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Conroy v. Caron

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 8, 2017

CHRISTINE CONROY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DAVID A. CARON, et al., Defendants.

          RULING RE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge

         On a summer day in August 2012, two Glastonbury police officers were investigating an anonymous tip that a high school student was engaged in drug dealing. In the course of their investigation, the officers entered the empty attached garage of the Conroy family residence. The police did not have permission or a warrant. They claim to have entered the garage in order to knock on a door inside the garage that led to the interior of the house. The officers' entry into the garage set in motion a chain of events that included the forcible arrest of the student, the issuance of a search warrant, a subsequent search of the house, and the later arrests of several members of the family, mostly on charges that were later dropped.

         Following these events, Christine Conroy and three of her children filed this federal lawsuit against the Town of Glastonbury and a number of individual officers. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts. I conclude that triable issues of fact remain for the core claims in this case. Genuine fact issues remain about whether several officers violated the Fourth Amendment and whether they are entitled at this time to qualified immunity. Genuine fact issues also remain as to plaintiffs' state law tort claims and state constitutional claims. On the other hand, I will grant summary judgment for defendants on plaintiffs' Fourteenth and Eighth Amendment claims, their Monell claim against the Town of Glastonbury, their official- capacity claims, and their claims against various peripheral defendants in this case.

         Background

         In light of the standards governing defendants' motion for summary judgment, the following facts are set forth on the basis of the parties' submissions and as viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. Plaintiff Christine Conroy lives in Glastonbury, Connecticut, with her three children, Lauren, Martin, and minor P.C.-all plaintiffs in this case. In August 2012, when Martin was 17 years old, defendant David Goncalves (a Glastonbury police officer who was acting in his role as part of the Eastern Central Narcotics Task Force) was investigating Martin, because Martin was suspected of dealing drugs to other high school students. The investigation led to two encounters with the Conroy family at their residence, the first occurring on August 22, 2012. The August 22 encounter prompted the issuance of a search warrant, which police executed on September 5, 2012. That search, in turn, prompted criminal charges against several members of the family. Because plaintiffs allege multiple violations of their state and federal constitutional rights based on the events of August and September 2012, it is necessary to describe these events in some detail.

         Around noon on August 22, 2012, Goncalves was surveilling plaintiffs' home. He contends that he was acting on two anonymous tips that he had received regarding possible drug sales occurring at the house. From his vantage point somewhere off plaintiffs' property, he could see that there was a three-bay garage attached to the Conroy home. He allegedly observed three young people hanging out inside the garage; he claims he could see inside the garage through the open middle garage door.

         Goncalves then called defendant Michael Furlong, a fellow Glastonbury police officer, to assist him in his investigation. Goncalves left plaintiffs' neighborhood and met Furlong at the Manchester fire station. The two officers then returned and parked their cars in front of the Conroy home. They decided to approach the house for further investigation. Although the Conroy house has a front door, they bypassed the front door, walking “up and around” to the garage area instead. Doc. #66-8 at 12.

         The officers entered the garage through the middle garage door. Although the parties agree that the middle garage door was open in part and that the other two garage doors on either side of the middle door were fully closed, they dispute how much the middle garage door was open. Defendants claim that it was open at least halfway, and Goncalves testified that he was able to walk under the open door “without doing anything more than lowering [his] head.” Doc. #66-7 at 6. In contrast, Christine Conroy testified that when she stopped by the house to drop off 11-year-old P.C. about an hour before the officers arrived, she observed the middle garage door much closer to the ground. See Doc. #75-5 at 9-10 (explaining that when Christine pulled up in the driveway, the middle garage door was open to “cat length, ” and that she then watched P.C., who was just over four feet in height, partially lift the garage door, stoop to get inside, and pull the door down behind him); Doc. #75-23 at 10 (P.C. entered house around 11:20 am and pulled garage door down to “cat height” once he was inside).

         When Goncalves and Furlong entered the garage, there was no one inside. They saw a table, chairs, and several beer cans. They walked towards a door that was at the top of several steps inside the garage and that connected the garage to the inside of the Conroy home. As Goncalves stood on the steps leading up to the internal door, he looked on a shelf near the door and spotted a multi-colored pipe. Upon closer inspection, he noticed burnt marijuana residue on the inside of the bowl. Goncalves showed the pipe to Furlong.

