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Conquistador v. Zweibelson

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2019



          Kari A. Dooley United States District Judge

         Preliminary Statement

         The plaintiff, Jean K. Conquistador (“Conquistador”), is currently confined at Bridgeport Correctional Center. He brings this civil rights action against Hartford Police Officers John Zweibelson and Arber Gashi (the Defendants). He alleges a false arrest, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, in connection with his January 1, 2017 arrest on threatening charges.[1]Officers Gashi and Zweibelson moved for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

         Standard of Review

         When seeking summary judgment, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” based on it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party may satisfy its burden “by showing – that is pointing out to the district court – that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curium) (internal quotations and citations omitted). If the movant “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 non-moving party “must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Id.

         In reviewing the record, the court must “construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Gary Friedrich Enters., L.L.C. v. Marvel Characters, Inc., 716 F.3d 302, 312 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). The court may not, however, “make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. . . . [because] [c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Proctor v. LeClaire, 846 F.3d 597, 607–08 (2d Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). If there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable factual inference could be drawn in favor of the opposing party on the issue on which summary judgment is sought, however, summary judgment is improper. See Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).

         The court reads a pro se party’s papers liberally and interprets them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Despite this liberal interpretation, however, allegations unsupported by admissible evidence “do not create a material issue of fact” and cannot overcome a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000).


         Defendants Gashi and Zweibelson were employed as police officers with the City of Hartford Police Department on January 1, 2017. Defs’ L.R. 56(a)1 ¶ 1. On that date, they arrested Conquistador, a/k/a Jean Gonzalez, on the charge of threatening in the first degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-61a.[3] Id. ¶ 2. On January 3, 2017, in connection with the threatening charge, Conquistador appeared in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Hartford, G.A. 14, in State v. Gonzalez a/k/a Conquistador, Case No. H14H-CR17-0689321-S. Defs’ L.R. 56(a)1, Ex. B (Information & Court Docket). At that time, a judge appointed Assistant Public Defender Linda Babcock to represent Conquistador and released Conquistador on a promise to appear. Id.

         On January 26, 2017, at a subsequent hearing in the same case, Conquistador appeared again with Attorney Babcock. Id. ¶ 3 & Ex. B. At the hearing on January 26, 2017, Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Brodsky informed the presiding judge that he was seeking a six-month diversionary program and indicated that if Conquistador completed a mental health program for six months, the State of Connecticut would enter a nolle as to the pending threatening charge. Id. & Ex. C (Hr’g Tr. 1:16-23, Jan. 26, 2017). Also at the hearing, Conquistador consented to the arrangement and indicated that he was aware of what was expected of him. Ex. C (Hr’g Tr. 1:24-2:1). Six months later, on July 27, 2017, Conquistador appeared again with Attorney Babcock in the matter of State v. Gonzalez a/k/a Conquistador, Case No. H14H-CR17-0689321-S. Ex. D (Hr’g Tr. 1:8-14, July 27, 2017). At the July hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney’s Carl Ajello informed the presiding judge that he had received proof that Conquistador had completed six months of mental health treatment. In exchange for Conquistador’s completion of the mental health treatment, the State of Connecticut entered a nolle as to the charge of threatening in the first degree. Defs’ L.R. 56(a)1 ¶ 4 & Ex. D (Hr’g Tr.1:16-21).


         The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A Fourth Amendment claim brought against a law enforcement officer under section 1983 for false arrest is substantially identical to a claim for false arrest brought under state common law. See Jocks v. Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 134 (2d Cir. 2003). Indeed, state law defines the elements of a claim for false arrest asserted pursuant to section 1983. See Russo v. City of Bridgeport, 479 F.3d 196, 203 (2d Cir. 2007).

         False arrest “'is the unlawful restraint by one person of the physical liberty of another.’” Russo v. City of Bridgeport, 479 F.3d 196, 204 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Outlaw v. City of Meriden, 43 Conn.App. 387, 392, 682 A.2d 1112, 1115, cert. denied, 239 Conn. 946, 686 A.2d 122 (1996)). A plaintiff alleging either false arrest or malicious prosecution must establish, among other things, that the underlying criminal proceedings terminated in the plaintiff’s favor. Miles v. City of Hartford, 445 Fed.App’x 379, 383 (2d Cir. 2011)(holding that favorable termination is an element of a section 1983 claim sounding in false imprisonment or false arrest.). See also, Roesch v. Otarola, 980 F.2d 850, 853-54 (2d Cir. 1992)(same).

         The defendants argue that this issue is dispositive of Conquistador’s claims. They assert that the criminal proceedings involving the threatening charge for which they arrested Conquistador on January 1, 2017, did not terminate in Conquistador’s favor because the State of Connecticut nolled the charge in exchange for Conquistador’s completion of a six-month mental health treatment program. Conquistador contends that the charge did ...

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