Summary Judgment Granted for Police in False Imprisonment / Civil Rights Action


Attorney Courtney Mayo successfully obtained summary judgment in favor of a police officer and Town in an action brought a man claiming his civil rights were violated when he was arrested following a verbal altercation with a family member.

The subject incident arose from a family dispute regarding the use of a family home which had been deeded to two adult sisters by their living parents. One sister was occupying the property as her own personal residence against the wishes of the other sister and their parents. When the family could not reach an agreement about acceptable shared usage of the property, the parents requested that Mr. A, the aggrieved sister’s husband, speak with the sister who was occupying the premises.

Mr. A arrived at the subject property without warning and attempted to speak with his sister-in-law who was sitting on the front porch of the home, eating her dinner and drinking a beer. The woman asked Mr. A to leave, went inside the home and locked the door. Mr. A then entered the property through an adjacent open door and continued the heated discussion with his sister-in law who grabbed her car keys, exited the property and hurriedly drove away. The woman then called her friend, a retired town police officer, to ask for advice. After hearing the women’s version of events, the retired officer traveled to the police department and relayed the incident as described to him to the other officers, including his nephew who was an active officer for the Town.

The officers followed “Domestic Violence Policy & Procedure No. 2.05” a set of guidelines used by officers when responding to claims of domestic violence, and went to the home to interview the alleged victim. When they arrived at the subject residence, the officers found the woman to be visibly shaken, acting in a hysterical manner and saying she was fearful her brother-in-law would harm her. Unbeknownst to the officers, the woman had been drinking prior that day and may or may not have had mental issues affecting her state of mind at the time of the interview. As a result of her statements and demonstrated behavior, the police issued a warrant for Mr. A’s arrest and charged him with domestic assault against his sister-in-law.

The morning following the subject incident, the alleged victim appeared in court for an abuse prevention order hearing against Mr. A. The judge declined to issue a restraining order citing the scant evidence of imminent harm or any evidence of physical abuse by Mr. A at any time.

Mr. A then filed a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint against him for lack of probable cause. Five months after the subject incident, the court granted the motion to dismiss. Mr. A then filed a civil lawsuit in federal court alleging civil rights violations, abuse of process and false imprisonment against one of the officers and the Town. Mr. A further alleged that police had arrested him without probable cause, the police report contained false statement and the alleged victim’s account was unreliable and uncorroborated.

Attorney Mayo filed for summary judgment on behalf of the municipal defendants. She argued that the counts against the individual officer should be dismissed as he is entitled to qualified immunity and his actions were reasonable given the circumstances. Further, Attorney Mayo argued that Mr. A’s claim of false imprisonment should be dismissed as the police did have probable cause at the time of the arrest. Further, Attorney Mayo argued that the claims of civil rights violations against the Town should be dismissed at the plaintiff failed to identity any policy or custom or usage of the town of arresting individuals without probable cause.

United States Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy agreed with the defendants’ position and granted summary judgment in favor of the two municipal defendants.

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