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Ravalese v. Town of East Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 14, 2019

HARRY RAVALESE, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF EAST HARTFORD, et al., Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Victor A. Bolden, United States District Judge.

         On February 15, 2019, the Town of East Hartford (“East Hartford”), Kathryn Weaver, John and Jane Doe, and Scott Sansom (collectively, “Defendants”) moved for partial summary judgment as to a number of the claims brought by Harry Ravalese (“Plaintiff”) in this civil rights action. Defendants' Partial Motion for Summary Judgment, dated Feb. 15, 2019 (“Defs.' Mot.”), ECF No. 80; Memorandum of Law in Support of Defs.' Mot., dated Feb. 15, 2019 (“Defs.' Mem.”), ECF No. 80-1; Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement of Material Facts, dated Feb. 15, 2019 (“Defs.' SMF”), ECF No. 80-2.

         On April 22, 2019, Mr. Ravalese opposed the motion. Plaintiff's Opposition to Defs.' Mot., dated Apr. 22, 2019 (“Pl.'s Opp.”), ECF No. 87; Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement, dated Apr. 22, 2019 (“Pl.'s SMF”), ECF No. 87-1.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment.

         The Court grants summary judgment to Defendants as to the following of Plaintiff's claims: (1) all claims against Jane Doe; (2) the claim for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) the claim of false arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) the Monell claim against East Hartford and Chief Sansom; (5) the official capacity claims against Officer Weaver, John Doe, and Chief Sansom, which are duplicative of the Monell claim; (6) the claims of negligence arising from the officers' investigation and arrest of Plaintiff only; (7) the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from the officers' investigation and arrest only; (8) the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress arising from the officers' investigation and arrest only; (9) the claim of recklessness arising from the officers' investigation and arrest only; (10) the claims under Article I, §§ 8 and 20 of the Connecticut Constitution; and (11) the claims of municipal liability under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n that are based on the claims of negligence arising from the officers' investigation and arrest only.

         The Court denies Defendants' motion with respect to the following claims: (1) the claim of municipal liability under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n, based on the claim of negligence arising from the officers' use of excessive force; and (2) the claim of indemnification under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-465, based on the claim of negligence arising from the officers' use of excessive force.

         The Court reserves decision as to summary judgment on all remaining claims against John Doe, following a properly-filed motion to amend the Complaint and any subsequent briefing.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations[1]

         On October 4, 2014, at or about 11:30 p.m. at night, an unidentified person called 911 and reported an elderly woman in distress at the House of Flowers, located at 456 Main Street in East Hartford, Connecticut. Defs.' SMF ¶ 3; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 3.

         Mr. Ravalese and his brother, Michael Ravalese, own the House of Flowers (also referred to as the “Flower Shop”), which sits on a large parcel owned by several members of their family. Defs.' SMF ¶ 2; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 2. At the time, Mr. Ravalese and his mother, Carmelina Ravalese (93 years old at the time), lived together in a single-family residence, also located on the parcel at 456 ½ Main Street. Id. There is also another finished structure on the parcel known as “the barn, ” which is used for recreational activities. Id.

         The caller reported “that she observed an elderly woman sitting by herself in an armchair within the Flower Shop screaming and crying.” Defs.' SMF ¶ 3; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 3.

         Shortly after the call, East Hartford Police Officer Kathryn Weaver arrived at the property. Defs.' SMF ¶ 4; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 4. Sometime after that, East Hartford Police Officer Richard Hill arrived on the scene. Defs.' SMF ¶ 5; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 5.

         What happened next is in dispute.

         Mr. Ravalese alleges that he was inside his residence with his nephew and a friend when he heard a knock on the door. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. When he opened the door, Officer Weaver allegedly “without meaningful investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding her accusations, falsely accused [him] of abusing his 93 year old mother, who was visiting his sister next door.” Id. ¶ 17. Mr. Ravalese “denied the allegations” and “asked Officer Weaver what she was talking about, ” telling her “that she was making a terrible mistake, that she was on private property, and to leave.” Defs.' SMF ¶ 26; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 26.

