United States District Court, D. Connecticut
THAIS ORTOLAZA ex rel. E., a minor child, Plaintiff,
CAPITOL REGION EDUCATION COUNCIL; ROBERT McCAIN; TIMOTHY SULLIVAN; CHRISTOPHER NOLAN; BRIAN GUSTIS; EZEKIAL M. DONNELLY; MARC DaCRUZ; CARLOS TORRES; JOSEPH BUYAK; IAN POWELL; BENJAMIN LEE; NICHOLAS TRIGILA; and THE CITY OF HARTFORD, Defendants.
RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Thais Ortolaza ("Plaintiff") has brought this
action on behalf of her minor child, E., alleging civil
rights violations, and seeks recovery pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants committed
several state law torts.
pertinent times, E. was a 14-year-old student at the Two
Rivers Magnet High School ("Two Rivers") in
Hartford, Connecticut. This action arises out of an incident
that occurred during the morning of November 19, 2015. E. was
removed by Hartford police from a school bus carrying
students to Two Rivers, arrested on a charge of sending a
threatening email to the Two Rivers principal, detained for
about an hour, and then released into his parents'
custody. No. further action against E. has been taken.
result of this incident, Plaintiff, E.'s mother, suing on
his behalf, asserts claims against two groups of Defendants.
The first group consists of: Capitol Region Education Council
("CREC"), a regional education service center
created by Connecticut statutes and the administrator of the
Two Rivers school (among other schools); Robert McCain, the
Principal of Two Rivers; Timothy Sullivan, Assistant
Superintendent of Operations for CREC; and Christopher Nolan,
the Director of Security for CREC. I will refer to these
Defendants as the "CREC Defendants."
second group of Defendants consists of officers, of varying
ranks, in the Hartford Police Department ("HPD"),
and the City of Hartford itself. I will refer to this group
as the "Hartford Defendants."
case is now before the Court on a motion on behalf of the
CREC Defendants. The Hartford Defendants, represented by
separate counsel, are not involved in the CREC motion.
Complaint [Doc. 1] asserts federal constitutional claims
against the CREC Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
false arrest and excessive force. The Complaint also alleges
claims under the common law for negligence and infliction of
emotional distress against the individual CREC Defendants
(McCain, Nolan and Sullivan). The CREC Defendants now move to
dismiss certain counts against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state
a claim. [Doc. 24]. Plaintiff resists the motion. This Ruling
late evening of November 18, 2015, an anonymous email with
the subject line, "Reckoning" was delivered to
Robert McCain, the Principal of Two Rivers, located in
Hartford Connecticut. Complaint, Doc. 1 ¶¶6, 30.
Two Rivers is a part of CREC, a regional education service
center created pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-66c.
Id. ¶¶5-6. The email in question was sent
"via a spoofed email address from Italy, " which
had the effect of making the sender appear to be someone
other than the actual source. Id. ¶30, n.1. The
body of the email contained what appeared to be a threat of
gun violence. Id. ¶31. The email contained no
identifying information, nor did it contain any specific
information that related to Two Rivers, CREC, or the City of
Hartford. Id. ¶32.
read the email at approximately 6:00 a.m. on the morning of
November 19, 2015. Id. ¶33. Immediately after
reading the email, McCain called Timothy Sullivan, the
Assistant Superintendent of Operations for CREC. Id.
¶¶7, 34. Upon discussing the content of the email,
McCain and Sullivan "concluded that it was a legitimate
threat." Id. ¶34. At 6:21 a.m., McCain
called 911 to report the email, stating that he believed it
to be a credible threat. Id. He identified himself
as the principal of one school with two campuses, one for 9th
and 10th grade students, and the other for 11th and 12th
grade students. Id. He did not provide any
information regarding whom he suspected sent the email.
Sullivan contacted Christopher Nolan, the Director of
Security for CREC, and "involved [him] in the decision
making process regarding this incident." Id.
¶¶8, 36. McCain, Sullivan, and Nolan were contacted
by the Hartford Police Department ("HPD"), and were
"in continuous communication with HPD from approximately
6:20 a.m. onward." Id. ¶37.
McCain, Sullivan and Nolan determined that out of the
approximately 400 students that attended Two Rivers, E. was
the only student who could have sent the email in question.
Id. ¶38. E. was not very computer savvy.
Id. ¶26. In fact, during a parent-teacher
conference held at Two Rivers the evening of November 18,
2015, it was discussed with Plaintiff that E. was not
complying with the requirement to electronically file his
homework. Id. ¶25. E. felt more comfortable
handing in his work in hard copy, instead. Id.
¶26. Issues of violence were not discussed during the
parent-teacher conference, and E. had no history of violence
or threatening conduct. Id. ¶27.
Sullivan and McCain considered E. highly intelligent, and
based solely on the usage of the word 'reckoning, '
they used their intuition and determined that E. had sent the
email in question. Id. ¶¶40-1. No. further
investigation was performed by McCain, Sullivan or Nolan.
Id. ¶41. However, E. did not send the email.
Id. ¶42. E. did not know what the word
'reckoning' meant, he did not know how to spoof an
email address, and he liked his school, its staff, and the
student body. Id. ¶¶43-5. He had no
reputation of making threats, or having any sort of
"obsession" with weapons or violence. Id.
November 19, 2015, at approximately 6:57 a.m., E. boarded the
school bus to go to school. Id. ¶49. Upon
arrival at Two Rivers, HPD diverted E.'s bus to another
school, about a block away. Id. ¶62. Officers
from HPD surrounded the bus, and one officer asked the bus
driver if E. was onboard. Id. ¶64. When E.
identified himself, two officers boarded the bus.
Id. ¶66. At least one of the officers drew his
gun, pointing it at E., causing E. to fear for his life.
