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Cabot v. Lewis

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 15, 2017

JASON CABOT, Plaintiff,


          F. DENNIS SAYLOR IV, United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action arising out of an incident at Logan Airport in Boston between plaintiff Jason Cabot and defendant William Lewis, a Massachusetts State Police Trooper.[1]Cabot was arrested, strip-searched, and charged with assault and battery on a police officer. Eventually, he accepted a disposition of pretrial probation that resulted in the dismissal of the charges. He now asserts federal and state civil rights claims, as well as various tort claims, against the officers involved in his arrest. He alleges, in essence, that he was arrested without probable cause and in retaliation for seeking to file a complaint against Officer Lewis. He also alleges that he was unreasonably strip-searched in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the ground that all of plaintiff’s claims are barred by the rule of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). For the reasons stated below, those motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to Cabot as the non-moving party.

         On August 8, 2011, Jason Cabot was at Logan International Airport in Boston with a friend named Maksim Sigal. Although not entirely clear from the record, it appears that Cabot became involved in some kind of incident in the terminal with a United Airlines employee and a Massachusetts State Trooper. (Cabot Dep. at 97-99).

         Cabot then went to the State Police barracks at Logan to obtain the name of the United Airlines employee and to file a complaint about Trooper. (Id.). Sigal drove him from the terminal to the barracks and waited in the car while Cabot went inside. (Id. at 99-100).

         Cabot entered the lobby of the barracks and approached defendant John Fallon, a Massachusetts State Police Sergeant, who was sitting behind the reception window. (Id. at 101-02). Cabot told Fallon that he had a negative encounter with a United Airlines employee as well as a state trooper at the airport, and that he wanted to get the name of the employee and to file a complaint against that trooper. (Id. at 102-03). Fallon told him to have a seat and that someone would be right with him. (Id. at 103). Cabot took a seat in the lobby. (Id. at 104).

         A short time later, Cabot received a phone call from Sigal, who was waiting in the car, asking how much longer he was going to be. (Id. at 109). Cabot alleges that during that call William Lewis, a Massachusetts State Police Lieutenant, entered the lobby from the parking lot and asked, in an aggressive tone, “Are you on the telephone with that guy outside?” (Id. at 109, 111-13). Cabot said that he was. (Id. at 112). Lewis then allegedly scoffed and said, “That’s ridiculous.” (Id. at 112). Lewis then proceeded into the secure area of the barracks. (Id. at 113).

         Following his encounter with Lewis, Cabot returned to the reception window and asked Lewis for his name and badge number. (Id. at 117). At that point, only Lewis was behind the reception window; Fallon was no longer present. (Id.). According to Cabot, Lewis allegedly yelled, “You want my name? I’ll give you my name” in an aggressive and threatening manner. (Id. at 118). Lewis then walked from the secure area back into the lobby. (Id.).

         At that point, Cabot began videotaping the encounter with his cellphone. (Id. at 123). According to Cabot, Lewis began yelling at him and threatened to arrest him. (Id. at 125). Cabot alleges that he asked what he was going to be arrested for, and Lewis responded, “For aggravating me.” (Id.). He further alleges that Lewis then demanded Cabot tell him his age. When Cabot refused to provide it, Lewis arrested him. (Id.).[2]

         Cabot asked what he was being arrested for. Lewis responded, “You chest-bumped me.” (Id. at 134). Cabot denies doing so. (Id.). According to Cabot, the first physical contact between the two was when Lewis grabbed him, told him he was under arrest, and pushed him against the wall. (Id.).

         Fallon, who was not present during the argument, came into the lobby to assist Lewis with the arrest. (Id. at 137). According to Fallon, he was in the secure area of the barracks when he looked up and saw Cabot throw his shoulders and elbows back and chest-bump Lewis. (Fallon Dep. at 34). Lewis also testified that Cabot chest-bumped him. (Lewis Dep. at 73).

         Following the incident, Lewis completed a police report and an Application for Criminal Complaint. (Def. Lewis Ex. 3). According to those documents, Cabot was arrested for assault and battery on a police officer. (Id.).

         Cabot was booked and escorted to a holding cell. (Cabot Dep. at 147). Fallon asked Cabot to stand in front of the holding cell and remove his clothes. (Id. at 149). Fallon then performed a visual strip-search of Cabot. (Id.). Following the search, Cabot got dressed again and was placed into the holding cell. (Id.).

         The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office prosecuted Cabot for one count of assault and battery on a police officer under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 263 § 13D. (Def. SMF ¶ 12). He was arraigned on August 12, 2011. (Id.).

         On February 17, 2012, Cabot accepted a disposition of three months’ pretrial probation pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 276, § 87. (Id.). The probation was unsupervised. (Def. Ex. 5). The district judge also ordered a “written letter of apology to be submitted forthwith.” (Id.). No court costs or restitution were ordered. (Id.).[3]

         Upon successful completion of the terms of that probation, the criminal case was dismissed on or about May 17, 2012. (Id.).

