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Seamans v. Town of Canton

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 7, 2018



          Robert N. Chatigny United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Alden and Joanne Seamans bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Town of Canton and the following members of its Police Department: Officer Mark Selander, Officer Martin Miller, and Officer Andrew Schiffer.[1] Plaintiffs claim that Officers Miller and Schiffer falsely arrested Mr. Seamans, that they used excessive force in effecting the arrest, that each of them failed to intervene to protect him against the other's unlawful conduct, and that Officer Selander also failed to intervene, all in violation of the Fourth Amendment and common law. Plaintiffs further claim that the Town is liable pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), on the theory that it failed to adequately supervise and train Officers Miller and Schiffer. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all the claims. For reasons set forth below, the motion is granted as to the claims against the Town but denied as to the other claims.[2]

         I. Background

         The record, viewed most favorably to the plaintiffs, shows the following. On February 15, 2016, Mr. Seamans, then 77 years of age, drove his 1995 Ford F-150 pick-up truck to a Shop Rite grocery store in Canton. He tried to park in a spot close to the entrance but was unable to enter the spot due to the truck's large turning radius. He looped around the next aisle to return to the spot at a better angle and, in his words, was driving “fast, faster than [he] should have.” When he arrived back at the spot, another car, driven by Linda Morad, “looked like it wanted to pull in.” He nonetheless “yanked” his truck into the spot. Morad parked a few spots away.

         After Morad and Seamans exited their vehicles, she began yelling at him about the parking spot. She accused him of hitting a Buick parked in the space directly in front of his truck. He inspected the Buick and saw scratches on the bumper, but noticed there was rust in the scratches. He also noticed that the bumper on his truck was higher than the bumper on the Buick. He explained to Morad that for these reasons, he could not have hit the Buick. Despite his explanation, she threatened to call the police. He said he was going into the store to get strawberries and would not “put up with [her] shit.” Seamans purchased two packages of strawberries and exited the store. To his surprise, two police cars and at least two officers were near his truck. When he approached, Officers Selander and Schiffer instructed him to stand near the back of his truck. Several more officers arrived, including Officers Miller and Penney. When questioned by the officers, Seamans explained that he could not have hit the Buick in view of the rust in the scratches and the height of the bumpers. One of the officers told him to “shut up” and stand near one of the police vehicles. After standing there for about thirty minutes, Seamans told the officers that he wanted to go home and was “sick of this crap.”

         Officers Miller and Schiffer told Seamans to put his hands behind his back. One or both of the officers “leaned [him] down over the car.” Officer Schiffer grabbed his left arm and twisted it behind his back tearing the rotator cuff. At around the same time, Officer Miller grabbed Seamans's right arm, and Seamans “stiffened it.” Officer Miller then grabbed and twisted Seamans's right thumb (a “pain compliance” technique), he loosened up, and Miller pulled his right arm behind his back, enabling the officers to place him in handcuffs.[3] Once in handcuffs, they placed him in the back of a police vehicle. He asked, “What the hell are you guys doing this for?” One of the officers responded, “You are impeding an investigation.”

         While in the police vehicle, Seamans experienced discomfort due to the injury to his left shoulder. In addition, the handcuffs were tight and caused bruising to his wrists. He complained to the officers that he was in great pain, was 77 years old, and had a heart condition. One of the officers responded, “Well, you should have thought of that.” However, one of the officers did remove the handcuffs.

         At some point, the officers located the owner of the Buick. Through the window of the police cruiser, Seamans said to the owner, “Hey, I never hit your car.” The owner responded, “Of course you didn't, that's been there for six months.” Seamans was allowed to leave approximately thirty to forty minutes after his interaction with the officers began. He spent four to eight minutes in the police car.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment may be granted when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). To avoid summary judgment, the non-moving party must point to evidence that would permit a jury to return a verdict in his or her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). In determining whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, a court must review all the evidence in the record. In doing so, however, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Id. at 255. Under this standard, all evidence supporting the position of the opposing party must be credited, with any ambiguities resolved and all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of that party. Importantly, although it is necessary to review the record as a whole, evidence supporting the position of the moving party must be disregarded unless a jury would have to credit the evidence because it comes from a disinterested source and is uncontradicted and unimpeached. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000) (quoting 9A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2529, at 300 (2d ed. 1995)). It is essential that care be taken in applying this standard in order to preserve and protect the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury, which is undermined by excessive use of summary judgment. See A. Miller, The Pretrial Rush To Judgment: Are “The Litigation Explosion, ” “Liability Crisis, ” and Efficiency Cliches Eroding Our Day In Court and Jury Trial Commitments?, 78 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 982 (2003).

         III. Discussion

         Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because the evidence does not support a Fourth Amendment claim against any of the defendants and the individuals are protected by qualified immunity. I agree that the evidence does not support a claim against the Town. However, accepting the plaintiffs' version of events, I conclude that the evidence adequately supports claims against the officers and that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity.

         A. False Arrest

         Plaintiffs claim that Officers Miller and Schiffer arrested Mr. Seamans without probable cause. Defendants admit probable cause was lacking. They contend, however, that their seizure of Seamans did not exceed the bounds of a reasonable investigatory stop. Because defendants admit they did not have probable cause for an arrest, a finding that Seamans was arrested would ...

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