United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
you are arrested during a traffic stop for what - according
to the arresting officer's query of computerized records
of the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) - is
a suspended driver's license, and you try to show the
officer a letter on DMV letterhead stating that your license
was recently reinstated, can the officer refuse to look at
the letter and arrest you on the basis of the computerized
DMV records alone? The answer, under clear Second Circuit
precedent, is no. The letter is “plainly
exculpatory” evidence and ignoring such evidence when
it is immediately available exposes the officer to liability
for false arrest and false imprisonment. This rule requires
me to deny summary judgment as to the false arrest and false
imprisonment claims brought by the Plaintiff, Gregg Marchand
(“Marchand”), because, under his version of
events, Defendant Officer Amy Hartman (“Hartman”)
refused to look at a DMV letter reinstating his license after
she pulled him over and proceeded to arrest him for driving
with a suspended license based solely on her computer inquiry
to the DMV.
addition, there is a genuine dispute of material fact
regarding the lawfulness of the initial motor vehicle stop
that prevents summary judgment as to Marchand's unlawful
seizure claim. But Marchand's remaining claims - for
excessive detention and for supervisory liability against
Defendant Officer Matthew Solak (“Solak, ”
together with Hartman, “the Defendants”) - fail
as a matter of law based on the undisputed evidence in the
fully explained below, I DENY summary judgment to Hartman on
the unlawful seizure, false arrest, and false imprisonment
claims, GRANT summary judgment to Hartman on the excessive
detention claim, and GRANT summary judgment to Solak.
following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local
Rule 56(a) statements, supporting exhibits, and briefs, are
undisputed unless otherwise indicated.
February 1, 2014, Marchand and an acquaintance drove to the
Willimantic Police Department (“WPD”) in
Marchand's parents' car to retrieve certain documents
that Marchand had requested via a Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) request. ECF No. 52-1 at ¶ 31. At
the time, he was a plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit
against a Willimantic police officer, the City of
Willimantic, and the Town of Windham. Id. at ¶
22. After picking up the documents he had requested from the
WPD, Marchand began driving home. Id. at
¶¶ 31, 33. Shortly after he left the police
department, Hartman pulled him over. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶
4; ECF No. 52-1 at ¶ 4. The parties disagree about the
events surrounding the stop.
to Hartman, she was on routine patrol when she saw
Marchand's car and conducted a query on its license plate
on the mobile data terminal (“MDT”) in her
cruiser, which allowed her to access computerized DMV
records. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶¶ 1-2. The query
indicated that the car's registration had expired two and
a half months earlier. Id. at ¶ 3. According to
Defendants, there is no record of this query; Solak testified
that the system retains records of queries through the MDTs
in police cruisers only for up to one year. ECF No. 55 at
43-45. Upon seeing the results of her query, Hartman
initiated the motor vehicle stop. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶ 4.
After telling Marchand he had been pulled over because of an
expired registration, and asking for his driver's
license, she conducted a DMV query on his license through
dispatch. Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. The data on her
terminal indicated that DMV records showed that
Marchand's license was suspended as of September 26,
2013, over three months earlier. Id. at ¶ 5.
to Marchand, the stop was improper because Hartman initiated
it without first running his license plate. ECF No. 52-1 at
¶¶ 2, 38. He notes that just before he was pulled
over, he was at the WPD to pick up documents he had requested
via a FOIA request and that WPD officers saw him there.
Id. at ¶¶ 31-33. He further notes that the
records of DMV computer queries that the Defendants produced
in discovery show an initial query on “858Bad, ”
which is not the license plate on the vehicle Marchand was
driving, instead of “852Bad, ” which is the
correct plate. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3, 38. He
asserts that these records show that it was only after he was
pulled over based on the inquiry with the incorrect plate
that Hartman ran a computer inquiry on Marchand's
driver's license and then, finally, an inquiry on the
vehicle using the correct plate. Id. at ¶¶
3, 38-39, 41, 43. He also suggests that, based on the
proximity of his trip to WPD to pick up the documents and the
pendency of his civil rights lawsuit against another WPD
officer, Hartman pulled him over for improper reasons. ECF
No. 52 at 9. Defendants state that the records of DMV queries
produced do not reflect Hartman's initial query, of
which, Solak testified, there is no record, but show only the
queries made through dispatch after she pulled Marchand over.
