United States District Court, D. Connecticut
GEORGE M. LENIART
WILLIAM BUNDY, et al.
RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT
AS A MATTER OF LAW [DOC. #265]
B. FITZSIMMONS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
George M. Leniart (“plaintiff”) brought this
civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, alleging
that defendants violated his constitutional rights by
conducting warrantless searches of his residence and
unlawfully arresting him on two separate occasions. See Doc.
#35, Amended Complaint. A jury trial was held on February 10
through 13, 2015, on the following claims: (1) unreasonable
search on October 5, 2006, against defendants Bransford,
Hoagland, Blanchette and Bundy; and (2) unreasonable search
and seizure on September 25, 2007, against defendant Ellison.
At the end of evidence, plaintiff orally moved for judgment
as a matter of law with respect to the September 25, 2007,
seizure and examination of a microcassette audiotape by
defendant Ellison. [Doc. #252]. Following oral argument, the
Court denied this motion on the record before charging the
jury. [Doc. #253, 254]. On February 13, 2015, the jury
rendered a verdict in favor of all defendants and against
plaintiff. [Doc. #256]. On February 25, 2015, plaintiff filed
his Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b). [Doc. #265]. On
March 18, 2015, defendants filed a Memorandum in Opposition
to plaintiff's motion [Doc. #266], to which plaintiff
timely filed a Reply [Doc. #274]. For the reasons articulated
below, the Court DENIES plaintiff's
Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. [Doc.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court “will grant a motion for judgment as a matter of
law only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party, a reasonable juror would be
compelled to find in favor of the moving party.”
Drew v. Connolly, 536 F. App'x 164, 165 (2d Cir.
2013) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
“When evaluating a motion under Rule 50, courts are
required to ‘consider the evidence in the light most
favorable to the party against whom the motion was made and
to give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences
that the jury might have drawn in its favor from the
evidence.'” ING Glob. v. United Parcel
Serv. Oasis Supply Corp., 757 F.3d 92, 97 (2d Cir. 2014)
(quoting Tolbert v. Queens Coll., 242 F.3d 58, 70
(2d Cir. 2001)). “The Court cannot assess the weight of
conflicting evidence, pass on the credibility of the
witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of the jury,
and must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party
that the jury is not required to believe.” Id.
(quoting Tolbert, 242 F.3d at 70) (internal quotation marks
omitted). “In other words, either there must be such a
complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the
jury's finding could only have been the result o[f] sheer
surmise and conjecture or the evidence must be so
overwhelming that reasonable and fair-minded persons could
only have reached the opposite result.” Hardy v.
Saliva Diagnostic Sys., Inc., 52 F.Supp.2d 333, 336-37
(D. Conn. 1999) (collecting cases) (internal quotation marks
short, the court cannot substitute its judgment for that of
the jury. LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, 67 F.3d
412, 429 (2d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). Rather, judgment
as a matter of law may only be granted if:
(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting
the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been
the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or
(2) there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor
of the movant that reasonable and fair minded persons could
not arrive at a verdict against it.
Munn v. Hotchkiss Sch., 24 F.Supp.3d 155, 168 (D.
Conn. 2014) (collecting cases); see also Cotto v. City of
Middletown, 158 F.Supp.3d 67 (D. Conn. 2016) (“The
test on a Rule 50(b) motion is not the strength or weakness
of the evidence, but whether the evidence presented was such
that a ‘reasonable juror would have been compelled to
accept the view of the moving party.'” (quoting
Densberger v. United Technologies Corp., 125
F.Supp.2d 585, 590 (D. Conn. 2000))). Accordingly,
“[w]here a jury has rendered a verdict for the
non-movant, a court may grant [judgment as a matter of law]
only if the court, viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-movant, concludes that a reasonable
juror would have been compelled to accept the view of the
moving party.” MacDermid Printing Sols. LLC v.
