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Doe v. Smereczynsky

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 6, 2018

JANE DOE, a minor by and through her Guardian VALERIE BOYD Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER JOSHUA OFFICER SMERECZYNSKY, ET AL. Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         This action arises from an arrest of Plaintiff Jane Doe by Defendant Joshua Officer Smereczynsky, a New Haven Police officer. Officer Smereczynsky allegedly used excessive force during Jane Doe's arrest. By and through her guardian, Valerie Boyd, Jane Doe sues Officer Smereczynsky, the City of New Haven, and Dean Esserman (the New Haven Police Chief). In my ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss, I dismissed the claims against the latter two parties. (See ECF No. 44 at 16.) That leaves Ms. Doe's claims against defendant Officer Smereczynsky, which consist of the following: (i) unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (ii) false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (iii) use of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (iv) deprivation of liberty to pursue her occupation in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; (v) violation of the Ms. Doe's right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (vi) intentional infliction of emotional distress in violation of Connecticut law. Now before me is Officer Smereczynsky's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 53.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part. The motion is denied with respect to Ms. Doe's excessive force and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. It is granted with respect to all of Ms. Doe's other claims.

         II. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) Statements and the exhibits, are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. Jane Doe “had a history of physical altercations and confrontations with Sabrina Parker.” (ECF No. 53-2, Officer Smereczynsky's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement (“Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt.”) at ¶ 1; ECF No. 56-9, Jane Doe's Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement (“Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt.”) at ¶ 1.) “On March 15, 2015, the day of the New Haven St. Patrick's Day parade, Jane Doe carried a kitchen knife with her for personal protection.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 2; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 2.) “While at the parade, Jane Doe saw Ms. Parker across the street, and she went into Buffalo Wild Wings along with her sister, Sister Doe, in order to avoid a confrontation.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 3; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 3.) Despite Jane Doe's efforts, “Ms. Parker and a group of her friends followed Jane Doe into the Buffalo Wild Wings” and “Ms. Parker and Sister Doe started fighting.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 4-5; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶¶ 4-5.)

         “At some point during the altercation between Ms. Parker and Sister Doe, someone sprayed mace.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 8; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 8.) Eventually, “[t]he employees of Buffalo Wild Wings broke up the fight between Ms. Parker and Sister Doe, ” and “Ms. Parker and her friends left immediately after the fight . . . ended.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 9-10; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶¶ 9-10.) “Someone had called 9-1-1- during the fight” and “[o]fficers from the New Haven Police Department, ” including Officer Smereczynsky, “arrived shortly after the fight had ended.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. At ¶¶ 11-12 (internal citations omitted); Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶¶ 11-12.) “Buffalo Wild Wings employees reported to Officer Smereczynsky that Jane Doe had sprayed them with mace.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 13; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 13.)

         “Officer Smereczynsky ordered Jane Doe to take her hands out of her pockets, based on the Buffalo Wild Wings employees' statement that [she] had sprayed them with mace.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 14; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 14.) “Jane Doe did not comply and did not verbally respond to Officer Smereczynsky's request.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 15; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 15.) “Officer Smereczynsky [then] proceeded to handcuff and arrest Jane Doe” “based on probable cause to believe that she had committed an assault by spraying people with mace.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 16-17; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶¶ 16-17.) “During the handcuffing, Jane Doe struggled with and resisted Officer Smereczynsky to the point where a Buffalo Wild Wings employee had to assist.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 18; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 18.) After Ms. Doe was handcuffed, Officer Smereczynsky walked her outside. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 19; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 19.) Officer Smereczynsky contends that Jane Doe “continued to struggle and resist” during this period, but Jane Doe denies this allegation. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 20; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 20.)

         Once he had walked Jane Doe outside, “Officer Smereczynsky pressed Jane Doe against a parked SUV in order to try to gain control over her.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 21; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 21.) “At that time, Officer Smereczynsky observed the knife handle sticking out of Jane Doe's purse, which was open at the time.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 22; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 22.) “[T]he purse containing the knife was hanging in the middle of Jane Doe's back, near her hands.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 24; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 24.) Officer Smereczynsky contends that there were no other officers in the immediate area at that time and that Jane Doe was still struggling and resisting; Ms. Doe denies these allegations. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 25-26; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶¶ 25-26.)

         “Upon seeing the knife, Officer Smereczynsky immediately radioed for assistance from other officers and grabbed the knife and the purse.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 27; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 27.) He then “used a takedown maneuver to bring Jane Doe to the ground.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 28; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 28.) “Several seconds later, other officers arrived to assist with Officer Smereczynsky's restraint of Jane Doe.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 29; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 29.) “Officer Smereczynsky did not observe any injuries on Jane Doe subsequent to the takedown” and she “did not inform Officer Smereczynsky that she had sustained any injuries prior to being brought to the Juvenile Processing room.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 31-32; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶¶ 31-32.) “Jane Doe was subsequently charged with assault third degree, breach of peace second degree, possession or carrying a dangerous weapon, and interfering with police.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 2.)

         B. Jane Doe's Complaint

         Jane Doe subsequently filed suit against Officer Smereczynsky, New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, various unidentified officers, and the City of New Haven. (See ECF No. 22 (“Complaint”) at ¶¶ 1-2.) She alleged claims of “unreasonable search and seizure, ” “false arrest, ” and “unreasonable force in the course thereof” in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (See Id. at ¶ 2(a).) She also claimed that the defendants' conduct “deprived [her] of her liberty to pursue her occupation as guaranteed under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments . . . .” (See Id. at ¶ 2(b).) Further, she claimed that the defendants' conduct violated her right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. (See Id. at ¶ 2(c).) Finally, she alleged a claim of “intentional humiliation and infliction of emotional distress” in violation of Connecticut law. (See Id. at ¶ 2(d).) As noted above, I dismissed the claims against the City of New Haven and Chief Esserman. (See ECF No. 44 at 16.) Since Ms. Doe did not identify any other officer defendants, her only claims remaining are those against Officer Smereczynsky.

         III. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate only when the moving party “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). “In making that determination, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party.” Tolan v. Cotton,134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A fact is material if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 202 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). The moving party bears the burden “of showing that no genuine factual dispute exists . . ., and in assessing the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue ...


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