         Furlong then knocked on the door leading to the interior of the house and announced the presence of police. After a few minutes, a young man, who was not a resident of the house, opened the door. Goncalves and Furlong asked him to call a resident of the house to the door.

         Lauren Conroy, who was 20 years old at the time, appeared at the door and then entered the garage. The officers asked to speak to “the blonde kid, ” apparently referring to Lauren's brother Martin. Lauren asked if the officers had a warrant and demanded that the officers leave the garage. The officers refused to leave, stating that they did not need a warrant, and they insisted that Lauren produce Martin.

         Lauren went upstairs, where Martin was sleeping. Martin did not want to come down, but Lauren pleaded with him until he came downstairs and appeared at the door to the garage, having just been woken up and wearing only his boxer shorts.

         The officers ordered Martin, Lauren, and their several friends into the garage. One friend, J.L., remained inside the door to the residence and began recording the encounter on his cell phone.[1] The officers ordered the group to sit down on the chairs in the garage. Martin remained standing and did not sit down with his friends and sister, though he disputes that he was ever asked to sit. Doc. #75-8 at 14. Both Martin and Lauren asked to see a warrant for the police entering the garage.

         Goncalves threatened Martin and Lauren to turn over their marijuana or the police would enter the home. Martin politely responded that the police could not enter the home without a search warrant, and he asked the officers to leave. He reminded the officers that he was under 18 years old and that his mother was not home. At this, Goncalves “got into [Martin's] face.” Id. at 7. Goncalves and Martin yelled at each other, and at one point, Martin told the officers to “[g]et the fuck out of my house.” Id. at 8. Defendant Matthew Geddes, a third officer, arrived on scene around this time, while Goncalves and Martin were arguing.

         Suddenly and without warning, Goncalves kicked Martin's legs out from under him as Martin was standing on the steps to the interior door. Martin was swept up and fell backwards, slamming the back of his head on the concrete garage floor. While he lay on the floor of the garage, Goncalves and Furlong hit, kicked, and kneed Martin. Id. at 15-17; Doc. #66-19 at 8-9, 11, 19. Geddes threatened to use his taser on Martin. Lauren ran over to intervene but was told she would be tased if she did not back up and sit down.

         Martin was handcuffed and brought to his feet. He was “crying” and “screaming, ” yelling to the officers that he needed medical attention. Doc. #75-8 at 21-22. The officers placed Martin in the back of a police car and returned to the garage to address the rest of the group. Martin was eventually taken to the Glastonbury Police Department headquarters. He claims to have suffered a concussion as well as scrapes and cuts from the encounter.

         Martin was issued an infraction for possession of alcohol by a minor, and a juvenile summons for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct, and interfering. Lauren and her friends were issued infractions for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of alcohol by a minor.

         On August 28, 2012, Goncalves (along with a fellow member of the Eastern Central Narcotics Task Force who is not a defendant in this case) applied for a warrant to search plaintiffs' residence for drugs and paraphernalia. The search warrant was supported by an affidavit from Goncalves relating the events of August 22. The affidavit stated that the door to the garage had been open when the officers entered and that there were beer cans in the garage where the kids had been observed sitting, and also that Goncalves had located “in plain view” the multi-colored pipe containing marijuana residue. Doc. #75-13 at 2. The warrant was signed by a Connecticut state court judge on August 28, 2012. Id. at 7.

         On September 5, 2012, Christine Conroy filed an in-person complaint against Goncalves with the Glastonbury Police Department about the injuries Martin suffered during the August 22 encounter. Defendant Lieutenant Bisi was assigned to investigate the complaint.

         That same night at around 9:20 pm, members of the East Central Narcotics Task Force (some of whom were Glastonbury police officers) arrived to execute the search warrant at the Conroys' home. In the driveway, they encountered Christine, who was just arriving home; she let them in through the garage. The police entered the residence wearing ski masks, accompanied by dogs, and carrying rifles. 11-year-old P.C. was woken up and was crying in the kitchen during the search. Some officers went to the basement, where Martin and several friends were watching television, and ordered the group upstairs at gunpoint. Doc. #75-10 at 10.

