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Sargent v. Town of Westport

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 19, 2017

MARK SARGENT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF WESTPORT, et al., Defendants.

          RULING RE: MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................2

         II. FACTS .......................................................................................3

         III. LEGAL STANDARD ................................................................7

         IV. DISCUSSION ..........................................................................8

         A. Westport Defendants ..................................................................9

         1. Fourth Amendment and False Arrest Claims ................................10

         2. Equal Protection Claims ..............................................................19

         3. Substantive Due Process .............................................................23

         4. Unreasonable Search ..................................................................27

         5. Failure to Report ........................................................................30

         6. Municipal Liability ......................................................................32

         B. The Lawyer Defendants .............................................................32

         V. CONCLUSION .......................................................................36

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Mark Sargent (“Sargent”), and his minor children, plaintiffs John Doe One, John Doe Two, and Jane Doe (collectively, the “plaintiffs”), sued the defendants, the Town of Westport (the “Town”); Westport police officers Ryan Paulsson, Thomas Casimiro III, Frank Masi, Sean Kelley, John Lachioma, Wilgins Altera, John Cabral, Ashley DelVecchio, and Richard Bagley, in their individual capacities (collectively, the “Westport Police defendants”); the law firm Rutkin, Oldham & Griffin, LLC, David Griffin, Sarah Oldham, and Alexander Cuda (collectively, the “Rutkin defendants”); and the Law Offices of Mark Sherman, LLC and Mark Sherman, Esq. (collectively, the “Sherman defendants”). The allegations in the suit stem from a series of incidents that occurred around the time that Sargent filed for divorce against his ex-wife, Pamela Stautberg-Moffett (“Stautberg-Moffett), on March 31, 2011, in which Westport police officers responded to calls made by Sargent and Stautberg-Moffett regarding incidents surrounding their divorce. The Sherman defendants represented Stautberg-Moffett in connection with criminal charges against Sargent that stemmed from those calls, and the Rutkin defendants represented Stautberg-Moffett in the divorce. The plaintiffs allege that both the Rutkin defendants and the Sherman defendants (collectively, the “lawyer defendants”) intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon them through their representation of Stautberg-Moffett.

         On April 1, 2015, Sargent filed a Second Amended Complaint, which various defendants moved to dismiss. See 2d Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 67); Mots. to Dismiss (Doc. Nos. 74-75, 77-78). On October 16, 2015, the court ruled on those Motions, dismissing the claims against Stautberg-Moffett, the claims against three additional officers, and all claims except intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Rutkin defendants and the Sherman defendants. See Ruling re Mots. to Dismiss 2d Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 87). The remaining defendants have now moved for summary judgment. See Mots. for Summ. J. (Doc. Nos. 220-222). The plaintiffs have opposed the Motions, see Pls.' Opps. to Mots. for Summ. J. (Doc. Nos. 230-232), the defendants have replied, see Replies to Opps. (Doc. Nos. 235-237) and the issues presented therein are ripe for decision.

         II. FACTS

         The following facts are drawn from the parties' Local Rule 56 statements and are generally admitted by all relevant parties. Material facts in dispute will be discussed at a later point in the Ruling.

         The plaintiffs were residents of the Town at all relevant times. See Westport Defs.' Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement (“Westport 56(a)1 Stmt.”) (Doc. No. 220-2) ¶¶ 1-2; Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement in Opp. to Westport Summ. J. Mot. (“Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt.”) (Doc. No. 230-1) ¶¶ 1-2.

         On March 22, 2011, Sargent had a verbal argument with his mother-in-law while the children were present in the home. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 8-9; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 8-9. Stautberg-Moffett called the Westport Police department, who dispatched Officer Paulsson. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 7; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 7. No one was arrested nor were any summons issued on March 22, 2011. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 10; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 10 (arguing that the April arrests are related to this event, but without denying that no arrests were made or summons issued on March 22). Sargent filed for divorce from his wife shortly thereafter in March 2011. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 6; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 6.

         Stautberg-Moffett hired the Rutkin defendants to represent her in her divorce shortly after the first call to the police was made. See Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement of Rutkin Defs. (“Rutkin 56(a)1 Stmt.”) (Doc. No. 222-2) ¶ 13; Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement in Opp. to Rutkin Defs.' Summ. J. Mot. (“Pls.' Rutkin 56(a)2 Stmt.”) (Doc. No. 231-1) ¶ 13.

         On April 1, 2011, Officer Casimiro arrived to the marital home in response to a complaint made by Stautberg-Moffett. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 12 (citing the 2d Am. Compl.); Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 12 (denying that the record states who called the officer, but without addressing the allegation in the 2d Am. Compl.). Although the parties dispute the specifics, there is agreement about some aspects of the events of April 1. Stautberg-Moffett was in the bathroom of the guest bedroom with a journal that both she and Sargent believed that they owned, at least in part, and the door from the hall to the guest bedroom was locked behind her. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 13, 14-15; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 13, 14-15. Ultimately, Sargent gained access to the bedroom. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 16; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 16. The police report indicates that Stautberg-Moffett told Casimiro that Sargent attempted to shoulder the door open. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 14; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 14 (denying the statements as hearsay, but without addressing Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6), the exception for records of a regularly conducted activity). Sargent was given a misdemeanor summons for disorderly conduct, and Casimiro contacted the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”). See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 18, 20; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 18, 20.

