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Demski v. Town of Enfield

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 6, 2017

TOWN OF ENFIELD, ET AL., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, Christopher Demski, alleges multiple federal and state civil rights claims against Defendants, the Town of Enfield and various officers of the Enfield Police Department (“EPD”). Mr. Demski's claims arise out of actions taken by EPD officials in connection with Mr. Demski's arrest in October of 2013. The following parties are named as Defendants in this action: the Town of Enfield (“Town”); Chief Carl Sferrazza, Sergeant James Lefebrvre, Officer Christopher Dufresne, Officer Brendan Devine, Officer Nicholas Raigon, Officer Kevin Cwirka, Officer Michael Colantuono, and Officers Jane Doe and John Doe.

         Mr. Demski has alleged the following federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: excessive force in violation of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count One); failure to intervene in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count Ten); failure to render adequate medical assistance in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count Twelve); false arrest and malicious prosecution (Count Fourteen); and municipal liability for constitutional violations on the part of the Town and Chief Sferrazza (Count Fifteen).

         Mr. Demski has also alleged the following state claims: excessive force under the Connecticut constitution (Count Two); common law negligence (Count Three); liability under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n (Count Four); dog bite liability under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-357 (Count Five); common law recklessness (Count Six); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count Seven); negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count Eight); common law assault and battery (Count Nine); failure to intervene in violation of the Connecticut Constitution (Count Eleven); failure to render adequate medical assistance in violation of the Connecticut Constitution (Count Thirteen); and indemnification under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-465 (Count Sixteen).

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment with respect to several of Mr. Demski's claims. Mot. for Summ. Judgment, ECF No. 61. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Partial Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL SUMMARY[1]

         On the evening of October 10, 2013, Mr. Demski walked outside his home without wearing a shirt.[2] Am. Compl. ¶ 11, ECF No. 41. At around midnight that night, Mr. Demski's neighbors called 911 to report a shirtless man acting strangely. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 1. Shortly after that call, Mr. Demski broke into the home of another neighbor, Charles Strider. Id. at ¶ 2. According to Mr. Demski, Mr. Strider's house closely resembles the house of Mr. Demski's mother and stepfather, which was next door, and Mr. Demski “mistakenly entered” Mr. Strider's home thinking it was the home next door. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15. Upon discovering that someone had entered his home, Mr. Strider also called the police. Id. at ¶ 2. The EPD Incident Report notes that Mr. Strider reported hearing “loud banging, ” seeing a “male with long hair and no shirt pacing back and forth in his living room, ” and thinking “there was someone trying to kill him.” Incident Report, Defs. Ex. C, ECF No. 61-5.

         Three EPD officers, Sergeant Lefebrve, Officer Dufresne and Officer Devine, arrived at Mr. Strider's home in response to the two calls. Am. Compl. ¶ 3. A police dog, Bruin, accompanied Officer Dufresne. Id., L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 3.

         The parties offer divergent accounts of the events immediately following the police officers' arrival. According to Defendants, when the police arrived, they saw Mr. Demski run out of the house, bleeding from his hands and feet. Id. at ¶ 4. When the police officers ordered him to get on the ground, he lowered himself to his knees, screaming incoherently, and when the police officers attempted to handcuff him, he resisted. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. The police officers deployed their taser gun multiple times, and each deployment was allegedly ineffective. Id. at ¶ 7. The police officers were ultimately required to use a “drive stun deployment, ” which allowed Officer Devine to handcuff Mr. Demski. Id. at ¶ 8.

         Mr. Demski, on the other hand, insists that he was handcuffed early on, before the police officers tased him repeatedly. L.R. 56(a)(2) ¶ 11. Mr. Demski also alleges that the police canine, following an “attack” command from Officer Dufresne, latched on to his right foot and ankle, resulting in injuries to his Achilles tendon. Am. Compl. ¶ 27. The parties dispute whether the police canine actually bit Mr. Demski. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 9.

         After Mr. Demski was handcuffed, Officer Dufresne called for a medic, and the officers kept Mr. Demski in the police cruiser until the ambulance arrived. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12. According to Defendants, Mr. Demski was exhibiting aggressive behavior while in the police cruiser and while in the ambulance, including screaming, kicking the windows and spitting. Id. at ¶¶ 12-14. Mr. Demski does not have any independent recollection of his behavior during this time, and he does not remember the majority of the events described above. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10, 15. He only remembers seeing a dog barking at him and being shocked with a taser gun. Id.

         While at the hospital, Mr. Demski initially continued acting aggressively. See Johnson Memorial Hospital Records, Defs. Ex. J at 3, ECF No. 61-12 (noting that Mr. Demski was “fighting with us and being aggressive” and describing the need to place an oxygen mask on Mr. Demski “as a spit shield”). Mr. Demski gradually became more lucid at the hospital, and he was discharged later that same night. Johnson Memorial Hospital Admission Record, Pl. Ex. 20, ECF No. 73-34. After he was discharged from the hospital and returned to police custody, Mr. Demski alleges that Defendants forced him to walk with a leg injury and kept him in a holding cell. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-37 (alleging that Mr. Demski was “made to limp and hobble, with a fully torn Achilles tendon… without assistance”).

