JOSÉ A. CABRANES, Circuit Judge.
This appeal addresses whether plaintiff's suit can survive defendants' motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds with respect to his state-law claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution and abuse of process, and with respect to his § 1983 claim based on these state-law causes of action. We hold that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to the District Court to enter judgment in favor of defendants.
Joseph V. Savino, a former medico-legal investigator in the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, filed this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on December 8, 1997 against the City of New York ("City") and several members of the New York Department of Investigation ("DOI") and the New York Police Department.
In late 1994 and throughout 1995, Savino had been widely described in the New York news media as the highest paid City
In his complaint, Savino alleges that he was prosecuted for the theft of the ring as retaliation for the embarrassing media attention stemming from his allegedly exorbitant overtime pay. He asserts claims against defendants for (1) various state-law torts, including false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process, (2) violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on these state-law causes of action, and (3) violations of Article I, Sections 6 and 12 of the New York State Constitution.
On February 16, 2001, defendants moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and on October 31, 2001, the District Court (Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, Judge) granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion for summary judgment. Savino, 168 F.Supp.2d at 181.
Specifically, the District Court granted summary judgment to all of the defendants on Savino's claims of defamation, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the New York Constitution. Id. at 178-79. It also granted summary judgment to the police-officer defendants (Gargan, Dowd, Brooks, Bartholomew and Baner) with respect to the false arrest claims because the police-officer defendants did not "`affirmatively instigate or procure [Savino's] arrest,'" id. at 177 (quoting King v. Crossland Savings Bank, 111 F.3d 251, 256-57 (2d Cir.1997)).
The District Court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to Savino's claims for malicious prosecution, false arrest (against the DOI defendants and the City), and abuse of process, as well as his § 1983 claims based on these state-law torts.
With respect to the malicious prosecution and false arrest claims, the District Court concluded that the existence of probable cause constitutes a complete defense to both of these state-law claims, as well as to Savino's § 1983 claims based upon them. Id. at 178. It also determined that "[i]ndictment before a grand jury creates a presumption of probable cause" that is applicable to each of these claims. Id. (citing Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir.1996), and Colon v. City of New York, 60 N.Y.2d 78, 82, 468 N.Y.S.2d 453, 455, 455 N.E.2d 1248 (1983)).
Although Savino was indicted by a grand jury, the District Court concluded
With respect to the police-officer defendants, the Court then reasoned: "It is unclear from the record whether the police defendants disclosed Brooks' information to the [prosecuting attorney] or the DOI. If they did not, the failure to do so would be sufficient evidence of bad faith to rebut the presumption created by the indictment with respect to them." Id. It concluded that, "[i]n the absence of the presumption, there are genuine issues of fact with respect to both probable cause and qualified immunity [of the police-officer defendants]." Id. Accordingly, the Court denied the police-officer defendants' motion for summary judgment on Savino's malicious prosecution claim.
The District Court relied on this same line of reasoning to deny summary judgment to the DOI defendants and the City on both the malicious prosecution and false arrest claims. The Court concluded that "[t]he record is ... unclear as to whether [DOI investigators] Sturcken, Perez and Wilson knew about Brooks' evidence." Id. at 178. Nevertheless, it reasoned:
Id. at 178-79 (internal citation omitted).
The District Court also denied defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to the abuse-of-process claim. The Court noted that "`[i]n New York, a malicious abuse-of-process claim lies against a
Finally, the Court reserved decision with respect to the issue of municipal liability until such time as it had a basis for determining whether defendant Wilson, the Commissioner of the DOI at that time, had final policy-making authority such that his actions could subject the city to liability under § 1983. Id. at 180-81; see Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 106 S.Ct. 1292, 89 L.Ed.2d 452 (1986) ("Municipal liability attaches only where the decisionmaker possesses final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered.").
