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Watson v. Mita

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 20, 2019

ELIAS WATSON. Plaintiff,
DAVID MITA, as Police Officer of the City Of Worcester and Individually; STEPHEN PIGNATARO, as Police Officer of the City Of Worcester and Individually; THE CITY OF WORCESTER; KIRSCH LIQUORS, ROBERT KIRSCH; and JOHN BROYLES Defendants.




          Plaintiff Elias Watson (“Plaintiff” or “Watson”) filed a multi-count complaint alleging various federal and state civil rights violations and common law tort claims against Defendants David Mita and Stephen Pignataro, Police Officers for the City of Worcester, the City of Worcester (collectively, “the City Defendants”), Kirsch Liquors, along with store owner Robert Kirsch and store employee John Broyles (collectively, the “Kirsch Defendants”). Defendants moved to dismiss all counts in the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On September 29, 2018, this Court granted the City Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Counts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and VIII and denied it as to Count VII and granted the Kirsch Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Counts V, VI, and VIII and denied it as to Count VII. Both the City Defendants and the Kirsch Defendants now move for summary judgment as to the final remaining claim, Count VII for malicious prosecution against all defendants.

         Relevant Facts

         On the evening of March 9, 2013, at approximately 8:00 p.m, Plaintiff visited Kirsch Liquors located at 646 Main Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sometime thereafter, Worcester police officers Stephen Pignataro and David Mita were dispatched to Kirsch Liquors for a disturbance or fight involving the Plaintiff and an employee of Kirsch Liquors. Prior to the arrival of the Officer Pignataro and Mita, Plaintiff was in the store, arguing with Defendant Broyles, a Kirsch employee. In the surveillance footage, Broyles can be heard asking Plaintiff to leave the store. Plaintiff yelled and swore at Broyles in the store, stating “I wish one of y'all will touch me and I will show you a knife.” Plaintiff then said to Broyles to “F*** with me.” Ms. Tracy Hanson, an employee of Kirsch Liquors, can be observed on the phone speaking with Worcester Police Department emergency dispatch. Plaintiff then approached the counter, and continued to argue with Broyles.

         Plaintiff was pushed to the ground by Broyles. He got back on his feet, refused to leave the store, engaged in arguments with other patrons of the store, while continuing to yell at Broyles. Specifically, Plaintiff stated to Broyles, “you f***ed with the wrong person, ” “I am coming back, ” “I will be your worst nightmare, ” “I will beat your f***ing punk a**, ” and “I have a son and he will murder him.” At about this time, responding to the dispatch call, Officer Pignataro entered the store and observed the Plaintiff's behavior. Officer Pignataro approached the Plaintiff and advised him to calm down. The Plaintiff stated that he had a knife, but was not holding a knife. Officer Pignataro attempted to restrain the Plaintiff, brought him to the ground and handcuffed him. Officer Mita arrived on the scene after the Plaintiff had been handcuffed.

         Officer Mita searched the Plaintiff and found a pocket knife on his person. (Docket No. 50, Exhibit 8, p.2, Excerpt Worcester District Court Transcript). Plaintiff was transported to the Worcester Police Department and was booked. Officer Mita spoke with Broyles and Hanson about the incident at the store. On March 9, 2013, Officer Mita submitted an application for criminal charges against the Plaintiff for disturbing the peace and assault with a dangerous weapon. An assistant clerk magistrate of the Worcester District Court found probable cause to initiate charges against the Plaintiff and he was arraigned on March 11, 2013 and release on personal recognizance. At the Plaintiff's trial on September 19, 2014, the District Court allowed the defense motion for a required finding of not guilty on all counts. Plaintiff filed this action on September 16, 2016.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the court shall grant summary judgment if the moving party shows, based on the materials in the record, “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 factual dispute precludes summary judgment if it is both “genuine” and “material.” See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505. An issue is “genuine” when the evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could resolve the point in favor of the nonmoving party. Morris v. Gov't Dev. Bank of Puerto Rico, 27 F.3d 746, 748 (1stCir. 1994). A fact is “material” when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Id.

         The moving party is responsible for “identifying those portions [of the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). It can meet its burden either by “offering evidence to disprove an element of the plaintiff's case or by demonstrating an ‘absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'” Rakes v. United States, 352 F.Supp.2d 47, 52 (D. Mass. 2005), aff'd, 442 F.3d 7 (1st Cir. 2006) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548). Once the moving party shows the absence of any disputed material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to place at least one material fact into dispute. Mendes v. Medtronic, Inc., 18 F.3d 13, 15 (1st Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Scanlon v. Dep't of Army, 277 F.3d 598, 600 (1st Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Malicious Prosecution Standard Under Section 1983

         In Count VII of his complaint, Plaintiff asserts a claim of malicious prosecution against all Defendants. He alleges in general terms that each of the defendants caused the initiation of the criminal process against him, with malice and without probable cause. Plaintiff further claims that the because of this malicious prosecution, he was denied of his rights under the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, the U.S. Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         To succeed on a Section 1983 claim for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must meet the common law elements listed above and additionally demonstrate “a deprivation of a federally-protected right.” Nieves v. McSweeney, 241 F.3d 46, 53 (1st Cir. 2001); see also Roche v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 81 F.3d 249, 256 (1st Cir. 1996) (explaining that a “garden-variety claim of malicious prosecution garbed in the regalia of § 1983 must fail”). A plaintiff seeking to sustain a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983 must do more than merely satisfy the elements of the common law tort of malicious prosecution. See Britton v. Maloney, 196 F.3d 24, 28 (1st Cir. 1999). The “plaintiff must show a deprivation of liberty, pursuant to legal process, that is consistent with the concept of a Fourth Amendment seizure.” Harrington v. City of Nashua, 610 F.3d 24, 30 (1st Cir. 2010). In the typical situation, the requisite legal process “comes either in the form of an arrest warrant (in which case the arrest would constitute the seizure) or a subsequent charging document (in which case the sum of post-arraignment deprivations would comprise the seizure).” Nieves, 241 F.3d at 54; Harrington, 610 F.3d at 30.

         Where, as here, a person is arrested without a warrant and before the issuance of any legal process, that arrest does not form part of a Fourth Amendment seizure upon which a section 1983 malicious prosecution claim may be premised. See Nieves, 241 F.3d at 54; see also Singer v. Fulton County Sherriff,63 F.3d 110, 117 (2d Cir. 1995) (holding that the plaintiff's arrest “cannot serve as the predicate deprivation of liberty because it occurred prior to his arraignment and without a warrant, and therefore was not ‘pursuant to legal process'”). The plaintiff “cannot base a malicious prosecution claim on [his] warrantless arrest, because it did not constitute legal process.” Meehan v. Town of Plymouth, 167 ...

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