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Hamlin v. McMahon

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 5, 2019



          Robert M. Spector United States Magistrate Judge

         On September 8, 2017, the plaintiff, incarcerated and pro se, commenced this Section 1983, excessive force action against the City of Waterbury, and Waterbury Police Officers James McMahon and Scott Stafford, in their official and individual capacities. (Doc. No. 1). The plaintiff contends that he was driving with his fiancée when he was hit from behind by a police cruiser at a high rate of speed, which caused him to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a utility pole. (Doc. No. 1 at 3). He alleges that while he was tending to his fiancée, who did not survive the crash, he was “struck from behind by the defendants” with a hard object and kicked in his mouth and face. (Doc. No. 1 at 3).

         On October 25, 2017, the Court (Meyer, J.) dismissed the City of Waterbury as a defendant and dismissed the plaintiff's claims against the defendant officers in their official capacities. (Doc. No. 8). Additionally, the Court (Meyer, J.) dismissed the plaintiff's “remaining federal law claims against Officers McMahon and Stafford and against the City of Waterbury . . . without prejudice to [the] plaintiff's filing of an amended complaint within 30 days if he believes that there are additional facts that could be alleged in good faith to sustain any of the claims that the Court has dismissed.” (Id.). The plaintiff did not file an amended complaint. As a result, the only claim that remains in this case is his Fourth Amendment claim of excessive force against the two individual defendants. (Doc. No. 8).

         On March 15, 2018, the Court (Meyer, J.) granted the defendants' motion for enlargement of time for discovery and to file dispositive motions, setting the dispositive motion deadline as August 21, 2018. (Doc. No. 20). Discovery continued, and on August 24, 2018, the Court (Meyer, J.) scheduled a pretrial scheduling conference for September 4, 2018, which was continued several times (see Doc. Nos. 30-36, 38-39), until it was held on January 2, 2019. During the call, the Court (Meyer, J.) denied defendants' “motion for leave to file a motion for summary judgment out of time[, ]” noting that “[i]f [the] defendants believe that [the] plaintiff's claim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, [512 U.S. 477 (1994), ] then [the] defendants may raise this defense at trial on the basis of a full evidentiary record.” (Id.). On the same day, the Court (Meyer, J.) granted the plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel (Doc. No. 43), [1] and counsel appeared for the plaintiff two weeks later. (Doc. No. 45).

         On February 5, 2019, the Court (Meyer, J.) held a telephonic conference with counsel, during which discovery was discussed, and jury selection was set for October 3, 2019. (Doc. No. 48). Six months later, the parties filed their Joint Notice of Consent and Reference of a Civil Action to a Magistrate Judge (Doc. No. 49), and the case was transferred to the undersigned. (Doc. No. 50, 52).

         The Court held a telephonic status conference on September 3, 2019, during which defense counsel sought permission to file a motion for summary judgment solely on the ground that the plaintiff's remaining excessive force claim was barred under Heck v. Humphrey. The plaintiff's counsel sought additional time to conduct discovery and objected to the filing of the summary judgment motion based on Heck at this stage of the case, given that the Court (Meyer, J.) had previously denied such permission. (Doc. No. 54 at 1). The Court granted the defendants leave to file a motion for summary judgment based on Heck, but also provided the plaintiff an opportunity to object both to the untimeliness of the filing and to the underlying relief requested. The Court extended the discovery deadline to October 9, 2019, and, on September 23, 2019, the defendants filed the pending Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 55)[2] in which they seek summary judgment on five grounds. Specifically, the defendants argue that there are no material facts in dispute to support a claim by the plaintiff that Officer Stafford and Officer McMahon used excessive force when the plaintiff's vehicle was allegedly struck from behind by the police cruiser operated by Officer McMahon, and that claim is barred under the Heck doctrine. Additionally, “[f]or purposes of completeness, ” the defendants seek summary judgment on the plaintiff's claim against Officer Stafford for failure to intervene in response to Officer McMahon's alleged act of excessive force in hitting the plaintiff's vehicle. The defendants argue that neither Officer McMahon nor Officer Stafford violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights, and thus, qualified immunity applies. The defendants argue that no cause of action exists under the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim that the defendants subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment since that claim attached only after conviction. Finally, the defendants seek summary judgment on the plaintiff's deliberate indifference claim as there are no facts which would show deliberate indifference on the part of either officer, and the plaintiff cannot demonstrate that treatment for his injuries was denied or delayed.

         On October 10, 2019, the plaintiff moved for, and the Court granted, an extension of time to file his response. (Doc. No. 57). At the same time, the Court postponed the trial to address the motion. Following a second motion for extension of time, the plaintiff filed his objection to the filing of a dispositive motion, as well as his substantive brief in opposition to the defendants' motion (Doc. Nos. 60-61; see Doc. No. 59), [3] in which he argues that the defendants wrongly seek summary judgment on multiple grounds when leave was granted only to address the applicability of Heck.

         For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 55) is DENIED.


         The standard for summary judgment is well established. The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if it demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014). "The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts that are material, and '[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude entry of summary judgment.'" Bouboulis v. Transp. Workers Union of Am., 442 F.3d 55, 59 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). If the moving party carries its burden, “the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Brown v. Eli Lily & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 358 (2d Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). This showing may be made by depositions, affidavits, interrogatory answers, admissions, or other exhibits in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “A plaintiff, however, may not rest of the allegations of this complaint as to matters that are controverted by a defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Knight v. Cerejo, 2015 WL 893421, at *3 (D. Conn. Mar. 2, 2015) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). Stated another way, the party opposing summary judgment ‘“cannot defeat the motion by relying on the allegations in his pleading, or on conclusory statements, or on mere assertions that affidavits supporting the motion are not credible.'” Welch-Rubin v. Sandals Corp., No. 3:03 CV 481, 2004 WL 2472280, at *1 (D. Conn. Oct. 20, 2004) (quoting Gottlieb v. Cty of Orange, 84 F.3d 511, 518 (2d Cir. 1996)). At the summary judgment stage of the proceeding, [p]laintiffs are required to present admissible evidence in support of their allegations; allegations alone, without evidence to back them up, are not sufficient.” Id. Thus, “before the evidence is left to the jury, there is a preliminary question for the judge, not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251 (citations and internal quotations omitted omitted) (emphasis in original).

         II. FACTS

         The following facts are accepted as true for purposes of the motion for summary judgment.[4]

         The plaintiff is currently incarcerated, serving a ten-year sentence following a written nolo plea to one count of Engaging the Police in Pursuit which results in Death, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-223(b), and Driving Under the Influence, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-227(a).

         The defendants, James McMahon and Scott Stafford, were officers in the Waterbury Police Department on June 13, 2015.

         On June 13, 2015, Officer McMahon along with Officer Stafford, were dispatched in a marked Waterbury Police patrol vehicle to a parking lot at 910 Wolcott Street in Waterbury. A large crowd was gathered, and when the defendant officers arrived, they joined other officers already on the scene. Officers McMahon and Stafford observed a blue Honda leaving the parking lot and proceeding south on Wolcott Street. The plaintiff was driving the Honda, and Jasmina Ortiz was a passenger. While the plaintiff was driving south on Wolcott Street, a police vehicle was tailgating his vehicle at a high rate of speed. When the plaintiff noticed the car behind him, which was about fifteen to twenty seconds before the crash, he did not realize it was a police vehicle. According to the plaintiff, the vehicle behind him “tapped one time” the rear of his own vehicle. In addition, he testified that ...

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