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Hutchins v. McKay

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 16, 2018

LEE HUTCHINS, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
DANIEL J. MCKAY, FELIX M. ROMERO, THOMAS HERVIEUX, and THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND DEFENDANT CITY'S MOTION TO BIFURCATE (DKT. NOS. 29, 31, & 32)

          MICHAEL A. PONSOR, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This lawsuit asserts claims under the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Massachusetts common law against three Springfield police officers and the City of Springfield. In Counts 1 through 3, Plaintiff alleges that the individual Defendant officers violated his federal civil rights by unlawfully entering his home, falsely arresting him, and using excessive force. In Count 4, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant City of Springfield maintained policies or customs that were deliberately indifferent to the rights of civilians by failing to train and discipline its police officers and that these policies or customs proximately caused his injuries. In Counts 5 through 8, Plaintiff asserts common law claims of assault and battery, false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process against the individual Defendant officers.

         Plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment on Count 1, contending that the undisputed facts confirm that two of the individual Defendant officers violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully entering his home. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all eight counts of the complaint. To the extent that some counts survive their motion, Defendants have also moved for bifurcation of the sole claim against the City of Springfield, Count 4, from the counts against the individual officers.

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on Count 1 will be denied. Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be denied as to Counts 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8, and will be allowed as to Counts 2 and 6. Defendant City's motion to bifurcate will be allowed, but on the understanding that trial on Count 4 against the City will proceed first, with the trial against the individual officers to follow.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The facts are drawn from the full summary judgment record. They are recited in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all justifiable inferences are drawn in that party's favor. Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014). Where, as here, both parties have moved for summary judgment, the standard is the same. The court must rule on each party's motion on an individual and separate basis. Bienkowski v. Ne. Univ., 285 F.3d 138, 140 (1st Cir. 2002). For each claim, summary judgment is warranted if the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, discloses no genuine issue of material fact. Kunelius v. Town of Stow, 588 F.3d 1, 8-9 (1st Cir. 2009).

         On the day of the precipitating incident, January 20, 2013, Plaintiff Lee Hutchins, Sr., owned a three-story, two-family home at 51-53 Daytona Street in Springfield. There were two entrances at the front of the house. The left entrance, 51 Daytona Street, belonged to Plaintiff's tenant. The right entrance was for 53 Daytona Street, where Plaintiff lived with his family.

         Upon passing through the doorway on the ground level, a person entering 53 Daytona Street would go up an interior flight of stairs to a landing on the second floor. That door opened directly into Plaintiff's kitchen. The street-level entrance to 53 Daytona Street provided no access to any other living unit; the interior staircase was part of Plaintiff's residence, not a common passage. In other words, when someone entered the ground floor entrance of 53 Daytona Street, he or she was facing a staircase but inside Plaintiff's home.

         At the back of 53 Daytona Street, another set of stairs connected the basement to the second-floor kitchen. A third set of stairs, also in the back, connected the second floor to the third floor. Plaintiff's son, Keith Hutchins, had a bedroom in the basement. Plaintiff's son, Lee Hutchins, lived in one of the third-floor bedrooms. For ease of reference, Lee Hutchins, Sr., will be referred to in this memorandum as “Plaintiff, ” and his son as “Lee Hutchins” or “Lee.”

         Around midnight on January 20, 2013, Defendants Daniel McKay and Felix Romero, Springfield police officers, were dispatched to assist Vanessa Romero in retrieving her two-year-old son Ivan from the boy's father, Lee Hutchins. Defendants followed Vanessa's vehicle to 53 Daytona Street. They either knocked on the ground-floor door or rang the doorbell, waking up Plaintiff as well as other occupants of the residence. According to Plaintiff, his stepson, Tyshon Faust, answered the door. The officers did not recall the name of the person at the door, but Defendant McKay testified that he was “very civil” and “said they'd be right down with the child.” (McKay Dep., Dkt. No. 31-5 at 8-9.) The ground-floor front door was left open while Tyshon went upstairs to alert the household. (Romero Dep., Dkt. No. 31-4 at 4.) Tyshon did not invite the officers to enter.

         Tyshon went to Plaintiff's second-floor bedroom and told him the police were at the door. Meanwhile, after waiting outside for approximately ten minutes, Defendants McKay and Romero entered 53 Daytona Street through the ground-floor door, climbed the stairs to the second floor, and knocked on the interior door there.

         Exactly why Defendant officers entered the premises is unclear, and what their assumptions were in doing so is disputed. In his deposition, Defendant McKay stated that, during their ten-minute wait outside, the officers “tried re-establishing contact from the base of the stairwell. When we received no response, we went to the top of the stairwell and knocked on the door there.” (McKay Dep., Dkt. No. 31-5 at 9.)

