United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
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Charles Morse, Lesa Morse, Plaintiffs: James B Triplett, LEAD
ATTORNEY, Triplett & Fleming, Oxford, MA.
State Trooper Maher, Defendant: Joseph G. Donnellan, LEAD
ATTORNEY, Rogal & Donnellan, P.C., Norwood, MA.
Police Sergeant Michael Cloutier, Police Officer Larry
Bateman, Police Officer David Fortier, Police Officer Ronald
Obuchowski, Jr., Defendants: Leonard H. Kesten, Thomas R
Donohue, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten,
Boston, MA; Michael Stefanilo, Jr., Brady Hardoom Perkins &
Kesten, Boston, MA.
Podpora, Witness, Pro se, Sturbridge, MA.
AND ORDER ON STURBRIDGE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (Docket No. 134), STATE TROOPER MAHER'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Docket No. 137), and STATE TROOPER
FRECHETTE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Docket No.
S. HILLMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Charles and Lesa Morse assert claims against Sturbridge
Police Officers Michael Cloutier, Jeffrey LaVallee, David
Fortier, Larry Bateman, Ronald Obuchowski, Jr. (the "
Sturbridge Officers" ), and State Troopers Brian
Frechette and Sean Maher. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants
violated their rights against unreasonable searches and
seizures secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of
the U.S. Constitution, and seek damages under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (Counts V,
VI, VII, and VIII). Plaintiffs also assert state tort claims
for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Counts IX
and X). The Sturbridge Officers, Trooper Maher, and Trooper
Frechette have each moved for summary judgment on the claims
against them. (Dockets No. 134, 137, and 140, respectively).
Because the legal issues raised by each motion substantially
overlap, the Court examines them jointly. For the reasons set
forth below, the motions are denied in part and
granted in part.
case arises from the warrantless arrest of Plaintiff Charles
Morse inside his home in Sturbridge,
August 16, 2009, at 10:58 pm, an individual at 21 River Road
in Sturbridge called 911 and stated that people were in his
back yard yelling threats and throwing rocks. Sturbridge
Police Officers David Fortier and Larry Bateman responded to
the call. Upon arrival, two teenage males, Justin Saviengsack
and Adrian Podpora, informed the officers that they had been
hit by rocks and that " he" was in the woods. One
of the teens explained that " he" was their
neighbor " Charlie" and that he may have a gun.
Officers Fortier and Bateman searched the woods but were
unable to find the individual. Sergeant Michael Cloutier,
Officer Obuchowski, and Officer LaVallee of the Sturbridge
police also arrived on the scene. The Sturbridge Officers
requested assistance from Massachusetts State Police K-9
is conflicting evidence about what happened between Morse,
Saviengsack and Podpora, but the gist of the teenagers'
story appears in voluntary written statements made to the
police on scene. Podpora stated that while he was at
Saviengsack's house, someone in the woods began "
throwing bottles, rocks, sticks, and metal pieces." The
person in the woods was also directing racial slurs at them,
and threatened to kill them " one by one with a
gun." Podpora stated he believed it was " Charlie
Morris [sic] from a couple houses down." Saviengsack
reported that as he was standing in his backyard, he heard
noises in the woods. When he looked toward the woods, he saw
" Charlie Morse who through [sic] a rock an [sic] hit me
in my collar bone area." Saviengsack reported that
Charlie Morse was yelling racist remarks and that he was
going to shoot Saviengsack and Podpora " one by
one." He further stated that Morse was " claiming
he will take my whole family out when we go to sleep."
Officer Bateman knew that Morse had been charged in 2006 for
threatening his daughter's ex-boyfriend with a gun, and
informed the other officers of this fact.
the report made from the teenagers in hand, the police began
searching for Charles Morse. Around 11:20 pm, Officers
Bateman and Obuchowski went down the street to the
Morses' house at 28 River Road. Charles's wife Lesa
answered the door. Lesa informed the officers that her
husband was not home, and that he was out with his friend
Christopher Willman. Willman resided at 17 River Road, next
door to the Saviengsack's house. Officer Bateman told
Lesa that Charles had been in an altercation and asked that
she notify him if Charles returned home. Officers Bateman,
Obuchowski, and Sergeant Cloutier then went back up the
street to the Willmans' house at 17 River Road.