Following the District Court's October 31, 2001 ruling, defendants filed a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 6.3 of the Local Rules of the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. On January 9, 2002, the District Court granted the motion for reconsideration with respect to the issue of whether Sergeant Brooks' testimony at trial had the significance attributed to it by the District Court in its October 31, 2001 opinion. See Savino v. City of New York, 2002 WL 24308, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. January 9, 2002). The Court stated:
Id. at *2. On this basis, the Court held that "Brooks' testimony does not, therefore, alter [its] previous conclusion that genuine issues of material fact remain with respect to probable cause." Id.
The Court then summarily denied the remainder of the arguments raised by defendants in their motion for reconsideration. Finally, it determined that "[s]ince neither party has argued that Wilson does not have policy-making authority with respect to investigations of wrongdoing by City employees such that his actions may subject the City to liability under § 1983, a genuine issue of material fact remains as to [whether the City of New York can be held liable for his actions]." Id. at *3.
The defendants timely filed this appeal of both the October 31, 2001 and the January 9, 2002 District Court orders.
It is well established that "[w]e review de novo a district court's denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds." Kinzer v. Jackson, 316 F.3d 139, 143 (2d Cir.2003).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) requires a court to grant a motion for summary judgment whenever it determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505. We have had many occasions to recite the basic rule enumerated by the Supreme Court that, in order to avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate, therefore, if the evidence presented by the nonmoving party "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (citation omitted), or if it is based purely on "conjecture or surmise," Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.1991).
As with the standard for summary judgment, the standard governing the qualified immunity defense is well-settled. We have only recently recalled that, "[u]nder the doctrine of qualified immunity, a government official performing discretionary functions is shielded from liability for civil damages if his conduct did not violate plaintiff's clearly established rights or if it would have been objectively reasonable for the official to believe that his conduct did not violate plaintiff's rights." Mandell v. County of Suffolk, 316 F.3d 368, 385 (2d Cir.2003). Accordingly, defendants are entitled to summary judgment unless, in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment, Savino has submitted evidence sufficient to establish that objectively reasonable persons in the defendants' position would have known that their conduct violated Savino's rights.
Because qualified immunity is an immunity from suit—not merely an immunity from judgment—assertions of qualified immunity should be addressed as early as possible in the judicial process. See, e.g., Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 228, 112 S.Ct. 534, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 527-29, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). Accordingly, under the collateral order doctrine, "a district court's denial of a claim of qualified immunity, to the extent that it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable `final decision' notwithstanding the absence of a final judgment." Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806. In considering such appeals, we may exercise
Although we lack jurisdiction to resolve material issues of fact on an interlocutory appeal, Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 313, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995), we have jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals of a district court's denial of qualified immunity whenever the defendant is willing to accept plaintiff's version of the facts for purposes of the appeal, see Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 313, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996); Salim v. Proulx, 93 F.3d 86, 89 (2d Cir.1996). "Even where the lower court rules that material disputes of fact preclude summary judgment on qualified immunity, we may still exercise interlocutory jurisdiction if the defendant ... contends that he is entitled to qualified immunity even under plaintiff's version of the facts." Tierney v. Davidson, 133 F.3d 189, 194 (2d Cir.1998).
Accordingly, for purposes of this appeal, we will analyze the facts in the light most favorable to Savino, reviewing de novo the legal question of whether the disputed facts identified by the District Court are, in fact, material. See, e.g., Cartier v. Lussier, 955 F.2d 841, 844 (2d Cir.1992).
A. Malicious Prosecution Claim
Under New York law, "[t]he elements of an action for malicious prosecution are (1) the initiation of a proceeding, (2) its termination favorably to plaintiff, (3) lack of probable cause, and (4) malice." Colon v. City of New York, 60 N.Y.2d 78, 82, 468 N.Y.S.2d 453, 455, 455 N.E.2d 1248 (1983). Liability for the tort of malicious prosecution also gives rise to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Cook v. Sheldon, 41 F.3d 73, 77-79 (1994).
