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Kanizaj v. Santello

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 3, 2017

STEPHEN KANIZAJ, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIANNA SANTELLO, ET AL., Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Donna F. Martinez United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Stephen Kanizaj, brings this civil rights complaint against several Old Saybrook police officers[1] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that they violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. #44.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.[2]

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts, drawn from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) statements and exhibits, are undisputed.

         On April 15, 2014, at approximately 4:41 PM, the Old Saybrook Police Department received a call[3] from an individual who identified himself as “James Brink.” (Defendants' Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement of Facts (“Def. SOF”), Doc. #44-2, ¶¶ 1, 4; Plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement (“Pl. SOF”), Doc. #45-1, ¶¶ 1, 4.) The caller stated, “I'm hearing gunshots from across the street.” (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 2; Pl. SOF ¶ 2.) He explained, “I'm just down the street, but the location of where the gunshots are . . . coming from is 225 Springbrook Road.” (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 3; Pl. SOF ¶ 3.) Plaintiff lives at 225 Springbrook Road. (Def. SOF ¶ 23; Pl. SOF ¶ 23.)

         The caller continued that “this happened about two minutes ago. I just keep hearing gunshots and screaming, I'm just scared right now.” (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 5, 11; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 5, 11.) He stated that he was “looking through the window” and could “see people with guns pointed to people's heads.” (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 6, 9; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 6, 9.) Police were dispatched to the scene. (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A.) The caller reported that there were two armed individuals wearing black ski masks and “a whole family on the floor.” (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 14; Pl. SOF ¶ 14.) When asked if any shots had been fired, the caller informed the dispatcher that about five shots were fired. (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 8; Pl. SOF ¶ 8.) He told the dispatcher, “I think someone's been shot in the leg” and that “there are only a couple alive.” (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 16, 17; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 16, 17.) When asked what the people were doing, the caller answered, “they are just lying on the floor with blood coming out.” (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 18; Pl. SOF ¶ 18.)

         The dispatcher informed the responding officers by radio that the caller heard gunshots, that there were people in the house with guns to their heads, and that the caller could hear screaming. (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 7, 10, 12; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 7, 10, 12.) She relayed the caller's report that one to three people possibly had been shot in the leg and that he saw blood. (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 19; Pl. SOF ¶ 19.)

         Police arrived on Springbrook Road about 6 minutes and 20 seconds after the start of the call. (Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 13; Pl. SOF ¶ 13.) The officers were wearing tactical gear. (Pl. Depo., Def. Ex. B, Doc. #44-4, p. 11; Def. SOF ¶ 33; Pl. SOF ¶ 33.) Plaintiff was standing in his kitchen when his adult son alerted him that there were police officers in their backyard. (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, pp. 4-5.) Plaintiff went to the back screen door and an officer told him to come out of the house. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff asked if he could put on sneakers or take his socks off because it was wet outside.[4] (Id.) The officer responded that he could take his socks off. (Id. at 7; Def. SOF ¶ 30; Pl. SOF ¶ 30.) Plaintiff did so and came outside. (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 5.)

         Some of the officers asked plaintiff questions that “didn't make sense” to him. (Id.) One officer asked plaintiff if he had heard a car backfiring, another asked if he had heard shots being fired, and another asked if someone had been shot in the front yard. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff “didn't know what was going on, ” and responded that he had not heard a car backfire or any shots being fired. (Id. at 5, 8.) When asked if anyone else was in the house, plaintiff responded that his son was inside. (Id. at 5.) An officer asked plaintiff to tell his son to come outside. (Id.) Plaintiff's son came outside and they stood on the porch against the exterior wall of the house. (Id.)

         An officer asked plaintiff for permission to enter the house. (Id.) Plaintiff refused, telling the officer, “[y]ou have no right to go in my home.” (Id.) The officer entered anyway. (Id.) Another officer, defendant Small, [5] pointed his rifle at plaintiff, keeping him “covered for the safety of the other officers.” (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, pp. 5, 7; Def. SOF ¶ 29; Pl. SOF ¶ 29.) Plaintiff told Officer Small that he wanted to accompany the officer. (Id. at 6.) Officer Small told plaintiff that he had to stay outside. (Id.) Some time later, a female officer also entered the house. (Id.) These were the only officers who entered plaintiff's house. (Id.) Plaintiff estimates that the officers were inside for “[p]robably 15 minutes.” (Id.)

         During the search, the officers turned on every light and opened every interior door--“closet doors, bedroom doors, basement door.” (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 9; Pl. SOF ¶ 25.) The officers did not open any drawers. (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 9.) The officers did not cause any damage to plaintiff's house. (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 9; Pl. SOF ¶ 25.) At no time did the defendants handcuff plaintiff or otherwise physically contact him. (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 12; Def. SOF ¶¶ 31, 32; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 31, 32.)

         Upon completion of the investigation, the defendants found nothing that supported the allegations made by the caller. (Small Aff., Def. Ex. C, Doc. #44-5, ¶ 8; Police Report, Def. Ex. D, Doc. #44-6, pp. 5-6; Def. SOF ¶ 34; Pl. SOF ¶ 34.) It later was determined that plaintiff was the victim of “swatting.”[6] (Police Report, Def. Ex. D, Doc. #44-6, p. 6.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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 “material” fact is a fact that influences the case's outcome under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A “genuine” dispute is one that a reasonable jury could resolve in favor of the non-movant. Id. The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing that there are no genuine disputes as to any material fact. Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000). Once such a showing is made, the non-movant must show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. The court may rely on admissible evidence only, Spiegel v. ...


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