United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
Daniel Golodner has sued the City of New London and its chief of police, Margaret Ackley, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fourth Amendment because New London police officers entered his driveway and backyard four times in five years, most recently after reports of criminal activity. He says that the defendants have violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches. The following claims are pending: (1) a claim against the City of New London for violations of the Fourth Amendment under a municipal policy and (2) a claim against Chief Ackley in her individual capacity for failing to train her officers.
The defendants have moved for summary judgment (ECF No. 39) and the plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 49). The parties disagree whether (1) portions of the plaintiff‘s claims are barred by the statute of limitations, (2) there is sufficient evidence of a constitutional violation, (3) the City had a municipal policy or custom that caused the constitutional violations, (4) Chief Ackley failed to train her officers to comply with the Fourth Amendment, and (5) Chief Ackley is entitled to qualified immunity. I grant the motion for summary judgment and deny as moot the cross-motion for summary judgment because no reasonable juror could conclude that the City had a municipal policy or custom of the sort asserted by the plaintiff or that Chief Ackley was deliberately indifferent to Mr. Golodner‘s constitutional rights by failing to train the New London police force.
Because no reasonable juror could find that there was an official policy or custom to deprive citizens of their Fourth Amendment rights or that Chief Ackley is liable for a failure to train her officers, I do not reach the issues of whether Chief Ackley is entitled to qualified immunity or whether a constitutional violation occurred. See Ashwander v. Tenn. Valley Authority, 297 U.S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring) ("The Court will not pass upon a constitutional question although properly presented by the record, if there is also present some other ground upon which the case may be disposed of.")
The following facts are undisputed, unless otherwise noted.
A. Mr. Golodner’s Property
Daniel Golodner lives at 95 Colman Street in New London, Connecticut. (ECF No. 39-3 at 3.) The house, which has several no trespassing signs, is set back about fifteen feet from the road and has a gate on one side for foot traffic and a gate on the other side for vehicles. (Id. at 5-7.) Behind the house is a carport and garage. (Id. at 7, 12.) The parties dispute whether neighbors can see into the yard and quibble over the exact location of a fence at the property. (ECF No. 47 at ¶¶ 9-11.) The plaintiffs driveway is partially obscured from view by a fence. (See ECF No. 47-9 (providing photographs of the plaintiff‘s property).) A fence runs along the back of the property. (ECF No. 39-3 at 9.) There is no fence at the front of the property. (Id. at 24.)
B. Police Officers Enter Mr. Golodner’s Property
On May 18, 2006, two New London police officers entered Mr. Golodner‘s backyard because a neighbor complained that the plaintiff had been " harassing and threatening his family for some time." (ECF No. 39-6 at 2-3.) The plaintiff denies that the officers were invited onto his property. (ECF No. 47 at ¶ 23.) He points to the police report from that day. (Id.) The report states:
These officers observed an occupied parked vehicle in the rear of 95 Colman St[reet] and as we began to approach it an individual, later identified as Daniel Golodner, quickly exited the car and began to approach these officers. Before these officers could explain our reason for being at this location Golodner exclaimed that he wanted to make a complaint against his neighbors, the Cordero‘s. [sic.] Golodner immediately began claiming that he had been threatened by the Coredero‘s [sic.] prior to the arrival of these officers. Golodner stated that he had a witness to the incident and that he wanted to make a formal complaint.
(ECF No. 39-6 at 3.) The officers spoke with Mr. Golodner about the complaint and left. (Id.; ECF No. 39-8 at 3-4.)
On May 24, 2006, an officer issued a misdemeanor summons and complaint to Mr. Golodner for breach of peace in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-181. (ECF No. 39-9 at 2.) The officer reported that Mr. Golodner had been tailing his neighbor in a car and then punched his neighbor in the face through a car window, after the neighbor braked suddenly. (Id. at 4.) On May 25, 2006, a police officer applied for an arrest warrant for the plaintiff‘s conduct on May 18th and 24th. (ECF No. 39-7 at 2-3.)
On August 22, 2008, two land surveyors attempted to enter Mr. Golodner‘s property. (ECF No. 39-10 at 2.) Mr. Golodner " called for aid from the police." (ECF No. 47-1 at 44.) When the police arrived, the land surveyors presented to the officers a copy of a Connecticut statute that bars suits for trespass against licensed surveyors. (ECF No. 39-10 at 3.) According to the police report, " Golodner became enraged, and stated he was calling the shift commander.
Golodner proceeded to slam the
front door of his house after he went inside.' (Id.) An officer escorted a surveyor onto the property. (Id.; ECF No. 47-1 at 23-24.) The plaintiff exited his back door and was arrested after he drove his car at an officer and a surveyor. (ECF No. 39-10 at 3.) This is how the Connecticut Supreme Court, in the resulting criminal case, described it:
The defendant then entered his van, started the engine, put his foot on the gas and " floored" it, then put the van into drive and drove the van with its tires squealing directly at [an officer and a surveyor]. The defendant then slowed the van down, but did not come to a complete stop, and resumed driving it at [the officer and the surveyor]. [They] took several steps backward and out of the way of the oncoming van, which stopped close to the fence.
