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Moulthrop v. Slavin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 31, 2017

MARIA MOULTHROP, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL SLAVIN, ET AL, Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Maria Moulthrop, brings several federal and state claims against Defendants, various individuals associated with the City of Waterbury Police Department (“WPD”) and Waterbury Public Schools (“WPS”). Ms. Moulthrop's claims arise out of an internal investigation and subsequent criminal prosecution regarding her alleged mismanagement of school funds in her role as Principal of Hopeville Elementary School. The following parties are named as Defendants: Lieutenant Michael Slavin; Detective David McKnight; Detective Orlando Rivera; Chief Vernon Riddick; Mayor Neil O'Leary; Paul Guidone; Ronald Frost; Mary Ann Marold; Doreen Biolo; Thomas Pannone; and Frederick L. Dorsey.

         Ms. Moulthrop has alleged the following claims: conspiracy to perform an unreasonable search and seizure (Count One); false arrest (Count Two); malicious prosecution (Count Three); Monell failure to train (Count Four); violation of the Financial Privacy Act (Count Five); intentional spoliation of evidence (Count Six); and breach of contract (Count Seven).

         Defendants Slavin, McKnight, Rivera, Riddick, O'Leary, Guidone, Frost, Marold, Biolo and Pannone (together “City Defendants”) have moved to dismiss Counts One through Five and Count Seven of Ms. Moulthrop's Amended Complaint. City Defs. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 37.[1] Defendant Frederick Dorsey has separately moved to dismiss Count Six of the Amended Complaint, Ms. Moulthrop's sole claim against him. Dorsey Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 31. For the reasons that follow, City Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and Defendant Dorsey's Motion to Dismiss is MOOT.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Maria Moulthrop is the former Principal of Hopeville Elementary School (“Hopeville”), a public school in the City of Waterbury, Connecticut. Am. Compl. ¶ 2. In July 2011, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDOE”) issued a report publishing students' test results on a statewide performance test. Id. at ¶¶ 3-4. That same month, a local newspaper in Waterbury raised suspicions about the relatively high performance of certain Hopeville students in light of the reported test results. Id. at 4. The SDOE subsequently hired Attorney Frederick Dorsey to conduct an investigation into suspected testing irregularities at Hopeville. Id. at 8.

         In August 2011, Ms. Moulthrop was placed on administrative leave without pay pending the investigation, along with several other Hopeville teachers and administrators. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9. During the course of the investigation, Attorney Dorsey conducted a taped interview of Ms. Moulthrop, which is no longer available. Id. at ¶¶ 13-16. Based at least in part on this interview, Attorney Dorsey prepared a formal report, dated September 2011, finding “sufficient credible evidence” that “testing irregularities” took place under Ms. Moulthrop's leadership. Id. Based in part on Attorney Dorsey's report, David Snead, Superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools, informed Ms. Moulthrop that the City of Waterbury was considering terminating her employment. Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.

         Thomas Pannone was appointed acting principal to replace Ms. Moulthrop for the 2011-2012 school year. Id. After Mr. Pannone commenced his term as acting principal, he came across bank statements in the name of the Hopeville Parent Teacher Organization (“Hopeville PTO”) listing Ms. Moulthrop's home address. Id. at ¶¶ 31-33. Mr. Pannone forwarded this information to Ronald Frost, WPS Personnel Director, and Paul Guidone, WPS Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, who then used the information to access the Hopeville PTO bank account at TD Bank. Id. Various WPS officials reviewed the bank statements of this account, including Mary Ann Marold, WPS Education Liaison, and Doreen Biolo, WPS Business Office Manager. Id. ¶¶ at 34-35.

         Based on these account records, on December 6, 2011, Mr. Frost and Ms. Marold filed a criminal larceny complaint with Lieutenant Slavin and Detective McKnight of the Waterbury Police Department alleging that Ms. Moulthrop misappropriated school funds for personal use. Id. Three days later, Ms. Moulthrop resigned from her position. Id. at ¶ 36.

         A. Arrest Warrant Application

         In December 2011, Lieutenant Slavin and Detective McKnight completed an application for an arrest warrant before a Magistrate Judge. Arrest Warrant, City Defs. Ex. F, ECF No. 37-7. In support of this arrest warrant, Lieutenant Slavin and Detective McKnight submitted an affidavit outlining the evidence that had been provided against Ms. Moulthrop by Mr. Frost and Ms. Marold. Arrest Warrant Affidavit, City Defs. Ex. G, ECF No. 37-8. This affidavit explained that Mr. Frost contacted the Waterbury Police Department because he and Ms. Marold “believed that Moulthrop may have solicited and used money raised by the parents and children of Hopeville School for her own personal use, under the name of the non-existent Hopeville School PTO.” Id. at 3.