         Defendants contend that Martin became combative with the officers and did not comply with orders, although Martin denies this. Officers ultimately knocked Martin to the ground and handcuffed him, threatening again to tase him if he did not comply; Martin was “roughed up” in this process. Doc. #66-7 at 28; Doc. #75-10 at 12.

         Police seized a number of items from the house during the September 5 search, including three glass pipes, a grinder, and a plastic container, each of which contained marijuana residue; a bottle containing a white powder that turned out to be a (legal) workout supplement; several bottles of liquor, which were found in the garage and in one of the children's bedrooms; and a small amount of marijuana, some of which was found on J.L.'s person and some of which was found in the house. In total, the amount of marijuana seized was approximately 3.4 grams, or less than one-eighth of an ounce.

         Based on the items seized on September 5, all of the plaintiffs (including 11-year-old P.C.) were charged with possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, and Lauren, Martin, and P.C. were charged with possession of alcohol by a minor. Doc. #75-16 at 5. In addition, Martin was charged with interfering with a search warrant. Doc. #75-17.

         Goncalves also submitted an application for a warrant to arrest Christine for risk of injury to a minor. After the initial application was denied by the state's attorney, see Doc. #66-7 at 32, Goncalves revised it to charge Christine with delivering alcohol to a minor, hosting an underage drinking party, possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Doc. #66-7 at 35; Doc. #75-18. The revised application was approved, and a warrant for Christine's arrest was issued. Christine reported to the police station to turn herself in on September 19. Although all charges against Christine were later dismissed by the prosecutor, her arrest was the subject of press releases by the police and of media coverage. Docs. #75-21, #75-22.

         As a result of Christine's in-person complaint on September 5, which she had made prior to the execution of the search warrant at her house, defendant Lieutenant Bisi investigated the events of August 22, including the officers' entry into the garage, the force used against Martin, and an allegation that Geddes deleted a video of the encounter from S.M.'s cell phone. Bisi found that there was some merit to the complaint-namely, that Geddes had improperly seized and looked through S.M.'s phone, even though it was not clear whether he deleted any video- but that the entry into the garage and the force used against Martin were both lawful and reasonable. Doc. #75-23 at 13-14.

         Christine (on her own and P.C.'s behalf), Martin, and Lauren Conroy filed this federal lawsuit in August 2014. They bring a variety of state and federal claims against the Town of Glastonbury and eleven individual members of the Glastonbury Police Department: Chief David Caron, Donald Bisi, Michael Furlong, Cory Davis, James Kennedy, David Goncalves, Steven Moyer, Matthew Geddes, Michael Bachand, Bryan Verillo, and Brandon Ritchie. Plaintiffs claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that various individual defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from illegal search and seizure, excessive force, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. Plaintiffs also claim violations of the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection and substantive due process), as well as the Eighth Amendment (deliberate indifference to medical needs). Further, plaintiffs claim that defendants Caron, Bisi, Furlong, Davis, and Kennedy are liable under § 1983 on a theory of supervisory liability, and that the Town of Glastonbury is liable under § 1983 because it had a policy or practice of allowing excessive force and other police misconduct. In addition to their federal constitutional claims, plaintiffs claim that defendants violated their rights under Article First, §§ 7 and 9, of the Connecticut Constitution. Finally, plaintiffs bring several state tort claims, including negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and assault and battery.[2] Defendants have moved for summary judgment as to all claims.

         Discussion

         The principles governing a motion for summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may be granted only “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); see also Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam). “A genuine dispute of material fact ‘exists for summary judgment purposes where the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, is such that a reasonable jury could decide in that party's favor.'” Zann Kwan v. Andalex Grp. LLC, 737 F.3d 834, 843 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Guilbert v. Gardner, 480 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2007)). The evidence adduced at the summary judgment stage must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and with all ambiguities and reasonable inferences drawn against the moving party. See, e.g., Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1866; Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 715 F.3d 417, 427 (2d Cir. 2013). All in all, “a ‘judge's function' at summary judgment is not ‘to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1866 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)).