         On April 4, 2011, the Sherman defendants began their representation of Stautberg-Moffett. See Sherman Defs.' Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement (“Sherman Rule 56(a)1 Stmt.”) (Doc. No. 221-2) ¶ 24; Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement in Opp. to Sherman Defs.' Summ. J. Mot. (“Pls.' Sherman Rule 56(a)2 Stmt.”) (Doc. No. 232-1) ¶ 24 (denying the statement on the basis that the plaintiffs do not know when the firm began to represent Stautberg-Moffett, which is insufficient to undermine the evidence in support of the date). On that day, a criminal protective order was entered against Sargent. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 21; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 21.

         On April 8, Stautberg-Moffett appeared at the Westport Police station to report that she was scared and intimidated by Sargent's behavior, but no charges were brought as a result of this complaint. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 22; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 22; Sherman Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 32, 34; Pls.' Sherman Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 32, 34 (contesting the accuracy of the facts underlying the report, but not her statements regarding her feelings).

         On April 9, 2011, Stautberg-Moffett called the police because she was locked out of the master bedroom. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 24-25; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 24-25. After asking Stautberg-Moffett a few questions, the dispatcher decided to send an officer to the house. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 27; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 27. Officer Kelley arrived at the marital home and woke Sargent, who was sleeping in the bedroom, to speak with him. Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 29; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 29. No arrests were made on April 9, 2011. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 33; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 33 (arguing that these events played into his later arrest, but not disputing the fact he was not arrested the evening of the 9th).

         On April 10, 2011, Sargent called the police to report thefts by his wife, and explained that he was in the middle of a contentious divorce, that he was subject to a restraining order, and that the situation was extremely volatile. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 34-35; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 34-35. The police were then called by Stautberg-Moffett, and she reported that Sargent was pulling on her. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 36; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 36 (Sargent contends that he called the police again as well, but does not dispute that Stautberg-Moffett called). Officer Altera placed Sargent under arrest for disorderly conduct and violating the protective order, and made a report to DCF. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 40-41; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 40-41.

         On three later occasions, Stautberg-Moffett made complaints to the Westport Police regarding her belief that Sargent had violated court orders or suspicious noises in the house, and Officers Cabral, DelVecchio, and Bagley responded those calls. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 42; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 42. None of these calls resulted in an arrest. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 43; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 43.

         The Sherman defendants accompanied Stautberg-Moffett to the Westport police station on May 1, 2011. See Sherman Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 47; Pls.' Sherman Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 47. This visit resulted in the creation of a police report which noted that Stautberg-Moffett had received a voicemail from a neighbor in which Sargent can be heard in the background telling the neighbor what to say. See Sherman Rule 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 49; Pls.' Sherman Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 49. The Rutkin defendants followed up on this voicemail by sending a letter to Sargent's attorneys expressing their belief that it was inappropriate for Sargent to communicate with Stautberg-Moffett with a third party, and that they believed it violated the court orders. See Rutkin 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 54; Pls.' Rutkin 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 54. This led to the Rutkin defendants being unwilling to continue transferring items between the parties until they were assured that Sargent would behave in conformity with their expectations. See Rutkin 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 55; Pls.' Rutkin 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 55.

         Ultimately, in July 2011, Stautberg-Moffett communicated her desire that the charges against Sargent be dismissed to the prosecutor, and on August 17, 2011, a judge of the Superior Court dismissed the pending criminal charges. See Westport 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 44, 47; Pls.' Westport Rule 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 44, 47.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs courts to grant motions for summary judgment when “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 party seeking summary judgment “bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Zalaski v. City of Bridgeport Police Dep't, 613 F.3d 336, 340 (2d Cir. 2010). Once the moving party has satisfied that burden, to defeat the motion “the party opposing summary judgment . . . must set forth ‘specific facts' demonstrating that there is ‘a genuine issue for trial.'” Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). When considering summary judgment on an issue that the non-movant ultimately bears the burden of proof, the movant only need point to the lack of evidence in support of the claim, to require that the non-movant demonstrate that every essential element of the claim could be found to exist by a reasonable jury. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986).

         “For summary judgment purposes, a ‘genuine issue' exists where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could decide in the non-moving party's favor.” Cambridge Realty Co., LLC v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 421 F.App'x 52, 53 (2d Cir. 2011); see also, Rojas v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, 660 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)) (stating that the non-moving party must demonstrate more than a mere “scintilla” of evidence in its favor). “[U]nsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact.” Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000) (“The time has come, as James and Hazard put it, ‘to put up or shut up.'”) (citing James & Hazard, Civil Procedure 150 (2d ed. 1977). The court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the non-movant. See Garcia v. Hartford Police Dep't, 706 F.3d 120, 127 (2d Cir. 2013).

         IV. ...


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