United States District Court, D. Connecticut
LEAL R. PICKERING and WANDA LEE SAMPEL, Plaintiffs,
AUGUST DeFRANCE, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING
IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO.
VANESSA L. BRYANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Leal R. Pickering (“Pickering”) and Wanda Lee
Sampel (“Sampel”) allege violations of 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1983 and 1988, the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments, and Connecticut law arising from a vehicle stop,
search, and arrest on September 23, 2012. Currently pending
before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment as to all claims. For the reasons that follow, the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN
PART AND DENIED IN PART.
following facts are based on the evidence cited in
Defendants' Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement of Facts [Dkt.
No. 38-2 (“Defendants' Ex.”)] and
Plaintiffs' Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement of Facts [Dkt.
No. 41-2 (“Plaintiffs' Ex.”)].
relevant times, plaintiffs Leal Pickering and Wanda Sampel
resided at 44 Rome Avenue, Middletown, Connecticut.
Defendants' Ex. A (Pickering Deposition Transcript)
(“Pickering Tr.”) at 15; Defendants' B
(Sampel Deposition Transcript) (“Sampel Tr.”) at
7. At all relevant times, Defendants Officers August
DeFrance, Robert Kraeger, Louis Julia, James Remotti, and
Daniel Schreiner were employed and on duty as patrol officers
in the Middletown Police Department, and Defendant Sergeant
Lukanik was employed and on duty as a sergeant in that
Department. Defendants' Ex. C (DeFrance Deposition
Transcript) (“DeFrance Tr.”) at 4-5;
Defendants' Ex. D (Kraeger Deposition Transcript)
(“Kraeger Tr.”) at 4-5; Defendants' Ex. E
(Julia Deposition Transcript) (“Julia Tr.”) at 5;
Defendants' Ex. F (Remotti Deposition Transcript)
(“Remotti Tr.”) at 4-5; Defendants' Ex. G
(Schreiner Deposition Transcript) (“Schreiner
Tr.”) at 4-5.
September 22, 2012, Officer Kraeger received an anonymous tip
that a female named Wanda Sampel and a man named
“Lee” were selling heroin out of their residence
at 44 Rome Avenue in Middletown, Connecticut. Defendants'
Ex. C (DeFrance Tr.) at 13; Defendants' Ex. D (Kraeger
Tr.) at 19-24. As a result of the tip, Officer Kraeger
researched Ms. Sampel in the Middletown Police
Department's computer system and found records of a past
narcotics arrest and an address of 44 Rome Avenue.
Defendants' Ex. D (Kraeger Tr.) at 54-55; Defendants'
Ex. K (Sampel Criminal Case Detail) at 1. The arrest was for
possession of less than four ounces of marijuana.
Defendants' Ex. K (Criminal Case Detail) at 1. Officer
Kraeger relayed this information to Officer DeFrance and
Sergeant Lukanik. Defendants' Ex. C (DeFrance Tr.) at
September 23, 2012, at approximately 9:15 a.m., Plaintiffs
and their minor daughter exited 44 Rome Avenue and entered a
Dodge Caravan owned by Mr. Pickering. Defendants' Ex. C
(DeFrance Tr.) at 43-44. Ms. Sampel drove the vehicle down
Rome Avenue and made two turns before Officer DeFrance pulled
them over. Id. at 37. Defendants allege Officer
DeFrance initiated the vehicle stop because he observed a
handicap placard on Plaintiffs' rearview mirror,
obstructing Ms. Sampel's view, and because
Plaintiffs' center brake light was broken. Id.
at 18, 21-22; Defendants' Ex. I (Incident Detail Report).
Plaintiffs allege Officer DeFrance did not mention the
handicap placard as an initial reason for the stop, but
instead cited Plaintiffs' broken center brake light and a
broken windshield wiper. Plaintiffs' Ex. 3 (Sampel Tr.)
DeFrance asked Ms. Sampel for her license and registration,
and determined that Ms. Sampel's driver's license was
suspended. Defendants' Ex. C (DeFrance Tr.) at 36.
Officer DeFrance then called for backup officers.
Id. at 38-39; Defendants' Ex. D (Kraeger Tr.) at
32-33. Officers Kraeger, Remotti, Julia and Schreiner arrived
at the scene in response to the call. Defendants' Ex. C
(DeFrance Tr.) at 40.
