New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
LEVINE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-010-018, Claim No. 113527

Synopsis

False arrest dismissed where detainment was reasonable.

Case information

UID: 2010-010-018
Claimant(s): BRUCE LEVINE
Claimant short name: LEVINE
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) : The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the only proper party defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 113527
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney: BASCH AND KEEGAN, LLP
By: Derek Spada, Esq.
Defendant's attorney: HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General for the State of New York
By: Wanda Perez-Maldonado, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: February 9, 2010
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant seeks damages based upon an alleged false arrest and confinement on January 9, 2007. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.

The pertinent facts are not in dispute. At approximately 1:40 p.m., claimant's vehicle was stopped on New Hackensack Road, in the Town of Wappinger Falls, by New York State Trooper Raymond Renzo, who clocked claimant's speed with radar at 57 miles per hour. The speed limit was 40 miles per hour.

Renzo entered claimant's license plate into the mobile data system and discovered that the car was registered to a Bruce Levine. Renzo then exited his patrol car and approached claimant's car. Renzo obtained claimant's license and registration and asked claimant if he had any problems with his license, any orders of protection or outstanding warrants. Claimant indicated that he did not.

Renzo returned to his patrol car. His computer was now flashing red lights, indicating that the car's registered owner may have outstanding warrants or orders of protection and to confirm that the information is still active (T:56).(2) Renzo entered claimant's name and date of birth, December 17, 1951, into the New York State Police Information Network (NYSPIN) system to check his criminal history. This search revealed basically the same information as the mobile data system contained (Ex. A, pp 1-2). Renzo learned that there were three outstanding warrants for a Bruce Levine, also known as Bruce Gradus. There was a bench warrant issued on March 29, 1984 by the Criminal Court of the City of New York charging Bruce Levine with Petit Larceny (Ex. B) and there were two warrants issued on May 29, 1991 and August 23, 1991 by the Supreme Court of the City of New York charging Bruce Gradus with Forgery in the 2d Degree, a Class D Felony (Exs. C, D). The warrants describe the wanted individual as a white male, 5'10", 145 pounds with hazel eyes. The warrant for Bruce Levine described him as having red or auburn hair and born December 12, 1953 (Ex. B); the two warrants for Bruce Gradus describe him as having brown hair (Exs. C, D). Claimant, a white male, was born December 17, 1951 and his driver's license describes him as 5'11", 190 pounds, brown eyes, brown hair. Renzo dismissed the discrepancies between the claimant's and the wanted individual's weight and hair color as physical characteristics that can change. He further testified that he thought claimant's eyes looked hazel and that his hair appeared red in the sunlight.

When faced with the report of three outstanding warrants, Renzo attempted to verify whether claimant was the Bruce Levine who was the wanted subject. Renzo directed his dispatcher to contact the New York City Police Department, the originating agency.

Renzo returned to claimant's vehicle approximately 10 minutes later and informed claimant that there were outstanding warrants for his arrest. Claimant stated that this had happened before and he asked that Renzo check all the numbers. The social security numbers on the warrants did not match claimant's. Renzo asked claimant to describe himself. According to Renzo, claimant described himself as having hazel eyes and weighing within a couple of pounds of 145 (T:67). Renzo determined that the only way to confirm claimant's true identity was by fingerprinting him. Renzo told claimant to exit his vehicle. Claimant was patted down and handcuffed and advised that he was being taken to the station for further investigation. Renzo moved claimant's car to a parking lot and then transported claimant to the Wappinger Falls State Police Barracks (Wappinger Barracks). The time from the initial stop to their leaving the scene was 20 to 30 minutes (T:22-23, 69).

At the Wappinger Barracks, claimant remained handcuffed and was seated on a bench. He protested that he was not the wanted person and requested that the troopers examine his Driver's License and his employer's identification card and telephone claimant's employer. Claimant also stated that he had worked with a man named Vincent Renzo and he asked Trooper Renzo if they were related. Renzo had a cousin Vinny, but Renzo declined claimant's request to call the cousin or claimant's employer to ascertain claimant's identity. Claimant was permitted to telephone his place of business; he did not request counsel or ask to leave. Claimant was detained at the Wappingers Barracks for approximately two hours (T:25).

Claimant's fingerprints were taken and faxed to the Department of Criminal Justice Services. Approximately 15 minutes after they were faxed, Renzo was advised that the prints were not readable and were too large on the fax (T:73). Therefore, Renzo transported claimant to the Millbrook State Police Barracks to do a live scan of claimant's fingerprints. It was a one-half hour car ride, during which claimant remained handcuffed (T:27). After a half hour at Millbrook, claimant was photographed and he submitted to a live scan whereby claimant placed his hand on a computer screen to transmit his fingerprints. Initially, there were problems using the live scan; therefore another trooper was called in from patrol to perform the scan (T:28-29). Claimant was detained at the Millbrook Barracks for approximately 90 minutes (T:30). When the results were not forthcoming, Renzo transported claimant back to the Wappinger Barracks.

Within one-half hour of arriving at the Wappingers Barracks, at approximately 6:25 p.m., Renzo received a telephone call that claimant was not the subject of the warrants (T:78, 101-02). The handcuffs were removed and claimant was driven back to his car. Throughout this process, Renzo was neither abusive nor threatening to claimant.

Analysis

To establish a cause of action for false arrest or imprisonment a claimant must show: "(1) that the defendant intended to confine him, (2) the [claimant] was conscious of the confinement, (3) the [claimant] did not consent to the confinement and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged * * * " (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456). "[W]here a facially valid order issued by a Court with proper jurisdiction directs confinement, that confinement is privileged * * * and everyone connected with the matter is protected from liability for false imprisonment" (Holmberg v County of Albany, 291 AD2d 610, 612). Here, it is undisputed that the warrants were facially valid and that the issuing Court had proper jurisdiction (see Collins v State of New York, 69 AD3d 46; Salzano v Town of Poughkeepsie, 300 AD2d 716; Boose v City of Rochester, 71 AD2d 59). Further, the undisputed facts showed that the trooper acted diligently in his attempts to ascertain whether claimant was the subject of the warrants. This information was obtained in a timely manner and claimant was promptly informed that he was not the subject of the warrants and was then transported back to his car. Accordingly, claimant's cause of action for false arrest and imprisonment must fail (see Johnson v Kings County Dist. Attorney's Off., 308 AD2d 278).

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 113527.

February 9, 2010

White Plains, New York

Terry Jane Ruderman

Judge of the Court of Claims


2. References to the trial transcript are preceded by the letter "T."