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Gaetani v. Hadley

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 29, 2019

CRAIG GAETANI, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID J. HADLEY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND MOTION TO STRIKE (DKT. NOS. 111 & 116)

          MARK G. MASTROIANNI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Craig Gaetani (“Plaintiff”) alleges Defendant David Hadley (“Defendant” or “Hadley”), a court security officer, wrongfully and unreasonably removed him from a Berkshire County courtroom where he sought clarification from a judge. Plaintiff originally asserted nine claims under state and federal law against Defendant; Susan McMahon (“McMahon”), another court security officer; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and “the Trial Court of the Commonwealth.” (Dkt. No. 1.) The court partially granted several motions to dismiss (Dkt. Nos. 28 & 53), and Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his claims against McMahon (Dkt. No. 109). Hadley is the only remaining defendant. Plaintiff's remaining claims against Hadley are (1) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures (Count III); (2) a related claim under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (“MCRA”), Mass. Gen. Laws c. 12, §§ 11H & 11I (Count IV); and (3) a common law assault and battery claim (Count V).

         Hadley moved for summary judgment on all claims[1] or, in the alternative, asserting he is entitled to qualified immunity on all claims. (Dkt. No. 111.) Hadley also seeks reconsideration of the court's denial of his motion to dismiss Plaintiff's MCRA claim. The court heard argument on the summary judgment motion on May 9, 2018. For the reasons below, Hadley's summary judgment motion will be granted as to Plaintiff's MCRA claim and otherwise denied.

         Hadley also moved to strike an expert opinion from Plaintiff's opposition to the summary judgment motion. (Dkt. No. 116.) After the hearing on the summary judgment motion, the parties filed a joint statement regarding the motion to strike, in which they agreed that if Defendant prevailed on his summary judgment motion, the motion to strike would be moot. (Dkt. No. 119.) In lieu of filing a formal opposition to the motion to strike, Plaintiff raised his objections to that motion in the joint statement. For the reasons set forth in Section V below, Defendant's motion to strike will be allowed in part and denied in part.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The undisputed facts are few and, in relevant part, are as follows. On June 22, 2011, Plaintiff appeared at the Pittsfield District Courthouse to attend proceedings in a civil action he initiated in pursuit of money owed to him. The defendant in that case was incarcerated on unrelated charges and did not appear. The presiding judge directed Plaintiff to visit the clerk's office to obtain a writ of habeas corpus directing the defendant's attendance at the next proceeding. Shortly after Plaintiff departed, McMahon, who had been on duty in the courtroom when Plaintiff received the judge's instruction to request a habeas from the clerk's office, responded to a request for help with a disturbance at the clerk's office. Witness accounts differ at this point and are summarized below.

         A. Defendant's and Other Court Officers' Version of Events

         According to McMahon, she hurried to the clerk's office and found Plaintiff “yelling and screaming at the woman behind the counter and leaning over the counter.” (McMahon Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 77-1, Ex. 4) at 35:20-22.) Plaintiff was “very irate, ” but McMahon “couldn't even really get the gist of what the problem was.” (Id. at 26:1-3.) She asked Plaintiff to calm down, but his behavior continued as clerk's office personnel tried to reason with him. (Id. at 36:13-37:11.) Despite her “polite[]” and “calm[]” requests, Plaintiff continued to “yell and scream.” (Id. at 37:9-13.) Concerned the commotion would disrupt nearby court proceedings, McMahon told Plaintiff he “need[ed] to leave this office now. You're disrupting the court.” (Id. at 37:12-23.) “At some point, ” Plaintiff left the clerk's office but started to scream; he “barged” out the door, declaring he would “go see the judge myself, right now.” (Id. at 38:1-7.) McMahon followed him down a staircase and was “concerned” about Plaintiff going into or near the judge's lobby, but he walked past that set of doors. (Id. at 38:1-17.) As they neared the courtroom, he was “yelling and screaming, continuing, ‘I'm going to see the judge right now. You're not going to stop me.'” (Id. at 38:19-39:4.) She “was right on his heals [sic] behind him, but [she] was not touching him.” (Id. at 39:4-5.) She never told him he could not go in the courtroom, but when he got to the courtroom door, she exhorted him to calm down and see the judge after gathering himself. (Id. at 39:11-22.) He ignored her and entered the courtroom as she continued to trail him. (Id. at 39:23-40:8.) The judge was not on the bench; McMahon grew concerned Plaintiff would attempt to pass through the partitions and enter chambers through the back of the courtroom, so she placed herself between Plaintiff and the intervening passage. (Id. at 39:4-40:10.)

