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Thompson v. Rovella

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 14, 2017

HUBERT THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES C. ROVELLA, ET AL. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. 23]

          VANESSA L. BRYANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         On October 2, 1998, Plaintiff Hubert Thompson (“Thompson” or “Plaintiff”) was wrongfully convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault, and attempt to commit sexual assault, and he served four years and three months in prison for these wrongful convictions. Thompson now sues the City of Hartford, Chief of Police for the City of Hartford James C. Rovella, Sergeant Liam Pesce, Officer Tuyen Bergenholtz, Officer Anthony Kozieradzki, Officers in the Crimes Against Persons (“CAPERS”) Unit, and Evidence Officers, for damages of $4.5 million dollars caused by incidents related to his arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. Thompson asserts four counts of civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), one count of negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”), and one negligence claim. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to timely file suit.[1] For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Facts

         On the evening of September 23, 1994, a 34 year old woman was kidnapped and raped in Hartford, Connecticut. [See Dkt. 1 (Complaint), ¶¶ 22-30]. Shortly after the incident, the woman was taken to the emergency room and the hospital performed an examination, which included the use of a rape kit. [See id., ¶ 38]. The state laboratory tested the rape kit after receiving it from the Hartford Police Department (“HPD”) on October 13, 1994, and the results came back negative. [Id. ¶¶ 38-39]. Five months after the incident on February 23, 2005, the woman examined eight photographs and positively identified Thompson as the perpetrator. [Id. ¶ 34]. Thompson was charged in state court and pleaded not guilty to one count of kidnapping in the first degree, one count of sexual assault in the first degree, and one count of attempt to commit sexual assault in the first degree. [See Id. ¶ 20].

         Trial commenced on October 1, 1998, and lasted one day. [Id. ¶¶ 20, 44]. The jury delivered a guilty verdict on October 2, 1998. [Id. ¶ 44]. On November 20, 1998, Thompson was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration, which he did not begin to serve until December 12, 2007, on account of his incarceration relating to a ten year federal sentence. [Id. ¶¶ 45-47].

         Between the time when the incident occurred and the start of Thompson's sentence, substantial improvements were been made to DNA testing. [Id. ¶ 48]. Notably, in 2006 an incarcerated individual named James Tillman was exonerated and released from prison due to DNA testing performed in 2005 and 2006, which excluded Tillman from being the perpetrator. [Id. ¶¶ 53-55]. On March 10, 2008, Thompson filed an appeal to challenge his conviction. [Id. ¶ 57]. The Connecticut Supreme Court denied his petition for certiorari on January 19, 2010, and Thompson subsequently filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. [Id. ¶¶ 58-59].

         Thompson's counsel for the habeas petition, William T. Koch, visited the HPD on January 4, 2011, and he learned the rape kit had been stored with “old evidence” in a trailer behind the headquarters. [See Id. ¶¶ 60-62]. Koch filed a Petition for DNA Testing with the Superior Court in Hartford and upon reanalysis of the rape kit, it was determined that the DNA matched a known felon who lived near the woman and the man had a similar build, complexion, and facial features as Thompson. [Id. ¶ 65]. Thompson was released from prison on March 12, 2012, a new trial was ordered, and all charges were dismissed against him on July 19, 2012. [Id. ¶¶ 66-67].

         On August 3, 2012, Thompson filed a claim against the State of Connecticut for wrongful incarceration with the Office of the Claim Commissioner, and he received compensation in 2014 pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-102uu. [Id. ¶¶ 68, 70]. With respect to the claim before the Office of the Claim Commissioner, the Office of Attorney General provided notice to Thompson on January 2, 2014, that indicated Connecticut would not contest his innocence. [Id. ¶ 69].

         II. Positions of the Parties

         Plaintiff's claims are against members of the City of Hartford's Police Department. His four § 1983 are generally based on the City of Hartford's failure to adequately identify, maintain, and process an effective DNA testing system. The two emotional distress claims are related to Defendants' conduct leading to and during Plaintiff's arrest, detention and incarceration. The negligence claim is related to the officers' duty and failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.

         Defendants move to dismiss this case in its entirety on the basis that all claims are time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Specifically, Defendants argue (1) there is a three year statute of limitations for all 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for which the cause of action arose on July 19, 2012, when Defendant was exonerated, that ran on July 19, 2015; (2) there is a two year statute of limitations for both Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress and Negligence of Municipal Employees for which the cause of action arose on March 12, 2012, when Defendant was released from prison, that ran on March 12, 2014; and (3) there is a three year Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress statute of limitations for which the cause of action arose on March 12, 2012, when Defendant was released from prison, that ran on March 12, 2015. [See Dkt. 24 (Def. Mot. Dismiss)]. Given that the statute of limitations would have run for Defendants' posited cause of action dates, Defendants request that the Court dismiss the case in its entirety.

         Plaintiff broadly argues that the Motion to Dismiss should be denied because the dates in question are disputed, and as such the dismissal is inappropriate at this stage. [See Dkt. 29-1 (Pl.'s Sur-Reply Brief), at 1-2]. With respect to the § 1983 claims, Plaintiff disputes Defendants' proffered cause of action date and instead posits that it was January 2, 2014, when the Attorney General notified Plaintiff that his innocence would not be contested, when the cause of action arose. [See Dkt. 27 (Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Dismiss), at 5]. Alternatively, Plaintiff contends that equitable tolling should apply to this case. [Dkt. 29-1, at 3].

         DISCUSSION

         I. Le ...


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