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Field v. City of Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 9, 2019

GREGORY FIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HARTFORD et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Gregory Field has sued the City of Hartford, the mayor, and three city employees alleging that they violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution and Connecticut law. Field complains about two incidents when city employees entered his property. For the reasons set forth below, I will dismiss the complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Background

         Field has filed this pro se action against the City of Hartford as well as several city officials including the City's mayor (Luke Bronin), a city attorney (Lisa Silvestri), a senior project manager in the City's Blight Remediation Division (Gustavo Espinoza), and the director of the City's Blight Remediation Division (Laura Settlemyer).[1] He has sued the individual defendants in both their official and individual capacities. Doc. #1-1 at 6-7.

         The following facts as set forth in the operative complaint are accepted as true only for the purposes of this ruling. Field lives in a house on Nepaug Street in Hartford. Id. at 6. He suffers from bipolar disorder and experiences crippling depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Id. at 4.

         According to Field, the City and the individual defendants selectively enforced city ordinances against him because of his mental illness. Id. at 3, 8 (¶ 4). Although Field's complaint describes by way of background a long history of litigation with the City of Hartford, the focus of his claims are two incidents involving trespasses on his property that occurred in October 2016 and August 2017.

         The first incident

         The first of these incidents occurred on October 5, 2016, when a police officer named Faienza “entered the plaintiff's property, walked onto the grass to the house and in front of the plaintiff's car, and placed a Hartford Parking Authority street citation on the windshield which faced the house, with the word ‘zoning' circled and [a] $99 fine indicated.” Id. at 12 (¶ 13). The citation threatened to tow Field's car. Ibid. Field alleges that the citation was related to a municipal code provision that bans parking “in front of the ‘building line, '” and that the code was being selectively enforced against him because others who parked their cars in the same way were not ticketed. Ibid.

         Faienza also placed a citation notice on Field's front door with photographs of Field's vehicle and a note requesting contact information for the owner of the house. Field alleges that these photographs indicate that “Faienza had walked all over the property.” Id. at 14 (¶ 15). Field maintains that he “was clearly singled out and targeted for psychological bludgeoning, intimidation, and harassment, fueled by bigotry and prejudice based on his mental disabilities, and with the intent to prey upon those disabilities and emotional vulnerabilities.” Ibid. In his view, “[t]his citation was a clear 14th [A]mendment violation of the plaintiff's right to due process, clearly intended to circumvent due process, clear harassment and intimidation, and a demonstration of the defendants' propensity to make up their own rules and procedures as they see fit, regulations be damned.” Id. at 15 (¶ 15).

         Field has not named Faienza as a defendant in this case. But he alleges that Faienza was acting “at the direction” of defendant Gustavo Espinoza, a senior project manager in the City's Blight Remediation Division. Id. at 14-15 (¶ 15). According to Field, Espinoza “recruited officer Faienza to do his dirty work from behind a police badge and gun.” Id. at 13 (¶ 14).

         After several days, Field contacted Faienza's supervisor who “disclosed that Faienza had acted at the direction of defendant Espinoza” and that “Faienza was advised by the defendant attorney Lisa Silvestri of [C]orporation [C]ounsel, directly or through defendant Espinoza, that Faienza's entry onto the plaintiff's property to search, inspect, take photographs, issue the citation for the car on the property, and other official actions while on the property, was legal and not subject to 4th Amendment or other restrictions.” Id. at 16 (¶ 16).

         The complaint in turn references and attaches an excerpt of an email communication that Field alleges he was forwarded from Faienza's supervisor in which Silvestri stated that “[t]he officer can issue a ticket” for certain violations of the city's ordinances. Id. at 17 (¶ 18); see also Id. at 40 (copy of email). Apart from its statement about the legal authority of an officer to issue a ticket for certain violations, the email does not state that Silvestri purported to authorize any entry on Field's property.

         Field contacted the Corporation Counsel and Silvestri herself to determine whether Silvestri had “endorsed” the actions of Espinoza or Faienza but received no response. Id. at 19 (¶ 21). In light of the lack of response, “plaintiff logically presumed Silvestri to be complicit in conspiring to violate the civil rights of the plaintiff, endorsing unlawful acts on the part of defendant Espinoza and officer Faienza, and therefore did not want to be confronted or held accountable.” Id. at 20 (¶ 22).

         Field appealed the parking citation to the local court, and the citation was summarily dismissed on October 13, 2016. Ibid. (¶ 23). Nevertheless, having to defend the citation caused Field extreme anxiety. Ibid.

         The second incident

         The second incident took place on the afternoon of August 4, 2017, when Espinoza “apparently at the behest of defendant Laura Settlemyer, entered the plaintiff's property and affixed another crude and non standard notice to the front door of the property.” Id. at 20-21 (¶ 26). Espinoza used “duct tape which left a difficult to clean sticky residue in the summer sun.” Ibid.

         The notice advised Field that in accordance with a city-wide survey conducted by the Blight Remediation Team, his property was found to be in violation of the Anti-Blight and Property-Maintenance Ordinance and he may be subject to large fines and liens against his property. Id. at 21 (¶ 27). Field vehemently denies that his property had any of the alleged conditions giving rise to the violation. Id. at 22-24 (¶¶ 27-30).

         When Field confronted Settlemyer about the notice, “Settlemyer attempted to backpedal, ” and Field “told Settlemyer that she was giving a laudable Kellyanne Conway performance but couldn't so easily weasel out of ultimate responsibility given the physical evidence in hand.” Id. at 22 (¶ 27). Moreover, according to Field, there is no provision in the Hartford ordinances that allows for “a notice of violation[] to be affixed to the front door of any property in question in lieu of the mandated U.S. Mail process, ” and “[t]here is no provision that provides for or dictates unconditional warrantless entry onto private property.” Id. at 27 (¶ 33).

         As to the involvement of Mayor Bronin, the complaint alleges that “[a]s of October of 2017 Hartford mayor Luke Bronin had been duly informed about the activities of the defendants with regard to the plaintiff and the events described herein, and to this date has done nothing to acknowledge or address these issues.” Id. at 29 (¶ 36).

         Field alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment as well as his rights to due process and equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. He further claims defendants violated various sections of Article First of the Connecticut Constitution, and he alleges counts of state common law negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint. They argue that the individual defendants have not been properly served and that Field has not otherwise alleged facts that give rise to plausible grounds for relief. Doc. #24.[2]

         DISCUSSION

         A. ...


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