         In support of this allegation, the arrest warrant affidavit explains that Mr. Pannone, in his role as acting principal, noticed mail addressed to the Hopeville PTO listing Ms. Moulthrop's home address on copies of Hopeville PTO checks. Id. According to the affidavit, Mr. Pannone contacted Ms. Moulthrop, who confirmed that the account was in her name and who then instructed TD Bank to have Mr. Frost be the sole account holder for that account. Id. The affidavit states that, when Mr. Frost reviewed the bank statements of that account, he noticed “questionable transactions” that were paid for using Hopeville PTO funds, including a payment of over $1, 000 to Crestwood Ford and payments to BJ's Wholesale totaling around $2, 000. Id. The payments made to BJ's Wholesale included numerous BJ's gift cards, an Apple iPod for $237.99, a Casio camera for $249.99, and several food items that, according to the affiant, were not offered at the Hopeville cafeteria. Id. at 5-7.

         According to the Amended Complaint, however, Ms. Moulthrop never gave permission for Mr. Frost to access that account. The Amended Complaint states: “Frost used the Hopeville PTO TD Bank statements he received from Pannone on September 2, 2011, to unlawfully gain access to Moulthrop's Hopeville PTO TD bank account by misrepresenting that Superintendent Snead owned the account, convincing TD Bank to remove Moulthrop as the sole signer and account owner without her authorization, and adding Frost's name as the sole signer on the account.” Am. Compl. ¶ 33. It is undisputed that the account was in the name of the Hopeville PTO at the time Mr. Frost gained access, and that Ms. Moulthrop had previously been the only individual with access to that account.

         1. Hopeville PTO

         One of the core allegations supporting Lieutenant Slavin's and Detective McKnight's application for an arrest warrant is that the Hopeville PTO did not actually exist. Id. at 3. In support of this contention, Lieutenant Slavin and Detective McKnight cited Mr. Frost and Ms. Marold as having stated that “each individual PTO has a board of directors that, to their knowledge, must approve all expenditures and fundraisers and that no one person would ever have control over the entire organization.” Id. at 3. The Hopeville PTO, however, did not have a board of directors and was under Ms. Moulthrop's exclusive control. Id.

         According to the affidavit, “Detective McKnight found an online definition for a PTO” which stated that a PTO “is a group of parents and teachers that work together for the benefit of the school and the children being educated there and it is usually recognized by the IRS as a nonprofit, tax-exempt group.” Id. The affidavit further stated that “Principal Pannone also conducted his own interviews with Hopeville School teachers and found there has not been a PTO at Hopeville in over 10 years.” Id. at 4. The affidavit confirmed that only Ms. Moulthrop seemed to have knowledge of this PTO, suggesting that the PTO was not a valid entity. Id.

         The arrest warrant affidavit also includes a statement from Mr. Frost in which he claimed that Molly Hernandez, a parent of a Hopeville student, made a “formal complaint” expressing concern about Ms. Moulthrop's fundraising activities in connection with the Hopeville PTO. Id. at 2. The affidavit states that, according to Mr. Frost, Ms. Moulthrop was selling snacks in the Hopeville cafeteria for one dollar apiece to raise funds for the Hopeville PTO. Id. Mr. Frost allegedly told the WPD investigators that Ms. Hernandez was concerned about this activity because “there is not a PTO at Hopeville School and there has never been one.” Id. The affidavit also states that the City of Waterbury provided Ms. Moulthrop with a stipend of 50 cents per student, which was allegedly supposed to be “used for student related activities and placed in a student activity fund”; however, “there was no student activity fund at Hopeville School while Moulthrop was Principal.” Id. at 11. Instead, Ms. Moulthrop placed those funds directly into Hopeville PTO account. Id.

         Ms. Moulthrop, however, insists that the Hopeville PTO was a valid organization. According to Ms. Moulthrop, a PTO does not require a board of directors or bylaws. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 103-106. She also alleges that Ms. Marold was aware of this fact when communicating with the WPD regarding Ms. Moulthrop's case and that both Mr. Frost and Ms. Marold intentionally made false representations to the police in connection with this investigation. Id. She further states that various individuals at Hopeville were paid for school-related expenses out of the Hopeville PTO account, and that those individuals knew that the payments were being made in the name of the Hopeville PTO. Id. at ¶ 100.