ECF No. 55 at 2-4.
parties also disagree about what happened during the motor
vehicle stop. Hartman states that she asked for
Marchand's driver's license, registration, and
insurance. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶ 4. She explains that when
Marchand asked why he had been pulled over, she told him that
it was because of the expired registration; when he asked why
she ran his plate, she told him that random checks were
routine. Id. The parties agree that at some point
during the stop, Hartman conducted a query on Marchand's
license and that the electronic DMV information at that time
showed that his license had been suspended as of September
26, 2013. Id. at ¶ 5; ECF No. 52-1 at ¶ 5.
Marchand states that after Hartman saw the query results
indicating that his license was suspended, he told her that
his license had been reinstated and that he had a restoration
letter from the DMV and he offered to show it to her. ECF No.
52-1 at ¶¶ 5, 41-42. The letter explained that
Marchand's license was restored after an administrative
hearing held at the DMV on January 30, 2014-two days before
Hartman pulled him over. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶ 11; ECF No.
52-1 at ¶¶ 6, 11, 25; ECF No. 51-7 at 1-2 (Exhibit
G). The letter is dated January 31, 2014, bears the seal of
the State of Connecticut, and is on DMV letterhead. ECF No.
51-7 at 1-2 (Exhibit G). It also bears a case No. and states
that it is a decision following a hearing. Id. I
have reproduced an image of the letter here:
Re: Hearing, Thursday, January 30, 2014, WETHERSFIELD DMV,
Refusing to take a Chemical Alcohol Test Under Connecticut
General Statutes Section 14-22 7b Dear GREGG A MARCHAND As a
result of a hearing held as above indicated, the following
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are hereby made:
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW:
1. The operator was placed under arrest.
2. The operator refused to submit to such test or analysis.
3. Said person was operating the motor vehicle.
4. The police officer did not have probable cause to arrest
the above-named operator for a violation specified in Section
(b) of C.G.S. 14-227b.
Subordinate Findings, if any:
The record reveals conflicting evidence regarding the
circumstances of the Respondent's arrest. The record also
shows that the Respondent made a timely request for
preservation of video evidence to support his defense. The
video that was preserved was without audio, and not
conclusive on issue of probable cause. No. field tests were
performed and Respondent repeatedly denied drinking.
BASED UPON THE ABOVE, IT IS ORDERED:
The operator's Connecticut license or non-resident
operating privilege is hereby: RESTORED If your license is
not already suspended or subject to suspension for another
reason, you will receive a Restoration Notice within 7-10
RENDERED THIS 30 day of January, 2014
of Motor Vehicles By: Quinn, James Hearing Officer
states that Hartman refused to look at the letter. ECF No.
52-1 at ¶¶ 41-42. During his deposition, he
explained the interaction as follows:
A. So she said basically: You just gave me a Motor Vehicle
Department paper saying your car is registered and it's
not registered. And now you're going to give me a paper -
another letter from the Motor Vehicle Department saying that
your license is reinstated? She goes no, I don't want to
ECF No. 52-4 at 4.
A. But I know I offered her the letter, and she said she
wasn't - she didn't want to look at it because I
already handed her motor vehicle paperwork that wasn't
true, so what's - she didn't want - she - she
didn't want to waste her time basically to look at that
one because why - why would that be true and this would not.
Q. So after - after she rejected the paperwork you offered to
show her what happened next?
A. Then another officer came and I got arrested.
ECF No. 52-4 at 5.
A. Well, the only thing I didn't like was that she
didn't want to look at the other piece of paper that was
Q. Uh-huh. Bear with me a minute.
A. - based on her assumption that the registration was not
valid. So, therefore, she's not going to take any other
documentation from Motor Vehicle.
