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Burke v. Town of East Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 4, 2016

CHARLES BURKE, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF EAST HARTFORD AND MARK SIROIS, CHIEF OF POLICE Defendant.

RULING RE: MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 37)

JANET C. HALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. INTRODUCTION

Charles Burke brings this action under section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code against the Town of East Hartford (“East Hartford”) and its former Chief of Police, Mark Sirois (collectively, the “defendants”), [1] for alleged violations of the Fourth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) (Doc. No. 13). Burke claims that the defendants violated his federal and state constitutional rights when they enforced, or threatened to enforce, Connecticut’s criminal lockout statute, section 241 of title 53a of the Connecticut General Statutes, against him; that the criminal lockout statute is void for vagueness, or unconstitutional as applied; and that the Town of East Hartford is liable to him for “damages inflicted by the individual defendants pursuant to the common law claims.” Id. at 9-16.[2]

The defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (Doc. No. 37). In support of the Motion, the defendants have submitted, as required by Local Rule 56(a)(1), a statement of facts as to which the defendants contend there is no genuine issue to be tried. Defendant’s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement (“Rule 56(a)(1) Statement”) (Doc. No. 37-2). Burke has filed a Memorandum in Opposition (“Opposition”) (Doc. No. 41).

For the reasons set forth below, the defendants’ Motion is GRANTED.

II. BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are not in dispute.[3] Indeed, the facts would be familiar to anyone acquainted with the five prior cases involving Charles Burke that have been litigated in the state and federal courts over the past eighteen years, including a case Burke unsuccessfully tried to a jury before the undersigned in 2001.[4] Each case, including this one, concerns Burke’s business practices and his contentions that the Connecticut housing and criminal codes have been unlawfully or unconstitutionally applied to him. Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 7.

Burke owns and operates four licensed rooming houses in the Town of East Hartford, located at 18 Brewer Street, 26 Sisson Street, and 217 and 219 Burnside Avenue. Id. ¶ 1. East Hartford is a municipality incorporated under the laws and within the State of Connecticut, and Mark Sirois was, at the time of the events relevant to this case, the Chief of Police of East Hartford. Id. ¶ 2.

Landlords are required under Connecticut law to comply with certain procedures before evicting a tenant from their premises. See Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 47a-23-42a. These procedures require the landlord, before evicting a tenant, to serve process on his tenant, appear in housing court, and obtain a judgment. Id. §§ 47a-23, 23a, 26, 26d. Connecticut law further provides, in pertinent part:

Unless created to avoid the application of this chapter and [the] sections [governing the eviction process, ] the following arrangement[ is] not governed by this chapter and [the] sections [governing the eviction process]: transient occupancy in a hotel or motel or similar lodging[.]

Id. § 47a-2(a)(4). To define “transient occupancy, ” Connecticut law provides:

(1) Occupancy in a hotel, motel or similar lodging for less than thirty days is transient, except that such occupancy is not transient if the dwelling unit or room in such hotel, motel or lodging is occupied as the primary residence of the occupant from the beginning of such occupancy; and
(2) Occupancy in a hotel, motel or similar lodging for thirty days or more is not transient, except that such occupancy is transient if the dwelling unit or room in such hotel, motel or lodging is not occupied as the primary residence of the occupant and the occupancy is for less than ninety days.

Id. § 47a-2(c)(1) & (2). As such, the determination of whether a person is “transient” or not, and whether the governing agreement was “created to avoid the application” of the Housing Code, will necessary depend upon the facts of a given case. See, e.g., Bourque v. Morris, 190 Conn. 364, 369-70 (1983); see also Murphy v. Burke, No. CV-5285, 1995 WL 790584 (Conn. Super. Ct. Aug. 17, 1995) and Webster v. Burke, No. H-1181, 1999 WL 1212178 (Conn. Super. Ct. Dec. 13, 1999) (finding Burke’s lease agreements were designed to “avoid the application” of the eviction procedures). Not only may transient residents be subject to eviction without the process guaranteed to tenants by Connecticut Housing Code, but a lien may be placed on their goods. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 49-68.

While transient occupants may be subjected to a lien or eviction without process, non-transient occupants are protected by the Housing Code as well as the criminal law. Specifically, section 214 of title 53a of the Connecticut General statutes provides:

A landlord of a dwelling unit subject to [Conn. Gen. Stat. § 47a-1 et seq.], an owner of such a unit, or the agent of such landlord or owner is guilty of criminal lockout when, without benefit of a court order, he deprives a tenant . . . of access to his dwelling unit or his personal possessions.

A “dwelling unit” is defined, for purposes of section 214, as “any house or building, or portion thereof, which is occupied, is designed to be occupied, or is rented, leased or hired out to be occupied, as a home or residence of one or more persons.” Id. § 47a-1(c). A “tenant” is defined as a “lessee, sublessee or person entitled under a rental agreement to occupy a dwelling unit or premises to the exclusion of others or as is otherwise defined by law.” Id. § 47a-1(l).

At all times relevant to this case, the East Hartford Police Department (“EHPD”) had adopted a policy, known as General Order 192.10.00 (“General Order”) (Doc. No. 37-7), establishing guidelines for the investigation of complaints concerning lockouts. Id. ¶ 28. Under section 10.65 of the General Order, EHPD officers were to make arrests “only after obtaining an arrest warrant from the housing court.” Id. ¶ 29. The General Order provides a summary of the relevant law, and includes a checklist of facts to consider in making the “difficult . . . legal judgement regarding tenancy.” General Order at 5-8. Burke does not know whether the criminal lockout statute, or the EHPD policy guiding police investigation of alleged violations of the statute, has been enforced any differently against any other rooming houses in East Hartford. Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 38. He also does not know, and has presented no evidence to suggest, how the EHPD has actually trained its officers regarding the investigation of the criminal lockout statute, other than the existence of the General Order. Id. ¶ 34.

Occupants of Burke’s rooming houses sign “a special agreement explaining that, should they fail to pay, a lien may be placed on their goods in the room” and that “a lien may be placed on anyone else’s goods in the room[.]” Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 4. Burke believes that this agreement ensures compliance with the law permitting liens on transient occupants’ property, and also purports to allow him to lock them out without compliance with the eviction laws. The agreement has these effects because, Burke claims, it conclusively establishes that his occupants are “transients.” See Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 5; Deposition of Charles Burke (“Burke Deposition”) (Doc. 37-5) at 97-99. It was formerly Burke’s practice ...


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