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Stamps v. Town of Framingham

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 24, 2014

EURIE A. STAMPS, JR. and NORMA BUSHFAN-STAMPS, Co-Administrators of the Estate of Eurie A. Stamps, Sr., Plaintiffs,

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For Eurie A Stamps, Jr., Co-administrator of the Estate of Eurie A. Stamps, Sr., Norma Bushfan-Stamps, Co-administrator of the Estate of Eurie A. Stamps, Sr., Plaintiffs: Anthony Tarricone, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kreindler & Kreindler, Boston, MA; Joseph F. Bardouille, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Bardouille & Fugade, Lynn, MA; Joseph P. Musacchio, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, Boston, MA.

For Town of Framingham, Paul K Duncan, Individually, and in his official capacity as a police officer of the Framingham Police Department, Defendants: Leonard H. Kesten, Thomas R Donohue, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, Boston, MA.

For Massachusetts State Police, Third Party Witness: Sean W Farrell, Commonwealth Of Massachusetts - Dept.of State Police, Framingham, MA.

For Middlesex County District Attorney's Office, Third Party Witness: Kris C. Foster, Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA.

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F. Dennis Saylor IV, United States District Judge.

This is a civil rights action arising out of the shooting of an individual during the execution of a search warrant. On January 25, 2011, Eurie Stamps, Sr., was shot and killed in his home by defendant Paul Duncan, an officer of the Framingham Police Department. Plaintiffs Eurie Stamps, Jr., and Norma Stamps are the co-administrators of the elder Stamps's estate. They have brought suit on behalf of the estate against Duncan and the Town of Framingham, alleging violations of the

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constitutional rights of the elder Stamps under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and wrongful death under the Massachusetts Torts Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, § 2.

Defendants have moved for partial summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

On January 5, 2011, the Framingham police department executed a search warrant on a first-floor apartment at 26 Fountain Street. (Def. SMF ¶ 7). Eurie Stamps, Sr., a 68-year-old retired MBTA maintenance worker, resided in the apartment with his wife Norma and his stepson Joseph Bushfan. (Def. SMF ¶ 5; Pl. SMF ¶ 1).

The search arose out of a report that Bushfan and others were selling crack cocaine from the apartment. (Def. SMF ¶ 2). Framingham police detectives believed that Bushfan and two other males in the apartment had violent criminal histories and affiliations with Boston gangs. (Def. SMF ¶ 3; Pl. SMF ¶ 2; Duncan Dep. 19-21).

The Framingham police did not suspect Stamps of any crime. He did not have a history of violence. The SWAT team was specifically informed " that he posed no known threat to the police during the execution of the warrant." (Pl. SMF ¶ ¶ 2, 6-7; Duncan Dep. 21-25).

Officer Paul Duncan was one of approximately eleven SWAT team members that raided the apartment. (Def. SMF ¶ 1; Pl. SMF ¶ 4). He entered the apartment through the front door. (Def. SMF ¶ 8). He was carrying a loaded M-4 rifle. After entering the apartment, he moved the selector switch of his rifle from " safe" to " semi-automatic." (Def. SMF ¶ 9).[1]

During the search of the apartment, two officers encountered Stamps in a hallway that connected the kitchen to the bathroom and a rear bedroom. They ordered him to " get down." (Def. SMF ¶ 14; Pl. SMF ¶ 20). Stamps complied with the order and lay on his stomach with his hands near his head. (Def. SMF ¶ 15). The officers who had ordered Stamps into this position left him to investigate other rooms. (Def. SMF ¶ ¶ 18-19; Pl. SMF ¶ 21).

Duncan was ordered to go to the kitchen. Once there, he encountered Stamps lying on the floor on his stomach in the hallway outside the kitchen. (Def. SMF ¶ ¶ 12-13, 20; Pl. SMF ¶ ¶ 22-25). While the other SWAT members continued the search of the apartment, Duncan approached Stamps and pointed his rifle at him. (Def. SMF ¶ ¶ 21-22). Duncan contends that he did so, with the rifle's selector switch still in its " semi-automatic" position, for the purpose of protecting himself and sending a message that Stamps should not move or do anything threatening. (Pl. SMF ¶ 28; Duncan Dep. 72-76). At some point, Duncan put his index finger inside the trigger guard and on the trigger.

While Duncan was pointing the rifle at Stamps, he pulled the trigger. The shot hit Stamps in the face. (Def. SMF ¶ 27; Pl. SMF ¶ 32). Stamps died as a result of the shot. (Def. SMF ¶ 36).

At no point did Stamps do or say anything to suggest that he was a threat to the police or anyone else, or to suggest that he was not cooperating. The parties agree that Duncan did not intend to pull the trigger or injure Stamps.

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According to plaintiffs' expert, Duncan's failure to keep the rifle's safety engaged and his placement of his finger on the trigger contravened safe firearm-handling procedures. (Def. SMF ¶ ¶ 37, 39; Pl. SMF ¶ 40). Defendants concede that by placing his finger on the trigger, Duncan did not comply with Framingham police officer training or protocols. (Def. SMF ¶ ¶ 38, 43).

B. Procedural Background

On October 12, 2012, Eurie Stamps, Jr., and Norma Stamps filed the complaint in this case. The amended complaint alleges section 1983 violations by Duncan predicated on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations; a section 1983 violation by the Town of Framingham predicated on negligent training; a state law claim against Duncan for wrongful death; and two counts of wrongful death in violation of Massachusetts law against the Town of Framingham.

Defendants have moved for partial summary judgment as to nine of the ten counts.[2] They contend that (1) Duncan's unintentional firearm discharge cannot violate a constitutional right; (2) that Duncan's decision to introduce the firearm into the encounter with Mr. Stamps was objectively reasonable; and (3) Duncan is entitled to qualified immunity because a constitutional right to be free from unintentional shootings was not clearly established at the time of the incident.

II. Standard of Review

The role of summary judgment is to " pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Mesnick v. General Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows that " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). " Essentially, Rule 56[] mandates the entry of summary judgment 'against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'" Coll v. PB Diagnostic Sys., 50 F.3d 1115, 1121 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). In making that determination, the court must view " the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor." Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009). When " a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party 'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The non-moving party may not simply " rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading," but instead must " present affirmative evidence." Id. at 256-57.

III. Analysis

A. Claims Against Duncan

1. Section 1983

Section 1983 is a vehicle for vindicating substantive rights conferred by the Constitution or laws of the United States that have been violated by persons acting ...

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