Hell hath no fury like a police officer scorned

Simpson v. City of New York, No. 14-680-cv (2d Cir. July 15, 2015).

Congreve’s original lines read, “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turned, / Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.”

Congreve’s original lines read, “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turned, / Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.”

The facts, at least according to the plaintiff’s sworn testimony, are these. Plaintiff Keisha Simpson was waiting to board a New York city bus. A police officer approached her, told her she was pretty, and asked for her last name—a request she declined because she was “with someone.” 

Meanwhile, the bus Simpson was waiting to board had suffered a mechanical problem: the lift that allowed people with disabilities to board the bus was stuck in the air and blocking the front door. The bus driver told those in line to board through the rear doors. Simpson boarded and was just about to swipe her MetroCard when the police officer who had hit on her ordered her to get off the bus. Surmising that the officer thought Simpson was trying to avoid paying the fare, some of the passengers yelled that the front door was blocked. But the officer still insisted that Simpson exit the bus. Once she had deboarded, he asked for her ID, and then reached into her wallet to pull out a police union card. Simpson, as a private security officer, was a member of the same union as New York city police officers. Asked if she was “an officer,” Simpson said she was. Asked what her precinct was, Simpson said she didn’t have a precinct.

The officer then arrested her. Though she was initially charged with “theft of services”—that is, intending to ride the bus without paying for it—the charges were eventually dismissed. 

Simpson has sued. She asserts that the police officer, angry that Simpson had rebuffed his advances, arrested her without probable cause. The district court dismissed her claims against the police officer on summary judgment, holding that a reasonable officer could have concluded that Simpson was trying to board the bus without paying.

More fantastically, the police officer also argued that he thought Simpson was trying to impersonate a police officer by carrying around a union card and describing herself, accurately, as an “officer.” For whatever reason, the district court didn’t address this impersonation argument.

The Second Circuit now reverses. It holds that Simpson is entitled to a trial on her claims. It’s hard to understand why the district court thought summary judgment was warranted, when the record is so utterly bereft of probable cause that Simpson was committing any crime—and so strongly suggests that the police officer was just upset about getting rejected.