Cortron Corp., 833 F.3d 172, 180 (2d Cir. 2016)
(footnote and internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in
RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND
in mind the Rule 50(b) standard articulated above, the
following comprises the relevant evidence at trial. The Court
limits the following background to plaintiff's claim for
the allegedly unreasonable search and seizure on September
25, 2007, against defendant Ellison.
September 2007, plaintiff, a registered sex offender, was
living in the community, having been previously released on
special parole on July 5, 2007. See Doc. #266-2, Trial
Transcript (hereinafter “Tr.”), at 121:5-8;
141:17-23; see also Def. Ex. 507. Plaintiff was
subject to numerous parole conditions while on special
parole. Id. at 141:24-142:2; see also Def. Ex. 505.
These conditions included, in pertinent part, that: plaintiff
would live in a residence approved by his parole officer; his
parole officer had the right to visit plaintiff's
residence at any reasonable time; plaintiff would participate
in a mental health treatment program for anger management; he
would have no contact in any manner with any minors; and that
plaintiff would participate in a mental health evaluation and
treatment program for problem sexual behavior. See Def. Ex.
505. In anticipation of his release, plaintiff also signed a
State of Connecticut Computer Access Agreement, which stated,
inter alia, that plaintiff: would not access any website that
is questionable as it relates to sexually explicit or graphic
material; would not enter, or participate in, any bulletin
boards or chat rooms of any type; and would agree to an
examination of his computer, including an examination of all
added devices, CDs or diskettes. See Def. Ex. 506.
special parole conditions also required him to wear a GPS
monitoring device, which consisted of an ankle monitor and a
box transmitter, which plaintiff wore on his waist. Tr.
144:13-145:5. In order for the GPS device to work, the ankle
monitor and the box transmitter had to be within 60 feet of
each other. Tr. 144:23-144:1. At the time of the September
25, 2007, search, plaintiff was being supervised by defendant
parole officer Larry Bransford, to whom plaintiff complained
about the GPS device malfunctioning. Tr. 145:6-9, 273:13-21,
309:19-22. On the morning of September 25, 2007,
defendant Bransford made a home visit to plaintiff's
residence due to the malfunctioning of the GPS device, where
he verified that there was in fact a problem with the unit.
Tr. 274:9-18. During the visit, plaintiff indicated that he
needed to go to work, and following the verification of the
device's malfunction, defendant Bransford permitted
plaintiff to attend work. Tr. 274:19-275:3.
September 25, 2007, defendant Bransford was supervised by
defendant Parole Manager Eric Ellison. Tr. 275:4-9,
450:23-24. While at plaintiff's residence,
defendant Bransford called defendant Ellison to advise that
plaintiff's GPS device was malfunctioning. Tr. 275:16-17.
Later that morning, defendant Ellison advised defendant
Bransford that plaintiff would need to be remanded to custody
due to alleged parole violations. Tr. 275:19-25, 368:19-20.
William Bundy at the time was a unit supervisor, detective
sergeant, with the Connecticut State Police Eastern District
Major Crime Unit located at Troop E in Montville, Tr.
423:19-424:24. He testified at trial that around July 2007,
plaintiff was a person of interest in several crimes that
Troop E was then investigating, including several sexual
assaults. Tr. 438:8-20. Between July and September 2007, Troop
E was provided information by witnesses to, and victims of,
crimes allegedly committed by plaintiff. Tr. 438:21-439:4.
Sergeant Bundy testified that around September 25, 2007, one
of his detectives had been in contact with Parole Officer
Cartagena regarding this information about plaintiff, and in
light of these allegations, Sergeant Bundy “reached out
to then program manager Eric Ellison, to bring the
information to [parole's] attention.” Tr. 439:7-13
(alterations added). At a meeting with Parole Officers
Cartagena and Ellison, Sergeant Bundy provided these officers
with copies of the witness and victim statements relating to
the crimes allegedly perpetrated by plaintiff. Tr. 439:14-19,
455:23-456:11. One of these sworn statements was that of Doug
Leniart, plaintiff's son, which described, inter alia, an
alleged sexual assault by plaintiff on “a kid ... from
New York.” Tr. 456:6-458:18; see also Def. Ex. 537.
