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McDonald v. City of Boston

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 20, 2018





         The plaintiff, Sharon McDonald, was arrested on an arrest warrant obtained by the defendant, Richard Walker, a detective with the Boston Police Department. The plaintiff was unable to post bail and spent eight days in jail before being released on her own recognizance. Her arrest was later determined to be the result of mistaken identity, and the charges against her were dismissed. McDonald subsequently brought suit against Det. Walker and the City of Boston. Following rulings on the defendants' motions to dismiss, [1] the plaintiff is proceeding on claims against Det. Walker for false arrest, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) (Count I) and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, § 11I (“MCRA”) (Count VI), and for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) (Count V). She is also asserting claims against the City of Boston for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) (Counts III and V, [2] respectively).

         The matter is presently before the court on Det. Walker's “Motion for Summary Judg-ment” (Docket No. 65), by which Det. Walker seeks summary judgment on all of McDonald's claims against him. The matter is also before the court on McDonald's “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Liability” (Docket No. 69), by which McDonald seeks summary judgment on her Section 1983 claim against Det. Walker, and her negligence claim against the City of Boston.[3] In connection with her motion for partial summary judgment, McDonald has also filed a “Motion to Strike Evidence of the Surveillance Video” (Docket No. 75), by which McDonald seeks to exclude surveillance video footage of the crime Det. Walker was investigating, as well as any testimony that makes reference to the video. For all of the reasons detailed herein, the motions are ALLOWED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as follows:

1. Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 69) is ALLOWED as to her Section 1983 claim against Det. Walker (Count I) (liability only) and DENIED as to her negligence claim against the City of Boston (Count III).
2. Det. Walker's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 65) is DENIED as to the Section 1983 claim (Count I) and ALLOWED as to the MCRA (Count VI) and IIED claims (Count V) against him.
3. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Evidence of Surveillance Video (Docket No. 75) is DENIED, provided, however, that the defendants are limited to the version of the video produced to the plaintiff.


The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. Defendant Richard Walker is a detective with the Boston Police Department. DF ¶ 1. On or about May 22, 2012, Det. Walker responded to a report of an armed robbery at a store in Roslindale committed by four African-American women. DF ¶¶ 2-3; PF ¶¶ 1-2. The store clerks told Det. Walker that the suspects fled the scene in a 1992 green Honda Civic, and provided him with the license plate number. DF ¶ 4; PF ¶ 3. Det. Walker went to the residence of the registered owner of the car, Fitzroy Swift, and spoke with a woman at the residence who identified herself as Swift's sister. PF ¶ 6. She called Swift and handed the phone to Det. Walker. PF ¶ 8. Swift told Walker that he had registered the car for a friend, Sharon McDonald, who lived in Brockton. DF ¶ 5. Swift indicated that McDonald was Jamaican, 47 years old, 5'3”, and had several daughters. DF ¶ 6; PF ¶¶ 10-11. Swift provided Det. Walker with a telephone number for McDonald, but did not provide a specific address for McDonald's residence in Brockton. DF ¶ 7. Swift refused to provide Det. Walker with his location and refused to meet with him. PF ¶ 9.

         Det. Walker called the number Swift provided and left a voicemail. DF ¶ 8. Five minutes later, Walker received a call back from an individual with a Jamaican accent who identified herself as Sharon McDonald. DF ¶ 10; PF ¶ 15. She stated that she was not involved in the robbery and did not know anyone named “Fitz, ” but later stated that “if you explain to me what happened, I can tell you in return what happened.” Id. Det. Walker asked her to come to the station, but she refused. PF ¶ 16.

         Det. Walker searched the Registry of Motor Vehicles (“RMV”) for individuals with a license named “Sharon McDonald.” PF ¶ 13. Only one such individual, the plaintiff, was listed as residing in Brockton. Id. The plaintiff's license photograph was five years old and her height was listed as 5'8”. PF ¶ 18. Det. Walker assembled a photo array that included the plaintiff's driver's license picture and presented the array to two store clerks who witnessed the robbery. PF ¶ 19. Neither clerk identified the plaintiff. Id. Det. Walker also ran a criminal background check on both the plaintiff and Swift. PF ¶¶ 17, 20. The plaintiff had no criminal record. PF ¶ 20. Swift had an extensive criminal record with over 31 charges, including charges for armed robbery. PF ¶ 17.

