496 F.3d 139 (2nd Cir. 2007), 04-5711, Walczyk v. Rio

Docket Nº:04-5711-cv(L), 04-5943-cv(XAP).
Citation:496 F.3d 139
Party Name:Thomas WALCZYK, Elizabeth Walczyk, Maximina Walczyk, each Individually and as P.P.A. for Michelle Walczyk, a Minor Child, [1] Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, v. James RIO, Brian Killiany, James Jepsen, William Tyler, Angela Deschenes, and Shawn Brown, Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.
Case Date:August 01, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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496 F.3d 139 (2nd Cir. 2007)

Thomas WALCZYK, Elizabeth Walczyk, Maximina Walczyk, each Individually and as P.P.A. for Michelle Walczyk, a Minor Child, 1 Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants,

v.

James RIO, Brian Killiany, James Jepsen, William Tyler, Angela Deschenes, and Shawn Brown, Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.

Nos. 04-5711-cv(L), 04-5943-cv(XAP).

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

August 1, 2007

Argued: April 3, 2006

Interlocutory appeal from so much of an order of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut as (1) denied defendants qualified immunity on plaintiffs' federal and state constitutional challenges to the execution of arrest and search warrants. Cross-appeal from so much of the order as (2) denied plaintiff Elizabeth Walczyk summary judgment on the liability element of her illegal search claim and (3) granted defendants summary judgment on Thomas Walczyk's claim of excessive bail.

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Thomas R. Gerarde (John J. Radshaw, III, on the brief), Howd & Ludorf, LLC, Hartford, Connecticut, for Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.

Jon L. Schoenhorn (Jennifer L. Bourn, on the brief), Jon L. Schoenhorn & Associates, Hartford, Connecticut, for Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants.

Before: CABRANES, SOTOMAYOR, and RAGGI, Circuit Judges.

Judge SOTOMAYOR concurs in a separate opinion.

REENA RAGGI, Circuit Judge:

In 2001, plaintiff Thomas Walczyk ("Walczyk") was convicted after a jury trial in Connecticut on state law charges of disorderly conduct, see Conn. Gen . Stat. § 53a-182 (a)(2); reckless endangerment, see id. § 53a-64(a); and improper firearm storage, see id. § 29-37i. On appeal, the Connecticut Appellate Court reversed, holding that Walczyk's conviction violated federal and state law because it was based on incriminating evidence obtained through search warrants that were not supported by probable cause. See State v. Walczyk, 76 Conn.App. 169, 182, 818 A.2d 868, 876 (2003). Thereafter, Walczyk, his wife Maximina, his minor child Michelle, and his mother Elizabeth initiated this civil action, suing defendants, all members of the Farmington, Connecticut Police Department, in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Robert N. Chatigny, Chief Judge), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 and Connecticut law for money damages arising from events relating to Walczyk's reversed conviction.

Although the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to some of plaintiffs' claims, defendants now pursue an interlocutory appeal from so much of the district court's order, entered on September 30, 2004, as denied them qualified immunity from plaintiffs' unlawful arrest and search claims. See Walczyk v. Rio, 339 F.Supp.2d 385, 389-91 (D. Conn. 2004). Not surprisingly, plaintiffs defend that denial. At the same time, Elizabeth Walczyk cross-appeals the district court's denial of her motion for summary judgment on the liability element of her challenge to the search of her home. See id. at 391. Meanwhile, Thomas Walczyk cross-appeals the award of summary judgment to defendants on his Eighth Amendment claim that he was detained on excessive bail. See id. at 390.

For the reasons discussed herein, we conclude that the arrest of Thomas Walczyk and the search of the home he shared with his wife and daughter were supported by probable cause. We reverse so much of the district court's order as concluded otherwise, and we remand with directions to enter summary judgment in favor of defendants on that part of plaintiffs' complaint. With respect to defendants' search of Elizabeth Walczyk's home, we affirm the district court's denial of qualified immunity to defendants because the warrant authorizing that search was procured on the basis of plainly stale information and questions of fact remain as to whether any or all defendants acted knowingly or recklessly in misleading the issuing magistrate as to the currency of that information. Those same questions of fact prompt us to affirm the district court's denial of summary

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judgment to Elizabeth Walczyk on the liability element of her unlawful search claim. Finally, with respect to Walczyk's excessive bail claim, we affirm the award of summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ground of absolute immunity.