         Following his arrest, Mr. Demski was charged with criminal trespass, criminal mischief, interfering with a police officer, and breach of peace. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 18. By paying a $50 fine, Mr. Demski was able to reduce these charges to a single charge of creating a public disturbance. Id. at ¶ 19.


         The Court shall grant summary judgment if 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 movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has carried that initial burden, “the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Brown v. Eli Lilly & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 358 (2d Cir. 2011). If no reasonable jury could find in favor of the opposing party because “the evidence to support its case is so slight, there is no genuine issue of material fact and a grant of summary judgment is proper.” Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).

         A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . .” Id. Disputes concerning immaterial facts do not prevent summary judgment. See id.; Howard v. Gleason Corp., 901 F.2d 1154, 1159 (2d Cir. 1990) (“[S]ummary judgment cannot be avoided by immaterial factual disputes.”). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in its favor. Dalberth v. Xerox Corp., 766 F.3d 172, 182 (2d Cir. 2014).


         Defendants argue that Mr. Demski has failed to establish the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to the following claims: Monell municipal liability on the part of the Town and Chief Sferrazza (Count Fifteen); failure to provide adequate medical assistance under federal and state law (Counts Twelve and Thirteen); and false arrest and malicious prosecution (Count Fourteen).[3] Defendants have not challenged Mr. Demski's excessive force and failure to intervene claims under either the Fourth Amendment or the Connecticut Constitution, nor have they challenged Mr. Demski's remaining state law claims.

         A. Monell claim (Count Fifteen)

         Mr. Demski seeks to hold the Town of Enfield and Chief Sferrazza (“Town Defendants”) liable for their allegedly inadequate policies and training regarding the use of force by police officers. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 77-82. Specifically, Mr. Demski alleges that (1) the Town Defendants have a policy and practice of inadequate supervision and discipline of Enfield police officers who have backgrounds of misconduct in connection with arrests and seizures, and (2) the Town Defendants have maintained a policy and practice of inadequate supervision and training regarding the proper implementation of accepted police practices in various areas. Id. He claims that these policies proximately caused the alleged misconduct of the Defendant Enfield police officers in connection with his arrest. Id. at ¶ 79.

         In Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), the United States Supreme Court determined that, in order for an individual plaintiff to bring a Section 1983 action against a municipality and its officials for monetary relief, the municipality must have officially adopted and promulgated policies that caused unconstitutional actions. Id. “Local governing bodies, therefore, can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where … the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” Id. at 690. “To hold a city liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional actions of its employees, a plaintiff is required to plead and prove three elements: (1) an official policy or custom that (2) causes the plaintiff to be subjected to (3) a denial of a constitutional right.” Wray v. City of New York, 490 F.3d 189, 195 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal marks and citations omitted). Defendants argue the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to the first element, the existence of an official policy or custom, which is fatal to Mr. Demski's Monell claim. Def. Mem. in Supp. 14-15, ECF No 61-1.

         “Courts have recognized four ways for plaintiffs to demonstrate a ‘policy or custom': (1) ‘a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers'[]; (2) conduct ordered by a municipal official with policymaking authority[]; (3) actions taken ‘pursuant to governmental “custom” even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decisionmaking channels'[]; or (4) a ‘failure to train' municipal employees that ‘amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the [employees] come into contact[.]'” Walker v. City of N.Y., No. 12 CIV. 5902 PAC, 2014 WL 1259618, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 2014) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-691; Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483-84 (1986); City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988); and City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). Mr. Demski contends that the Town Defendants violated Mr. Demski's constitutional rights through two types of policies and/or customs: (1) a custom of inadequate supervision and discipline of police officers, and (2) a custom of failing to adequately train police officers in the use of force during arrests and seizures. For the reasons set forth below, both of these arguments fail as a matter of law.

         1. Inadequate Supervision

         Mr. Demski first alleges that the Town Defendants have adopted a “de facto” policy of inadequate supervision of their police officers, which resulted in the excessive use of force and related actions taken by the various EPD officers involved in his arrest. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 77-82. In support of this contention, he specifically describes a series of incidents where EPD officers used force in the context of an arrest or seizure, those officers filed use-of-force reports, and the EPD approved the use of force as reasonable. Pl. Mem. in Opp. 9-17, ECF No. 73; Use of Force Reports, Pl. Ex. 6, ECF No. 73-8. He alleges that, in all of the described incidents, the EPD conducted only “superficial” investigations and failed to discipline the officers involved, contributing to a policy of inadequate supervision that caused Defendants to use excessive force against Mr. Demski in the context of his arrest.

         “In order to establish the liability of a municipality in an action under § 1983 for unconstitutional acts by a municipal employee below the policymaking level, a plaintiff must establish that the violation of his constitutional rights resulted from a municipal custom or policy.” Vann v. City of N.Y., 72 F.3d 1040, 1049 (2d Cir. 1995). “This does not mean that the plaintiff must show that the municipality had an explicitly stated rule or regulation… A § 1983 plaintiff injured by a police officer may establish the pertinent custom or policy by showing that the municipality, alerted to the possible use of excessive force by its police officers, exhibited deliberate indifference.” Id. In order to meet this standard, Mr. Demski must show (1) deliberate indifference on the part of the municipality sufficient to constitute a “custom or policy” of inadequate supervision, and (2) a “direct causal link” between that policy and the alleged constitutional deprivation. City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). Mr. Demski fails to establish either of these requirements.

         a. ...

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