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Calabrese-Kelley v. Town of Braintree

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 8, 2019

Karen Calabrese-Kelley Plaintiff,
v.
Town of Braintree, et al Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 24)

          LEO T. SOROKIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendants move for summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity where the plaintiff alleges false arrest, false imprisonment, a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a violation of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Plaintiff opposes. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is ALLOWED.

         I. FACTS

         It is undisputed that on the evening of February 21, 2014, the plaintiff, Karen Calabrese-Kelley, and her ex-husband, William Kelley, arranged to meet in a Kmart parking lot in Braintree to exchange custody of two of their four children. Doc. No. 31 ¶¶ 11-17. During the exchange of their children, Ms. Calabrese-Kelley and Mr. Kelley had an interaction that resulted in them both calling 911. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. Three officers from the Braintree police department responded to the call and eventually arrested Ms. Calabrese-Kelley. Id. ¶ 63.

         Because the primary question is whether the officers who responded to the 911 calls are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to their arrest of Ms. Calabrese-Kelley, the facts are described as they were known to the officers at the time of the arrest. However, the facts are presented in the light most favorable to Ms. Calabrese-Kelley, with all reasonable inferences drawn in her favor, pursuant to the standard for deciding a motion for summary judgment.[1] See LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993) (on summary judgment, a court is “obliged to view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor”).

         When Ms. Calabrese-Kelley called 911, she told the dispatcher that her ex-husband had assaulted her by pushing her, that he was a police officer, and that they were in the Braintree Kmart parking lot with their children. Doc. No. 26-1 at 69-70. Three officers from the Braintree Police Department responded to the 911 calls: Officer John McNamara, Officer David Clark, and Sergeant Charles Bata. Doc. No. 26-3 at 23. Prior to their arrival at the scene, the dispatcher told the officers that it was a domestic dispute involving an off-duty Boston police officer. Doc. No. 26-1 at 72, Doc. No. 26-8 at 26.

         Sergeant Bata describes his observations of the scene as: “there were two parties there, the male and female parties, two separate cars, a few spaces apart.” Doc. No. 26-3 at 27. When Sergeant Bata arrived, Officer McNamara was speaking with Ms. Calabrese-Kelley. Id. Both children were in Ms. Calabrese-Kelley's car at that time. Doc. No. 26-7 at 21.

         The following information was obtained by the officers from Ms. Calabrese-Kelley, who “was very emotional” while talking to the officers. Doc. No. 26-7 at 21. After she and Mr. Kelley both arrived in the parking lot, she carried one of their daughter's hockey bag and stick to Mr. Kelley's car. Id. at 82. Mr. Kelley did not want to take the hockey equipment from her. At some point while she was trying to give him the equipment, Mr. Kelley pushed her to the ground.[2] Doc. No. 31 ¶ 58. Because she was holding the hockey equipment, the hockey stick “swung out when [she] fell.” Doc. No. 26-1 at 83. Ms. Calabrese-Kelley showed Sergeant Bata and Officer McNamara her “bloody knee” and the injuries on her hands which she got when Mr. Kelley pushed her to the ground. Doc. No. 26-1 at 85. Furthermore, she told the officers that Mr. Kelley knocked one of their daughters to the ground at some point during the incident. Id. at 79-80. None of the officers asked either of the two children, ages not revealed in the record, what happened between Mr. Kelley and Ms. Calabrese-Kelley. Doc. No. 31 ¶ 73.

         The following information was obtained by Officer Clark and Sergeant Bata from Mr. Kelley, who was “calm” during his conversation with them.[3] Doc. No. 26-8 at 21, 28. Mr. Kelley told the officers that “he was there for a child custody swap and that [Ms. Calabrese-Kelley] hit him with a hockey stick.” Doc. No. 26-3 at 27. He said that Ms. Calabrese-Kelley “wanted him to take the bag that belonged to his daughter, ” and that “she came to the car and tried to put it in the car.”[4] Doc. No. 26-3 at 29, 31. He said “he got in front of her and blocked her from putting it in.” Doc. No. 26-9. Sergeant Bata observed a hockey stick and bag in the back seat of Mr. Kelley's car. Doc. No. 26-3 at 28. Mr. Kelley told the officers that Ms. Calabrese-Kelley “either fell on the ground, or . . . hit her head and knee on the [car] door.” Doc. No. 26-8 at 22. He also told the officers that that one of their children had gotten into his car before the altercation. Doc. No. 26-9 at 1. However, when the officers arrived, both children were in Ms. Calabrese-Kelley's car. Doc. No. 26-7 at 21. Mr. Kelley stated that he had been hit on the back of his legs. Doc. No. 26-3 at 32. The officers did not look at his legs to see whether there were any marks on them. Id. Though the officers knew that Mr. Kelley was an off-duty police officer, none of them asked whether he had a firearm on him at any point. Doc. No. 26-3 at 26. At some point, Officer Clark took “control of the hockey stick and put it in his cruiser.” Doc. No. 26-7 at 23.

         Ultimately, Sergeant Bata made the decision to arrest Ms. Calabrese-Kelley because he determined that she was the “aggressor” in the situation. Doc. No. 26-3 at 34. She was arrested and transported to the Braintree Police Station. Doc. No. 31 ¶ 63. She was later tried for and acquitted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Doc. No. 31 ¶ 70. She now brings an action against Sergeant Bata, Officer McNamara, Officer Clark, and the dispatcher on the 911 call (the “individual defendants”), as well as the Town of Braintree and the Braintree Police Department. Her complaint alleges four counts stemming from her arrest: (1) false arrest, (2) false imprisonment, (3) a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and (4) a violation of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (“MCRA claim”).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court applies the familiar summary judgment standard. Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant 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). Once a party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who “may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.” Barbour v. Dynamics Research Corp., 63 F.3d 32, 37 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986)). Moreover, the Court is “obliged to view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor.” LeBlanc v. Great American Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993). Even so, the Court must ignore “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Sullivan v. City of Springfield, 561 F.3d 7, 14 (1st Cir.2009).

         “Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, police officers are protected ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Mlodzinski v. Lewis, 648 F.3d 24, 32 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). To defeat qualified immunity, “‘the facts alleged or shown by the plaintiff” must ‘make out a violation of a constitutional right' and the right must have been ‘clearly established' at the time of the defendant's alleged violation.” Id. (quoting Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231). To determine whether the right was clearly established, the Court must consider

(a) whether the legal contours of the right in question were sufficiently clear that a reasonable officer would have understood that what he was doing violated the right, and (b) whether in the particular factual context of the case, a reasonable ...

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