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Warner v. Freeman

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 23, 2016

JAMES M. WARNER, Plaintiff,


          Donna F. Martinez United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff, James Warner, brings this action against Putnam police officers Justin Lussier and Kristopher Bernier and Connecticut State Troopers William Freeman, Kevin Dowd and Luke Larue, alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Pending before the court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Doc. ##30, 43.) The motions are granted in part and denied in part.[1]

         I. Background

         The following facts, taken from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) Statements, are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         The plaintiff is a landscaper. A customer of his, John Fox ("Fox"), lived at 11 Tattoon Road in Woodstock, Connecticut. Fox asked the plaintiff to clean up the property across the street at 16 Tattoon Road. At that address, there was a small dilapidated house on a partially wooded, overgrown lot with debris in the yard. The plaintiff had met the man who lived at 16 Tattoon Road but had never done any landscaping work for him. The plaintiff knew that Fox did not own the 16 Tattoon Road property.

         On the morning of December 9, 2013, the plaintiff and two other men drove to 16 Tattoon Road. The plaintiff had planned to pick up leaves from his customers' lawns that day, but it was snowing so he was unable to work on leaf removal. Instead he decided to clean up the property at 16 Tattoon Road.

         The plaintiff parked his pickup truck in the driveway of 16 Tattoon Road. He and the two other men took items from the property including, among other things, an aluminum rowboat, a cement mixer, a heater, and aluminum gutters. They loaded everything into the bed of the plaintiff's truck. The plaintiff did not know who owned the items. Meanwhile, another neighbor called the police. The caller reported that there were men on the property at 16 Tattoon Road, that the house was vacant, and that the men were taking things from the property and loading them into a truck.

         The town of Woodstock does not have its own police department; it is patrolled by the Connecticut State Police. The State Police, however, could not immediately respond to the call so Putnam police were dispatched to investigate, secure the scene and wait for the state police if necessary.

         Defendants Sergeant Justin Lussier and Officer Kristopher Bernier of the Putnam police department responded. Sergeant Lussier asked the plaintiff for identification, which he provided. The plaintiff said that he was cleaning up the property. Sergeant Lussier asked the men if they had spoken to the owner and had permission to be there. The plaintiff responded that he had knocked at the door but nobody answered. He explained that he then began to collect things to bring to the dump. Officer Bernier knocked on the front door of the residence but there was no response. He walked around to the back and found no sign of tampering.

         Sergeant Lussier and Officer Bernier knew there had been thefts of scrap metal and copper pipe in the area. Lussier called his police department. He learned that the property owner at 16 Tattoon Road was in a nursing home. Sergeant Lussier and Officer Bernier informed the plaintiff that they intended to detain him until the state police arrived. They asked if he was willing to wait. The plaintiff was agreeable. It was snowing and the defendants placed the plaintiff in a police car.[2] A state police officer, defendant Trooper William Freeman, arrived 20 to 30 minutes later.

         When Trooper Freeman arrived, he saw a pickup truck parked in the driveway. The bed of the truck was filled with things, including an aluminum boat and a cement mixer. He observed marks in the snow which he suspected were made from dragging items to the truck. Defendant Troopers Luke LaRue and Kevin Dowd arrived next. LaRue transported one of the men to the state police barracks for processing and Dowd transported the plaintiff. Trooper Dowd learned that Freeman intended to charge the suspects and assisted him with processing.

         The plaintiff was charged with larceny in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-119, criminal trespass in the third degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-109 and criminal mischief in the third degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-117. The charges were later dismissed.

         The plaintiff previously had been convicted of a felony. At the time of his arrest, he was on probation. He subsequently pleaded guilty to violation of probation.

         The plaintiff commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Putnam police officers and the Connecticut state troopers alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. The Putnam defendants and the state trooper defendants both move for summary judgment.

         II. Standard for Summary Judgment

         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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). 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 Gr., 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., Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 715 F.3d 417, 427 (2d Cir. 2013). The court's "function at summary ...

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