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Rivera v. City of Worcester

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 18, 2015

PABLO RIVERA Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WORCESTER, RICHARD BURGOS, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer in the City of Worcester, JAMES O'ROURKE, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer in the City of Worcester, FRANCIS BARTLEY, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer in the City of Worcester, and GARY J. GEMME, individually and in his official capacity as the Police Chief in the City of Worcester, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 86)

TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, District Judge.

This action arises out of the arrest and nine-month imprisonment of Plaintiff Pablo Rivera ("Plaintiff") for the armed robbery of a convenience store in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Worcester County District Attorney's office ultimately chose not to prosecute Plaintiff for the crime. Upon his release, Plaintiff filed this civil action, alleging that he was falsely arrested by the Worcester police. The complaint asserts claims for false imprisonment against Officers Richard Burgos, James O'Rourke, and Francis Bartley (Count I), negligence against the City of Worcester (Count II), failure to supervise and/or failure to train against the City of Worcester and Police Chief Gary J. Gemme (Count III), and deprivations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

Background

In the early morning hours of May 8, 2010, an individual entered the Honey Farms convenience store located at 64 Vernon Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. Wielding a knife, he confronted the store clerk and took everything from the store's cash drawer. The store clerk, Donald Sutton Jr., reported the armed robbery to the police and initially described the individual as wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and 4'11" tall. Officer Jesus Candelaria was dispatched to the scene around 4:50 am. Based on Sutton's statements and review of the store's surveillance video, Candelaria developed a description of the perpetrator to be sent out over police radio. The suspect was a Hispanic male in his thirties with a medium complexion and chin-strap beard, was wearing a black hooded sweater, black baseball hat, black peacoat-like jacket, and was carrying a folding knife approximately four inches long. Candelaria sent the description out over the police dispatch system as a "be on the lookout" ("BOLO") announcement, but did not include Sutton's original estimate that the perpetrator was only 4'11" tall.

The perpetrator was not apprehended that day, and the case was assigned to Defendant Francis Bartley, a detective with the Worcester Police Department (WPD). Bartley sent an email through the WPD system with still pictures of the perpetrator taken from the surveillance video, asking for assistance in identifying the individual. Defendant Burgos and his partner Defendant O'Rourke-also detectives with the WPD-reviewed the photos and, on May 20, 2010, positively identified Plaintiff Pablo Rivera as the individual in the surveillance video. The identification was based on their familiarity with Plaintiff over several years of work with him as a confidential informant. Burgos and O'Rourke first met the Plaintiff over ten years ago when the Plaintiff had agreed to provide them with information. Officer Burgos came to know Plaintiff on a personal level, spoke with Plaintiff about his family and drug habits, and tried to help Plaintiff "get away from the criminal life." Burgos Dep. 7:22-8:2.

Bartley then compared the surveillance stills with WPD file photos of Plaintiff to confirm Burgos and O'Rourke's identification. Upon review, Bartley was positive that Plaintiff was the individual in the surveillance video. Based on the statements of Officers Burgos and O'Rourke, as well as his own identification, Bartley applied for an arrest warrant. A neutral clerk-magistrate in Worcester District Court found probable cause for the warrant to issue on June 3, 2010. Plaintiff was arrested on June 7, 2010.

The Plaintiff is 5'8" tall. He told the arresting officers that he was innocent and had not committed any crimes on May 8, 2010. After being held on a high bail, he appeared in Worcester Superior Court on June 16, 2010 for a bail review hearing arguing that he was not the person depicted in the surveillance video. The Superior Court judge was shown a still photo from the video, remarked "[l]ooks like a pretty good picture to me, " and increased Plaintiff's bail from $2, 500 to $10, 000. Plaintiff was indicted on August 20, 2010. In November 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the indictment; the Superior Court denied the motion, concluding that sufficient evidence supported the indictment. However, on the eve of trial, the Assistant District Attorney in charge of the prosecution chose not to proceed with the case, and filed a nolle prosequi on March 11, 2011.

Upon his release, Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants Bartley, Burgos, O'Rourke, Gemme and the City of Worcester. Plaintiff asserts that the officers should have investigated certain discrepancies between his physical features and those of the perpetrator. Specifically, Plaintiff cites the officers' failure to credit Sutton's statement that the perpetrator was only 4'11, " notice a tattoo on the perpetrator's hand in the surveillance video, test for fingerprints and conduct a lineup or photo array. According to Plaintiff, the failure to take these steps led to Plaintiff's false arrest and nine-month imprisonment, and amounts to actionable torts and violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts.

Discussion

Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that a district court shall grant summary judgment if the moving party shows, based on the materials in the record, "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A factual dispute precludes summary judgment if it is both "genuine" and "material." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). An issue is "genuine" when the evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could resolve the point in favor of the non-moving party. Morris v. Gov't Dev. Bank, 27 F.3d 746, 748 (1st Cir. 1994). A fact is "material" when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Id.

The moving party is responsible for "identifying those portions [of the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1968). It can meet its burden either by "offering evidence to disprove an element of the plaintiff's case or by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.'" Rakes v. U.S., 352 F.Supp.2d 47, 52 (D. Mass. 2005) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 4). Once the moving party shows the absence of any disputed material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to place at least one material fact into dispute. See Mendes v. Medtronic, Inc., 18 F.3d 13, 15 (1st Cir. 1994) (discussing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Scanlon v. Dep't of Army, 277 F.3d 598, 600 (1st Cir. 2002). However, the court should not "credit bald assertions, empty conclusions, rank conjecture, or vitriolic invective." Caban Hernandez v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 486 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2007).

Counts III and IV: § 1983 Claims against all Defendants

Counts III and IV assert claims against all defendants for violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count III alleges that the City of Worcester and Police Chief Gary Gemme failed to supervise and/or train the city's police officers.[1] Count IV asserts that Officers Bartley, Burgos, and O'Rourke are individually liable for damages relating to Plaintiff's arrest, and that the City of Worcester and Chief Gemme are municipally liable. A valid § 1983 claim has two essential elements: "the defendant must have acted under color of state law, and his or her conduct must have deprived the plaintiff of rights secured by the Constitution or by federal law." Gagliardi v. Sullivan, 513 F.3d 301, 306 (1st Cir. 2008). There is no dispute that the officers in this case acted under the color of state law. Instead, the § 1983 claims ...


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