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Campbell v. Casey

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 29, 2016

BRIAN CASEY, Defendant.



I. Background

Plaintiff Scott Campbell (“plaintiff”) brought this case against Officer Brian Casey (“defendant”) with respect to a traffic stop, arrest and subsequent prosecution for operating under the influence. Plaintiff claims that defendant conducted an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of plaintiff’s rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also alleges several state law tort claims.

According to Campbell, on October 11, 2012 he consumed one 12-ounce beer in the parking lot of the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts after participating in a hockey game. He subsequently began to drive home and was later stopped and arrested by Officer Casey. Plaintiff contends that during the drive he operated his vehicle entirely in accordance with all applicable traffic laws.

While travelling northbound on Route I-495 and exiting that highway, plaintiff noticed a police cruiser traveling behind him. The cruiser stopped in a grassy area near the exit ramp but later caught up to plaintiff’s vehicle and followed him as he exited Route 2 at Newtown Road in Littleton, Massachusetts. At that point, the police cruiser’s flashing blue lights were engaged and plaintiff was pulled over. Officer Casey ordered plaintiff out of his vehicle, administered several field sobriety tests and then arrested plaintiff for operating under the influence.

At the Littleton Police station, plaintiff refused a chemical Breathalyzer test and was released after several hours. He was arraigned in Ayer (Massachusetts) District Court in October, 2012 on a criminal charge of operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor, third offense and a civil motor vehicle “marked lanes” violation, to which he pled not guilty. Pursuant to Massachusetts law, plaintiff’s license was suspended for five years as a result of his refusal to undergo the Breathalyzer test. In April, 2014 plaintiff was acquitted by a jury in Ayer District Court. He was also found not responsible on the civil marked lanes violation charge. Three days later, the district court ordered that plaintiff’s driver’s license be reinstated.

Campbell avers, and Officer Casey concedes, that before the stop Officer Casey had “run” Campbell’s license plate number and obtained information regarding Campbell’s four past offenses for operating under the influence. Officer Casey claims that prior to the stop he had also observed Campbell’s pick-up truck cross the white fog line and had noticed that the rear window of the vehicle appeared to be inordinately tinted.

Plaintiff asserts that defendant had seen no evidence of an offense and had no reasonable suspicion for stopping his vehicle. Plaintiff contends that defendant conducted the stop based solely on plaintiff’s past criminal record.

In September, 2014 Campbell filed the complaint in this case against Officer Casey in his personal capacity. Pending before the Court is defendant’s motion for summary judgment on all counts of the complaint. For the reasons explained below, defendant’s motion will be denied.

II. Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendant Officer Casey moves for summary judgment on the merits of each of plaintiff’s five claims. The complaint alleges (1) unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) false arrest, (3) false imprisonment, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress and (5) malicious prosecution. Defendant also asserts qualified immunity with respect to plaintiff’s constitutional claim.

A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

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. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991). The burden is on the moving party to show, through the pleadings, discovery and affidavits, “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where the evidence with respect to the material fact in dispute “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine, triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The Court must view the entire record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and indulge all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. O'Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d 905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). Summary judgment is appropriate if, after viewing the record in the non-moving party's favor, the Court determines that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

B. Analysis

1. Count I: Unlawful Seizure and Arrest Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Plaintiff first claims that defendant subjected him to an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by stopping him without reasonable suspicion and arresting him without probable cause. Defendant seeks summary judgment due to qualified immunity as well as on the merits.

a. Legal Standard

Qualified immunity protects government officials performing discretionary functions from liability for conduct that is objectively reasonable. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). It shields officials from suits brought against them in their individual capacities.

To assess qualified immunity claims in § 1983 actions, the Court applies a two-step inquiry. The Court may exercise its discretion in determining which of the two prongs should be addressed first. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). In the first step, the Court must decide “whether the facts alleged or shown by the plaintiff make out a violation of a constitutional right.” Maldonado v. Fontanes, 568 F.3d 263, 269 (1st Cir. 2009). In the second step, the Court must determine whether the right was “clearly established at the time of the defendant’s alleged violation.” Id.

The second stage of the inquiry has two facets, one focusing on law and one focusing on fact. The first facet requires the Court to examine the level of clarity of the law at the time of the alleged civil rights deprivation. Id. For a right to be clearly established,

the contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right. This is not to say that an official action is protected by qualified immunity unless the very action in question has previously been held unlawful, but it is to ...

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