ECF No. 51-4 at 9. Hartman does not dispute the existence of
the restoration letter, but she states that Marchand did not
show her, or attempt to show her, the letter during the motor
vehicle stop. ECF No. 49 at ¶ 2; ECF No. 51-1 at ¶
asserts that information concerning the restoration of the
suspended license was not available on the DMV database when
she consulted it during the stop, and Marchand does not
dispute this. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶ 11; ECF No. 52-1 at
¶ 11. Defendants assert that “[a]ny discrepancies
they have ever encountered [in the DMV database] were caused
by operator error on the DMV side, consisting of the failure
to enter correct information or the failure to remove
incorrect or outdated information.” ECF No. 51-1 at
¶ 12. And during his deposition, Officer Solak agreed
with Marchand's counsel that “there was a period of
time where the Department of Motor Vehicles was changing over
their electronic systems.” ECF No. 52-3 at 10. Marchand
also asserts that the WPD “previously encountered
discrepancies due to DMV errors.” ECF No. 52-1 at
determining that Marchand's license was suspended based
on the computer query, Hartman placed Marchand in custody,
had his car towed, and took him to police headquarters where
he was charged with operating a motor vehicle with a
suspended license. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶ 6; ECF No. 52-1 at
¶ 6. Marchand states that he was placed in a jail cell
and held for seven hours. ECF No. 52-1 at ¶¶ 6, 66,
67. Defendants state that there is no record disclosing the
duration of Marchand's detention. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶
13. Marchand notes that the time of release is supposed to be
documented on the criminal appearance bond and that it was
not documented in this case. ECF No. 52-1 at ¶¶ 13,
50; ECF No. 52-6 at 2 (Exhibit 5); ECF No. 52-3 at 16
(Exhibit 2). Solak states that a person arrested on a
misdemeanor motor vehicle violation is detained for as long
as it takes for the arresting officer to process the
detainee, book him, prepare the incident report, and present
him with a criminal appearance bond and summons, and that
such activities can extend the length of detention up to
several hours. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶ 14. Marchand asserts
that typically someone arrested for operating with a
suspended license would not be jailed at all and would be
processed and released in 20-40 minutes. ECF No. 52-1 at
¶¶ 14, 63, 65.
February 1, 2014, the date of Marchand's arrest and
detention, Solak was in charge at the WPD. ECF No. 51-1 at
¶ 9; ECF No. 52-1 at ¶ 9. In addition to Solak,
there were three officers working from 3pm to 11pm and two
additional officers who began working at 7pm. ECF No. 51-1 at
¶ 16. Between 3pm and 11pm, in addition to
Marchand's arrest and processing, the officers responded
to twenty-five calls for service, including eleven motor
vehicle stops, one traffic accident, one missing person, and
three other custodial arrests. Id. at ¶ 17.
Hartman responded to a call for service involving a heroin
overdose less than two hours after she arrested Marchand.
Id. at ¶ 18. This call took approximately one
hour. Id. However, she prepared her incident report
for Marchand's arrest before responding to that call. ECF
No. 52-1 at ¶ 49. The Defendants state that this shift
was a moderately busy evening. ECF No. 51-1 at ¶ 19.
Marchand does not dispute this characterization, but denies
that it was too busy to process and release him, and asserts
that it was not necessary to confine him. ECF No. 52-1 at
family went to the police department with a copy of the
restoration letter. ECF No. 52-1 at ¶ 8. In his
deposition testimony, Marchand explained that even though his
mother brought the letter to the police station, she did not
show the letter to Solak at that time:
A. . . . Solak was at the desk and he wanted to see it and
she wouldn't let him see it - see the letter.
Q. He wouldn't - she would not let see Sergeant Solak -
A. No. Obviously, she probably felt a little - but she
didn't trust him obviously. I don't know why she
didn't show it to him but she didn't show it to him.
. . .
Q. So your brother and mother come down. They've got the
paperwork but they don't show it to Sergeant Solak?
A. Right. He wanted to see it.
Q. Okay. You didn't see the encounter with Sergeant
Q. They just reported this to you ...