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Reyes v. Galpin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 27, 2019

ROSEMARY REYES, et al, Plaintiffs,
OFFICER RICHARD GALPIN, et al, Defendants.


          Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.

         Rosemary Reyes, individually and in her capacity as executrix of the Estate of Daniel Reyes, brings suit against Defendants Officer Richard Galpin, Officer Keith Koval, Chief James Campbell, the Town of Thomaston, Connecticut, and the Thomaston Police Department for claims related to the death of her son, Daniel Reyes. Defendants move jointly to dismiss all counts of Plaintiffs complaint. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Facts Alleged

         Plaintiff alleges that her son, Daniel Reyes, "was a young man with a well-documented history of serious, chronic mental-health issues." (Compl. [Doc. # 1] ¶ 10.) Mr. Reyes was "well-known to the Thomaston Police Department, and had had numerous interactions with" that department. (Id.)

         On the night of June 26, 2016, Mr. Reyes "called 911 at approximately 7 p.m. and reported that lives were in danger at. . . the home he shared with his mother." (Id. ¶ 12.) "Following this call, Mr. Reyes gave his mother a kiss, told her he loved her, and exited the apartment. On his way out the door, he left a handwritten note on a table by the front door and picked up a black-handled kitchen knife." (Id.)

         The 911 dispatcher then called back and spoke to Ms. Reyes, who reported "that there was no problem at the residence." (Id. ¶ 13.) Patrol officers were then dispatched to Plaintiffs address "to perform a safety check" (Id.)

         Officer Keith Koval arrived first and "[h]aving observed the knife, . . . remained in his cruiser and made contact with [Daniel] Reyes, who challenged Koval to exit his cruiser and draw his weapon. Recognizing the danger of the situation and hoping to deescalate it, Koval declined to exit his vehicle and instead asked Mr. Reyes what was going on. Mr. Reyes responded that he would not talk to Koval until he exited his cruiser and drew his weapon. Koval responded by backing his cruiser up in order to create distance between himself and Reyes." (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Officer Richard Galpin arrived on the scene "[w]hile Koval was in the process of deescalating the situation with Mr. Reyes." (Id. ¶ 15.) "Galpin exited his cruiser, and then locked it with a key fob that he tucked into his belt. He then heard Officer Koval report over his radio that Reyes was armed with a knife. Galpin saw the knife in Mr. Reyes's right hand and drew his firearm while commanding Reyes to stop and put the knife down." (Id.) Officer Galpin attempted to retreat into his police cruiser, but he was "unable to open the doors he had locked because the key fob was tucked into his belt." (Id. ¶ 16.) Officer Galpin again commanded Mr. Reyes to "stop and drop the knife, but Reyes appeared not to comply and told [Officer Galpin] to shoot him." (Id.) Officer Galpin "circled" his vehicle and "retreat [ed] to the front passenger side while Reyes continued to follow him." (Id.) Then, "[w]hile standing at the front passenger door" of his police vehicle, "Galpin fired a single shot from his .45 caliber handgun and felled Reyes where he stood near the rear passenger side of the vehicle. Mr. Reyes died shortly after being shot." (Id.)

         Plaintiff Ms. Reyes was "inside her home while her son was slain" and was "helpless either to stop the shooting or to assist her son as he lay dying." (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff was "unable to say goodbye or that she loved him before [her son's] death." (Id.)

         II. Discussion

         Count One of the Complaint claims that the officers used unreasonable force in killing Mr. Reyes, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. 1983. (Compl. ¶¶ 18-26.) Count Two brings claims for failure to adequately train officers regarding the use of deadly force against individuals suspected of suffering from mental illness. (Id. ¶¶ 27-32.) Count Three brings claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act for failure to train regarding "how to make reasonable accommodations for persons suffering, or perceived to be suffering from, mental illness or disabilities when these persons are either arrested, taken into custody, or detained ...." (Id. ¶ 35.) Count Four alleges wrongful death under Connecticut state law. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) Count Six[1] brings claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress upon Ms. Reyes. (Id. ¶¶ 41-46.)

         Defendants move to dismiss all claims of Plaintiffs complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity on all counts alleged in the Complaint and that the actions of the officers were objectively reasonable, entitling them to dismissal of Plaintiffs Complaint in its entirety. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss [Doc. # 22-1] at 5, 7.)

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although detailed allegations are not required, a claim will be found facially plausible only if "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Id. at 678-79; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

         A. Claims against Officers Galpin and Koval

         The doctrine of qualified immunity shields state officials from civil suit and liability for civil damages in actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, so long "as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). Thus, in order for a plaintiff to overcome qualified immunity: (1) the facts alleged must make out a violation of a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that right must have been "clearly established" at the time of the defendants' alleged misconduct. See id.[2] The immunity "affords government officials 'breathing room' to make reasonable-even if sometimes mistaken-decisions." Distiso v. Cook, 691 F.3d 226, 240 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Messerschmidt v. Millender, 565 U.S. 535, 553 (2012)). "The qualified immunity standard is 'forgiving' and 'protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'" Grice v. McVeigh, 873 F.3d 162, 166 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Amove v. Novarro, 624 F.3d 522, 530 (2d Cir. 2010)).

         A clearly established right is one that is "sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right." Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012) (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted). While there need not be a case directly on point for a right to be clearly established, "existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011). The Supreme Court explained,

We have repeatedly told courts . . . not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality. The dispositive question is whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established. This inquiry must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.

Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "Although [courts] generally look to Supreme Court and Second Circuit precedent existing at the time of the alleged violation to determine whether the conduct violated a clearly established right, the absence of a decision by [the Second Circuit] or the Supreme Court directly addressing the right at issue will not preclude a finding that the law was clearly established so long as preexisting law clearly foreshadows a particular ruling on the issue." Burns v. Martuscello, 890 F.3d 77, 94 (2d Cir. 2018) (citations omitted).

         "Because qualified immunity is 'an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability... it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.'... Indeed, we have made clear that the 'driving force' behind creation of the qualified immunity doctrine was a desire to ensure that 'insubstantial claims' against government officials [will] be resolved prior to discovery.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231-232 (2009) (internal quotations omitted). The Supreme Court has therefore "repeatedly . . . stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991).

         However, the Second Circuit has noted that "motions to dismiss a plaintiffs complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) on the basis of an affirmative defense will generally face a difficult road." Garcia v. Does,779 F.3d 84, 96-97 (2d Cir. 2015). "Not only must the facts supporting the defense appear on the face of the complaint, but... the plaintiff is entitled to all reasonable inferences from the facts alleged, not only those that support his claim, but also those that defeat the immunity defense." McKenna v. Wright,386 F.3d 432, 436 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). "As a result of this standard of review, a defendant asserting a qualified immunity defense on a motion to dismiss faces a ...

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