Kraeger testified he observed through the passenger-side
window a clear plastic bag containing 42.2 grams of off-white
powder in a cup holder. Defendants' Ex. D (Kraeger Tr.)
at 35-36; Defendants' Ex. C (DeFrance Tr.) at 39 (same).
Plaintiff Pickering submitted an affidavit to the contrary,
asserting it would have been impossible to see the plastic
bag from where Officer Kraeger was purportedly standing.
[Dkt. No. 48 (Pickering Affidavit) at 2]. Plaintiff Sampel
submitted an affidavit explaining Officer Kraeger began
searching the vehicle without a warrant or Plaintiffs'
consent, and found the plastic bag during his search. [Dkt.
No. 47 (Sampel Affidavit) at 3].
Kraeger identified the contents of the bag as consistent with
heroin. Defendants' Ex. D (Kraeger Tr.) at 35. An officer
asked Ms. Sampel what was in the bag, and she stated it was
Herbalife, her weight loss supplement. Plaintiffs' Ex. 5
(DeFrance Tr.) at 52. Officer Kraeger conducted a field test
of the powder in the plastic bag, which he and Officer
DeFrance observed showed a positive result indicating heroin.
Defendants' Ex. C (DeFrance Tr.) at 51-54;
Defendants' Ex. D (Kraeger Tr.) at 46-47, 58-60.
Plaintiffs did not observe the result of the test.
Defendants' Ex. B (Sampel Tr.) at 52-53. Defendants
continued to search the vehicle before conducting a second
test of the powder in the plastic bag. Plaintiffs' Ex. 3
(Sampel Tr.) at 53, 55.
Lukanik, who has extensive experience with drug field tests,
performed a second field test of the powder. Defendants'
Ex. D (Kraeger Tr.) at 46-47, 58-60; Defendants' Ex. H
(Lukanik Tr.) at 46. Officers Kraeger and DeFrance and
Sergeant Lukanik observed that the second field test resulted
in a color change indicative of heroin. Defendants' Ex. H
(Lukanik Tr.) at 46. Plaintiff Sampel testified she saw that
the second field test color was clear, suggesting no heroin
presence, but also testified she has no experience or
training in drug field tests. Defendants' Ex. B (Sampel
Tr.) at 53-56.
arrested Ms. Sampel and Mr. Pickering after conducting the
field tests. Defendants' Ex. C (DeFrance Tr.) at 51, 61;
Defendants' Ex. H (Lukanik Tr.) at 37-38; Defendants'
Ex. I (Incident Detail Report) at 4. Once at the police
station, Officer Kraeger tested the substance a third time,
in the presence of Sergeant Lukanik, which again tested
positive for heroin. Defendants' Ex. H (Lukanik Tr.) at
Sampel was charged with possession of narcotics, possession
with intent to sell, possession within a restricted zone,
risk of injury to a minor child, driving under a suspended
license, driving with an improper signal lamp, and driving
with a defective windshield wiper. Defendants' Ex. I
(Incident Detail Report) at 3. Mr. Pickering was charged with
possession of narcotics, possession with intent to sell,
possession within a restricted zone, risk of injury to a
minor child. Id. at 3. Ms. Sampel posted bond the
following day and was released from police custody.
Defendants' Ex. B (Sampel Tr.) at 60. On November 19,
2012, the Connecticut Division of Scientific Services tested
the powder in the plastic bag and determined it did not
contain a controlled substance. Plaintiffs' Ex. 14
(Laboratory Controlled Substance Report) at 1.
judgment should be granted “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). The moving party bears the burden of
“‘showing' - that is pointing out to the
district court - that there is an absence of evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case.” PepsiCo,
Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002);
see also Vivenzio v. City of Syracuse, 611 F.3d 98,
106 (2d Cir. 2010). “In determining whether that burden
has been met, the court is required to resolve all
ambiguities and credit all factual inferences that could be
drawn in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is
sought.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348,
89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)). “If there is any evidence in
the record that could reasonably support a jury's verdict
for the nonmoving party, summary judgment must be
denied.” Am. Home Assurance Co. v. Hapag Lloyd
Container Linie, GmbH, 446 F.3d 313, 315-16 (2d Cir.
2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
moving party demonstrates the absence of any genuine issue of
material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to
present admissible evidence in support of [its] allegations.
Burt Rigid Box, Inc. v. Travelers Prop. Cas. Corp.,
302 F.3d 83, 91 (2d Cir. 2001); Welch-Rubin v. Sandals
Corp., No.3:03cv481, 2004 WL 2472280, at *1 (D. Conn.