         McMahon remembers no one else in the courtroom except court security officer John Donati (“Donati”). (Id. at 40:9-41:23.) Plaintiff “was still yelling and screaming, ‘I'm going back to see [the judge] now. Why won't you let me back there[?]'” (Id. at 42:3-5.) McMahon replied that he was not allowed to see the judge unexpectedly; she “gestured” her hand against Plaintiff's upper left arm and told him he had to calm down and leave. (Id. at 41:23-43:6.) Plaintiff “whipped his arm up” to deflect McMahon's “gestur[ing]” arm; in doing so, he brushed it against her face and, but for her responsive head movement, “he would have made contact, striking [her] face.” (Id. at 43:16-44:5.)

         Donati began to cross the courtroom. (Id. at 43:10-15.) He intervened and grabbed Plaintiff's arm. (Id. at 44:8-10.) Plaintiff was “still very agitated, very much screaming . . . and was not happy” (id. at 44:16-19), but he did not attempt to strike McMahon or Donati (id. at 45:15-19). McMahon and Donati walked Plaintiff toward a “security station” and out of the building; Plaintiff exited the building into the parking lot where he continued “yelling and screaming.” (Id. at 45:2-46:1, 47:21-48:10.) McMahon testified Plaintiff did not attempt to turn around and return to the courtroom as officers escorted him out of the courthouse. (Id. at 47:15-17.) She has no memory of Defendant being involved with the altercation, although she noticed him observing the situation near the exit of the building. (Id. at 48:11-49:11.)[2]

         Donati, who apparently was not deposed, provided a sworn affidavit attaching a contemporaneous incident report he wrote. In the affidavit, Donati attested that he was “the one who physically escorted Mr. Gaetani from the courthouse.” (Donati Aff. (Dkt. No. 77-1, Ex. 6) at ¶ 4.) The incident report corroborated that claim in brief and general terms. (Donati Aff. (Dkt. No. 77-1, Ex. 6-A).) Katherine Wright, a courtroom clerk, echoed this claim in a brief, half-page affidavit. (Wright Aff. (Dkt. No. 77-1, Ex. 7) at ¶¶ 5-7.)

         Defendant retained a use of force expert who submitted a report explaining use of force training for Massachusetts court officers, assessing how a reasonable officer would perceive Plaintiff's conduct based on various witnesses' accounts, and opining on the reasonableness of the court officers' responses. (Fitzgerald Rpt. (Dkt. No. 77-1, Ex. 9).) Based on the various witnesses' accounts, the expert concluded that the court officers' uses of force were objectively reasonable. (Id.)

         B. Plaintiff's Version of Events

         Plaintiff's deposition testimony paints an entirely different picture. Plaintiff-who was 63 years old, 5'9” tall, and weighed 214 pounds at the time of the incident-asserts that when he relayed the judge's order for a writ of habeas corpus to clerk's office personnel, he was told “the judge didn't say that” and Plaintiff instead needed a capias. (Plaintiff Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. . 113-2[3]) at 14:5-13, 15:21-23; Plaintiff Medical Records (Dkt. No. 113-6) at 2 of 14[4] and MR00336.) Plaintiff explained to the clerk's office staff that he had just come from the “courtroom within the last minute or so, ” and the judge had ordered the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. (Plaintiff Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. . 113-2) at 15:1-7.) He “explained to them that they were wrong, that the judge had [him] come up to get a habeas corpus, not a capias.” (Id. at 16:7-10.) Plaintiff acknowledged he was “a little bit heated in stating to them” that they were “wrong.” (Id. at 16:16-20, 17:8-14.) His voice “elevated” slightly above his normal speaking voice when the staff persisted in their error because he was “emphasizing [the] point” that he had just spoken with the judge who had told him to get a writ of habeas corpus. (Id. at 17:19-18:16.) He did not recall whether he leaned over the desk, whether court security officers were present, or whether anyone asked him to “calm down.” (Id. at 18:17-19:11.)

