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Tiramani v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 8, 2018



          Robert N. Chatigny United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Galiano Tiramani brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking damages for a warrantless entry into his residence. Named as defendants are four officers of the Greenwich Police Department (“GPD”): Carl Johnson, John D'Inverno, Joel Berry and Sean Welsh. The defendants have moved for summary judgment arguing that the entry was reasonable and they are entitled to qualified immunity. I agree that the officers are protected by qualified immunity and therefore grant the motion.

         I. Background

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. In July 2014, plaintiff entered into a five-year lease agreement with the owner of a large home in Greenwich (“the property”). At the time he entered into the lease, foreclosure proceedings initiated by Bank of New York Mellon (“BNYM”) had been pending for five years. By November 2015, when the events giving rise to this case occurred, the property had been foreclosed and an eviction proceeding was pending against the plaintiff.

         During the time plaintiff resided at the property, it was known by his friends and others in the community as the “Hobo Mansion.” The property had been abandoned for several years and was in poor condition when he moved in. He subleased rooms to several “roommates, ” and made some changes to the property, including converting the backyard into a dirt bike track. Plaintiff and others created a “Hobo Mansion” page on Facebook, which advertised parties at the property, in addition to chronicling some of the residents' escapades.

         During plaintiff's tenancy at the property, neighbors filed numerous complaints with the GPD and other Greenwich officials. They complained of persons riding dirt bikes at excessive speeds in the neighborhood, loud music and rowdy behavior.[1] In July 2015, the Greenwich Zoning Enforcement Office informed BNYM that activities at the property violated the Town's nuisance code.

         At some point in the fall of 2015, plaintiff relocated to California for approximately one month. Around this time, there was a string of burglaries at foreclosed and abandoned properties in Greenwich. The burglars stripped copper and other valuable materials from the buildings. They were reported to be carrying guns and wearing body armor.

         While plaintiff was in California, a property management company retained by BNYM secured the property and contacted GPD to ensure the property would be monitored. GPD conducted regular patrols in the area and responded to several complaints of suspicious activity, including a report of “kids” breaking into the house and having a large party. After the party, BNYM's management company placed a padlock on the garage door track to prevent its wheels from rolling up.

         On November 18, patrolling officers saw that the garage door was open. They entered, found no one, and secured a door allowing access to the home from the garage. They reported “NO OTHER UNSECURE DOORS OR WINDOWS FOUND.” In the early morning hours of November 19, patrolling officers reported the “GARAGE DOOR THAT WAS CLOSED BY OFFICERS YESTERDAY WAS STILL CLOSED TODAY.”

         On the night of November 19, plaintiff, recently returned from California, contacted the GPD to report that the property had been burglarized. Two officers responded; neither is a defendant in this suit. According to the plaintiff, he told the officers that he was back from California and was driving a white GMC sport utility vehicle (“SUV”) with Ohio plates. The officers wrote down the license plate number and told him “we want to make sure we know it's your car and that it's you here.” One of the officers sent an email to the entire GPD advising that plaintiff had returned. The email did not mention the white SUV.

         On November 21, patrolling officers reported “ALL DOORS AND WINDOWS APPEAR TO BE SECURE.” This was the last patrol before the events at issue here.

         On November 24, at 8:16 p.m., the GPD received a report that there was a “suspicious” white SUV in the driveway of the property. Defendant Officer Welsh and non-defendant Trainee Officer Justin Quagliani arrived at the scene at 8:31 p.m. They saw the SUV in the driveway, ran the plates, and discovered that the vehicle was registered to PV Holding Corp., an Ohio corporation. They approached the front door, knocked and rang the doorbell. There was no answer. Welsh noticed one of the third floor windows was illuminated. Officers Johnson, Berry and D'Inverno arrived at the scene. All the officers walked around the house, knocked on doors, shouted their presence and checked for any sign of forced entry.

         According to the defendants, the garage door was off its track and there were signs that someone had attempted to break into the garage. Plaintiff disputes this. He would ask a jury to find that the defendants broke into the garage by tearing the door off its track and breaking the padlock installed by BNYM. He contends that a jury could draw that inference because he did not notice anything wrong with the door until after the officers left the property.

         What happened next is undisputed. The officers entered the garage with their weapons drawn. They opened an unlocked door leading from the garage into the house. As they moved through the house, they continued to announce their presence. They secured all the rooms on the first and second floors and made their way up to the third floor. When they reached the third floor, plaintiff came out of a room in his underwear and shouted, “get the f**k out of here, ” “you don't have a warrant, ” and “get out of my house!” Officer Johnson holstered his weapon and ordered the other officers to do the same. He asked plaintiff to calm down and explained that ...

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