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Alves v. Massachusetts State Police

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Bristol

January 4, 2017

DAVID A. ALVES
v.
MASSACHUSETTS STATE POLICE & others.[1]

          Heard: November 3, 2016.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on June 29, 2012.

         The case was heard by Richard T. Moses, J., on a motion for summary judgment.

          Sonj a L. Deyoe for the plaintiff.

          Adam R. LaGrassa, Assistant Attorney General, for Massachusetts State Police.

          Present: Agnes, Blake, & Desmond, JJ.

          BLAKE, J.

         Following the execution of an anticipatory search warrant, Massachusetts State police officers arrested the plaintiff, David A. Alves, on various charges stemming from the seizure of a package containing approximately twenty-five pounds of marijuana. The charges were subsequently dismissed, whereupon Alves filed a civil suit in the Superior Court asserting Federal civil rights violations against two State police officers, Paul Baker and William Donnelly, and negligence claims against the State police. The officers removed the Federal claims to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (Federal District Court), where a magistrate judge allowed Baker's motion for summary judgment.[2]The State police then filed a motion for summary judgment in the Superior Court, where the State-based claims remained. Relying on the findings of fact made by the magistrate judge in his resolution of the Federal claims, a judge of the Superior Court allowed the motion. Alves now appeals. We agree that the matter is governed by principles of issue preclusion and accordingly affirm.

         Background.

         After intercepting a suspicious package addressed to a recipient in Massachusetts, a postal inspector at the processing and distribution center of the United States Postal Service in Providence, Rhode Island obtained a Federal search warrant to search the package.[3] The inspector found approximately twenty-five pounds of marijuana in the package, with an approximate street value of $35, 000. The inspector contacted Baker, a Massachusetts State police trooper, who obtained an anticipatory search warrant from the Taunton District Court, to be triggered by the acceptance or acquisition of the package, which bore a distinctive tracking number, and was addressed to "John Couture 443 Weir Street, Taunton, MA." The search warrant authorized the retrieval of the package from "44 [sic] Weir Street . . . [a] gray, two-story, multi-unit building" and from "[a]nyone who accepts the package for 443 Weir Street, Taunton."[4] The warrant did not limit the search to a specific unit within that building. 443 Weir Street is located at the corner of Forest and Weir Streets in Taunton.

         Upon the execution of the warrant, Alves answered the door to unit 2 and indicated to the postal inspector that he was expecting a package. Unit 2 is one of the units within 443 Weir Street, but its entrance faces Forest Street. Ultimately, another person from unit 2 signed for and accepted the package. Alves was arrested and was unable to post bail. Approximately three months later, the charges against him were dismissed.[5]

         On June 29, 2012, Alves filed a complaint in the Superior Court alleging two counts of negligence against the State police -- one for the negligent execution of the search warrant and the other for inadequate training or supervision -- and two counts of Federal civil rights violations against the officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As we have noted, the officers removed the claims against them to the Federal District Court where, by decision dated April 9, 2014, a magistrate judge allowed Baker's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the lawful execution of the search warrant provided probable cause to arrest Alves. Alves did not appeal that ruling.[6] Some eight months later, on December 24, 2014, the State police moved for summary judgment in the Superior Court. After hearing, in a decision dated April 6, 2015, a judge of the Superior Court allowed the motion, holding that principles of issue preclusion barred further litigation of Alves's claims.[7] This appeal followed.

         Standard of review.

         Summary judgment shall be granted when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Augat, Inc. v.Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 410 Mass. 117, 120 (1991). Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c), as amended, 436 Mass. 1404 (2002). We review the allowance of a motion for summary judgment de novo. Julianov.Simpson, 461 Mass. 527, 529 (2012) . "Whether a previous decision is to be given preclusive effect presents a question of law appropriate for resolution on summary ...


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