Defendant Ellison was also provided with the “statement
from [a] confidential victim to law enforcement officials in
the state of New York[, ]” which also described an
alleged sexual assault on the victim by plaintiff, as well as
plaintiff providing the victim with alcohol to the point of
intoxication. Tr. 459:14-461:15; see also Def. Ex. 539.
Defendant Ellison was also provided with another sworn
statement from the confidential victim to the Connecticut
State Police, which again detailed an alleged sexual assault
on the minor victim by plaintiff, as well as plaintiff
providing the minor victim with alcohol to the point of
intoxication. Tr. 461:19-465:18; see also Def. Ex.
information contained in these statements raised a number of
immediate concerns for defendant Ellison, including that
plaintiff had committed numerous parole violations, that is,
assault of a 17-year old male; conveyance of alcohol to a
minor; and the consumption of alcohol by plaintiff. Tr.
466:12-16. Defendant Ellison testified that the sworn
statements with which he was provided set forth sufficient
evidence for him to authorize plaintiff's remand to
custody. Tr. 466:16-21, Tr. 439:20-24. Specifically, based on
defendant Ellison's “knowledge and training with
sex offenders, [he determined] that [plaintiff] was
recidivating, was not following his parole conditions, was
violating possible numerous other conditions of his parole
and that he had to be returned to custody in order to protect
the public and to protect future victims[.]” Tr.
466:22-467:3 (alterations added); see also Tr. 476:9-477:25
(Defendant Ellison's testimony delineating the conditions
of parole violated). Further contributing to this decision
was Parole Officer Bransford providing defendant Ellison with
a history of plaintiff's “past sexual offenses,
past sexual conviction, [and] the type of behavior
involved[.]” Tr. 467:7-15 (alterations added).
receiving the direction to remand plaintiff to custody, and
developing with the Connecticut State Police a proposed plan
of action to complete the remand, Parole Officer Bransford
contacted plaintiff and directed him to return to his
residence and wait there until the GPS technician arrived.
Tr. 276:9-19, Tr. 480:15-481:4. When Parole Officer Bransford
arrived at plaintiff's residence with the other law
enforcement and parole officers, plaintiff did not answer the
door to the residence, causing the officers to conduct a
search of the surrounding area for approximately an hour and
a half. Tr. 278:9-279:4, 280:1-3, 368:16-22, Tr. 443:2-11,
Tr. 483:20-25. Parole Officer Cartagena eventually found
plaintiff lying facedown next to a stonewall on the property.
Tr. 280:9-281:11, Tr. 325:15-16, 370:12-371:1, 443:15-22,
484:1-10. Plaintiff was then secured in a law enforcement
vehicle, while the parole officers conducted a search of
plaintiff's residence. Tr. 281:15-282:11, 325:19-326:1.
told defendant Ellison which of his keys would provide access
to the residence. Tr. 282:7-9, 326:2-5, 374:1-12,
444:23-445:3, 490:1-3. During the search, Parole Officer
Bransford testified that he “was looking for anything
that [plaintiff is] not supposed to have, anything of deviant
sexual interests, ... the GPS unit, weapons, alcohol,
drugs.” Tr. 282:22-283:1 (alterations added); see also
Tr. 326:24-327:17 (Bransford testimony on cross-examination
that the parole officers “were looking for any storage
device that he should not have had, whether it be a computer,
a laptop ... anything he shouldn't have, whether it be
alcohol, drugs, a human being, a child - anything we were
looking for, anything that he would not be in compliance with
the conditions of his supervision.”). Specifically, the
parole officers were searching for “anything that would
imply deviant sexual interest, ” and evidence that
plaintiff had contact with minors. Tr. 344:16-24.
Ellison testified that it was his intent to recover
plaintiff's laptop, establish that the laptop belonged to
plaintiff, and have the laptop forensically examined for
evidence of any criminal activity or of a parole violation
that was referenced in the sworn statements provided to Troop
E. Tr. 488:1-489:17. Defendant Ellison also instructed the
other parole officers on site to “assist [him] in
conducting a search for the laptop, for the GPS device, and
anything else associated with a parole violation.” Tr.
