Hackenmueller v. Fadden

Decision Date22 July 2016
Docket NumberCiv. No. 15-619 (RHK/FLN)
Citation196 F.Supp.3d 992
Parties John Joseph HACKENMUELLER, Plaintiff, v. Erik FADDEN, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Karin Ciano, Karin Ciano Law PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

Ryan M. Zipf, League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, Minnesota, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD H. KYLE, United States District Judge

INTRODUCTION

Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man. Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac (1755 ed.)

This case arises out of a dispute gone awry between neighbors in Plymouth, Minnesota (the "City"). One of the neighbors, Charles Johnson, eventually sought the assistance of his friend, Defendant Erik Fadden, a Plymouth police sergeant. The other neighbor, Plaintiff John Joseph Hackenmueller, alleges that Fadden violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in his subsequent handling of the matter, in particular by falsifying a police report submitted to the City Attorney, which eventually resulted in Hackenmueller being charged with several crimes. Presently before the Court is Fadden's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion.

BACKGROUND
I. A history of enmity

The pertinent facts are undisputed. Hackenmueller, a professional musician, and his wife have lived at the same home in Plymouth since 1998. In 2001, the property adjacent to and immediately behind Hackenmueller's home was purchased by Charles and Carley Johnson.1 Although Hackenmueller enjoyed good relationships with his other neighbors, he did not get along with Johnson. According to Hackenmueller, tension first arose when Johnson sought permission from the City to construct a pole barn on his property, in order to store equipment used in his lawn care and snowplowing business. Hackenmueller and other neighbors opposed this request, which was eventually rejected. Hackenmueller also complained to the City about employee vehicles and other equipment coming and going from Johnson's property; the City eventually prohibited Johnson from running his business from his home. Johnson then stopped talking to Hackenmueller.

In 2003, Johnson moved out of the home and rented it out. Things were quiet until 2010, when Johnson decided to move back to the property with his young son. He had the existing small house torn down and built a much larger one on the property, close to the property line. Hackenmueller admittedly was frustrated; he testified in his deposition, "suddenly a large wall went up literally right in our back yard and just overlooking us." Several of Hackenmueller's friends commented that the new home looked like a barn, and working off that theme, Hackenmueller threw a Mother's Day party in 2011 in which he set out plastic barnyard animals and played animal noises in his backyard. Johnson was displeased, although he said nothing to Hackenmueller at the time.

As a musician, Hackenmueller often would sing or play guitar in his backyard. He also enjoyed listening to music while working in his garden or engaging in other activities inside and outside his home. The Johnsons began complaining to Hackenmueller about the noise, which they felt was unnecessarily loud and was preventing their son from sleeping. In one instance, Hackenmueller responded that Johnson's son "needs to learn to sleep through some shit."2 According to Hackenmueller, he attempted to placate Johnson by replacing his "professional" speaker with small computer speakers when he was listening to music in his backyard. Johnson, however, continued to believe Hackenmueller was excessively noisy.

In June 2011, Johnson had an off-duty conversation with Fadden. The two are good friends and have known each other since high school; each served as a groomsman at the other's wedding. Johnson mentioned his concerns with the noise emanating from Hackenmueller's property, including the barnyard-animals incident. Johnson felt Hackenmueller was engaged in a campaign of harassment because of the large home he had built close to Hackenmueller's property. The record does not disclose whether Fadden thought the noise violated the City's noise ordinance, which generally prohibits unreasonably loud noises.3 Nevertheless, Fadden told Johnson he should document incidents of excessive noise and record them, as police officers often arrive to noise complaints long after excessive noise has stopped. Johnson took that advice and began preparing a log of noise incidents and videotaping them. And in 2012, he began bringing his noise complaints to the police.

II. Excessive-noise complaints begin

The first documented incident occurred on April 11, 2012. Then, Plymouth police officer Matthew Gliniany was dispatched to Johnson's home in the early evening after Johnson called in a noise complaint. Upon arrival, Gliniany heard no sound that he believed violated the City's noise ordinance. He spoke with Johnson, who explained that Hackenmueller had been playing guitar and other loud music in his backyard since Johnson moved back to the property in 2011. He also recounted the barnyard-animal incident and claimed Hackenmueller frequently directed a large speaker toward Johnson's home. Gliniany advised Johnson to immediately report future noise complaints, and he then left to speak with Hackenmueller. Gliniany advised Hackenmueller that he had received a noise complaint from Johnson, and Hackenmueller acknowledged earlier playing music but denied it had been too loud. As Gliniany heard nothing he thought unreasonable, he advised Hackenmueller of the noise ordinance, asked him to use "common sense" with regard to noise in the future, and then left and prepared a written report of the encounter.