         After the clerk's office persisted in error, Plaintiff said he was going speak with the judge, left the clerk's officer, and walked at “normal speed” towards the courtroom. (Id. at 15:11-12, 20:3-21.) As he opened the courtroom door, “[s]omebody grabbed” him, and a voice from behind him said, “you're out of here.” (Id. at 21:3-21:22.) He did not have time to respond before, as Plaintiff described it, a man “put my arm behind my back . . . with my wrist about waist level, and then he thrusted upward” “toward my shoulder.” (Id. at 27:1-14, 77:9-22.) Plaintiff believes the man's “other hand was on [Plaintiff's] shoulder.” (Id. at 28:2-3.) Plaintiff identified the man as Hadley. (Id. at 133:15-18.)

         Feeling “terrible” pain in his shoulder, Plaintiff declared several times, “I think you just broke my shoulder.” (Id. at 32:1-34:22.) Plaintiff explained: “I was saying it when they first grabbed me in the doorway, and it happened almost instantly when he broke my shoulder, I said, you're hurting my shoulder, my shoulder is hurting terrible [sic], you're hurting my shoulder.” (Id. at 34:15-22.)

         While Hadley thrust Plaintiff's wrist toward his shoulder, a woman took hold of Plaintiff's left side. (Id. at 28:10-13.) She had both of her “hands on [Plaintiff's] arm and [his] shoulder on the other side.” (Id. at 28:16-21.) Hadley and the woman “were trying to lead [Plaintiff] out of the courtroom.” (Id. at 28:21-22.) Plaintiff identified the woman as McMahon. (Id. at 133:19:21.)

         Officers escorted Plaintiff out of the courthouse in a period of two to four minutes, “grasp[ing]” him and walking him to the exit. (Id. at 32:1-34:22.) Plaintiff struggled to some extent but did not try to escape the officers' clutches. (Id. 33:21-43-14 (“I wasn't trying to resist them. I was in their grasps. But I was making it clear that my shoulder was hurting.”).) He testified he did not resist Hadley, but when McMahon grabbed his left harm, he believed his right arm had been broken, and he was trying to protect himself and not have his left arm pulled behind his back. (Id. at 141:9-142:10.) Plaintiff further described his encounter with McMahon: “She's a court officer taking me out of the courtroom. I know her job and I tried to comply the best I could. However, I wasn't about to get my left shoulder broken either. So I tried to keep my [left] arm from going behind my back the best I could.” (Id. at 142:14-22.) He testified he did not swing at McMahon or hit any of the court officers. (Id. at 33:24-34:1, 142:11-12.) McMahon corroborated this testimony. (McMahon Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 77-1, Ex. 4) at 45:15-19.)

         After officers pulled Plaintiff out of the courtroom, he first stepped backwards but then turned around to face forward and walk toward the exit. (Plaintiff Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. . 113-2) at 34:23-35:18.) He testified his feet were not dragged on the ground but then testified he does not recall his feet being dragged on the ground. (Id. at 35:11-12, 19-21.) Outside the courthouse, Plaintiff saw John Bernardo, a local attorney, and told Bernardo he thought the officers had broken his shoulder. (Id. at 40:1-22.)

         Bernardo's deposition testimony corroborates Plaintiff's version of events in several key respects but differs from Plaintiff's in others. Bernardo testified he was in the courtroom when Plaintiff entered and said (to whom is unclear): “‘I need to see the judge. The girls upstairs said they don't know anything, they can't do something, I need to see the judge.'” (Bernardo Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 77-1, Ex. 10[5]) at 10:2-14.) Someone or some group of people told Plaintiff he could not see the judge. (Id. at 10:15-16.) Plaintiff said aloud in the courtroom that the judge told him to go to the clerk's office, but the clerk's office staff could not help him, and, as a result, he needed to see the judge. (Id. at 10:17-24.) He was told again to leave, and someone-Bernardo believes it was a clerk named Dave Kearns-said, “‘Get him out of here.'” (Id. at 11:1-7.) Before this point, court officers were not around Plaintiff, but the officers in the courtroom then surrounded him, and other officers came down from upstairs into the courtroom. (Id. at 11:7-14.) Plaintiff looked at Bernardo and asked, “‘Hey, John, can they throw me out like this?'” (Id. at 11:15-17.) Then the courtroom door opened, and “in stepped the biggest court officer there, Dave Hadley, ” who “grabbed [Plaintiff] by the arm.” (Id. at 11:18-20.) Hadley had come in “rapidly” and “grabbed [Plaintiff's] arm forcefully and yanked him, pulled him out that door.” (Id. at 11:18-24.) Bernardo continued:

[When Hadley entered the courtroom, the other court officers] had Mr. Gaetani surrounded. One court officer had him by one hand, another one had him by the other hand. Then it swapped, as to one of the officers. And Dave Hadley, like I said, come in the room, came charging in the door, and just grabbed his arm and yanked him right out. [Plaintiff's] arm was straight out [90 degrees to his body, parallel to the floor, ] and [Hadley] yanked him right out.
. . .
I mean, there was no delay. [Hadley] come charging in the room, grabbed [Plaintiff's] arm and just yanked him right out. And the other officers were all around Mr. Gaetani in the rear and to the side.