490:1-6; see also Tr. 494:7-21 (Defendant Ellison testimony:
“I was looking for anything that would be any evidence
of any of the potential crimes or parole violations that were
listed in those statements and any of the violations that I
planned to charge Mr. Leniart with. It was important for me
to determine if Mr. Leniart had had contact with the victims
of those statements ... It was important for me to determine
if there were any references to the use of alcohol or illegal
drugs or any other sexual assault victims. So it was
important to seize [the laptop] and any other device or
object that was relevant to my parole investigation, to this
parole investigation.” (alterations added)). On
cross-examination, defendant Ellison confirmed that he was
specifically concerned with the sexual assault and alcohol
related allegations set forth in the sworn victim and witness
statements. Tr. 509:2-5; 514:3-10.
Ellison further articulated the basis upon which he believed
the search was justified:
I believed I had sufficient evidence to conduct a search of
that residence. I had reasonable suspicion to conduct a
limited search of the residence, which I did. The search was
limited to Mr. Leniart's bedroom and basement area
because Mr. Leniart identified that as being his living
space. That was the extent of our search. It was specifically
to locate any evidence associated with the numerous parole
violations that I had, that I delineated, that I determined
Mr. Leniart would be facing charges for, parole charges.
My understanding is that based on the parole violations, my
investigation of the parole violations, I had the authority
to conduct a search based on reasonable suspicion, based on
witnessing Mr. Leniart not following Officer Bransford's
instructions, attempting to flee, my observation of Mr.
Leniart not wearing his GPS device, and all of the charges,
all of the concerns, the behaviors, in the two apartments,
that I reviewed. I believed I had clear authority to search
Mr. Leniart's living space.
490:6-491:1. Defendant Ellison further testified that
he was permitted to search plaintiff's bedroom
“because [he] was conducting an investigation into
[parole] violations, and [he] believed there was reasonable
suspicion that - evidence or information was in Mr.
Leniart's bedroom because that's where the alleged
offense occurred.” Tr. 516:16-20 (alterations added).
the search, parole officers found a closed-captioned
television system with a recording device and VHS tapes, all
of which were seized. Tr. 376:1-8,  Tr. 483:3-8. Defendant
Ellison also seized from Mr. Leniart's bedroom
plaintiff's laptop, which was contained in a laptop bag.
the search of plaintiff's residence, plaintiff was taken
for questioning by the Connecticut State Police to the Troop
E barracks. Tr. 497:20-498:12. While plaintiff was being
interviewed, defendant Ellison, in the next room, started
looking through the laptop bag, where he found a
micro-cassette recorder. Tr. 498:12-16; see also Tr.
519:13-22. As to the importance of the micro-cassette,
defendant Ellison testified:
Again, just as the VHS tapes may have been evidence to the
parole violations, I retained that micro-cassette recorder. I
seized that micro-cassette recorder pursuant to my duties in
investigating a parole violation of Mr. Leniart, and I
believed I had full authority, I had reasonable suspicion. I
have more than reasonable suspicion when I witness Mr.
Leniart hiding behind that stone wall; I had more than
reasonable suspicion when Mr. Leniart was not wearing his GPS
device, to conduct a parole violation investigation.
498:18-499:4. Defendant Ellison further testified as to his
understanding of his authority to seize the micro-cassette
My authority to seize a micro-cassette tape in this instance
was based on reasonable suspicion related to the parole
violation, reasonable suspicion that a violation had
occurred. ... When there's reasonable suspicion, I would
have the authority to seize any device, any item, related to
that investigation, such as a micro-cassette recorder, a
laptop computer. VHS tapes, a beer can.
then directed Parole Officer Cartegena to deliver the laptop
and micro-cassette to the state police crime lab for
examination to look for parole violations. Tr. 377:18-21,
382:16-383:17, 390:24-391:14, 499:10-12, 520:9-14. ...