         Det. Walker obtained and reviewed surveillance video from the store which included footage from the time of the robbery. PF ¶ 21; DF ¶ 12. The surveillance picture was not very good, as the clarity “wasn't definite.” Pl. Ex. 3 at 123. In his Supplemental Incident Report, Det. Walker indicated that “[o]ne of the suspects (the oldest) looks like Sharon Mcdonald [sic] as she appears in her Massachusetts Drivers License.” PF ¶ 26. Det. Walker sought an arrest warrant for the plaintiff for armed robbery but did not mention the failed photo arrays in his warrant application. DF ¶¶ 13-14; Pl. Ex. 6. Det. Walker testified that his failure to mention the photo arrays was an oversight, as it is his normal practice to do so. PF ¶ 32. An arrest warrant was issued for the plaintiff and the plaintiff was arrested by Brockton police. PF ¶ 34; Pl. Ex. 4 at 2. At her arraignment, McDonald was unable to make the $5, 000 cash bail set by the court, and she remained incarcerated for eight days until her bail was reduced to personal recognizance and she was released. Pl. Ex. 8 at 2-3.

         On or around July 9, 2012, Det. Walker met with Swift and presented him with a photo array that included the plaintiff's driver's license picture. PF ¶ 40. Swift did not identify the plaintiff as the Sharon McDonald he knew. Id. The next day, Det. Walker met with the plaintiff, who was in court with her attorney. DF ¶¶ 17-18; PF ¶ 36; Pl. Ex. 4 at 2. He asked the plaintiff if she drove a green Honda Civic. PF ¶ 38. She replied that she did not and had another vehicle registered in her name. Id. Walker also observed that the plaintiff did not have a Jamaican accent and was not 5'3”. Pl. Ex. 3 at 234. As a result of this meeting, Det. Walker determined that the plaintiff was not the Sharon McDonald involved in the armed robbery and requested that the District Attorney drop the charges against her. DF ¶¶ 18-19; PF ¶ 39. On July 23, 2012, the court allowed the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss on the grounds that she “is not the proper subject of [the] criminal complaint” and had been “wrongfully charged[.]” PF ¶ 41.

         Additional factual details relevant to the court's analysis are described below where appropriate.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

         Both McDonald and Det. Walker have moved for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. “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.'” PC Interiors, Ltd. v. J. Tucci Constr. Co., 794 F.Supp.2d 274, 275 (D. Mass. 2011) (quoting Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991)) (additional citations omitted). The burden is upon the moving party to show, based upon the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, “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]n issue is ‘genuine' if it ‘may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.'” Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 548 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 48 (1st Cir. 1990)). “A fact is ‘material' only if it possesses the capacity to sway the outcome of the litigation under the applicable law.” Id. (quotations, punctuation and citations omitted).

         “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.” PC Interiors, Ltd., 794 F.Supp.2d at 275. The opposing party can avoid summary judgment only by providing properly supported evidence of disputed material facts. LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841-42 (1st Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1018, 114 S.Ct. 1398, 128 L.Ed.2d 72 (1994) . Accordingly, “the nonmoving party ‘may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading[, ]'” but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2514, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

         “Cross-motions for summary judgment do not alter the basic Rule 56 standard, but rather simply require [the court] to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed.” Adria Int'l Group, Inc. v. Ferre Dev., Inc., 241 F.3d 103, 107 (1st Cir. 2001). “‘When facing cross-motions for summary judgment, a court must rule on each motion independently, deciding in each instance whether the moving party has met its burden under Rule 56.'” Peck v. City of Boston, 750 F.Supp.2d 308, 312 (D. Mass. 2010) (quoting Dan Barclay, Inc. v. Stewart & Stevenson Servs., Inc., 761 F.Supp. 194, 197-98 (D. Mass. 1991)).

         B. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Evidence of ...

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