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Cox v. Dawson

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2020




         This two-count 42 U.S.C § 1983 action arises from an unscheduled inspection of Plaintiff Stephanie Cox's public housing unit by a Housing Authority of New Haven contractor that resulted in the warrantless arrest of Plaintiff Matthew Brooks. In Count One, Plaintiff Cox brings an unlawful search claim against Marilyn Dawson, a manager for the Housing Authority of New Haven. In Count Two, Plaintiff Brooks asserts a false arrest claim against Officer Edward K. Dunford. Defendants Dawson and Dunford now independently move for summary judgment.

         For the reasons that follow, Defendant Dawson's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. # 27] as to Count One is denied, and Defendant Dunford's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. # 30] as to Count Two is granted.

         I. Background

         a. Parties

         Plaintiff Stephanie Cox is a tenant in a public housing unit operated by the Housing Authority of the City of New Haven ("HANH"). (Dawson and Cox L.R. Stmts. [Docs. ## 29, 34-1] ¶ 3.) During the relevant time period, Ms. Cox lived in an apartment at 82 South Genesee Street in New Haven, Connecticut with her daughter A.C., a minor child born in 2009. (Ex. 1 (Lease) to Dawson L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 29-1] at 1.) She was employed at an office in North Haven, Connecticut. (Dunford and Brooks L.R. Stmts. [Docs. ## 31, 33-1] ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff Matthew Brooks is married to Ms. Cox, and he is the stepfather to A.C. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 5.) During the relevant time period, Mr. Brooks did not reside at 82 South Genesee Street, because "there[] [were] certain issues that he was taking care of as far as his background to get accepted on the lease." (Ex. 1 (Cox Dep.) to Dunford L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 31] at 9.) However, Mr. Brooks was a frequent guest at 82 South Genesee Street, and he would come to the apartment to babysit A.C. while Ms. Cox was at work. (Dunford and Brooks L.R. Stmts. ¶¶ 8-11, 13, 14.)

         Defendant Marilyn Dawson is a property manager for HANH, a provider of public housing in the City of New Haven. (Dawson and Cox L.R. Stmts. ¶ 1.)

         Defendant Edward K. Dunford is a police officer with New Haven's Department of Police Service. (Dunford and Brooks L.R. Stmts. ¶ 20.)

         b. HANH Inspection of Ms. Cox's Apartment

         The South Genesee HANH development complex, where Ms. Cox resided, was subject to United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") regulations for public housing facilities. (Lease at 10.) Every year, the development was required by HUD to undergo a "Uniform Physical Conditions Standard" inspection for damage and hazards. (Ex. 2 (Inspection Notice) to Dawson L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 29-3] at 1.) In anticipation of these federally mandated inspections, HANH maintenance staff and inspectors conducted mandatory "pre-inspections" to assess the condition of individual units and perform work where necessary. (Id.)

         Ms. Cox's lease with HANH makes multiple references to housing inspections. Section 8(D) explains that "HUD representatives or local government officials may review HANH operations and as a part of their monitoring may inspect a sampling of HANH's units." (Lease at 9.) Section 8(F) provides that "HANH will provide 48-hour notice of inspection to Tenant(s) for non-emergency inspections." (Id.) Relatedly, at Section 6(R), the lease specifies that a tenant must "[p]ermit entry into the Unit by HANH staff for inspection and maintenance" and that "[e]xcept in the case of emergencies, for which HANH has the right of immediate access, HANH will give reasonable advance notice and entry will be during reasonable times." (Id. at 6.)

         In July 2017, HANH notified tenants of the annual inspections. (Dawson and Cox L.R. Stmts. ¶¶ 9, 10.) HANH hand-delivered a flyer to Ms. Cox, which advised that "all housing authority apartments located in the South Genes [e]e complex" would undergo their mandatory pre-inspections over the next two months. (Id.) The HANH inspection notice stated that "housing authority employees will be entering the apartment units with inspectors" to prepare for the annual HUD visit and that "inspections will take place in July and August of 2017 between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM." (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.) The notice also stated that "[o]ver the course of several days, HANH staff will be inspecting the entire development so arrival times may vary." (Inspection Notice at 1.)

         After receiving this inspection notice between July 23 and 27, 2017, (Cox Interrogatory [Doc. # 34-3] at 1), Ms. Cox made a telephone call on July 31, 2017, to "the housing authority and tried to specially schedule her inspection," (Dawson and Cox L.R. Stmts. 14). Ms. Cox recalls that she spoke directly with Ms. Dawson and "inform[ed] her that without exactly 48 hours notice that [Ms. Cox] do[es] not give anyone permission to enter [her] apartment." (Cox L.R. Stmt. § B ¶ 2.) Ms. Dawson avers that it was a different HANH employee who spoke with Ms. Cox and instructed her that "the specific time of each inspection could not be stated in advance because of the fact that each unit was going to be inspected." (Ex. 3 (Dawson Aff.) to Dawson and Cox L.R. Stmts. [Doc. # 29-3] ¶ 4.)