As the District Court properly noted, the existence of probable cause is a complete defense to a claim of malicious prosecution in New York. See Colon, 60 N.Y.2d at 82, 468 N.Y.S.2d at 455 (discussing malicious prosecution claims). The District Court also correctly recognized that, under New York law, indictment by a grand jury creates a presumption of probable cause that may only be rebutted by evidence that the indictment was procured by "fraud, perjury, the suppression of evidence or other police conduct undertaken in bad faith." Colon, 60 N.Y.2d at 83, 468 N.Y.S.2d at 456.
The District Court held that, even though Savino was indicted for stealing the ring, he adequately rebutted the presumption of probable cause arising from his indictment because a reasonable jury could find that (1) defendants had acted in bad
We believe the District Court's analysis is flawed because it apparently ignored the rule that it is the plaintiff who bears the burden of proof in rebutting the presumption of probable cause that arises from the indictment. See, e.g., Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir.1994) (holding that, under New York law, "the plaintiff must establish that the indictment was produced by fraud, perjury, the suppression of evidence or other police conduct undertaken in bad faith" (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added)). In order to survive a motion for summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claim, Savino must have submitted evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that his indictment was procured as a result of police conduct undertaken in bad faith. The District Court erroneously shifted this burden to defendants by permitting Savino to rebut the presumption of probable cause with mere "conjecture" and "surmise" that his indictment was procured as a result of conduct undertaken by the defendants in bad faith. Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.1991).
Even if Sergeant Brooks had been watching the crime scene the entire time that Savino was alone in the room, which is highly doubtful,
The collective knowledge doctrine provides that, for the purpose of determining whether an arresting officer had probable cause to arrest, "where law enforcement authorities are cooperating in an investigation, ... the knowledge of one is presumed shared by all." Illinois v. Andreas, 463 U.S. 765, 772 n. 5, 103 S.Ct. 3319, 77 L.Ed.2d 1003 (1983). We have observed that "[this] rule exists because, in light of the complexity of modern police work, the arresting officer cannot always be aware of every aspect of an investigation; sometimes his authority to arrest a suspect is based on facts known only to his superiors or associates." United States v. Valez, 796 F.2d 24, 28 (2d Cir.1986). Accordingly, the doctrine has traditionally been applied to assist officers in establishing probable cause—not to impute bad faith to one member of an enforcement team on the basis of another member's knowledge. In fact, in Valez, we clearly stated that this doctrine cannot be used to impute to an officer "facts known to some [other] members of the police force which exonerate an arrestee." Id. In addition to our holding in Valez, common sense dictates that the collective knowledge doctrine cannot be applied in the circumstances presented here: Certainly, one cannot establish that an officer engaged in "conduct undertaken in bad faith," Colon, 60 N.Y.2d at 83, 468 N.Y.S.2d at 456, 455 N.E.2d 1248, simply by presenting evidence of another officer's knowledge or state of mind. Accordingly, the District Court erred by invoking the collective knowledge doctrine in the circumstances presented here.
In any event, even if other officers were aware that Sergeant Brooks had observed Savino continuously while he was alone in the room and that she did not see him take the ring, Savino has presented no evidence that this information was intentionally withheld from ADA Sullivan. As an initial matter, ADA Sullivan personally interviewed Sergeant Brooks before Savino's indictment. Aff. of Joseph J. Sullivan, Aug. 14, 1997, at 2-3, ¶¶ 4, 7. If Sergeant Brooks actually had been looking into the hotel room the entire time Savino was alone in that room, and if she had indeed revealed this information to the other officers, they logically could have assumed that Sergeant Brooks herself would reveal this information during her interview with ADA Sullivan. Accordingly, their failure to take it upon themselves to present to ADA Sullivan the observations of another officer (Sergeant Brooks) would have been entirely reasonable, and certainly not evidence of bad faith.