         A. Fourth Amendment Claims

         Plaintiffs' core claims arise under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects the rights of the people “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A “search” in the context of the Fourth Amendment occurs when the police intrude upon a person's reasonable expectation of privacy or if the police otherwise trespass upon one's person, house, papers, or effects for the purpose of acquiring information. See Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 1414 (2013); United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400, 408 n.5 (2012). A “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment occurs when the police intentionally terminate one's freedom of movement by means of physical force or by show of their official law enforcement authority. See Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 254 (2007); Russo v. City of Bridgeport, 479 F.3d 196, 208 (2d Cir. 2007). Alternatively, “[a] ‘seizure' of property occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property.” United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984).

         Not every police violation of the Fourth Amendment justifies an award of money damages. That is because the doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); see also Carroll v. Carman, 135 S.Ct. 348, 350 (2014) (per curiam). In this manner, “[q]ualified immunity ‘gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.'” Lane v. Franks, 134 S.Ct. 2369, 2381 (2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011)).

         Qualified immunity protects an officer from liability if “(1) his conduct [did] not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known, or (2) it was objectively reasonable for him to believe that his actions were lawful at the time of the challenged act.” Simpson v. City of New York, 793 F.3d 259, 268 (2d Cir. 2015); see also Amore v. Novarro, 624 F.3d 522, 529-30 (2d Cir. 2010). As the Supreme Court has explained, “a defendant cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right's contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in the defendant's shoes would have understood that he was violating it.” Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2023 (2014). Thus, an officer is entitled to qualified immunity if, on the basis of the facts known to the officer when he engaged in the conduct at issue, “officers of reasonable competence could disagree as to the lawfulness of such conduct.” Manganiello v. City of New York, 612 F.3d 149, 165 (2d Cir. 2010).[3]

         The Second Circuit has noted that “[t]o determine whether the relevant law was clearly established, we consider the specificity with which a right is defined, the existence of Supreme Court or Court of Appeals case law on the subject, and the understanding of a reasonable officer in light of preexisting law.” Terebesi v. Torreso, 764 F.3d 217, 231 (2d Cir. 2014). The law may be clearly established if “decisions from this or other circuits clearly foreshadow a particular ruling on the issue.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). Although there need not be “a case directly on point, ” it must nonetheless be clear that “existing precedent [has] placed the . . . constitutional question beyond debate.” Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (denial of qualified immunity on excessive force claim was in error where court “failed to identify a case where an officer acting under similar circumstances . . . was held to have violated the Fourth Amendment, ” and instead relied on cases that “lay out excessive-force principles at only a general level.”)

         1. Warrantless Entry to Garage on August 22, 2012

         Plaintiffs first allege that the entry by Goncalves and Furlong into the garage on August 22 constituted an unlawful search, and that the subsequent seizure of beer cans and the glass pipe constituted an unlawful seizure, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that the officers' entry into the garage was lawful (and that the subsequent seizures were reasonable under the plain view exception), or in the alternative, that the officers are protected by qualified immunity.

         It is well established that “physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.” United States v. United States Dist. Court for E. Dist. of Mich., 407 U.S. 297, 313 (1972). Indeed, “[t]he core premise underlying the Fourth Amendment is that warrantless searches of a home are presumptively unreasonable.” Harris v. O'Hare, 770 F.3d 224, 231 (2d Cir. 2014) (citing, inter alia, Kentucky v. King, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 1856 (2011)). If police officers have neither a warrant nor valid consent, they need no less than both probable cause and exigent circumstances in order to lawfully enter or remain in a person's home. Harris, 770 F.3d at 231 (citing Kirk v. Louisiana, 536 U.S. 635, 638 (2002) (per curiam)); Fernandez v. California, 134 S.Ct. 1126, 1132 (2014).

         The protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment extend also to a home's curtilage, or the “area immediately surrounding and associated with the home.” Jardines, 133 S.Ct. at 1414. The curtilage is considered ‚Äúpart of the home itself for Fourth Amendment ...


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