It was a happy Thanksgiving for four retired NYPD officers, as the day before the Appellate Division, Second Department threw out the malicious prosecution claim against them. Specifically, the Appellate Division reversed the Kings County Supreme Court’s denial the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed any claims for punitive damages. The case, Batten v. City of New York, sheds new light on how to distinguish between negligent investigations and an “egregious deviation from police procedures” sufficient to defeat a presumption of probable cause.
Under New York law, to succeed on a claim alleging malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must establish: (1) the initiation of a proceeding by the defendant against the plaintiff that (2) terminated in the plaintiff’s favor and (3) was initiated absent probable cause and (4) with malice. See Colon v. City of New York, 60 N.Y.2d 78, 82. Regarding probable cause, an arrest warrant or grand jury indictment creates a rebuttable presumption probable cause was present. Id. One way to overcome this presumption is with evidence that the conduct of the police deviated from proper police procedures so greatly as to demonstrate intentional or reckless disregard for procedure. See Lee v. City of Mount Vernon, 49 N.Y.2d 1041, 1043.
Here, the plaintiff was arrested, indicted, and later convicted of second degree murder after being identified in a photo array as the perpetrator of an armed robbery and homicide in Brooklyn in 1983. After his appeals to the Appellate Division and Court of Appeals were rejected, he began filing Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for the police documents related to his prosecution and conviction. Of the files he received, several were allegedly withheld from him and his attorney during the trial, including one documenting a call from a confidential informant to the police after his indictment suggesting the involvement of another employee of the store in the robbery. Based on this document, Batten filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Eastern District of New York and was released in August 2003. He then commenced a suit against the city and various retired officers alleging civil rights violations, including malicious prosecution.
The ruling itself will be discussed in the second part of this post. Once again, the case was Batten v. City of New York, 133 A.D.3d 803 (2nd Dept. 2015).