(Id. at 13:18-14:6, 14:24-15:4.) Hadley had two hands on Plaintiff's right arm “just like you grab a baseball bat.” (Id. at 14:9-10.) Out of concern for Plaintiff's safety, Bernardo followed the group outside and advised Plaintiff to leave the property.[6] (Bernardo Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 113-3) at 19:2-21:13.) Plaintiff complained to Bernardo, “‘My shoulder, . . . I think they dislocated it.'” (Id. at 19:20-21; see also Plaintiff Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 113-2 (40:19-22) (“I was telling Mr. Bernardo that I thought they broke my shoulder.”).)

         C. Plaintiff's Shoulder Injury

         Plaintiff's medical records show he went to a doctor about his shoulder several times in the days and weeks following the incident. (Plaintiff Medical Records (Dkt. No. 113-6) at ¶ 00336-37, MR00339-42.) The doctor sent him to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Herb Bote. (Plaintiff Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 113-2) at 50:7-16.) Dr. Bote informed Plaintiff he “had some torn tissues in [his] shoulder.” (Plaintiff Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 113-2) at 50:20-24; see also Plaintiff Medical Records (Dkt. No. 113-6) at ¶ 00344 (“ASSESSMENT: 840.4 Right Rotator cuff tear (Severe; Worsening)”).) Plaintiff subsequently underwent surgery, which “failed” and “had to be corrected.” (Plaintiff Dep. Tr. (Dkt. No. 113-2) at 51:1-19.)

         Plaintiff also sought medical attention for pain in his right shoulder roughly two weeks before the incident at the courthouse. On June 8, 2011, he saw his doctor for “recurrent pain in his right shoulder” that had been “progressively more painful over the last three to four days, although in duration it ha[d] been uncomfortable for probably two weeks.” (Plaintiff Medical Records (Dkt. No. 115-2) at GMED053). The doctor injected “[a] local anesthetic [that] provided prompt relief.” (Id.)

         According to Plaintiff's statement of facts, “Plaintiff did have surgery on his shoulder three months after the June 22 incident, but has offered no admissible evidence that surgery or any of Plaintiff's alleged increased shoulder pain were the result of the events on June 22, 2011.” (Plaintiff's SOF (Dkt. No. 113-9) at ¶ 31.)

         III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         “Summary judgment is appropriate ‘if 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.'” Bellone v. Southwick-Tolland Reg'l Sch. Dist., 748 F.3d 418, 422 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “[A] nonmovant can forestall summary judgment by ‘present[ing] definite, competent evidence' demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute about a material fact.” Murray v. Kindred Nursing Ctrs. W. LLC, 789 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2015) (quoting Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991)). “‘A dispute is genuine if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party.' . . . ‘A fact is material if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation.'” Patco Constr. Co. v. People's United Bank, 684 F.3d 197, 206-07 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Rodríguez-Rivera v. Federico Trilla Reg'l Hosp. of Carolina, 532 F.3d 28, 30 (1st Cir. 2008)). The court must view the facts and draw inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (citation omitted). “In a case in which the parties offer diametrically opposite versions of the facts, each founded on first-hand knowledge, we must ask whether the account propounded by the nonmovant suffices to thwart the swing of the summary judgment ax.” Morelli v. Webster, 552 F.3d 12, 18 (1st Cir. 2009). However, “[t]he role of the trial judge at the summary judgment stage ‘is not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Hodgens v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 144 F.3d 151, 167 (1st Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). Similarly, “the court should not engage in credibility assessments.” Domínguez-Cruz v. Suttle Caribe, Inc., 202 F.3d 424, 432 (1st Cir. 2000).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Defendant raises two arguments in his summary judgment motion. First, because of Donati's contemporaneous incident report in which he admits he seized Plaintiff, no reasonable jury could find in Plaintiff's favor. (See Section IV.A below.) Second, in the alternative, Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Defendant's motion requires the court to strike a difficult balance between summary judgment standards and the doctrine of qualified immunity. (See Section IV.B below.)

         A. Summary ...


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