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McEvoy v. Matthews

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 21, 2017

SHARLENE A. McEVOY, Plaintiff,
v.
KRISTOPHER MATTHEWS and OFFICER CONLON #063, Defendants.

          RULING GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Two police officers decided to enter the home of someone they believed was an elderly woman after they saw that the doors of her home had been left wide open and when no one responded to their knocking and calls from outside the house. It turns out that nothing was wrong and that plaintiff had merely left the doors open to “air out” the house while she was away on an errand.

         Plaintiff has now sued the police for money damages, claiming that their warrantless entry into her house violated the Fourth Amendment. I will dismiss this action on grounds of qualified immunity for lack of a showing that the law was clearly established that the police could not enter someone's home under the circumstances presented here.

         Background

         The facts of this case stem from a dispute among neighbors in Derby, Connecticut. Plaintiff owned an empty wooded lot across the street from the home of Benito Ortiz. The empty lot had many trees, and Ortiz complained to the town that some of the trees were rotting and posed a hazard to surrounding properties. Plaintiff was upset about Ortiz's complaint, and she hired an attorney and wrote a letter to Ortiz in February 2016 to warn him not to trespass on her lot and accusing him of making false reports about her property.

         A few weeks later, Ortiz and his spouse went to the police station to lodge a complaint against plaintiff. They met with Officers Matthews and Conlon who are the two defendants in this action. Ortiz told the officers that they were being harassed by plaintiff whom they described as an elderly woman.[1] He gave the officers two letters sent to him by plaintiff and her attorney. Ortiz claimed that plaintiff regularly drove by the wooded lot, got out of her vehicle, and then stared at Ortiz's property and at Ortiz's children while they were playing basketball in front of the Ortiz home.

         The officers decided to go to plaintiff's home to talk to her about Ortiz's complaint. Plaintiff owned two houses on the next street over from the empty lot. The officers knocked on the door of one of the houses and announced themselves but no one answered. They noticed that the side doors and back doors leading to the basement of the house were all open, and they also saw that the keys to the side door were still in the lock of one of the side doors. There was no sign of forced entry. After again announcing their presence, the officers went to plaintiff's second house next door but got no response there.

         The officers then returned to the first house and now they decided to go inside. They “cleared” the house and found nobody was there. As they left the house, the officers closed and locked the doors, and they left notes for plaintiff at both houses advising that the police had locked the doors and taken the found keys with them for plaintiff to pick up at the police station.

         All this time plaintiff had been out of town at another one of her properties to take care of her horse. She had left her doors open while she was gone in order to “air the places out.” Doc. #23-2 at 28. When she got back, she found the officers' notes, let herself into her house with a spare set of keys, and did not otherwise find anything amiss inside the house.

         She then went to the police station to retrieve her keys, and she spoke to the officers at that point about the complaint from Ortiz. The officers cautioned plaintiff to avoid contact with Ortiz and not to stare at his children.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the defendant officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that their warrantless entry into her house was a violation of her rights under the Fourth Amendment. Defendants have now moved for summary judgment.

         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, 477 U.S. at 249).

         The Fourth Amendment provides that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A “search” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment occurs either when the police intrude upon a person's reasonable expectation of privacy or, alternatively, if the police otherwise trespass upon a suspect's person, house, papers, or effects for the purpose of ...


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