         Accepting the officers' testimony, it is possible to conclude that they mistakenly, but reasonably, believed that the interior stairwell leading from the street entry to the second floor was a common area outside Plaintiff's home. Defendant Romero stated at his deposition that when they reached the second-floor landing they “decided to knock on the apartment door, ” (Romero Dep., Dkt. 31-4 at 5) and that the two officers remained outside the “apartment” through the interchange. (Id.) This testimony suggests that Defendant Romero did not believe he was entering Plaintiff's living area by going up the stairs. Similarly, Defendant McKay stated in his affidavit in opposition to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment that a common layout of buildings like 51/53 Daytona Street included one downstairs apartment and two second-floor apartments served by a common staircase. (McKay Aff. ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 51-1 at 2-3.) He stated explicitly that “[a]t the time that we went up the stairs and had our conversation with the Plaintiff, we believed we were in a common area of the building, not within an individual apartment.” (Id. at ¶ 7.)

         At any rate, Defendants McKay and Romero were standing on the second-floor landing outside the interior door when Plaintiff opened it and asked, “Can I help you?” When told the officers were there to collect the child Ivan, Plaintiff said that he would “be right back” with the child. (Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts, ¶ 37, Dkt. No. 33-1 at 46-47.)

         What happened next is disputed. The testimony of Romero and McKay was that they never entered into the apartment area from the second-floor landing. (Romero Dep., Dkt. No. 31-4 at 5; McKay Aff. ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 51-1 at 3.) Plaintiff's version, on the other hand, is that when Plaintiff's son Keith came up the back stairs from his basement bedroom, he found McKay and Romero standing “at the door frame which is in the kitchen.” (Keith Hutchins Dep., Dkt. No. 33, Ex. C at 36.) He became angry, telling them, “You have no warrant. You got to go outside.” (Id. at 38.)

         Plaintiff himself, when he returned with Ivan, found that the two officers “were in the kitchen and they were arguing with my son Keith.” (Pl.'s Dep., Dkt. No. 31-9 at 16.) Confusion on this point is worse confounded by Defendants' submission, citing Plaintiff's deposition, which seems to concede that “McKay and Romero were already in the kitchen when Plaintiff returned from the 3rd floor with Ivan.” (Dkt. No. 31-1 at 4.) For purposes of Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on Count 1, this memorandum assumes the officers stayed on the second-floor landing outside the kitchen, per Romero's deposition and the McKay affidavit.

         When Plaintiff's son Lee woke up and learned that his son's mother, Vanessa Montero, was at the residence with two police officers to collect their son Ivan, he became upset. Defendants McKay and Romero heard Lee say he was going to “fuck that bitch up” before running out the back door. (McKay Dep., Dkt. No. 31-5 at 9.) Lee ran down the back stairs to confront Montero, who had been left unattended on the porch. Plaintiff's other son, Keith, then ran down the front stairs to the outside.

         Defendants McKay and Romero followed and came upon Lee and Keith engaged in a verbal confrontation with Montero. Whether this involved physical contact is disputed. (Pl.'s Response to Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 32-33, Dkt. No. 43 at 4-5.) Defendant Romero told Lee that if he continued, he would be placed under arrest. Defendant Romero then grabbed Lee, attempting to take him into custody, and a struggle ensued. Plaintiff emerged onto the porch at this time and tried, without success, to calm his sons down. Keith entered the fray on Lee's side in the struggle with Romero, and Lee eventually broke free and fled the scene.

         During the ensuing fracas, Defendant McKay began striking Keith with his baton. Plaintiff approached the struggling men and, by his own admission, grabbed the end, or tip, of McKay's baton. (Pl.'s Dep., Dkt. No. 33-1 at 86.) Plaintiff contends that, in grabbing the baton, he was attempting to stop Defendant McKay from errantly striking Defendant Romero and to assist in bringing Keith under control.

         In response to Plaintiff grabbing the end of his baton, Defendant McKay maced Plaintiff. Plaintiff stumbled back. He was then struck twice in the back by Defendant Springfield police officers Hervieux and his partner Christopher Goodrow, who had just arrived on the scene. Plaintiff was subsequently handcuffed and transported to the police station.

         In his police report, Defendant McKay described Plaintiff as engaging in disorderly conduct, committing two counts of assault and battery on a police officer, and resisting arrest. The report served as the basis for the eventual criminal charges leveled against Plaintiff. On September 10, 2014, a jury acquitted Plaintiff of all charges against him.

         This lawsuit followed. On March 10, 2017, Plaintiff and Defendants filed their motions for summary judgment, Plaintiff as to Count 1 and Defendants as to all eight counts. (Dkt. Nos. 29 and 31.) Defendant City of Springfield also filed a Motion to Bifurcate. (Dkt. No. 32.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         A motion for summary judgment can only be allowed if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving ...


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