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October 30, 2017
  Dufort v. City of New York, et. al.
Case Name: Dufort v. City of New York, et al.

Headline: Second Circuit Reinstates False Arrest and Malicious Prosecution Claims Brought by Acquitted Man Who was Arrested at Age 15 and Spent Five Years at Rikers Island Awaiting Trial

Area of Law: Criminal Procedure

Issue Presented: Whether a reasonable jury could find that the defendant police officers intentionally withheld or manipulated key evidence as to defendant's guilt during his arrest and prosecution.

Brief Summary: At age 15, Ryan Dufort was present during a barroom brawl in Queens where a fellow teenager ended up dead. A witness was shown surveillance footage that included Dufort. She stated that she could not identify him as an assailant, but that one of the attackers, whom she had only seen from behind, had been wearing a red shirt that was similar in color to Dufort's sweatshirt. Detectives then had Dufort participate in a lineup wearing a similar or identical red sweatshirt. No other participant in the lineup was wearing a red shirt. The witness then identified him as a person involved in the attack. Based largely on that identification, Dufort was arrested and charged with numerous crimes, including second-degree murder. When his case was presented to the grand jury, the grand jury was only told that Dufort had been identified as an assailant, and not that the identification was based on the color of his sweatshirt. Dufort spent nearly five years at Rikers Island awaiting trial. When the trial finally occurred, the witness could not identify him in the courtroom, and testified that she had only identified him in the lineup because of his clothing. Although Dufort's co-defendants were convicted, he was acquitted of all charges, and subsequently sued in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, bringing false arrest, malicious prosecution, and due process claims. The district court dismissed his claim, but the Second Circuit reinstated his false arrest and malicious prosecution claims, on grounds that it was not clear that probable cause had supported his arrest and indictment.

Extended Summary: On October 8, 2006, two teenage boys were attacked around 3:50 AM while attempting to leave a karaoke bar. Ryan Dufort was fifteen years old at the time and was present at the bar, wearing a maroon zip-up hooded sweatshirt. Surveillance footage showed Dufort walking down a hallway carrying the pipe and later leaving with other young men who were holding bats. An eyewitness told police Dufort's clothing was similar to what the attacker was wearing. Another man in a red button-down shirt was also shown on video leaving the bar with a bat in-hand moments afterwards. In a subsequent line-up, Dufort was the only person dressed in a red shirt similar to the description given by the witness. This identification was later used to obtain a grand jury indictment.

At trial, the eye witness could not identify Dufort while on the stand. This witness testified that her identification was based solely on the similar clothing. Dufort was acquitted and brought suit under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against the individual defendants for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and denial of due process. As well, plaintiff brought a state law claim against the City for malicious prosecution under respondeat superior. The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendants, finding there was no issue of material fact because both Dufort's arrest and prosecution were based on probable cause.

On the false arrest claim, the Second Circuit began by noting that probable cause is a fluid concept that cannot be reduced to an exact legal rule. As an initial matter, the Second Circuit made clear that the lineup identification must be disregarded for purposes of determining probable cause. The court ruled the identification was "so defective that probable cause could not reasonably by based upon it." The court was therefore required to determine whether, absent the lineup identification, the evidence was sufficient to support a finding of probable cause for the arrest. The court concluded that it was not, given the eyewitness's testimony that she had only recognized Dufort because of the color of his sweatshirt, and given the lack of video evidence, forensic evidence, and other eyewitness testimony.

The court similarly held that the malicious prosecution claim should be tried before a jury. The court rejected defendants' argument that additional evidence established probable cause for the criminal proceeding, even if there had not been probable cause for the arrest. The court reasoned the new evidence - consisting of one witness seeing Dufort in the karaoke bar and the other being a statement of the co-defendant who had accepted a plea deal - could not be evaluated at the summary judgment stage. The court likewise held that it would be premature to grant qualified immunity to the defendants.
To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel: Circuit Judges Walker, Livingston, and Lynch

Argument Date: 05/03/2017

Argument Location: New York, NY

Date of Issued Opinion: 10/27/2017

Docket Number: No. 16-1715-cv

Decided: Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part

Case Alert Author: Amanda G. Fiorilla

Counsel: Kayla C. Bensing (Edwin G. Schallert on the brief), Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, for Plaintiff-Appellant and Kathy C. Park, Assistant Corporation Counsel (Fay Ng on the brief) (on behalf of Zachary W. Cater, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, NY) for Defendants-Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Judge Walker

Circuit: 2nd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Emily Gold Waldman

    Posted By: Emily Waldman @ 10/30/2017 02:50 PM     2nd Circuit  

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