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Demers v. Town of Enfield

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 10, 2018

DANIEL DEMERS, and EDITH MANDUJANO-DEMERS; Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF ENFIELD, CHIEF CARL SFERRAZZA, OFFICER KEVIN RAGION, SERGEANT JAMES LAURINO, OFFICER VANESSA MAGAGNOLI, OFFICER JOHN DOE, and OFFICER JANE DOE; Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D J.

         Plaintiffs Daniel Demers and Edith Mandujano-Demers were arrested for loitering on middle school grounds in Enfield, Connecticut, after driving around school grounds, stopping to take photographs at the school, knocking on a door that was not the main entrance, and then leaving. Plaintiffs contend that they were arrested in violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures in violation of state statutory and common law. Defendants move [Doc. # 32] for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Daniel Demers and Edith Mandujano-Demers brought this action on August 10, 2016, alleging violations of their rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments[1] to the U.S. Constitution, and related violations of their rights under Connecticut law (including under the Connecticut Constitution, Connecticut common law, and state statutory rights). (Compl. [Doc. # 1].) Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on January 3, 2017 with the following counts:

• Count One: Unreasonable Seizure in Violation of the Fourth Amendment, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
• Count Two: Failure to Intervene, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
• Count Three: False Arrest-Connecticut common law
• Count Four: Recklessness-Connecticut common law
• Count Five: Negligence-Connecticut common law
• Count Six: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress-Connecticut common law
• Count Seven: Monell claim against the Town of Enfield, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
• Count Eight: Indemnification pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-465
• Count Nine: Indemnification pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n

(Am. Compl. [Doc. # 14].) The Amended Complaint names as Defendants the Town of Enfield, Chief Carl Sferrazza, Officer Kevin Ragion, Sergeant James Laurino, Officer Vanessa Magagnoli, Office John Doe, and Officer Jane Doe.[2] (Id.)

         On October 18, 2017, Defendants moved to bifurcate the action against the individual Defendants from the Monell claim against the Town of Enfield, requesting that discovery on the municipal liability claim be stayed until resolution of the claim against the individual Defendants. (Defs' Mot. Bifurcate [Doc. # 28].) On December 21, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' Motion to Bifurcate, absent any objection from Plaintiffs. ([Doc. # 29].)

         Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims on January 15, 2018. (Mot. Summ. J.) Four days before Plaintiffs' extended deadline to oppose the Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs moved [Doc. # 36] for leave to file a second amended complaint. Defendants objected [Doc. # 38], and the Court denied Plaintiffs leave to amend. ([Doc. #41].)

         Factual Background and Summary Judgment Record

         On Wednesday, March 23, 2016, Plaintiffs, who were residents of Summerville, South Carolina, were visiting the town of Enfield, which is the hometown of Plaintiff Daniel Demers. (Defs.' L.R. Stmt ¶ 1 [Doc. # 32-2]; Pls.' L.R. Stmt ¶ 1 [Doc. # 37-1] (hereinafter collectively, "Parties' L.R. Stmts").) During this visit, Plaintiffs drove to JFK Middle School, which Plaintiff Daniel Demers had attended in his youth. (Parties' L.R. Stmts ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs did not make any contact with anyone at JFK Middle School prior to arriving and did not know anyone at the school. (Id. ¶ 3.) The Plaintiffs did not have any relationship involving the custody of or responsibility for any pupil at the school, or any related reason to be there. (Id. ¶ 4.) The Plaintiffs, with Daniel Demers driving, drove into the middle school property while school was in session, and drove around the entire school. (Id. ¶ 5.) During this time, Mrs. Demers was taking photographs of the school out of the passenger seat window. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs' vehicle exited but then re-entered the middle school property. (Id. ¶ 6.) This time, the vehicle stopped in front of the school, Mrs. Demers got out, Mr. Demers parked, and Mrs. Demers walked to the entrance of the Red House wing of the middle school and attempted to open the doors, but they were locked.[3] (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Thereafter, she pressed her face to the glass doors and looked inside. (Id.) She also placed her camera to the glass and took photos of the interior of the building. (Id.)

