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Posted: October 23, 2013

Rule 56 Requires A “Genuine” Issue Of Fact

In Cruz v. Reiner et al., 11 CV 2131 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 16, 2013), Judge Brian Cogan granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment in a case alleging excessive force pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  In so doing, the court found that even though a party opposing summary judgment submits a sworn statement giving its version of events, a genuine factual issue will not be deemed to exist if other evidence shows that the statement cannot be credited.

The pro se plaintiff contended that he was held in pretrial detention in the District Attorney’s office without food, water or access to a bathroom for five days.  However, in an earlier deposition plaintiff testified that he was repeatedly given water and use of a bathroom and that he had never asked for food.  In addition, contemporaneous police department business records refuted plaintiff’s contention by showing that he had been taken to Central Booking within a day of his arrest and thus could not have been in the District Attorney’s office for five days.  In opposing summary judgment, the plaintiff apparently relied exclusively on his uncorroborated testimony in an affidavit.

The court noted that the Rule 56 requirement that there be a “genuine” issue to warrant denial of summary judgment means that if no reasonable jury could believe the opponent’s version of the events, it is appropriate to grant dismissal.  The Court relied on Supreme Court and Second Circuit cases holding that in certain “rare” or unusual cases, a court will have to make some assessment of the plaintiff’s account to determine whether a jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.  Here, plaintiff’s inconsistent and contradictory statements compelled dismissal and, if a jury did not reject plaintiff’s story, the court would have to set aside a verdict in plaintiff’s favor because it would be unreasonable.

This decision and the case law cited therein tell a practitioner that the court will only make an assessment of a plaintiff’s account of the facts in the unusual case where the plaintiff’s testimony opposing summary judgment is uncorroborated and contradictory; in the ordinary course, a court will refrain from making any credibility determinations.

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