Oct. 20, 2004) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted); Martinez v. State of Connecticut, No.
3:09cv1341 (VLB), 2011 WL 4396704 at *6 (D. Conn. Sept. 21,
2011). A party cannot defeat summary judgment by merely
“relying on the allegations in his pleading, or on
conclusory statements, or on mere assertions that affidavits
supporting the motion are not credible.”
Welch-Rubin, 2004 WL 2472280 at *1;
Martinez, 2011 WL 4396704 at *6. If the non-moving
party asserts no evidence upon which a jury could properly
find in its favor, summary judgment is appropriate.
Fincher v. Depository Trust and Clearance Co., 604
F.3d 712 (2d Cir. 2010).
one and two of Plaintiffs' Complaint allege that
Defendants unlawfully stopped Plaintiffs' vehicle without
a “reasonable articulated reason.” [Dkt. No. 1-3
(“Complaint”) at 4 (Count 1) (unlawful stop as to
Ms. Sampel); Id. at 7 (Count 2) (unlawful stop as to
Mr. Pickering)]; U.S. v. Oates, 514 F.Supp.2d 221,
225 (D. Conn. 2007) (stating a vehicle stop must be justified
by “probable cause or a reasonable suspicion, based on
specific and articulable facts of unlawful conduct”).
Fourth Amendment “prohibits unreasonable searches and
seizures by the Government, and its protections extend to
brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that fall
short of traditional arrest.” U.S. v. Arvizu,
534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392
U.S. 1, 9 (1968). “Because the balance between the
public interest and the individual's right to personal
security tilts in favor of a standard less than probable
cause in such cases, the Fourth Amendment is satisfied if the
officer's action is supported by reasonable suspicion to
believe that criminal activity may be afoot. Id.
Reasonable suspicion exists to make an investigatory vehicle
stop when the “totality of the circumstances”
indicates “the detaining officer has a particularized
and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing.”
Id. The officer may have reasonable suspicion to
conduct an investigatory stop where each act or circumstance
observed is “perhaps innocent in itself, ” but
together they “warrant further investigation.”
Id. at 274. Courts must not “divide and
conquer” the reasonable suspicion analysis; reasonable
suspicion may exist based on the totality of the
circumstances even where each individual circumstance is
apparently innocent. Id. at 273-74.
Officer DeFrance testified he stopped Plaintiffs' vehicle
because Plaintiff Pickering's handicap placard was
hanging from the vehicle's rearview mirror at the time of
the stop and because the vehicle's center brake light was
inoperable. Mot. for SJ at 8-9; Defendants' Ex. C
(DeFrance Tr.) at 18 (“I stopped the vehicle because
the . . . center brake light was out. And the large
handicapped sticker on the rear-view mirror obstructs the
driver's view.”); Defendants' Ex. I (Incident
Detail Report) at 5 (“I observed [Plaintiffs'
vehicle] on Rome Ave approaching Spring St. The center brake
light was out and there was a large handicap parking pass
hanging on the rear view mirror, obstructing the
operator's view.”). The Court examines
Defendants' reasons in turn and then evaluates the
totality of the circumstances as required under
Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273-74.
center brake light
law requires motor vehicles to “be equipped with two or
more stop lamps.” C.G.S.A. § 14-96(e)(a).
Plaintiffs' vehicle had two working brake lights at the
time of the vehicle stop. Plaintiffs' Ex. 5 (DeFrance
Tr.) at 31-32 (“So the two brake lights on the side
were operable? A. Yes.”). Plaintiffs have raised and
the Defendants do not contest that the brake lights were in
compliance with the state law and therefore the broken center
brake light did not constitute “reasonable suspicion to
believe that criminal activity may be afoot.”
Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273-74. However, in determining
the propriety of the stop, the Court must consider the
totality of the circumstances. Id. at 273-74.
Accordingly, the Court next turns to Defendants'
allegation that Officer DeFrance also stopped Plaintiffs'
vehicle because Ms. Sampel was driving with an obstructed
law states that “[n]o article, device, sticker or
ornament shall be attached or affixed to or hung on or in any
motor vehicle in such a manner or location as to interfere
with the operator's unobstructed view of the highway or
to distract the attention of the operator.” C.G.S.A.
§ 14-99(f)(c). The mere fact that an officer “saw
the [object] hanging from the rearview mirror and mistakenly
believed that 14-99(f) makes it an infraction for a car to be
driven with any ...