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Galian v. Sebourne

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 25, 2018



          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         This action arises from the arrest of Plaintiff Michael Galian by Defendants Selwyn Sebourne and Michael B. McClain, both Shelton police officers. The plaintiff alleges that Officer Sebourne instructed officers of a neighboring police department to arrest the plaintiff without a warrant on a charge of breach of peace. He contends that Officer Sebourne took these actions despite his knowledge that the plaintiff was innocent of this charge. Further, he avers that Officer McClain assisted Officer Sebourne in carrying out this unlawful scheme. Based upon these allegations, the plaintiff sets out a claim of false arrest against both defendants and a claim of malicious prosecution against Officer Sebourne. Now before me is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 27.) In their motion, the defendants contend that the plaintiff's claims fail because, among other things, Officer Sebourne had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for breach of peace. For the reasons that follow, the defendant's summary judgment motion is granted.

         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. At the time of his arrest, the plaintiff resided in “Monroe, Connecticut, with his son, Brian Galian, and his son's girlfriend, Amanda Ely (‘Ely').” (ECF No. 27-2, Defendants' Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement (“Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt.”) at ¶ 1; ECF No. 28-1, Plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement (“Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt.”) at ¶ 1.) At all relevant times, the defendants were acting in their “capacities as police officers in the Shelton Police Department (‘SPD').” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 2; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 2.)

         “On February 13, 2015, Ely pled guilty to two felony drug charges . . . .” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 3; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 3.) An order was subsequently issued in a “separate pending custody dispute between Ely and Dwayne Anderson, Sr., which awarded the latter full legal custody of their minor son.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 4; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 4.) The parties dispute the exact wording of that order. The defendants contend that the order provided that “Ely was allowed supervised visitation . . . on [specific] weekdays between 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. during the school year, including the date [at issue in this case], September 8, 2015 (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 5); the plaintiff contends that the “order during the school year provided that Ms. Ely's visitation during school days began at the time the child was dropped off at the bus stop, regardless of the specific time.” (Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 5.) This dispute between the parties would prove key in the events leading to the plaintiff's arrest, although it is not a dispute over a material fact for purposes of summary judgment.

         “[B]eginning in March, 2015, and up to and including September 8, 2015, plaintiff had been granted permission by the minor son's guardian ad litem to supervise Ely's visits [with] him.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 6; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 6.) “On September 8, 2015, plaintiff, who was acting as the court-assigned supervisor of Ely's visits with her minor son, drove Ely to the Anderson residence . . . in Shelton to pick him up.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 7; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 7.) The minor son's school had let him out early due to excessive heat. (See ECF No. 27-4, Deposition of Michael Galian (“Galian Depo.”) at 33 (“So, on this particular day, . . . school was cancelled because it was just too darned hot to be in school.”).) The plaintiff “pulled his vehicle up in front of the Anderson residence at approximately 1:00 p.m. on September 8, 2015; at that point, Ely exited the backseat and walked up Anderson's driveway, where she encountered Leanne Anderson, who was holding her three-year old daughter.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 8; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 8.) Ely and Ms. Anderson “engaged in [an] . . . exchange of words, after which Ely walked down the driveway, past plaintiff's vehicle, and across Longmeadow Street; she stopped and stood in front of [the house next to the Anderson residence], the location where her minor son was dropped off by his school bus on school days.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 9; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 9.) The dispute between Ely and Ms. Anderson mirrored the parties' dispute over the court order above-Ely felt the court order allowed her to pick up her minor son whenever school let out while Anderson felt that Ely's visitation began at 3:30 P.M. (See Galian Depo. at 33-34.)

         The parties differ on what happened next. The defendants contend that “Leanne Anderson then approached plaintiff's vehicle and the two of them had a heated exchange, the specific tone and language of which is disputed by plaintiff and Ms. Anderson” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 10); the plaintiff contends that “Ms. Anderson was screaming hysterically at the plaintiff, but the plaintiff did not raise his voice to her and did not use any inappropriate language.” (Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 10.) “Shortly thereafter, the school bus pulled in front of [the house next to the Anderson residence], at which point Ely took her minor son of[f] the bus and the two of them entered plaintiff's vehicle without interference from Ms. Anderson; plaintiff then drove his vehicle away from the scene.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 12; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 12.)

