includes essentially the same tort as false arrest (Prentice v State of New York, 4 Misc 3d 1008(A); Blanchfield v State of New York, 104 Misc 2d 21). To prevail on a claim of false imprisonment, the Defendant must have intended to confine the Claimant, the Claimant must be conscious of the confinement[3] but not consent to it, and the confinement must not otherwise be privileged (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456). Typically the critical issue to be determined is whether the imprisonment was privileged, that is, whether the State had probable cause to arrest Claimant. Where the imprisonment is conducted without a warrant there is a presumption of unlawfulness, shifting the burden to Defendant to establish privilege (id. at 456; Martinez v City of Schenectady, 276 AD2d 993). Here, the key question begins one step back from the issue of probable cause for an arrest, that is, did the Defendant have reasonable suspicion to forcibly detain Claimant. Claimant's running, in response to the Trooper's request to stop, does not by itself provide the necessary level of suspicion (People v May, 81 NY2d 725). However, flight, when considered in light of other surrounding circumstances, may provide the officer at the scene with reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed justifying detention (People v Martinez, 80 NY2d 444, 448; People v Leung, 68 NY2d 734, 736). "Reasonable suspicion represents the ‘quantum of knowledge sufficient to induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious [person] under the circumstances to believe criminal activity is at hand.'" (People v Martinez, 80 NY2d at 448 quoting People v Cantor, 36 NY2d 106, 112-113).

Claimant argues that Trooper Cronin did not have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was in progress so as to permissibly detain her by force, as evidenced by the fact that she was only charged with a non-criminal violation, not a misdemeanor or a felony. "However, reasonable suspicion in the context of an arrest may be generated not only by the offense charged, but also by ‘the particular characteristics of the arrestee, and/or the circumstances of the arrest.'" (People v Martinez, 268 AD2d 266, 267, quoting Weber v Dell, 804 F2d 796, 802).

Here, Claimant was a passenger in a car involved in numerous traffic infractions for which Trooper Cronin unquestionably had the right to try to stop. Instead of stopping, however, the vehicle led the Trooper on a high speed chase through the city. When the vehicle finally stopped, the occupants exited the vehicle and ran away. The actions of Claimant in fleeing from a police officer after a lawful request to stop, coupled with the preceding events would, in the opinion of this Court, lead a cautious and prudent person to believe that criminal activity is occurring or has occurred, warranting Claimant's detention.

Having found that the detention of Claimant was privileged, Claimant's cause of action for false imprisonment must be DISMISSED.

Claimant's cause of action for assault and battery

An assault is the intentional placing of another person in apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact. A defendant is liable for an assault when he intentionally causes another person to become concerned that the defendant is about to cause harmful or offensive bodily contact (2 NY PJI 3:2 [2004]). A battery is committed when a person intentionally touches another, without that person's consent causing offensive bodily contact (2 NY PJI 3:3 [2004]). However, a police officer who acts lawfully in taking a person into custody, and uses only such force as is reasonably necessary to effectuate obtaining the custody of that person, does not commit an assault or battery (2 NY PJI 3:4 [2004]).

Here, the facts establish that Trooper Cronin had reasonable cause to try to detain Claimant under the circumstances, Claimant was running away, the Trooper reached out and grabbed her coat which caused her to fall to the ground. These facts do not support a finding that Trooper Cronin used more force then necessary to effectuate Claimant's detention. Claimant's cause of action for assault and battery must be DISMISSED.

Accordingly, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and the claim is DISMISSED.

March 14, 2005
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

The Court has considered the following documents in deciding this motion:

Notice of Motion.................................................................................................1

Affirmation of Edward F. McArdle, Esquire, in support, with exhibits

attached thereto........................................................................................2

Defendant's Memorandum of Law in support.....................................................3

Memorandum of Law by Claimant's attorney, in opposition, and Affidavit of

Claimant in opposition with exhibits attached thereto............................4

[1]Defendant submits various other documents including documents from the internal police investigation into this incident, a copy of the accusatory instrument and criminal disposition, however the Court has not relied on these documents as they are not in admissible form (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557).
[2] When Trooper Cronin first observed claimant's vehicle it was traveling north on Valley Drive, not Salina Street. Mr. Barker then drove the vehicle down several side streets before returning to Curly's on Ballantyne.
[3] Although whether claimant was conscious for her confinement is questionable, since she has no recollection of the events, for purposes of this motion, defendant concedes that claimant was conscious.