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Warner v. Freeman

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 22, 2017

JAMES M. WARNER, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM T. FREEMAN, et al., Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DONNA F. MARTINEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, James Warner, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various police officers alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. At this juncture, the sole remaining claims are federal and state law malicious prosecution claims against Connecticut State Trooper William Freeman ("Freeman").[1] Pending before the court is defendant Freeman's supplemental motion for summary judgment. (Doc. #52.) The court heard oral argument on September 14, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the court grants the motion with respect to the § 1983 malicious prosecution claim and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim.

         I. Background

         The court assumes the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts and allegations and summarizes them only briefly here. The following facts are undisputed.

         The plaintiff is a landscaper. A customer of his, John Fox ("Fox") lived at 11 Tattoon Road in Woodstock, Connecticut. Fox asked the plaintiff to clean up the property across the street at 16 Tattoon Road. At that address, there was a dilapidated house on an overgrown lot with lots of debris in the yard. The plaintiff knew that Fox did not own the 16 Tattoon Road property.

         On December 9, 2013, the plaintiff parked his pickup truck in the driveway of 16 Tattoon Road. He and two other men took items from the property including an aluminum rowboat, a cement mixer, a heater, and aluminum gutters. They loaded the items into the bed of the plaintiff's truck. The plaintiff did not know who owned the items. Meanwhile, another neighbor called the police. The caller reported that there were men on the property at 16 Tattoon Road, that the house was vacant, and that the men were taking things from the property and loading them into a truck.

         When the police arrived, the plaintiff provided identification and said that he was cleaning up the property. The police asked the men who had given them permission to be there. The men did not respond. The plaintiff said that he had knocked at the door but nobody answered. He explained that he then began to collect things to bring to the dump. An officer knocked on the front door of the residence but there was no response.

         Defendant Freeman charged the plaintiff with larceny in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-119, criminal trespass in the third degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-109 and criminal mischief in the third degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-117. The plaintiff was transported to the Danielson State Police Barracks, processed, and released the same day on a $6000 surety bond. On April 25, 2014, the plaintiff appeared at court and the charges were dismissed.

         The plaintiff brought suit alleging that the defendants deprived him of his right to be free from false arrest and malicious prosecution. In September 2016, the court granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. #49.) The court held that arguable probable cause existed and that accordingly, the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity as to the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims with the exception of the criminal trespass charge. That charge[2] requires that the property be posted or fenced. It is undisputed that the property at issue was neither posted nor fenced and as a result, the defendants conceded that probable cause did not exist. (Doc. #45 at 20.) The court permitted the defendants to file a supplemental summary judgment motion on the malicious prosecution claim as to the criminal trespass charge. This motion followed.

         II. Standard for Summary Judgment

         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). The "burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing' - that is pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995) ("In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant's burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim."). 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 Gr., LLC, 737 F.3d 834, 843 (2d Cir. 2013). 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., Caronia v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 715 F.3d 417, 427 (2d Cir. 2013).

         III. Discussion

         The defendant moves for summary judgment as to the plaintiff's § 1983 claim of malicious prosecution on the charge of criminal trespass in the third degree.

         "In the absence of federal common law, the merits of a claim for malicious prosecution under Section 1983 are governed by state law." Spak v. ...


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