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Ancona v. Samsel

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 20, 2017



          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         This action arises from a nighttime visit by a police officer to the farmhouse of the plaintiffs, Benjamin and Marcia Ancona, in Coventry, Connecticut. Coventry Police Officer Mark Samsel, who was investigating a complaint by one of the Anconas' tenants, entered their property to interview Benjamin. The plaintiffs allege that they are elderly, that they were not expecting an intrusion at that hour, that Samsel unreasonably used an entrance meant only for expected guests, that he used a flashlight and a body camera to see through their windows, and that his conduct amounted to an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment as well as various torts. The plaintiffs also assert a Monell claim against the Town of Coventry (the “Town”). (See ECF No. 1.)

         The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims. (ECF No. 19.) The plaintiffs, in their opposition memorandum, state that they have abandoned all claims except (1) the Fourth Amendment unreasonable search claim, (2) the “invasion of privacy/trespass claim”, (3) the intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, and (4) the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. (ECF No 20-1 at 1.) They also have abandoned their claims against all defendants except Officer Samsel. (Id.)

         Because the plaintiffs have abandoned their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, I DISMISS them. I also DISMISS all claims against the Town and the Coventry Police Department.

         For the reasons that follow, I GRANT Samsel's motion for summary judgment on the “invasion of privacy/trespass” and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims but DENY his motion for summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background[1]

         On August 19, 2015, just before 9:00 p.m., Mark Samsel entered the Anconas' property. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 13, 20-2 at ¶ 13.) Samsel, an officer with the Coventry Police Department, (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 1, 20-2 at ¶ 1) was continuing his investigation of a trespass complaint made by the resident of 74 Cross Street, Apartment 4. (Id.) Around 6:00 p.m., Samsel was dispatched to that address and spoke with the complainant, David Parsons. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 2, 20-2 at ¶ 2.) The Anconas are the landlords for the 74 Cross Street property, and Parsons is one of their tenants. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 4, 20-2 at ¶ 4.)

         During Samsel's discussion with Parsons, Parsons signed a sworn statement describing how his landlord, Benjamin Ancona, had entered his apartment that day without his knowledge or consent. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 2, 19-6, 20-2 at ¶ 2.) Parsons stated that since March 2015, when he moved in, there had been no working smoke detectors in his unit. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶¶ 4-5, 19-6, 20-2 at ¶ 4-5.) He stated that he informed the building inspector about the problem but no action was taken, so he then called the Coventry Fire Marshal at 3:30 p.m. on August 19, 2015. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶¶ 6-7, 19-6, 20-2 at ¶¶ 6-7.) The Fire Marshal indicated to Parsons that, if the landlord came to make repairs on the smoke detector, Parsons should let him in. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 8, 19-6, 20-2 at ¶ 8.) Parsons stated that, around 4:45 p.m., Benjamin Ancona entered his apartment while he was in the shower, without his permission. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 9, 19-6.)[2]

         Around 9:00 p.m. that night, Samsel went to the Ancona residence to speak with Benjamin Ancona about the incident and to “further his investigation.” (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 13, 19-3 at 2, 20-2 at ¶ 13.) He drove into the Anconas' driveway. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 18, 19-9, 20-2 at ¶ 18.) Samsel was wearing a body camera, which captured the events of that evening. The resulting video was preserved in its native form and submitted as evidence: the parties do not dispute that it accurately depicts what occurred that evening, although at times it is too dark to discern relevant events clearly. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶¶ 15-17, 20-2 at ¶¶ 15-17.) It was completely dark outside: the video shows that Samsel likely could only see what was in his headlights, or, later, what was illuminated by his flashlight or the houselights. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 19, 19-3 at 3, 19-5 at 26, 19-7 at 19-20, 19-9, 20-2 at ¶ 19.)

         Samsel continued into the driveway in the dark, drove about halfway down the driveway, stopped “next to the kitchen, ” and exited his cruiser. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 18, 19-4, 20-2 at ¶ 18.) He knocked on the kitchen door. (ECF No. 19-9.) He observed kitchen appliances but did not see anyone, after sweeping his flashlight into the windows and around the room. (ECF No. 19-5 at 10.) He then “observed TV light coming from inside the home through the windows.” (ECF No. 19-2 at ¶20, 20-2 at ¶ 20.) Samsel walked to the rear door, “knocked[, ] and rang the doorbell[] but received no response.” (ECF No. 19-2 at ¶ 21, 20-2 at ¶ 21.)