In the absence of sufficient evidence that defendants—or any other officers—acted in bad faith, no reasonable juror could find that Savino has overcome the presumption of probable cause that arises from his indictment. Because the existence of probable cause to arrest is a complete defense to a claim of malicious prosecution, defendants were entitled to summary judgment on this claim and the related § 1983 claim. Defendants are also entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds with respect to these claims. See, e.g., Mandell v. County of Suffolk, 316 F.3d 368, 385 (2d Cir.2003) (stating that an officer is entitled to immunity from suit if his conduct did not violate plaintiff's clearly established rights).
B. False Arrest Claim
To state a claim for false arrest under New York law, a plaintiff must show that "(1) the defendant intended to confine the plaintiff, (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." Bernard, 25 F.3d at 102. As with malicious prosecution, liability for false arrest also gives rise to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Cook v. Sheldon, 41 F.3d 73, 77-79 (1994).
The District Court analyzed Savino's malicious prosecution and false arrest claims together because it believed that the presumption of probable cause arising from Savino's indictment was applicable to both claims. See Savino, 168 F.Supp.2d at 178. But the New York Court of Appeals has expressly held that the presumption of probable cause arising from an indictment "applies only in causes of action for malicious prosecution and is totally misplaced when applied in false [arrest] actions." Broughton v. State, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 335 N.E.2d 310 (1975).
Nevertheless, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Savino's false arrest claim and the related § 1983 claim. As noted above, the District Court has already granted summary judgment to the police-officer defendants (Gargan, Dowd, Brooks, Bartholomew and Baner) with respect to the false arrest claims because they did not "`affirmatively instigate or procure [Savino's] arrest,'" id. at 177 (quoting King v. Crossland Savings Bank, 111 F.3d 251, 256-57 (2d Cir.1997)). We conclude that the DOI defendants and the City are also entitled to summary judgment on the claim of false arrest because, even accepting Savino's version of the facts, the DOI defendants did not act unreasonably in securing his arrest. See, e.g., Mandell, 316 F.3d at 385 ("Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, a government
The defendants do not dispute that Savino was, in fact, arrested. Accordingly, the only question for us to consider is whether Savino's arrest was "privileged," or "justified." See, e.g., Bernard, 25 F.3d at 102; Broughton, 37 N.Y.2d at 458, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 335 N.E.2d 310. The New York Court of Appeals has made clear that "[j]ustification may be established by showing that the arrest was based on probable cause," Broughton, 37 N.Y.2d at 458, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 335 N.E.2d 310, but that the defendants bear the burden of proving that probable cause existed for the plaintiff's arrest, id. Probable cause exists when an officer has "knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been committed by the person to be arrested." Martinez v. Simonetti, 202 F.3d 625, 634 (2d Cir.2000).
At the time that Savino was arrested, the DOI defendants knew that the ring had disappeared from the hotel room and that it had turned up in Savino's home. Although Savino claimed that he found the ring in a bottle of pills that he took with him from the crime scene for analysis, the victim's suicide note indicated that the ring was in her wallet, and Officers Gargan and Dowd confirmed that they had observed the ring in the wallet when they arrived at the scene. Furthermore, while Savino denied that he was ever alone in the room with the victim and her property, five separate police officers had informed the DOI defendants that Savino had asked them to leave him alone in the room and that he was in fact left alone in the room for approximately five minutes.
Savino argues that the DOI defendants lacked probable cause for his arrest because they already had been informed of Sergeant Brooks' observations and, therefore, they knew that he could not have taken the ring intentionally. But even if, as Savino alleges, the DOI officers were told that Sergeant Brooks had been observing the handbag and wallet while Savino was alone in the room and that she did not see him take the ring, this knowledge would not have been sufficient to negate probable cause. At most, Sergeant Brooks' alleged observations indicate that Savino did not take the ring from the wallet while he was alone in the room; they do not negate the possibility that Savino removed the ring from the wallet while the other officers were in the room but were not watching him. At the time of Savino's arrest, the DOI officers had evidence that a ring that had been in the victim's wallet inexplicably ended up in Savino's home. This evidence alone created a sufficient basis for a reasonable officer to believe that Savino had stolen the ring and, therefore, that probable cause existed for his arrest. See Martinez, 202 F.3d at 634. Accordingly, the DOI defendants and the City are entitled to qualified immunity on Savino's false arrest claim.
