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Stanley v. Taylor

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 8, 2016




This case arises from the arrest and prosecution of Steven Stanley. After calling a woman 1, 750 times from a blocked number and leaving threatening messages such as “you’re going down” and “[you] signed [your] own death warrant, ” Stanley was arrested and later convicted of criminal violation of a protective order. In this civil rights action, Stanley raises the following three claims. East Hartford Police Officer Rob Vanacore (“Officer Vanacore”) unlawfully obtained an arrest warrant because he relied on unlawfully seized telephone records. Superior Court Judge Carl Taylor (“Judge Taylor”) acted unlawfully because he presided over a hearing challenging the admission of evidence obtained pursuant to an arrest warrant signed by Judge Taylor. Assistant State’s Attorney Anthony Spinella (“Attorney Spinella”) improperly introduced telephone records at trial because those records were obtained in violation of state law and not properly disclosed before trial.

The issue is whether the complaint states any cognizable constitutional or federal claims. It does not. The fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine cannot be invoked to support a claim for false arrest, and the telephone records were unnecessary to support a finding of probable cause. Judicial immunity protects Judge Taylor. Prosecutorial immunity protects Attorney Spinella. In reviewing the complaint, the Court discovered that Stanley has filed three prior lawsuits dismissed either as frivolous or for failure to state a claim. The Court therefore VACATES its order granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) and DISMISSES this action.

Factual and Procedural Background

Stanley brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint against Officer Vanacore, Judge Taylor, and Attorney Spinella. ECF No. 1. The complaint and attached documents contain the following allegations. A woman (hereinafter, “Victim”) had a protective order preventing Stanley from contacting her. ECF No. 1-1 (Arrest Warrant) at 4 (.pdf pagination). In March 2012, Victim filed a complaint with the East Hartford Police Department, alleging that she received 50-60 calls per day from a blocked number for several weeks and believed that Stanley had made those calls. Id. Officer Vanacore averred that at that time he did not believe probable cause to arrest existed because he did not have the phone records to confirm that Stanley had been the person calling Victim. Id. at 5.

Officer Vanacore later returned to Victim’s home after she again complained-this time alleging that Stanley pulled up to her home on a motorcycle, peeled off, and “did a whole shot.” Id. at 6-7. Victim’s roommate corroborated these allegations. Id. Victim later met with a different police officer, and during their meeting, Stanley called Victim several times telling her that she was “going down” and had “signed her own death warrant.” Id. at 9. Officer Vanacore thereafter obtained a search warrant for Stanley’s phone records and confirmed that Stanley had called Victim 1, 750 times. Id. at 1, 12. In reliance on these facts, including the seized phone records, Officer Vanacore sought an arrest warrant, averring that there was probable cause to arrest Stanley for, inter alia, criminal violation of a protective order. Id. at 13.

Judge Taylor signed the arrest warrant (as well as the prior protective order Stanley stood accused of violating). Id.; see also ECF No. 1 (Compl.) at 6-7. Stanley moved to suppress the telephone records as illegally seized and (unidentified) evidence seized as a result of the purportedly unlawful arrest warrant. ECF No. 1 (Compl.) at 6-7. Judge Taylor presided over that hearing, but his judicial conduct violated Connecticut General Statutes § 51-183h, which forbids a judge from “hear[ing] [a] motion attacking [the] bench warrant which he signed.” Conn. Gen.Stat. § 51-183h; see ECF No. 1 (Compl.) at 6-7.

Connecticut General Statute § 54-33c requires that “[w]ithin forty-eight hours of such search, a copy of the application for the warrant and a copy of all affidavits upon which the warrant is based shall be given to such owner, occupant or person.” Conn. Gen.Stat. § 54-33c. Attorney Spinella admitted that the State did not comply with the statute after seizing the telephone records, ECF No. 1-2 (Trial Tr.) at 25, but he nonetheless introduced those records at trial, ECF Nos. 1 (Compl.) at 8; 1-1 (Proposed Jury Instructions) at 2-3; 1-2 (Trial Tr.) at 22. Id. The introduction of those records was also improper because, prior to trial, the criminal court observed that the State would be prevented from introducing phone records if they were not disclosed. ECF Nos. 1 (Compl.) at 8; 1-2 (Hr’g Tr.) at 5. Stanley seeks monetary relief and an order disbarring Judge Taylor and initiating criminal prosecution of Attorney Spinella. ECF No. 1 (Compl.) at 13.


I. Initial Review

This Court must review “a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Upon review, this Court must dismiss the complaint, or any portion thereof, if the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). However, “[a] pro se complaint should not be dismissed without the Court’s granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated.” Grullon v. City of New Haven, 720 F.3d 133, 139 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). An amended complaint is rightfully dismissed when it fails to cure the defects noted in an initial review order. See Prezzi v. Schelter, 469 F.2d 691, 692 (2d Cir. 1972) (affirming dismissal without leave to amend of pro se complaint for failure to state a claim because plaintiff did not fix defects noted in initial dismissal order granting leave to amend).

A complaint must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). When reviewing a complaint for facial plausibility, a district court must “accept[ ] all factual allegations as true and draw[ ] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Litwin v. Blackstone Grp., L.P., 634 F.3d 706, 715 (2d Cir. 2011). Courts should read a pro se complaint with “special solicitude” and interpret the complaint “to raise the strongest claims that it suggests.” Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

A. East Hartford Police Officer Vanacore

Stanley alleges that the arrest warrant was obtained in reliance on the unlawfully seized telephone records.[1] Stanley contends that the seizure was unlawful because he was not provided with a copy of the arrest warrant within 48 hours, as required by Connecticut General Statutes 54-33c. This claim fails for several reasons. Whether the arrest warrant was obtained in reliance on illegally seized evidence is of no moment. In effect, Stanley asks this Court to invoke a search-and-seizure doctrine called “fruit of the poisonous tree, ” which generally prohibits the introduction of evidence even if it was the indirect product of a constitutional violation. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 484 (1963). But this constitutional prophylaxis applies to criminal trials, not independent civil proceedings. Jenkins v. City of New York, 478 F.3d 76, 91 n.16 (2d Cir. 2007) (“[T]he fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine cannot be invoked to support a section 1983 claim, for the doctrine ‘is an evidentiary rule that operates in the context of criminal procedure’ and ‘has generally been held to apply only in criminal trials.’” (quoting Townes v. City of New York, 176 F.3d ...

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