         B. Procedural Background

         The complaint in this action was originally filed on August 9, 2013, with an amended complaint filed on June 20, 2014. The amended complaint alleges ten claims, each against both defendants Lewis and Fallon: deprivation of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 1); deprivation of rights under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (“MCRA”), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, § 11I (Count 2); battery (Count 3); assault (Count 4); false imprisonment (Count 5); false arrest (Count 6); intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) (Count 7); defamation (Count 8); abuse of process (Count 9); and malicious prosecution (Count 10).

         Fallon and Lewis have separately moved for summary judgment on all claims. In his oppositions to defendants’ motions for summary judgment, Cabot agreed to voluntarily dismiss the defamation claim as to both defendants as well as the malicious prosecution and abuse of process claims as to defendant Fallon.

         Along with his opposition to Fallon’s motion for summary judgment, Cabot filed a declaration in which he stated that he had been falsely arrested and that he had never chest-bumped Lewis. He also provided a transcript of the recording that he had captured on his cellphone. The declaration also explained his reasoning for accepting the disposition of pretrial probation, including advice he received from counsel. Fallon has moved to strike that declaration.

         II. Motion to Strike

         A. Legal Standard

         As a general matter, only evidence that would be admissible at trial may be considered by the court on summary judgment. See Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 49-51 (1st Cir. 1990). Under Rule 56(e), affidavits-although not themselves admissible at trial-may be offered in support of, or opposition to, summary judgment if they set forth facts that would be admissible at trial. See Fed. R. Evid. 56(e). A motion to strike is the proper vehicle for challenging the admissibility of evidence offered at summary judgment. See Casas Office Machines, Inc. v. Mita Copystart Am., Inc., 42 F.3d 668, 682 (1st Cir. 1994). The moving party must specify the objectionable portions of the opposing party’s summary judgment materials along with the grounds for objection. Id. “Furthermore, a court will disregard only those portions of an affidavit that are inadmissible and consider the rest of it.” Id.

         B. Analysis

         The statements included in plaintiff’s declaration are irrelevant to defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Defendants have moved for summary judgment only on the ground that plaintiff’s claims are barred by the rule of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The issue before the Court, therefore, is the narrow question of whether plaintiff’s acceptance of pretrial probation bars his claims. For present purposes, it is irrelevant whether plaintiff was in fact arrested without probable cause, whether he in fact chest-bumped Lewis, or even why he accepted the disposition of pretrial probation. The Court therefore will not rely on plaintiff’s declaration in deciding the motions for summary judgment. For that reason, the motion to strike will be denied as moot.

         III. Motions for Summary Judgment

         A. Legal Standard

         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) (quoting Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 50 (1st Cir. 1990)). 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). A genuine issue is “one that must be decided at trial because the evidence, viewed in the light most flattering to the nonmovant would permit a rational fact finder to resolve the issue in favor of either party.” Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). In evaluating a summary judgment motion, the court indulges all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See O'Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d 905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). 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 (1986) (quotations and footnotes omitted). 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.

         B. Analysis

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff’s acceptance of pretrial probation bars all of his claims under the rule of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Because the analysis under Heck turns on the nature of the claims asserted, see Thore v. Howe, 466 F.3d 173, 179 (1st Cir. 2006), each of plaintiff’s claims will be addressed in turn.

         1. Section 1983 Claims (Count 1)

         Courts have struggled for many years to ascertain when and under what circumstances persons contending that they have been wrongfully convicted or imprisoned can bring § 1983 actions against the state actors responsible for their alleged wrongful convictions or imprisonments.

         In Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973), the Supreme Court held that any “challenge to the fact or duration of [one’s] confinement” must be brought under the habeas statute and not through a civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 489. In Preiser, state prisoners brought a § 1983 action against officers of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, alleging that the officers had acted unconstitutionally in depriving them of good-conduct-time credits as a result of disciplinary proceedings. Id. at 476. The prisoners sought injunctive relief to restore the credits, which, if received, would have resulted in their immediate release from prison. Id. at 476-77. Because they were, in essence, claiming that they were being held in prison unconstitutionally, the Supreme Court concluded that their challenge had to be brought through a habeas proceeding. Id. at 489. The court noted, however, that its holding would not apply to prisoners seeking damages, as opposed to injunctive relief, for violations of federal law. Id. at 494. Where state prisoners seek damages, it concluded, they are “attacking something other than the fact or length of [their] confinement” and thus their claims do not fall within the core purpose of a habeas proceeding. Id.

         More than twenty years later, the Supreme Court decided Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In Heck, the plaintiff was a state prisoner seeking damages under § 1983 for his allegedly unlawful arrest and conviction. Id. at 479. Drawing an analogy to the common-law tort of malicious prosecution-one element of which is the termination of prior criminal proceedings in favor of the accused-the court concluded that “damages actions that necessarily require the plaintiff to prove the unlawfulness of his conviction or confinement” are not cognizable under § 1983 unless the conviction or sentence that forms the basis of his claim has been invalidated. Id. at 486-87. The court held:

in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a ยง 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such ...

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