         Although “the rear door [to the Ancona residence] is the primary means of ingress for family, friends, guests[, ] and expected licensees, ” “others not known to the plaintiffs use the front door.” (ECF Nos. 20-2 at ¶ 22, 20-3 at 3.) Benjamin Ancona testified in his deposition that he and his wife, as well as guests and parcel services making deliveries, primarily use the back door of the house.[3] (ECF No. 19-7 at 9-10.) While the driveway naturally leads to the back door, the back door would not be visible from the road, even in broad daylight. One must drive past the front door (kitchen door) to get to the back of the house. (ECF No. 19-4.) There is a stoop leading up to the back door from the driveway. (ECF No. 19-9 at 1:29.)

         While waiting for a response at the door, Samsel asked the dispatch operator to call the house and alert the residents to his presence. (ECF No. 19-9 at 2:04-2:20.) Samsel received no response at the backdoor, and the dispatch operator told him that she could not get an answer either on the home phone or on the residents' cell phone. (Id. at 3:41.) She said that she would call them on the landline again, but Samsel stated that there was “no need. I'll be clearing shortly. I'll try back in the morning.” (Id. at 3:48-50.) He walked back to his cruiser: on the way, he shone his flashlight at the Anconas' windows (Id. at 3:55-4:26.) There were no curtains covering these windows, so the light illuminated the inside of the house. (ECF No. 19-7 at 28.) The video is unclear as to whether he was still on the driveway at this time. (Id.) He then got back into his car, illuminated the red and blue lights on top of the cruiser, and continued down the driveway to the back of the Anconas' house. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 24, 20-2 at ¶ 24.)

         At that point, the outside lights of the home were turned on, and Samsel notified the dispatch operator that he had made contact. (ECF Nos. 19-9 at 5:07.) He exited the car and walked up the stairs to the back door stoop. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 25, 20-2 at ¶ 25.) Marcia Ancona came to the door. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 25, 20-2 at ¶ 25.) Samsel asked for “Benny” (as Parsons had referred to Benjamin Ancona in his statement). (ECF Nos. 19-6, 20-2 at ¶ 25.) In his deposition, Samsel was asked “if the body camera shows that you” “step[ped] to the right before encountering Mrs. Ancona to look through another window to the right of [the] back entrance[, ]” “would that be an accurate depiction of your conduct, ” and Samsel responded “[i]f the body camera shows it, yes.” (ECF No. 19-5 at 18.) Benjamin Ancona then came to the door and started speaking with Samsel: he was not wearing a shirt. (Id.; ECF No. 19-5 at 19.) They discussed the incident that had occurred with Parsons and the smoke detector earlier that day. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 26, 20-2 at ¶ 26.) Ancona declined to provide a written statement. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 27, 20-2 at ¶ 27.) Samsel returned to his car and left the property. (ECF Nos. 19-2 at ¶ 28, 20-2 at ¶ 28.)

         B. Procedural History

         The plaintiffs filed a complaint against Officer Mark Samsel, the Town of Coventry, and the Coventry Police Department on February 3, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) On February 18, 2016, the defendants filed their answer. (ECF No. 10.) On February 15, 2017, the defendants filed this motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 19.) The plaintiffs responded on March 8, 2017, abandoning all claims except the Fourth Amendment, invasion of privacy/trespass, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims. (ECF No. 20 at 1.) They also abandoned all claims against the Town and the Police Department. (Id.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate only when “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). As the moving party, Samsel bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). 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). The Court must view the facts “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party”-here, the plaintiffs-after drawing “all reasonable inferences in [their] favor.” Sologub v. City of New York, 202 F.3d 175, 178 (2d Cir.2000) (quotation marks omitted).

         III. Analysis

         A. Fourth Amendment

         The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” “It “indicates with some precision the places and things encompassed by its protections: persons, houses papers, and effects.” Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013) And of these protections, “the home is first among equals.” Id. “In the home, our cases show, all details are intimate details, because the area is held safe from prying government eyes.” Kyllo v. U.S., 533 U.S. 27, 37 (2001) (emphasis in original).

         “[T]he curtilage of the house, ” or the area “immediately surrounding [the] house, ” “enjoys protection as part of the home itself.” Jardines, 569 U.S. at 5-6. The Fourth Amendment right to “be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion . . . would have little practical value if the State's agents could stand in a home's porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity; the right to retreat would be significantly diminished if the police could enter a man's property to observe his repose from just outside the front window.” Id. at 7 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “While law enforcement officers need not shield their eyes when passing by the home on public thoroughfares, an officer's ...

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