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Bussolari v. City of Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 12, 2016

JONATHAN BUSSOLARI, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HARTFORD, et al., Defendants.

          RULING DENYING MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In November 2013, defendant officers William Gorman, Justin Nelson, and Peter Shon of the City of Hartford Police Department arrested plaintiff Jonathan Bussolari at his girlfriend’s home after the police received a noise complaint from a neighbor. Plaintiff alleges in this lawsuit that during the course of this arrest he was subject to excessive force in violation of the federal and state constitutions and that the officers committed a range of intentional and negligent torts against him.

         The defendant officers have moved for partial summary judgment as to plaintiffs’ state constitutional claim, his negligence claims, and his official capacity claims, and the City of Hartford has separately moved for summary judgment on all claims against it. Because I conclude that genuine issues of fact and law remain for trial, I will deny both motions for summary judgment.

         Background

         The facts recited here are viewed and presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. Defendants Gorman, Nelson, and Shon are all police officers with the Hartford Police Department. The defendants were called to plaintiff’s girlfriend’s apartment in Hartford in the early morning hours of November 3, 2012, in response to a noise complaint called in by a neighbor. When the officers arrived there, they entered the premises without permission.

         After plaintiff allegedly told the officers that they did not have permission to enter the apartment, a verbal argument ensued. Plaintiff put up his hands in a non-aggressive manner. Defendant Gorman then struck plaintiff in the face and head with his flashlight as the other officers looked on, and slammed him into a wall. Defendants Nelson and Shon then dragged plaintiff into the hall and restrained him with his hands behind his back. Defendant Gorman again hit plaintiff in the face with a blackjack or flashlight and punched him repeatedly. The officers threw plaintiff to the ground to handcuff him. While on the ground, defendant Gorman punched plaintiff in the face again with the blackjack or flashlight, and the defendants then dragged plaintiff down three flights of stairs, arrested him, and took him to the hospital by ambulance.

         According to plaintiff, he did not physically provoke, assault, or resist the officers. As a result of the encounter, plaintiff contends that he suffered extensive injuries to his face and head. According to the police report describing this incident, plaintiff was arrested for and charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with an officer, and assault on police. See Doc. #62-5 at 5.

         The complaint alleges seven counts of liability against the defendant officers, including excessive force under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 1); excessive force under §§ 7 and 9 of Article First of the Connecticut Constitution (Count 2); state law claims of assault and battery (Count 3); recklessness (Count 4); negligent use of force (Count 5); and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Counts 6 and 7). Plaintiff also brings three counts against the City of Hartford, for indemnification under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-465 and § 7-101a, and for liability under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n. Plaintiff’s claims against the City derive solely from the tort claims against the individual officers.[1]

         Defendants Gorman, Nelson, and Shon have moved for partial summary judgment on plaintiff’s state constitutional claim, his negligence claims, and his official capacity claims. Defendant City of Hartford has moved for summary judgment on all claims against it.

         Discussion

         The principles governing a motion for summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may be granted only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam). “A genuine dispute of material fact exists for summary judgment purposes where the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, is such that a reasonable jury could decide in that party's favor.” Zann Kwan v. Andalex Grp. LLC, 737 F.3d 834, 843 (2d Cir. 2013). The evidence adduced at the summary judgment stage must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and with all ambiguities and reasonable inferences drawn against the moving party. See, e.g., Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1866; Rogoz v. City of Hartford, 796 F.3d 236, 246 (2d Cir. 2015). All in all, “a judge’s function at summary judgment is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1866.

         Connecticut Constitutional Claim

         Defendants move for summary judgment on plaintiff’s excessive force claim under the Connecticut Constitution. In Binette v. Sabo, 442 Conn. 23 (1998), the Connecticut Supreme Court recognized a private constitutional right of action for violations of Article First, § 7 and § 9, of the state constitution. “Binette created a narrow cause of action for money damages under the Article First, §§ 7 and 9 of the Connecticut Constitution for illegal searches and seizures of private homes by police officers, a cause of action that is equivalent to the federal Bivens action under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Lopez v. Smiley, 375 F.Supp.2d 19, 23 (D. Conn. 2005).

         Because I must view the facts at this stage in the light most favorable to plaintiff, I do not agree with defendants’ argument that the facts of this case “do not rise to the level” of those facts found actionable in Binette. Doc. #62-1 at 15. The alleged facts of this case involve very clear and egregious violations of plaintiff’s right to be free from the use of excessive force. Even if I were to conclude-as defendants urge-that defendants may assert a defense of qualified immunity to a Binette claim akin to a defense of qualified immunity that would exist for a claim of a violation of the ...


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