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Cafasso v. Nappe

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 20, 2017

ARTHUR CAFASSO, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT NAPPE, Defendant.

          RULING ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff, Arthur Cafasso, has sued Defendant, Robert Nappe, a former police officer of the East Haven Police Department, for malicious prosecution arising out of Officer Nappe's application for an arrest warrant charging Mr. Cafasso with animal cruelty after an altercation between Mr. Cafasso and Ms. Judy Lawson and her dog, Ralph. Officer Nappe has moved for summary judgment on Mr. Cafasso's malicious prosecution claim, arguing that the charge of animal cruelty was supported by probable cause. I agree and grant the motion.

         II. Facts

         The following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) Statements and the exhibits, are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         A. The June 10, 2014 Arrest of Mr. Cafasso

         On June 10, 2014, Officer Nappe was dispatched to Whaler's Point, a neighborhood in East Haven, Connecticut, in response to a complaint by Ms. Judy Lawson that Mr. Cafasso had punched her in the face and kicked her dog, Ralph. (ECF No. 44-3 at 3.) Upon arriving at the scene, Officer Nappe saw that Ms. Lawson had “reddening [on] her left cheek” and that “her lip was slightly cut” but did not observe any injuries to Ralph. (ECF No. 44-3 at 3); see also Defendant's Local Rule Statement (“Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt.”), ECF No. 44 at ¶ 3; Plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement (“Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.”), ECF No. 48 at 2.)[1] Officer Nappe then interviewed both Ms. Lawson and Mr. Nappe. (ECF No. 44-3 at 3-4.) In her statement to Officer Nappe, Ms. Lawson claimed that she had been walking to the beach when Mr. Cafasso began “yelling at her to get off his property or he was going to let his dog out to attack her and her dogs.” (Id. at 3.) Ms. Lawson told Officer Nappe that Mr. Cafasso “confronted her and kick[ed] [her] dog so that the dog would bite him so that he could sue her.” (Id.) In his statement to Officer Nappe, Mr. Cafasso stated that while he had confronted Ms. Lawson for trespassing on his property, he never kicked Ralph, and Ralph had attacked him. (Id.) After interviewing both Ms. Lawson and Mr. Cafasso concerning the incident, Officer Nappe arrested Mr. Cafasso, charging him with one count of assault on an elderly person in the third degree. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 1; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2.)

         B. Officer Nappe Learns of Ralph's Death and Signs an Affidavit in Support of an Application for an Arrest Warrant Charging Mr. Cafasso with Animal Cruelty

         Four days after Mr. Cafasso's arrest, on June 14, 2014, Ms. Lawson called Officer Nappe and informed him that Ralph had died. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 4; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2.) In her call, Ms. Lawson explained that she believed that Mr. Cafasso's kick caused Ralph's demise, though Ralph's “veterinarian could not directly relate the cause of death to the blunt force injury (bruise on [Ralph's] side) [that he] sustained during the incident” with Mr. Cafasso. (ECF No. 44-3 at 4.) Nonetheless, Ms. Lawson conveyed to Officer Nappe that she wished to bring charges against Mr. Cafasso. (Id.) After receiving Ms. Lawson's report, Officer Nappe requested an autopsy of Ralph by the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab (the “C.V.M.D.L.”) (Id.) The C.V.M.D.L. report did not convulsively link Ralph's death to Mr. Cafasso's kick but did detail other injuries to Ralph, including injuries to his spleen. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 7; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2.) Thereafter, on July 9, 2014, Officer Nappe signed an application for an arrest warrant charging Mr. Cafasso with animal cruelty in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-247(b). (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 8; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2; ECF No. 44-3 at 4.)

         C. Mr. Cafasso Enters into a Plea Agreement with the State to Satisfy his Criminal Liability Arising from the June 10, 2014 Incident with Ms. Lawson

         On August 4, 2014, the State of Connecticut filed a substitute information against Mr. Cafasso for breach of the peace in the second degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-181. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 10; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2.) In exchange for Mr. Cafasso's pleading guilty to the breach of peace charge and his agreement to comply with certain conditions, including no threats, harassment, or violence against Ms. Lawson and making a donation to the East Haven Animal Shelter (ECF No. 44-4 at 2), the State agreed that Mr. Cafasso's plea would resolve all charges and “all possible prosecutions” of him arising from the June 10, 2014 incident. (ECF No. 48 at 6; see also ECF No. 44-4 at 3, 11, 15.) Mr. Cafasso entered into that plea agreement and pled guilty under the Alford doctrine on August 4, 2014. (ECF No. 47 at 31; ECF No. 48 at 6.)