Id. ¶¶66-7. E. was removed from the bus
and his bag was searched by the officers. Id.
¶69. Neither weapons nor contraband was recovered.
officers then began interrogating E. outside the bus.
Id. ¶75-6. He asked for his mother, but neither
HPD nor CREC complied with his request. Id. E. was
threatened by an officer, handcuffed, and "perp
walked" in front of a bus full of children to a police
car. Id. ¶¶81-6. E. asked if he was going
to be read his Miranda rights, but the officers
present did not respond. E. then recited said rights out loud
"to confirm for himself that he was under arrest."
Id. ¶¶86, 88. He was pushed into a police
cruiser, brought to Two Rivers, and "paraded"
through the school in handcuffs "in front of the student
body on his way to the main office." Id.
¶¶101-03. This "perp walk" humiliated E.
and violated CREC policy. Id. ¶¶104-05.
superintendent of CREC reached out to other CREC officials,
instructing them to contact E.'s parents. Id.
¶98. No. CREC or HPD officials contacted E.'s
mother; instead, she was contacted by a witness and
immediately drove to the school. Id.
¶¶90-6. E. was interrogated by police officers in
the guidance counselor's office while handcuffed tightly
to the back of his chair. Id. ¶¶106-07.
McCain, who was aware that E.'s mother was not in the
school, came into the room, and began to question E., in an
effort to "subvert E.'s exercise of his right to
remain silent." Id. ¶¶112, 142. E.
felt defensive and did not want to be questioned without his
mother present. Id. He informed the police that he
was exercising his right to remain silent. Id.
officers acted on behalf of the CREC Defendants in removing
E. from the bus at gunpoint, in handcuffing him, in driving
him to the school, and in handcuffing him to a chair for
approximately 45 minutes. Id. ¶135. E. could
have been released at the discretion of CREC administrators
at any time. Id. ¶139. E. was not free to leave
at any point when McCain was in the room. Id.
and her husband arrived at the school approximately a half
hour later. Id. ¶113. They spoke with McCain,
Sullivan and Nolan, and with one of the police officers, and
asked why Plaintiff had not been contacted by HPD or CREC.
Id. McCain responded that he was "not allowed
to contact [her] per CREC policy." Id.
¶114. An officer and a CREC employee searched E.'s
school-issued laptop for "clues" relating to the
email, remarking that "there must be something on
here." Id. ¶¶120-22. Nothing was
found, and E. was not charged with a crime. Id.
¶¶118, 122. "Upon information and belief,
" CREC and the City of Hartford performed no further
investigation related to the email. Id. ¶123.
E. was released to his parents' custody. Id.
¶116. He had wrist pain and red marks on his wrists from
being tightly handcuffed. Id. ¶117. E. never
returned to Two Rivers school. Id. ¶124. He has
suffered "extreme mental trauma and anguish" as a
result of the events that transpired on November 19, 2015.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
a motion to dismiss, the issue is 'whether the claimant
is entitled to offer evidence to support the
claims.'" Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106,
111 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416
U.S. 232, 236 (1984)). "To survive a motion to dismiss,
a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its
face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) ("Iqbal") (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)
("Twombly")). This pleading standard
creates a "two-pronged approach, " Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 679, based on "[t]wo working
principles". Id. at 678.
all factual allegations in the complaint must be accepted as
true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the favor
of the non-moving party. See id.; see also Gorman v.
Consolidated Edison Corp., 488 F.3d 586, 591-92 (2d Cir.
2007) (citation omitted). The presumption of truth does not
extend, however, to "legal conclusions" or
"[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action supported by mere conclusory statements[.]"
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, "a complaint
that states a plausible claim for relief" will survive a
motion to dismiss and "[d]etermining whether a complaint
states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense."
Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (quotation marks
omitted). "Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) is appropriate when 'it is clear from
the face of the complaint, and matters of which the court may
take judicial notice, that the plaintiff's claims are
barred as a matter of law.'" Associated Fin.
Corp. v. Kleckner, 480 Fed.Appx. 89, 90 (2d Cir. 2012)
(quoting Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d
82, 86 (2d Cir. 2000)).
individual CREC Defendants McCain, Sullivan and Nolan move
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure to dismiss the Counts brought against each of them
in their individual capacity pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging violations of E.'s Fourth Amendment right
to be free from false arrest. Defendants argue that there are
no allegations that indicate that they were personally
involved in E.'s arrest.
section 1983 claim "has two essential elements: (1) the
defendant acted under color of state law; and (2) as a result
of the defendant's actions, the plaintiff suffered a
denial of her federal statutory rights, or her constitutional
rights or privileges." Annis v. Cty. of
Westchester, 136 F.3d 239, 245 (2d Cir. 1998). To
prevail on a claim pursuant to § 1983, the plaintiff
must allege the personal involvement of the individual
defendant. Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d
elements of a claim for false arrest pursuant to section 1983
are dictated by state law. See Jocks v. Tavernier,
316 F.3d 128, 134 (2d Cir. 2003). "Under Connecticut
law, false imprisonment, or false arrest, is the unlawful
restraint by one person of the physical liberty of
another." Russo v. City of Bridgeport, 479 F.3d
196, 204 (2d Cir. 2007) (quotation marks and citation
omitted). To establish a section 1983 false arrest claim
based on the Fourth Amendment right to be free from
unreasonable seizures, a plaintiff must show that: "(1)
the defendant intentionally arrested him or had him arrested;
(2) the plaintiff was aware of the arrest; (3) there was no
consent for the arrest; and (4) the arrest was not supported
by probable cause." Marchand v. Simonson, 16
F.Supp.3d 97, 109 (D. Conn. 2014) (quotation marks and