After the defendant‘s van came to a stop, [a sergeant] ordered [an officer] to arrest the defendant. [The officer] opened the driver‘s side door of the van, informed the defendant that he was under arrest, reached inside and put the van in park. The defendant then kicked [the officer] in the chest and closed the van door on her person. [The officer] ordered the defendant to get out of the van and, when he refused, and [sic] reached inside the van and attempted to pull him out as he held on to the van‘s steering wheel. The defendant " cocked [his hand] back to swing" at [the officer], and she " took her swing" and hit him in the face. [The sergeant] told the defendant to stop resisting and that he was under arrest. [The sergeant] threatened to taser the defendant, who then exited the van and ran away in the direction of his home.
[The sergeant] chased after the defendant and caught him, put him in a bear hug and took him to the ground on the second attempt. [The sergeant and the officer] continued to struggle with the defendant for " about a minute" before they were able to subdue him. Consequently, the defendant was arrested and transported to the police department.
State v. Golodner, 305 Conn. 330, 333-37 (2012).
A few years later, on February 16, 2011, a New London police officer received a complaint that Mr. Golodner was harassing his neighbor. (ECF No. 39-13 at 3.) The neighbor reported that Golodner had been " showing her his middle finger and punching his hand in a menacing manner while looking at her" daily for the past two years. (Id.) The officer walked onto the plaintiffs property, apparently to look for him, but did not find him. (See Video Recording of February 16, 2011, ECF No. 39-14.)
On September 23, 2011, Waterford Police arrived at Mr. Golodner‘s home to investigate a report of domestic assault that had occurred at a Wal-Mart in Waterford. (ECF No. 39-15 at 3.) According to the Waterford Police Department‘s " Incident Report Narrative, " Mr. Golodner was " screaming obscenities at an Asian female" inside the store. (ECF No. 39-16 at 3.) She was barely five feet tall and had " a very slim build." (Id.) Mr. Golodner allegedly hit the woman twice in the " head with his closed right fist." (Id.) After a witness said she would call the police, Mr. Golodner told the Asian woman " if the police come my government is going to send you back to your country." (Id.) New London and Waterford police saw on Mr. Golodner‘s property the same vehicle that Mr. Golodner and the woman used to leave Wal-Mart. (ECF No. 39-16 at 7.) The officers knocked on the plaintiffs front door. (ECF No. 39-3 at 18.) The plaintiff would not answer. (Id.) The officers went to the backdoor. (See Video Recording of September 23, 2011, ECF No. 39-17.) The plaintiff would not answer that door either; he shouted at the officers to leave, which they did. (Id.; ECF No. 39-3 at 18.)
C. New London’s Response to Golodner’s Complaints
Margaret Ackley became the Chief of Police of the New London Police Department in 2009. (ECF No. 39-18 at 3.) Before that time, she did not oversee officer training and would not have been " in the loop" in the development of any policies to address complaints raised by Mr. Golodner. (See Id. at 20-21.) Chief Ackley testified that the plaintiff complained about police trespassing on his property as early as 2010. (Id. at 26.) She addressed that complaint in a meeting with her command staff. (See ECF No. 39-37 at 2.) After receiving an August 2011 telephone call from Mr. Golodner, she " pulled any reports or documentation that we would have had, what we call CAD reports, and dispatches to that property, and reviewed that to see what the situation was." (ECF No. 39-18 at 14-15; ECF No. 47-4 at 3.) On September 23, 2011, Mr. Golodner complained to a shift commander and police dispatcher about the police officers‘ presence on his property that day. (ECF No. 47-1 at 33.) The dispatcher said that the police were not trespassing and had a right to be there. (Id.) In 2012, after receiving a complaint from Mr. Golodner, Chief Ackley sent all of the files that related to Mr. Golodner to New London‘s legal counsel and the State‘s Attorney‘s office for their review. (ECF No. 39-18 at 26-27.) She also examined the files herself to determine if her officers had acted improperly, which led her to conclude that the department had not trespassed illegally. (Id.)
Mr. Golodner sent a letter, the contents of which are unclear, to Mayor Wade Hyslop. (ECF No. 39-40 at 2-3.) The mayor forwarded the letter to the City‘s legal counsel. (Id.) In 2009, Mr. Golodner raised concerns with the city council, although he did not mention trespass or search concerns specifically. (ECF No. 39-19 at 3.) The minutes of the meeting refer to " false arrest, " " police harassment, " and " potential legal action." (Id.) He also complained that the mayor would not respond to his letter. (Id.)
D. Training of New London Police Officers
New London Police Department officers attend training at the Connecticut Police Academy and then every three ...