         “After plaintiff drove off with Ely and her minor son in his vehicle, ” Ms. Anderson called the Shelton Police Department and “Officer Sebourne was dispatched to [the Anderson residence].” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 13; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 13.)[1] The parties' accounts diverge again on what took place next. The defendants contend that upon Officer Sebourne's arrival at the Anderson residence, he “proceed[ed] to interview and obtain[] a sworn statement from Leanne Anderson regarding her encounter with Ely and plaintiff prior to his arrival.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 14.) The plaintiff contends that “[t]he evidence shows that defendant Sebourne arrived at the Anderson house after the others involved had departed and that he wrote out a statement which he had Ms. Anderson sign.” (Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 14.) Although the plaintiff “disputes certain assertions made by Ms. Anderson in her statement, [he] does not dispute that she made them or signed the statement in front of Officer Sebourne” and he does not contest that the copy of the statement in the record is accurate. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 15-16; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶¶ 15-16.)

         In her statement, Ms. Anderson alleged that she walked over to speak with the plaintiff because he was “the mediator and should have his own copy of the custody agreement.” (See ECF No. 27-6, Statement of Leanne Anderson (“Anderson Stmt.”) at 2.) She claims in her statement that she “asked what [the plaintiff] was doing here, because the court paperwork clearly states to resume previous [visitation] hours of 3:30pm-7pm when [Ely's minor child] was back in school.” (Id.) According to Ms. Anderson's statement, the plaintiff's “response was ‘I don't know shit.'” (Id.) She claims that she “then asked why he was talking to [her] like that since we never had a conversation before.” (Id.) She claims that she then stated that she “wasn't sure exactly what was going on here and that's when [the plaintiff's] tone of voice escalated and he replied with, ‘well if you don't know anything then you need to get the fuck back in your house.'” (Id.) Ms. Anderson's statement notes that “[a]t this point [she] took a step back from the car” and became “fearful.” (Id.) According to her statement, she let the plaintiff and Ely take the minor child away when he arrived on the bus “because [Ms. Anderson] had no idea what they were capable of.” (Id.) Ms. Anderson's statement ends with the claim that she “then called the police” and informed them that she wished to “pursue criminal charges against [the plaintiff].” (Id.)

         After taking Ms. Anderson's statement, the defendants claim that Officer Sebourne “interviewed and took a sworn statement from her neighbor, Cynthia Formato, who lived across the street . . ., and [who] was waiting for two children to get off the bus during Ms. Anderson's encounter with Ely and plaintiff.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 21.) The plaintiff claims that Officer Sebourne “wrote out a statement which Ms. Formato signed.” (Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 21.) The plaintiff does not dispute, however, that “Ms. Formato provided Officer Sebourne with the sworn statement . . . .” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 23; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 23.) Nor does he dispute the accuracy of the copy of that statement in the record. (See Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 22; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 22.) Ms. Formato's statement reads as follows:

I, Cynthia Formato am sitting here in my kitchen at [my home] in Shelton with Officer Sebourne. I am making this statement under my own free will and have not be[en] coerced in any way. On Tuesday, September 8, 2015, I was sitting on my front porch at approximately 12:55 waiting for my two sons to get off the bus. It was an early dismissal day due to heat. I observed my neighbor Leanne getting upset. She was telling [Ely] that she didn't belong there-Amanda walked towards my house and stood at the end of the driveway. I then heard Leanne plead with whomever was in the vehicle to do the right thing for the child. This is not direct quote, but she said something like, “Don't you want to keep him safe?” I don't know what else was said. I heard loud voices but couldn't make out the words. Then I heard Leanne ask that the car be moved away from her home. They pulled the car up to the next house. The bus arrived. I felt a bit stressed and nervous. I was unaware of what could transpire so I took my children and one of their friends in the house immediately. This is a true account of what I observed.

(ECF No. 27-2, Statement of Cynthia Formato (“Formato Stmt.”) at 1-2.) “Based on the information and conduct reported and sworn to by Ms. Anderson and Ms. Formato, Officer Sebourne concluded that there was probable cause to arrest plaintiff for breach of peace in violation of General Statutes § 53a-181.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 24; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. at ¶ 24 (noting that defendant makes this claim).) Officer Sebourne then “radioed and asked his dispatcher to contact the Monroe Police Department and request that they send officers to plaintiff's residence to check on the welfare of Ely's minor son, and take plaintiff into custody for Breach of Peace.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. at ¶ 25; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. At ¶ 25.) “Officer Sebourne did not observe, speak to or interact with plaintiff on September 8, 2015, and has never done so on any other date.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ...

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