Christopher Willman told the officers that he had not seen
Charles Morse since 10:30 that evening, they had drank a few
beers, and to the best of his knowledge Morse was not
carrying a firearm. At this point, K-9 Troopers Frechette and
Maher arrived to assist the Sturbridge police in the search
for Morse. Just before midnight, Cloutier, Fortier, Bateman,
Obuchowski, Frechette and Maher went back to the Morse home,
while Sergeant LaVallee remained at 21 River Road with the
many of the precise details of the evening are unclear from
the record, the following facts are undisputed. Upon arriving
at the Morse home the second time, Defendants Fortier,
Bateman, Obuchowski and Maher went to the back door. Sergeant
Cloutier and Trooper Frechette remained at the front of the
residence. The officers did not have an arrest warrant.
Fortier knocked on the back door. Charles Morse came to the
entrance, opened an inner wooden door but left the outer
screen door closed. As he opened the wooden door he
simultaneously reached to
the screen door and locked it. Morse identified himself and
asked what was going on. The officers did not explain why
they were there, but asked Morse to come outside. Morse
refused, and repeatedly asked " what is this
about?" The officers could see Morse through the closed
screen door. He was wearing shorts but no shirt or shoes; his
hands were visible and he was not threatening the officers or
making dangerous movements. The officers then informed Morse
that he was under arrest and that he needed to come outside.
Morse closed the wooden door, and said that he would only
surrender if the officers got a warrant. He told his wife to
call a lawyer. The officers ordered Morse to open the door,
and announced that they would forcibly enter if he did not
comply. The outer screen door remained closed and locked for
the duration of Morse's conversation with the officers.
Morse still did not come outside, Officer Obuchowski kicked
through the screen door. Obuchowski then kicked a hole in the
inner wooden door, enabling entry into the Morse home. The
only officers that entered the home were Cloutier, Fortier,
Bateman, Obuchowski, and Maher. Officer LaVallee and Trooper
Frechette did not enter the residence or participate in the
forced entry. Once inside, Fortier and Maher took custody of
Morse by forcing him to the ground and pointing guns at his
head as they applied handcuffs.
police took custody of Charles, Lesa Morse began yelling.
Alison Willman--Christopher Willman's wife--called on the
phone to ask what was going on; Lesa answered and began
telling her that the police had Charles on the floor with
guns pointed at his head. Sergeant Cloutier ordered Lesa to
hang up the phone, but Lesa refused. Sergeant Cloutier
grabbed Lesa by the arm and threw her face first onto the
couch, forced her hands behind her back and cuffed her. Lesa
Morse remained in handcuffs for five or six minutes while the
officers conducted a protective sweep of the residence. The
officers removed Charles Morse and transported him to 21
River Road, where Saviengsack and Podpora identified Morse as
the individual who threw rocks and threatened them. Morse was
charged with two counts of assault and battery with a
dangerous weapon (rocks), threat to commit a crime (murder),
disorderly conduct, and disturbing the peace. The charges
were later dismissed.
filed this action in Massachusetts Superior Court. It was
removed to this Court on December 4, 2012. (Docket No. 1).
Plaintiffs allege that they have experienced physical and
emotional harm as a result of Defendants' conduct. The
complaint asserts the following claims against Defendants:
civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
State Troopers Frechette and Maher (Count V); civil rights
violations under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act ("
MCRA" ) against State Troopers Frechette and Maher
(Count VI); civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 against the Sturbridge Officers (Count VII); civil
rights violations the MCRA against the Sturbridge Officers
(Count VIII); intentional infliction of emotional distress
against State Troopers Frechette and Maher (Count IX); and
intentional infliction of emotional distress against the
Sturbridge Officers (Count X). Defendants have moved for
summary judgment on all claims. (Docket Nos. 134, 137 and
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, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (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
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, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (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 325).
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).