BY LEGAL LARRY
Last week, a Federal Court dismissed a lawsuit brought against the Village of Spring Valley that claimed the village violated a person’s civil rights by engaging in a pattern of overlooking civil rights abuses by its police officers.
The suit also claimed the village failed to train and supervise its police officers to prevent civil rights abuses. United States District Court Judge Cathy Seibel found that the evidence failed to substantiate such claims against the village. Plaintiff was represented by the Nyack based law firm of Feerick, Lynch & MacCartney. Calls to the attorneys for comment were not returned.
In McKay v. Village of Spring Valley, Plaintiff David McKay alleged that the village had a practice and policy to overlook civil rights abuses by its police officers and also that the village failed to supervise and train their police to prevent civil rights abuses. McKay also sued the Village claiming false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery and “other” claims.
The lawsuit was brought as a result of a claimed wrongful entry by several members of the Drug Enforcement Agency and one female member of the Spring Valley Police while executing an arrest warrant on the wrong house. Plaintiff alleged that officer of the Spring Valley Police Department (whose name will not be identified) was assigned to a Drug Enforcement Agency organized operation. The officer was the only member of the Spring Valley Police assigned to this operation. The officer’s role was to “be present” during the operation. The officer traveled with the federal agents in an unmarked car to a residence on Sharon Drive in Spring Valley. The officers arrived at 5:30 a.m. Plaintiff David McKay opened the door without the police needing to use any force. Plaintiff was seated on a living room couch when the Spring Valley Officer entered the home. The only involvement by the female police officer was to escort a female resident of the home to another room to watch her dress and ask if anyone named “Michael” was present. The officers shortly realized that they entered the wrong numbered house and upon such realization, promptly exited.
From these facts, it was alleged that the village was engaged in a policy of civil rights abuses. Under federal law, a municipal employer cannot be liable for civil rights violations unless there was a municipal policy or custom. An isolated act will not give rise to a civil rights claim.
The Court held that a local officer that “tags along” federal officers does not act unreasonably if he/she does not independently verify what the federal agents are doing.
The federal judge found Plaintiff failed to put any “meat on the bones of the conclusory boilerplate language” in the complaint. The court found that plaintiff’s attorneys cannot and do not argue that their client’s rights were violated by a formal custom or policy, so any liability must rest solely on a custom so widespread so as to amount to a village policy. The court found plaintiff’s attorney completely failed to show any conduct that would amount to such a policy.
The court also found no evidence to substantiate the claims that the village failed to properly supervise or train the officer. The plaintiff’s attorney admitted that the officer received some training in execution of arrest warrants. Additionally, plaintiff failed to show any proof that the village failed to supervise the officer.
Plaintiff’s theory was that the Spring Valley Police Officer should have checked the Drug Enforcement Agency’s paperwork and information for accuracy. Plaintiff claimed the village had a lack of a policy to scrutinize and validate warrants. However, as the Federal Court explained, there is absolutely no legal authority to support such a policy.
Since the Federal Court dismissed the federal claims, it refused to rule on the other state claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery. Those claims were dismissed without prejudice. If plaintiff wishes to bring them in Rockland County Supreme Court, he may do so.
While there is certainly a place for legitimate civil rights claims, it seems apparent that such questionable lawsuits won’t go anywhere. It seems way too easy for lawyers to play “Monday morning quarterback” when assessing police actions and bring suits that have little to no hope of success and only clog up Court dockets.
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