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Marchand v. Hartman

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 5, 2019



          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         When 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.

         In 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 record.

         As more 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.


         The following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) statements, supporting exhibits, and briefs, are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         On 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.

         According 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.[1] 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.

         According 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.[2] 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.

         The 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, 170B
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:
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.
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 days.

         DECISION RENDERED THIS 30 day of January, 2014

         Commissioner of Motor Vehicles By: Quinn, James Hearing Officer

         Marchand 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 see that.

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 this --
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 ¶ 11.

         Hartman 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 ¶ 12.

         After 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.

         On 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 ¶ 19.

         Marchand's 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 Solak?
A. Huh-uh.
Q. They just reported this to you ...

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