         D. Mr. Cafasso is Arrested for Animal Cruelty on October 31, 2014

         On October 26, 2014, state prosecutor Joseph LaMotta signed the arrest warrant application Officer Nappe had signed on July 9, 2014. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 14; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 1.) Officer Nappe's affidavit set forth, among other things, that: (i) Ms. Lawson reported to Officer Nappe that Mr. Cafasso had kicked Ralph; (ii) Ms. Lawson reported that her veterinarian observed a “blunt force injury (bruises on [Ralph's] side) sustained during the incident” with Mr. Cafasso; (iii) Ms. Lawson advised Officer Nappe that she believed that Mr. Cafasso's attack had killed Ralph; (iv) the C.V.M.D.L. report documented “injuries to the dog (Ralph), including injury to [Ralph's] spleen”; and (v) Ralph died four days after the incident with Mr. Cafasso. (ECF No. 44-3 at 4.) The affidavit also recited that Mr. Cafasso had already been arrested for assault on an elderly person on June 10, 2014, and that he had been summoned to appear in court on that charge. (Id.) Before signing the application, Attorney LaMotta amended the cover sheet to charge Mr. Cafasso with animal cruelty under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-247(a), the misdemeanor subsection of the statute, instead of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-247(b), one of the felony subsections.[2] (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 15; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2; ECF No. 44-3 at 1.) On October 28, 2014, two days after Attorney LaMotta signed the arrest warrant application, a Connecticut Superior Court Judge signed it, thereby authorizing Mr. Cafasso's arrest. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 16; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2.) On the basis of that arrest warrant, on October 31, 2014, East Haven Police arrested Mr. Cafasso at his home, arriving with a “large police presence” and “in full view of his neighbors.” (ECF No. 48 at ¶ 19-20.) During his arrest, Mr. Cafasso explained to the officers that the charge for which he was being arrested had been resolved under the terms of his plea agreement with the State on August 4, 2014, but he was taken into custody anyway. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 23.) One of the arresting officers informed him that Officer Nappe - who was apparently not present for the arrest - had instructed them to take him into custody in the manner that they did, which the officer acknowledged was unusual. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Following several court appearances on the animal cruelty charge, on December 18, 2014, Attorney LaMotta, after reviewing the transcript of the August 4 plea colloquy, declined to prosecute the animal cruelty charge against Mr. Cafasso by entering a nolle prosequi. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. at ¶ 18; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. at 2.)

         E. The Amended Complaint

         On September 8, 2015, Mr. Cafasso filed an amended complaint. (ECF No. 17.) The amended complaint alleges that “[t]his is an action for malicious prosecution against Officer Robert Nappe arising under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” (ECF No. 17 at ¶ 1.) In support of that claim, Mr. Cafasso alleges that he was charged with assault of an elderly person in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-61a. (Id. at ¶ 7.) In connection with that charge, he alleges that he entered into a plea agreement with the State that provided “if [he] pleaded to a lesser charge than assault, the [S]tate would not pursue either the assault charges or any potential animal cruelty charges.” (Id. at ¶ 9.) He further alleges that, despite his plea agreement with the State, Officer Nappe “submitted an arrest warrant for [Mr. Cafasso] in late October 2014” and that the warrant intentionally omitted any reference to Mr. Cafasso's plea agreement with the State. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 16.) According to the amended complaint, “[u]pon being shown a copy of the plea agreement, the [S]tate agreed to dismiss the new prosecution as it violated [] the plea agreement.” (Id. at ¶ 18.) The amended complaint alleges that the state court judge would not have signed the warrant for Mr. Cafasso's arrest for animal cruelty had the disposition of his assault case been included in Officer Nappe's arrest warrant application, and that in the absence of the intentional acts and omissions of Officer Nappe, Mr. Cafasso would not have been prosecuted for animal cruelty. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20.)

         III. Applicable Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment

         “Summary judgment is appropriate only if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Tolan v. Cotton,134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014)(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). If the moving party carries its burden, “the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Brown v. Eli Lilly & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 358 (2d Cir. 2011). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, I must “construe the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving ...


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