         On August 11, 2017, a HANH contractor, Stanley Worrell, [1] entered Ms. Cox's apartment to perform a "pre-inspection" inspection. (Dawson and Cox L.R. Stmts. ¶¶ 9, 10.) He did so in the late morning, while Ms. Cox was at work. (Dunford and Brooks L.R. Stmts. ¶¶ 22, 29.) After entering, Mr. Worrell found Ms. Cox's eight-year-old daughter A.C. home "alone in the unit" and "hiding under the covers of the bed in the main bedroom." (Id. ¶ 25.)

         Ms. Dawson avers that she was not working the day that Mr. Worrell inspected 82 South Genesee Street, a fact that Ms. Cox does not dispute but that appears to be in tension with other evidence in the record. (Dawson and Cox L.R. Stmts. 18.)

         c. The Arrest of Mr. Brooks

         After Mr. Worrell found A.C. in the apartment, police officers were dispatched to the address on report of a child being found alone in the residence. (Dunford and Brooks L.R. Stmts. 22.) New Haven Patrol Officer Edward Dunford was sent as the primary officer on the call. (Id.)

         Upon his arrival at 82 South Genesee Street at approximately 11:15 a.m., Officer Dunford encountered Mr. Worrell and Ms. Dawson, who were "standing... outside of the open front door of th[e] unit." (Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.) Ms. Dawson informed Officer Dunford that HANH was inspecting its units, that tenants had received notice of these inspections, and that a HANH contractor had found a female child alone in the 82 South Genesee Street unit during one of these inspections. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) Officer Dunford also reported that Ms. Dawson told him that "she sent out notices to all the tenants saying they would be doing checks of the apartments for the whole month of August." (Ex. 5 (Reporting Officer Narrative) to Dawson L.R. Stmt. [Doc. # 29-5] at 4.).

         Ms. Dawson provided Officer Dunford with Ms. Cox's contact information and informed him of A.C.'s name and age. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27, 29.) Officer Dunford then called Ms. Cox about her whereabouts. (Id. ¶ 29.) Ms. Cox explained that "she was on her way home from work, that she would be arriving shortly at which time she would speak with him, and that her daughter had been left alone for only a couple of hours." (Id.)

         Officer Dunford then spoke with A.C., who said that Mr. Brooks, whom she identified as her "dad," was on the telephone line. (Id. ¶ 32.) Officer Dunford accepted the call. During their telephone conversation, Mr. Brooks told Officer Dunford that "there was a babysitter there, but that she must have left, and that he was returning to 82 South Genesee Street." (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Mr. Brooks arrived at the apartment approximately an hour and a half after the telephone conversation and again spoke with Officer Dunford. (Id. ¶ 35.) Mr. Brooks stated that Ms. Cox had "left for work at approximately 6:00 a.m." and that he had remained at the apartment "until approximately 10:00 a.m. when he had to go to downtown New Haven to obtain his medication." (Id. ¶ 36.) Mr. Brooks's trip to obtain the medication was a routine part of his participation in a drug treatment program. (Brooks L.R. Stmt. § B ¶ 2.) Mr. Brooks also told Officer Dunford that "before leaving to obtain his medication, he had gone to 102 South Genesee Street to ask the neighbor there ... about keeping an eye on the minor child." (Id. ¶ 37.)

         After this conversation, Officer Dunford looked for the neighbor at 102 South Genesee Street, but the individual who opened the door was not the neighbor in question. (Id. ¶ 40.) That individual said the neighbor was not home and that "no one had mentioned anything about watching any children on this day," (Id.)

         Officer Dunford then "returned to 82 South Genesee Street and asked Plaintiff Brooks why he had left the minor child alone." (Id. ¶ 42.) Mr. Brooks again "responded that he had to go to his meeting to obtain his medication" and "that this was the only time he could go and get his medication and that he could not take child with him because of the meeting." (Id. ¶¶ 42, 43.) Later, Mr. Brooks admitted that "on the day of this incident, [he] made no attempt to locate a babysitter to watch the minor daughter of Plaintiff Cox while he was ... away from the residence, and what he told Defendant Dunford about trying to locate a babysitter was not true." (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Officer Dunford then "placed a telephone call to [the Connecticut Department of Children and Families ("DCF")] to make a referral because a minor child was involved in the incident." (Id. 5 44.) Officer Dunford states that the DCF representative expressed the opinion that it was unreasonable to leave an eight-year-old child home alone. (Id. 5 45.)[2]

         Ms. Cox returned to 82 South Genesee Street sometime after this call. (Id. ¶ 46.) The parties agree that Ms. Cox's arrival occurred "[approximately one-half hour after the arrival of Plaintiff Brooks, and approximately two (2) hours after she spoke with Defendant Dunford on the telephone." (Id. ΒΆ 46.) After Ms. Cox's arrival, Officer Dunford explained to both Plaintiffs that "leaving an eight (8) year old child home alone was irresponsible, that Plaintiff Brooks should not have left the child home alone, and if there was an ...

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