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Hill v. Walsh

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 29, 2017

ROLAND G. HILL & MARY R. HILL
v.
EDWARD WALSH ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Roland and Mary Hill (Roland and Mary) bring this civil rights action against the City of Taunton, its police chief, and several of its police officers, alleging that a search of their home in the course of executing a warrant of apprehension for their son, Matthew Hill, violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment. In due course, defendants moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the court will grant the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Roland and Mary have lived at 3 Eldridge Street in Taunton for over twenty years. Matthew grew up in the family home, but by the time of the events in suit, he had reached adulthood and was living on his own in an apartment on Weir Street in Taunton.

         Matthew had struggled with drug addiction since his teenage years. In March of 2015, his drug use escalated and concerned family members felt the need for an urgent intervention. On March 3, 2015, Matthew's sister, Amanda Hill, called the Taunton police and 911 warning that Matthew was on the verge of an overdose. Taunton police officers responded to Matthew's Weir Street address and assisted his transport by ambulance to Morton Hospital in Taunton.

         The following day, Amanda filed a petition in the Taunton District Court seeking to have Matthew committed as a substance abuser pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 123, § 35. Amanda listed her parents' Eldridge Street home as Matthew's address, but also noted Morton Hospital as his current location. In response to the petition, a District Court Judge issued a warrant of apprehension for Matthew, which the statute authorizes “if there are reasonable grounds to believe that such person will not appear [for a commitment hearing] and that any further delay in the proceedings would present an immediate danger to the physical well-being of the respondent.” Id. The warrant of apprehension issued at 2:20 p.m. and identified its subject as “Matthew Hill, 3 Eldridge Street, Taunton, MA 02780.” Dkt #30- 14. In capital letter typeface below Matthew's name and address, the warrant stated “CURRENTLY AT MORTON HOSPITAL.” Id. The standard-form warrant also stated in bold type that it could “not be executed unless the respondent can be brought before a judge prior to 4:30 P.M. on the same day that it is executed.” Id.

         The warrant was faxed to the Taunton police department at approximately 2:58 p.m., where it was received by the shift commander, defendant Joseph Marques. Marques examined the warrant, entered information from it into the department's dispatching system, and then gave the warrant to defendant Deborah Lavoie, a dispatcher. Lavoie passed the warrant on to defendant William Henault, who was the duty patrol supervisor. All three officers testified at their depositions that they did not see the reference to Morton Hospital on the face of the warrant.

         Henault left the station to serve the warrant no later than 3:17 p.m. He arrived at the Eldridge Street address a few minutes later. Because Henault knew from past experience that several large dogs lived at the house, he shook the chain link fence surrounding the property to draw the attention of any dogs that might be loose in the yard. As he did so, Henault was joined by defendant officer Troy-Allen Enos, who had responded to a radio call from Lavoie requesting officer assistance in serving the warrant. Henault and Enos went to the front door of the home and knocked, which caused the dogs inside to approach the door and begin barking. Receiving no human response to their knocks, the officers peered through sidelights next to the front door. Henault testified that he briefly saw what he believed to be a fleeting silhouette inside the home. Enos testified that he saw a curtain moving and what he thought to be a person inside the home.

         The officers walked around the perimeter of the home, calling Matthew's name. As they did so, they discovered that a side door of the home was unlocked. The officers testified that they believed someone was inside the home, but that they were reluctant to enter because of the hostile dogs. Before they could act further, defendant Police Chief Edward Walsh arrived.

         Henault explained the situation to Walsh: that they were attempting to serve a warrant of apprehension for Matthew; that he and Enos had been unable to definitively determine whether Matthew was inside the home; that there were aggressive dogs in the house deterring them from entering; and that he believed that he had seen the shadow of a person inside. Henault also told Walsh that the home belonged to Matthew's parents, and that Matthew had his own apartment on Weir Street. After receiving the briefing, Walsh instructed Henault to ask the dispatchers whether they had received any additional information about Matthew or the warrant. Henault spoke with both Lavoie and Marques, who reported nothing further had been provided. After further discussion, the officers decided that Matthew was probably inside the home and potentially at grave risk of an overdose.

         Walsh then instructed Enos to retrieve the fire extinguisher from his cruiser. Armed with the fire extinguisher, Walsh, Henault, and Enos entered the home through the unlocked side door. Walsh sprayed the fire extinguisher three times to drive the dogs back, enabling the officers to conduct a sweep of the premises. They found no one at home. Roland and Mary were forced to vacate the home for several days while cleaners removed the fire retardant residue.

         Angry at the damage done to their home, Roland and Mary filed this lawsuit, asserting violations of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by the officers and the City of Taunton, as well as common-law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and trespass against Walsh, Henault, and Enos. Following the completion of discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, invoking the doctrine of qualified immunity. The court heard argument on the motion on May 31, 2017.

         DISCUSSION

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving parties and draws all reasonable inferences in their favor. Iverson v. City of Boston, 452 F.3d 94, 98 (1st Cir. 2006). Summary judgment is appropriate where “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). The moving party must demonstrate the absence of any real disputes of material fact in the summary judgment record. Flovac, Inc. v. Airvac, Inc., 817 F.3d 849, 853 (1st Cir. 2016). Where the nonmovants bear the burden of proof on an issue, they must respond by “adduc[ing] specific facts showing that a trier of fact reasonably could find in [their] favor.” Murray v. Warren Pumps, LLC, 821 F.3d 77, 83 (1st Cir. 2016). ...


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