Friday, February 22, 2013

Summary judgment vacated in false arrest case

Summary judgment is vacated in a false arrest case because the trial court did not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, who was arrested for obstructing governmental administration for allegedly interfering with a police officer who was responding to an emergency in a shopping mall. The plaintiff gets his day in court.

The case is Barksdale Colavita, a summary order decided on December 26. False arrest cases are difficult to win because the officer can win upon a showing of probable cause to arrest the plaintiff. That's not hard to prove. Here, Officer Colavita was racing down an escalator when he came into physical contact with Barksdale. Both sides had different accounts of what happened. Colavita said that struck or pushed him three times, causing him to fall backwards (if true, that's an obstruction of governmental administration). Barksdale testified that Colavita pushed him from behind and, as a result of the push, he “lost [his] balance and put [his] hand back” in order “to try and get [his] balance.” On this testimony, the district court noted that Barksdale “acknowledge[d] that, as he lost his balance as a result of being pushed from behind, his left arm came up and came into contact with Officer Colavita.” That's why the district court granted summary judgment to Colavita on the false arrest claim.

The Court of Appeals (Walker, Katzmann and Hall) reverses and remands for trial. The district court did not truly view the evidence in the light most favorable to Barksdale. The Second Circuit writes:

Barksdale testified that he made only incidental contact with Officer Colavita after Officer Colavita pushed him: “[I]t happened so quick. I was basically like, ‘oh, I touched a police officer.’” Barksdale further testified that, after he made contact with Officer Colavita, Officer Colavita began “tussling and grabbing on [him, i.e., Barksdale] and [he] hit the ground.” Barksdale’s version of events, which we must credit at this stage of proceedings, contains no support for the inference that he intended to obstruct Officer Colavita. Officer Colavita would have known that he had initiated contact with Barksdale, that Barksdale “touched” him only in response to that contact, and that Officer Quatrone had passed Barksdale without incident. In light of these “facts and circumstances,” a reasonable jury could find that no “person of reasonable caution” would jump to the conclusion that Barksdale intended to impede Officer Colavita.  

No comments: