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Strunk v. City of Beverly Police Department

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 6, 2019

DONALD STRUNK, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BEVERLY POLICE DEPARTMENT and RYAN P. HEGARTY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge

         This case arises out of a claim for discrimination under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“the ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.

         Donald Strunk (“Strunk” or “plaintiff”) alleges that the City of Beverly Police Department (“the Beverly Police Department”) and Officer Ryan Hegarty (“Officer Hegarty”) (collectively “defendants”) violated his rights under the ADA by 1) forcing him to undertake (and failing to make reasonable accommodations for) standard field sobriety tests after he was pulled over for suspected drunk driving and 2) thereafter arresting him for and charging him with operating under the influence after he failed those tests. Strunk maintains that he failed the field sobriety tests because of his alleged disabilities rather than as a result of being intoxicated. Nevertheless, he was convicted by a jury of operating under the influence and other related offenses. He subsequently brought this ADA claim.

         Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on the basis that 1) there is no individual liability under the ADA, 2) the claims are precluded by the principle announced by the Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484 (1994), 3) the claim is barred by issue preclusion, 4) the individual officer defendant is entitled to qualified immunity and 5) the Beverly Police Department is not a governmental entity amenable to suit under the ADA. For the following reasons, the Court finds that plaintiff's ADA claim is barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion and thus will be dismissed.

         I. Background

         A. The Incident

         Strunk is a resident of Danvers, Massachusetts. He submits that he is “a 100% handicapped, disabled veteran” with the following alleged disabilities: 1) “a large ventral hernia”, 2) “bilateral flat feet”, 3) “bilateral shoulder osteoarthritis”, 4) “bilateral knee osteoarthritis (bone on bone)”, 5) a “right foot cyst”, 6) “hearing loss” and 7) “others”.

         In January, 2018, Officer Hegarty stopped Strunk while he was traveling late at night in his vehicle. Officer Hegarty suspected Strunk of driving under the influence after he saw the passenger in the vehicle throw a glass bottle out the window. After providing Officer Hegarty with his identification, Strunk was asked to get out and step to the rear of the vehicle. Strunk allegedly informed the officer that he was disabled and could not walk well.

         Nevertheless, Officer Hegarty instructed plaintiff to perform various standard field sobriety tests. He was first asked to perform the so-called “walk and turn test”. Strunk allegedly repeated that he was disabled and could not walk well but complied with the officer's command. Strunk failed that test which he submits was a result of his various disabilities.

         Next, Strunk was directed to stand on one leg which he protested he was unable to perform because of his disabilities. Officer Hegarty apparently accepted that explanation and moved on to the third test which was the “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test”. Strunk believes that he passed that final test. Officer Hegarty concluded, however, that plaintiff was intoxicated and placed him under arrest.

         While on the way to the Beverly Police Station, Strunk began to experience chest and leg pain and believed that he was having a heart attack. He was taken immediately to the local hospital. Strunk contends that he was never offered a breathalyzer test at the hospital but that the Beverly Police Department falsely charged him with refusing a breathalyzer. He also alleges that he requested a blood alcohol test at the hospital to prove that he was not intoxicated but that the hospital refused to administer the test because it was “not medically indicated”. No. other tests were performed that night to establish plaintiff's blood alcohol level.

         The Beverly Police Department subsequently charged Strunk with operating under the influence and other related violations.

         B. The State Court Conviction

         In April, 2018, Strunk was tried by jury in Salem District Court. Officer Hegarty testified that plaintiff had failed the walk and turn test. When asked what consideration, if any, he had given to Strunk's alleged disabilities with respect to his ability to perform the field sobriety tests, Officer Hegarty testified that he simply moved on to the next test. The jury found Strunk ...


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