C. Abuse-of-process Claim
In New York, "a malicious abuse-of-process claim lies against a defendant who (1) employs regularly issued legal process to compel performance or forbearance of some act (2) with intent to do harm without excuse of justification, and (3) in order to obtain a collateral objective that is outside the legitimate ends of the process." Cook v. Sheldon, 41 F.3d 73, 80 (2d Cir.1994). Malicious abuse of criminal
Savino's abuse-of-process claim rests on his allegation that, in instigating the criminal investigation that led to his indictment, defendants were retaliating against him for the embarrassment caused by the media reports of his allegedly exorbitant overtime pay. The District Court concluded that "[a] reasonable jury could infer from the timing of defendants' actions that the overtime issue was the motivating factor in the prosecution." Savino, 168 F.Supp.2d at 179. It then determined that "although abuse of process ... does not require that probable cause be lacking ... a lack of probable cause creates an inference of malice, supporting the collateral objective element" of this claim. Id. (citation omitted). Because it believed that Savino "ha[d] raised genuine issues of fact with respect to probable cause," the District Court denied summary judgment to all of the defendants with respect to the abuse-of-process claim. Id.
But, as we concluded above, the District Court erred in holding that genuine issues of material fact existed with respect to probable cause. Accordingly, it also erred in relying on a lack of probable cause to infer that, in securing Savino's arrest, defendants acted with malice or with a collateral objective that was outside the legitimate ends of the legal process.
With respect to the police-officer defendants, Savino has submitted no evidence whatsoever to indicate that they abused the legal process: As the District Court itself noted, these defendants were merely witnesses to Savino's alleged crime and did not "affirmatively instigate or procure [Savino's] arrest." Savino, 168 F.Supp.2d 172 (internal quotation marks omitted). Because there is no evidence that any of the police-officer defendants engaged in conduct for the purpose of promoting or facilitating Savino's arrest and prosecution, the District Court erred in denying the motion for summary judgment on the abuse-of-process claim with respect to these defendants.
Savino has also failed to state a claim for abuse of process against the DOI defendants. The District Court determined that "[a] reasonable jury could infer from the timing of [the DOI] defendants' actions that the overtime issue was the motivating factor in the prosecution." Id. (emphasis added). But the New York Court of Appeals has made clear that "[a] malicious motive alone ... does not give rise to a cause of action for abuse of process." Curiano v. Suozzi, 63 N.Y.2d 113, 117, 480 N.Y.S.2d 466, 468-69, 469 N.E.2d 1324 (1984); see also Hauser v. Bartow, 273 N.Y. 370, 374, 7 N.E.2d 268 (1937) (finding no abuse of process because "whatever may have been respondent's motives, she used the process of the court for the purpose for which the law created it"). In order to state a claim for abuse of process, a plaintiff must establish that the defendants had an improper purpose in instigating the action. See Dean v. Kochendorfer, 237 N.Y. 384, 143 N.E. 229 (1924) (distinguishing between improper motive and improper purpose and concluding that improper purpose is necessary to make out an abuse-of-process claim—improper motive is not enough). Accordingly, to state a claim for abuse of criminal process, it is not sufficient for a plaintiff to allege that the defendants were seeking to retaliate against him by pursuing his arrest and prosecution. Instead, he must claim that they aimed to achieve a collateral purpose beyond or in addition to his criminal prosecution.
In his complaint, Savino alleges that his investigation and arrest by the DOI defendants
For the reasons stated above, we hold that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds with respect to Savino's claims for malicious prosecution, false arrest and abuse of process, as well as his § 1983 claim based on these state-law causes of action. Accordingly, the District Court erred by denying defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to these claims.
The order of the District Court is reversed and the cause is remanded to the District Court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of defendants.
Savino, 168 F.Supp.2d at 175-176.
168 F.Supp.2d at 176.