         Officer Weaver allegedly told Mr. Ravalese that she was going to arrest him. Pl.'s SMF at 11, ¶ 12 (“ . . . she accused him of ‘abusing an elderly woman and . . . lock[ing] her in a flower shop' and then said twice, ‘I'm taking you down.'”) (citing deposition transcripts). Officer Weaver then allegedly instructed him “to turn around, and then grabbed him and proceed[ed] to forcibl[y] bring him to the ground by tripping and pushing him.” Id. at 12, ¶ 17. At that point, she allegedly said “something to the effect of, ‘[w]ell, mistakes happen.'” Id. (citing Plaintiff's deposition). Even though he allegedly complied with her order to turn around, Officer Weaver nevertheless “forcibly threw [him] to the ground, jumped on his back with her knees and twisted his arms forcefully behind him to apply handcuffs.” Compl. ¶ 20.

         Officer Weaver then allegedly charged Mr. Ravalese with “Breach of Peace” and took him to the East Hartford Police Station. Id. ¶ 22. When he was “later released on bond, ” he allegedly “was told not to speak with his mother, despite his caretaking role with her and his continued concern for her wellbeing.” Id. ¶ 23.

         Defendants allege that Officer Weaver had additional conversations before speaking with Mr. Ravalese. Specifically, Defendants allege that when Officer Weaver arrived at the property she did not observe an elderly woman, but did see “lights on inside the Flower Shop, despite the late hour.” Defs.' SMF ¶ 6. She then allegedly knocked on the door of the House of Flowers and spoke with Mr. Ravalese's brother, Michael Ravalese. Id. ¶¶ 7-9. Mr. Ravalese does not dispute that Officer Weaver spoke with his brother. Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 7-8.

         Michael Ravalese allegedly reported that his mother “was crying because she was upset with plaintiff, ” because Plaintiff had arrived two hours late to pick her up. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Because of his late arrival, Ms. Ravalese allegedly refused to leave with Harry Ravalese. Id. ¶ 11. Michael Ravalese allegedly reported that Harry Ravalese had called him and “banged on the door of the establishment numerous times, ” and was “hootin' and hollerin'” outside. Id. ¶ 12.

         Officer Weaver allegedly attempted to corroborate this report by speaking with Ms. Ravalese, but found that she spoke only limited English. Nevertheless, Ms. Ravalese allegedly repeated the words “No, Harry” stated “I stay here.” Id. ¶¶ 15-16. She also allegedly “began speaking quickly in Italian” and made “a ‘shooing' motion by pushing her hands and/or arms away from her body with great force and repetition.” Id. ¶ 17. Michael Ravalese allegedly translated these words and actions for Officer Weaver, telling her that Ms. Ravalese “wanted to stay with Michael at the Flower Shop and did not want plaintiff around.” Id. ¶ 18. Michael Ravalese then allegedly informed Officer Weaver that Harry Ravalese “was in a detached structure located behind the Flower Shop, the barn, and asked that the officer request that plaintiff not return to the Flower Shop for the remainder of the evening.” Id. ¶ 20.

         It is undisputed that the East Hartford police arrested Harry Ravalese and charged him with Breach of Peace in the Second Degree. Defs.' SMF ¶ 28; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 28.

         B. Procedural History

         On September 30, 2016, Harry Ravalese sued the Town of East Hartford, East Hartford Police Chief Scott Sansom (in both his individual and official capacity), East Hartford Police Officer Kate Weaver (in both her individual and official capacity), East Hartford Police Sergeant Joseph Ficacelli (in both his individual and official capacity), and John Doe and Jane Doe, two unidentified East Hartford Police Officers (in both their individual and official capacity), alleging causes of action for violations of his constitutional rights under both the United States and Connecticut Constitutions. Complaint, dated Sept. 30, 2016 (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1. Mr. Ravalese also sued all of the named Defendants for violations under Connecticut law. Id.

         On November 22, 2016, all named Defendants answered, denying all substantive allegations of liability and asserting multiple affirmative defenses. Answer, dated Nov. 22, 2016, ECF No. 30.