I. Factual Background

A. The Underlying Land Dispute

1. Barberino Realty Acquires the Land

This case has its origins in a longstanding property dispute between the Walczyk family and Barberino Realty and Development Corporation ("Barberino"). The property - undeveloped land adjacent to the Farmington homes of Thomas Walczyk at 28 Tunxis Street and of his parents, Elizabeth and Lucien Walczyk, 2 at 27 Tunxis Street - was acquired by Barberino in 1973. Over the next two decades, Barberino encountered various difficulties developing the land, only some of which are relevant to this appeal.

2. 1981: Walczyk Brandishes a Rifle at Barberino Workers

Sometime in 1981, a Barberino work crew entered onto the undeveloped land to drill for soil samples preliminary to development. Thomas Walczyk, who w as licensed to possess numerous firearms, brandished a rifle at the workmen and challenged their actions. The workmen sought police assistance, after which their work proceeded apparently without interruption and without any official action being taken against Walczyk.

The incident nevertheless prompted Barberino's counsel to seek assurances from Elizabeth and Lucien Walczyk that there would be no further attempts to hinder development of the land. In response, an attorney for the elder Walczyks advised that his clients were claiming title to the undeveloped land by adverse possession. The claim was based on the Walczyks' long use of a portion of the undeveloped land for vegetable gardening and cattle grazing.

3. 1988: Walczyk Again Brandishes a Gun at a Barberino Worker

Despite these 1981 events, the relationship between the Walczyks and Barberino appears to have remained uneventful until January 1988 when, in response to a Barberino demand that the Walczyks remove certain items from the property, the elder Walczyks reiterated their adverse possession claim.

A few months later, in March 1988, a Barberino worker equipped with a bulldozer attempted forcibly to remove various items from the disputed property. Once again, Thomas Walczyk confronted the worker with a licensed firearm, specifically, an AR-15 automatic assault rifle loaded with thirty rounds of ammunition, and ordered him off the property. Police responded to the scene and directed Walczyk to drop his weapon. Walczyk initially ignored several such directives, "yell[ing] about trespassing and some statute." Police Rpt., Mar. 24, 1988, at 2. When Walczyk finally put down the rifle, a "wrestling match[]" ensued as he tried to prevent the police from taking him into custody. Id. at 3. Charged with threatening, reckless endangerment, and interfering with police, Walczyk eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser infraction of creating a public disturbance.

4. The Walczyks' Lawsuits Claiming Adverse Possession

The following month, in April 1988, Elizabeth and Lucien Walczyk sued for adverse possession of the undeveloped property. The action settled in 1991 with Barberino paying the elder Walczyks

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$20, 000 and granting them a perpetual agricultural easement over a portion of the disputed land. In return, Elizabeth and Lucien Walczyk signed a quitclaim of any right, title, or interest in the property and promised not to oppose Barberino's development plans before the town planning and zoning commission.

Four years later, in January 1995, Thomas Walczyk sued Barberino, as well as his parents, claiming that he held title to the disputed property through adverse possession. On March 14, 1997, the Connecticut Superior Court rejected Walczyk's claim as a matter of law.3 In granting judgment to Barberino and quieting title in its favor, the Connecticut court stated: "Thomas Joseph Walczyk has no estate, interest in or encumbrance of said real property or any part thereof." Walczyk v. Barberino Realty & Dev. Corp., No. cv-950465712S, 1997 Conn. Super. LEXIS 718, at *2 (Conn. Super. Ct. Mar. 14, 1997). This judgment was affirmed on direct appeal, see Walczyk v. Barberino Realty & Dev. Corp., 48 Conn. App. 911, 719 A.2d 1233 (Conn. App. Ct. 1998), and the Connecticut Supreme Court declined further review, see Walczyk v. Barberino Realty & Dev. Corp., 245 Conn. 904, 719 A.2d 1165 (1998).

B. Events Relating to the Challenged Arrest and Searches

1. Walczyk's April 1999 Threat to "Take Matters Into My Own Hands"

Despite the state courts' unequivocal rejection of his adverse possession claim, Walczyk persisted in asserting a superior interest in the disputed land. On April 9, 1999, he visited the Farmington Police Department to complain about Barberino's development efforts, insisting to defendant Captain James Rio that he (Walczyk) "had a common law right to the land because he had been farming and maintaining it for some time." Arrest Warrant Aff. at 2. When Rio explained that the police had received notice of the court order to the contrary, Walczyk stated that he expected to secure reversal of that judgment based on witness perjury and judicial misconduct. More significantly for purposes of the issues raised on this appeal, Walczyk told Rio that, "[i]f you guys don't comply with what I'm telling you I'll take matters into my own hands." Id. Rio warned Walczyk...

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