Police were called back to Johnson's home a few hours later; officer Kyle Kvenild responded. Johnson complained that after the earlier call, Hackenmueller had played "very loud" music for a short time and then turned it off. Johnson also reported that Hackenmueller later pointed a large speaker at his home and played music extremely loud for several minutes, which is what caused Johnson to call the police again. He reiterated the concerns he had expressed to Gliniany about noise being directed at his home, especially when his wife and child were home alone, and he expressed that he believed it was because Hackenmueller was upset Johnson had built a large house next to his property.

Kvenild then went to speak to Hackenmueller. He heard no excessive noise at Hackenmueller's home, although Hackenmueller acknowledged having played a CD through an open window while he was grilling earlier that evening. Kvenild reviewed the noise ordinance and explained that noise complaints were viewed differently between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. than noise complaints received during the day (when more noise is permitted). Hearing nothing that violated the law, Kvenild then left and prepared a written report, noting among other things that Hackenmueller had told Kvenild he was upset Johnson had constructed such a large home next door.

Officers were called back to the area approximately two weeks later, in the early afternoon on April 23, 2012. Officer Amy Therkelsen responded to the call. Johnson's wife complained to Therkelsen about noise emanating from Hackenmueller's house, but Therkelsen only heard music playing on computer speakers through Hackenmueller's open windows, which did not strike her as unreasonably loud. Therkelsen walked over to Hackenmueller's home and advised him there had been a noise complaint. Though she told Hackenmueller she did not believe the music he was playing was excessive for the time of day, she advised that he should consider closing the windows or tuning down the music in the evening. Therkelsen then left and prepared a written report documenting the incident.

Therkelsen took another complaint from Johnson later that day. Johnson called to report that after Therkelsen had left the scene, Hackenmueller went into his backyard playing guitar and signing "towards his house," which Johnson felt was harassment; he wanted to press charges. Therkelsen recommended mediation between the neighbors, but Johnson refused.4 In her subsequent report, Therkelsen noted she had advised Johnson that although Hackenmueller might be "irritating," the noise she heard "does not fit the criteria to be a noise ordinance violation," and in response, Johnson stated that he would likely be calling the police again that evening, when his son went to sleep around 7 p.m. Therkelsen retorted that the police response probably would be the same if the complaint came in before 10 p.m.

III. Fadden gets involved

On June 5, 2012, Johnson called Fadden while he was on duty and asked to discuss his ongoing problem with Hackenmueller. He later visited Fadden at the Plymouth police station, where he presented a handwritten log of what he believed were excessive-noise incidents, as well as two DVDs containing recordings of Hackenmueller in his backyard. Johnson also told Fadden he had a photograph of Hackenmueller peering over his fence and into his home, but he did not provide such a photo at the meeting.

Fadden and Johnson spoke about the incidents in the log, and Fadden then prepared a report of the evidence presented to him by Johnson. (The report is Exhibit 14 to the Affidavit of Ryan Zipf.) Specifically, the report provided "a summary of Johnson's account" of the incidents in question, and it noted that Johnson's logs and the DVDs he had prepared were logged into evidence at the police department. The report also referenced, and attached copies of, the previous police reports prepared by Gliniany, Kvenild, and Therkelsen.

According to the report, Johnson indicated that he had been having issues with Hackenmueller since returning to the property in 2011. He recounted the barnyard-animal incident and advised that on several subsequent instances, including at times on an almost...

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2 cases
  • Riverside Church v. City of St. Michael
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • May 22, 2017
    ..., 909 F.2d 1203, 1208 (8th Cir. 1990). "Causation issues under § 1983 are analyzed under the common law." Hackenmueller v. Fadden , 196 F.Supp.3d 992, 999 (D. Minn. 2016). Under Minnesota law for tortious interference with a prospective contract, the plaintiff must show that but for the def......
  • Riverside Church v. City of St. Michael
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • August 16, 2017
    ...909 F.2d 1203, 1208 (8th Cir. 1990). "Causation issues under § 1983 are analyzed under the common law." Hackenmueller v. Fadden, 196 F. Supp. 3d 992, 999 (D. Minn. 2016). Under Minnesota law for tortious interference with a prospective contract, the plaintiff must show that but for the defe......

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