         On December 13, 2016, the Court held a telephonic discovery conference and, shortly thereafter, issued an initial scheduling order setting pre-trial deadlines, with discovery to close by April 6, 2018. Scheduling Order, dated Dec. 13, 2016, ECF No. 35.

         On August 16, 2017, Mr. Ravalese moved to dismiss Sergeant Ficacelli from the action. Motion to Withdraw Plaintiff's Complaint as to Defendant Sergeant Joseph Ficacelli, dated Aug. 16, 2017, ECF No. 42. On August 17, 2017, the Court granted that motion, dismissing all claims against Sergeant Ficacelli. Order, dated Aug. 17, 2017, ECF No. 43.

         On September 27, 2017, the Town of East Hartford, Chief Scott Sansom, Officer Kate Weaver, John Doe, and Jane Doe (hereafter, “Defendants”) moved for leave to file an amended Answer and affirmative defenses. Motion for Leave to File Answer and Amended Affirmative Defenses, dated Sept. 27, 2017, ECF No. 51.

         On October 3, 2017, the Court granted that motion. See Minute Entry, dated Oct. 3, 2017, ECF No. 54.

         On November 29, 2018-after the case had been delayed at the request of the parties- the Court held a telephonic scheduling conference and entered a schedule for briefing dispositive motions, Minute Entry, dated Nov. 29, 2018, ECF No. 73; Amended Scheduling Order, dated Nov. 29, 2018, ECF No. 74.

         On February 15, 2019, Defendants moved for partial summary judgment. See Defs.' Mot. Specifically, Defendants moved for summary judgment as to: (1) all claims against John Doe and Jane Doe; (2) all official capacity claims against Ms. Weaver, John Doe, Jane Doe, and Scott Sansom; (3) all claims under § 1983 for false arrest and malicious prosecution; (4) all state law claims to the extent that they are predicated upon plaintiff's arrest and the underlying investigation; (5) the Monell claim against the Town of East Hartford; and (6) the state law actions under Connecticut General Statutes §§ 52-557 and 7-465. See Defs.' Mem. at 34.

         According to Defendants, the only claims that would remain if their motion were granted in full would be: (1) claims for excessive force against Ms. Weaver under § 1983 and the Connecticut Constitution; (2) common law assault and battery claims against Ms. Weaver; (3) a negligence claim against Ms. Weaver arising from her alleged use of excessive force; (4) a recklessness claim against Ms. Weaver; (5) intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims against Ms. Weaver arising from her alleged use of excessive force; and (6) a claim under Connecticut General Statute § 52-557n against the Town of East Hartford arising from Ms. Weaver's alleged use of excessive force. Id.

         On April 22, 2019, Mr. Ravalese opposed the motion. See Pl.'s Opp.

         On May 10, 2019, Defendants filed a reply to Mr. Ravalese's opposition. Reply in Support of Defs.' Mot., dated May 10, 2019 (“Reply”), ECF No. 88.

         On May 30, 2019, the Court held oral argument and reserved decision. Minute Entry, dated May 30, 2019, ECF No. 89.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A court will grant a motion for summary judgment if the record shows no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The non-moving party may defeat the motion by producing sufficient specific facts to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 247-48.

         “[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material.” Id. at 248. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id.; see Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996) (“[M]ateriality runs to whether the dispute matters, i.e., whether it concerns facts that can affect the outcome under the applicable substantive law.”) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         “The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Id. at 250. When a motion for summary judgment is supported by documentary evidence and sworn affidavits and “demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ” the nonmoving party must do more than vaguely assert the existence of some unspecified disputed material facts or “rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id. “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (citing Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 87 (1967); First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290 (1968)).

         A court must view any inferences drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion. Dufort v. City of N.Y., 874 F.3d 338, 343 (2d Cir. 2017). A court will not draw an inference of a genuine dispute of material fact from conclusory allegations or denials, Brown v. Eli Lilly & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 358 (2d Cir. 2011), and will grant summary judgment only “if, under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Claims Against John Doe and Jane Doe

         Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims that were brought against John Doe and Jane Doe, as Mr. Ravalese never sought to identify either of these defendants or serve them with process as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). “On this basis alone, ” Defendants argue, “the Doe defendants should be dismissed from the case.” Defs.' Mem. at 8 (citing Minney v. Kradas, No. 3:01-cv-1543 (EBB), 2004 WL 725330, at *3 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2004); Cammick v. City of N.Y., No. 96 Civ. 4374 (RPP), 1998 WL 796452, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 17, 1998)).