         2. Crestwood Ford Purchase

         In addition to the description of Mr. Frost's and Ms. Marold's concerns about the Hopeville PTO, the affidavit provided detailed descriptions of several of the purchases from the Hopeville PTO account that the affiant deemed questionable. One such description included a written statement from Denise Benemerito, one of the former owners of Crestwood Ford, which Ms. Benemerito had provided in response to an inquiry from the WPD regarding a $1, 061.80 expense to Crestwood Ford that was reflected in the Hopeville PTO account. Id. at 7. According to the affidavit, Ms. Benemerito stated that, after Crestwood Ford closed in 2010, she opened a new business by the name of Bone Appetite. Id. Ms. Benemerito further stated that, to her surprise, Ms. Moulthrop came into Bone Appetite one day and asked Ms. Benemerito whether she remembered an incident in which Ms. Moulthrop “wrote a check from the wrong checkbook” to pay for car repairs. Id. Ms. Benemerito allegedly responded by saying that she “[did] not remember anything like that.” Id. According to Ms. Benemerito, Ms. Moulthrop was “persistent about this and kept saying that she was so upset because she wrote a check from the wrong checkbook, she even mentioned that she wrote the check out of a PTO account.” Id. Ms. Benemerito noted that Ms. Moulthrop was holding two one-hundred dollar bills in her hand when she had this conversation, explaining: “I felt that her having the money in her hand was her trying to pay me off for agreeing with her story.” Id.

         In addition to Ms. Benemerito's account of this transaction, the arrest warrant affidavit also includes a summary of Ms. Moulthrop's version of events in connection with this particular purchase. The affidavit states:

Moulthrop told us that she had written a check to Crestwood Ford out of the Hopeville PTO account by accident because her personal checkbook is the same color as the Hopeville PTO checkbook. Moulthrop stated that the Hopeville check bounced and as a result she deposited $1300.00 from her personal account into the Hopeville PTO account. Moulthrop did show us a photocopy of the transaction receipts from this deposit from her personal account into the Hopeville PTO account.

Id. at 10. The affidavit further notes that “Moulthrop stated she would keep the receipts in her office but once she was removed from Hopeville School she has no idea what happened to the receipts.” Id.

         3. Leaf Blower Purchase

         The affidavit also describes other incidences of suspected misuse of school funds. Specifically, the affidavit notes that Ms. Moulthrop was recorded to have purchased a backpack leaf blower from the Home Depot for $316.94; however, the affidavit states that, according to Victor Martinez, a custodian at Hopeville, the school only had one backpack leaf blower, which Ms. Moulthrop had purchased from Schmidt and Serafine's. Id. at 10 (“About five years ago Maria bought me a backpack leaf blower for the school from Schmidt and Serafine's. This is the only blower we ever got from Maria. I am 100% positive the blower we have now is the only one Maria bought for the school.”). According to the affidavit, when asked about this purchase, Ms. Moulthrop confirmed to WPD officials that she had purchased two separate leaf blowers with school funds, explaining that “the leaf blower she bought broke down so she purchased another leaf blower with PTO funds.” Id.

         4. Flat Screen Television and Camera Purchases

         Finally, the affidavit describes that Ms. Moulthrop, while on administrative leave, returned some items to Hopeville from her possession that had been purchased using Hopeville PTO funds, including a flat screen TV and a Casio camera. Id. at 11. According to the affidavit, the television showed “obvious signs of wear.” Id. When Ms. Moulthrop was questioned about these purchases, she explained that “she brought those items to her home so her son could teach her how to use them.” Id. The affiant expressed suspicion at this response, noting that “Moulthrop had full access to the City of Waterbury IT department who would have been able to help her with any technical problems she had with the TV or camera.” Id.

         B. Arrest and Criminal Prosecution

         The arrest warrant application was approved and a warrant was signed by a Magistrate Judge. Id. On June 28, 2012, Ms. Moulthrop was arrested and charged with larceny. Am. Compl. ¶ 39. Shortly afterwards, the SDOE initiated proceedings to revoke Ms. Moulthrop's educator certificates. Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 40-43. Ms. Moulthrop requested a formal hearing in connection ...


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