         At approximately 12:55 p.m., Pamela Estes, an employee of the middle school, was in the Red House hallway and observed Mrs. Demers' actions, including her camera pressed to the glass.[4](Id. ¶ 9.) Ms. Estes approached the Demers at the door and inquired, "can I help you, what are you doing here?" with a look of terror on her face.[5] (Id. ¶ 10.) She appeared "very afraid" and "paranoid." (Id.)

         The Demers informed Ms. Estes that Mr. Demers had attended the middle school and that he was showing his wife around. (Id. ¶ 11.) Estes told them that they could not be on school grounds milling around and that if they had business at the school they would have to check in with the main office.[6] (Id.) The Demers then left, getting back into their blue Cadillac sedan, which had an out-of-state license plate. (Id. ¶ 12.) As they drove away, they circled the entire school one more time.[7] (Id. ¶ 13.)

         The sworn statement of Pamela Estes, ([Doc. # 32-3] at 72), states that she "felt very uneasy about their presence at the school as their behavior was odd[, ]" and the principal "happened to be behind me as they drove off and he "then said he'd report the incident." (Id.) Next, Defendants represent that "[a]s a result of the incidents and concerns it brought, the school was placed in lockdown[, ] other Enfield schools were notified to keep a lookout for the blue [Cadillac], and the police were called." (Defs.' L.R. Stmt ¶ 15.)

         At approximately 1:15 p.m., Officer Kevin Ragion of the Enfield Police Department was dispatched to JFK Middle School for a suspicious motor vehicle complaint. (Parties' L.R. Stmts ¶ 16.) Upon arrival, school staff told him that the occupants of a blue Cadillac with out-of-state plates from South Carolina or Georgia were taking pictures of the school, and that they were knocking on the windows of the Red Wing of the school. (Id. ¶ 17.) They informed Officer Ragion that the vehicle left prior to the police arriving and had last been seen traveling southbound on Raffia Road. (Id.)

         School administrators, including Gary Harrison, the School Security Consultant for the Town of Enfield, were concerned over what they observed on video surveillance footage. (Id. ¶ 18.) They informed Officer Ragion that the camera that the Demers used had a zoom lens and that they were taking photos both of the outside of the school and of the inside, through the glass. (Id.)

         Officer Ragion viewed the school surveillance video with school personnel. (Id. ¶19.) It appeared from the zoomed-in but pixelated video surveillance that the passenger was wearing a mask, and the passenger's hands were held in a manner that appeared to be holding binoculars.[8](Id.) Additionally, the video showed that from the time the vehicle arrived to the time it left, the vehicle drove around the building twice. (I'd.)

         Video surveillance still images showed at 12:57:43 p.m. a blue Cadillac with the passenger's side window down and a white female with cupped hands around her face, in a position commonly used when holding binoculars.[9] (Id. ¶ 20.) Another image from 20 seconds earlier showed "what [unspecified] individuals (at the time) felt was the passenger wearing a mask." (Id.)

         At approximately 1:30 p.m., Officer Ragion, via radio, requested that his supervisor, Sergeant James Laurino, meet him at JFK Middle School so that he could brief him on the details of a suspicious vehicle that had been on the school grounds. (Id. ¶ 21) When Sgt. Laurino arrived, he was briefed on the incident and the concerns of the school administrators. (Id. ¶ 22.) After hearing of the circumstances and viewing the still images from the surveillance video, he became more concerned about the safety of school occupants.[10] (Id.)

         During this time, the Demers continued to travel throughout Enfield. (Id. ¶ 23.) Approximately one hour later, they drove onto the premises of Enfield High School and parked in front of the school, got out of the car, and began to take photographs of the school. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24).

         School officials at the high school, who were alerted to be on the lookout for the Demers' vehicle, approached them and called the police. (Id. 5 25.) At approximately 2:10 p.m., the police received a report that a car fitting this description had been seen at Enfield High School. (Id. ¶ 26.) Sgt. Laurino was aware that there was no School Resource Officer on duty at the school at that time, so several officers were dispatched to the high school. (Id.) Sgt. Laurino then went to the high ...


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