         Mr. Ravalese claims that John Doe has been identified as Officer Richard Hill, “as he was one of the officers at the scene during the time of the incident.” Pl.'s Opp. at 8. Accordingly, “plaintiff seeks this Honorable Court's leave, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, to substitute him as a party-defendant for his failure to intervene to prevent the constitutional violations.” Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 15).

         Defendants object that this request has not been properly filed as a motion and therefore should not be granted. Defs.' Reply at 5 n.1. Defendants further argue that substantively this amendment is improper because the statute of limitations on a claim against Mr. Hill may have run. Id.

         The Court agrees.

         Absent a proper motion setting forth Mr. Ravalese's basis for amending the Complaint and explaining why leave to amend should be granted under the governing legal standard- particularly in light of the fact that discovery ended months ago without any amendment having been filed-the Court will not grant this amendment. See Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 517 (2d Cir. 2013) (“Generally, ‘“John Doe” pleadings cannot be used to circumvent statutes of limitations because replacing a “John Doe” with a named party in effect constitutes a change in the party sued.' John Doe substitutions, then, ‘may only be accomplished when all of the specifications of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c) are met.'”) (quoting Aslanidis v. U.S. Lines, Inc., 7 F.3d 1067, 1075 (2d Cir. 1993)); see also Krupski v. Costa Crociere S. p. A., 560 U.S. 538, 541 (2010) (“Where an amended pleading changes a party or a party's name, [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)] requires, among other things, that ‘the party to be brought in by amendment . . . knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity.'”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C)).

         The Court thus will reserve decision as to summary judgment on all remaining claims against John Doe, until after it has considered a properly filed motion to amend, which must be filed no later than June 28, 2019. That motion should address the applicable legal standards under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(a) and 15(c), and comply with the requirements of this Court's Local Rules. See D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 7(f) (stating requirements for filing motion to amend pleadings in this District).

         Failure to timely file such a motion may be grounds for denying such an amendment in the future, and may result in the Court granting summary judgment and dismissing the claims against John Doe for failure to identify and serve John Doe with process as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). See Burch v. Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc., 551 F.3d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (“While Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) states that leave to amend should be granted “when justice so requires, ” motions to amend should generally be denied in instances of futility, undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, or undue prejudice to the non-moving party.”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a); citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)); Minney, 2004 WL 725330, at *3 (“John Doe 1 and Jane Doe 1 have not yet been identified nor have they been served with process. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted as to any claims against those defendants under Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m).”) (citation omitted); see also Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1892 (2016) (“[D]istrict courts have the inherent authority to manage their dockets and courtrooms with a view toward the efficient and expedient resolution of cases.”).

         Because Mr. Ravalese does not object to dismissing Jane Doe, however, the Court grants summary judgment to Defendants as to all claims against her, and will dismiss her as a defendant in this action.

         B. Malicious Prosecution

         A plaintiff seeking to maintain a claim for malicious prosecution under § 1983 must show: (1) a seizure or other perversion of proper legal procedures implicating plaintiff's personal liberty and privacy interests under the Fourth Amendment; and (2) that criminal proceedings were initiated or continued against plaintiff, with malice and without probable cause, and were terminated in his or her favor. Lanning v. City of Glen Falls, 908 F.3d 19, 24 (2d Cir. 2018). There must be an “affirmative indication of innocence” demonstrating that the proceedings were terminated in his or her favor. Id. at 28 (“When a person has been arrested and indicted, absent an affirmative indication that the person is innocent of the offense charged, the government's failure to proceed does not necessarily ‘impl[y] a lack of reasonable grounds for the prosecution.'”) (quoting Conway v. Vill. of Mount Kisco, 750 F.2d 205, 215 (2d Cir. 1984).

         Defendants argue that Mr. Ravalese cannot point to an “affirmative indication of innocence” and that his claim for malicious prosecution ...


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