Sledge v. Stoldt

Decision Date29 March 2007
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:03cv2086 (SRU).
Citation480 F.Supp.2d 530
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesReginald D. SLEDGE, Plaintiff, v. Sgt. Curt STOLDT, et al., Defendants.

Reginald D. Sledge, Hartford, CT, pro se.

Michael C. Conroy, Patty G. Swan, Gordon, Muir & Foley; Hartford, CT, for Defendants.


STEFAN R. UNDERHILL, United States District Judge.

This dispute arises from defendants Curt Stoldt's and Tracy O'Connell's1 (collectively "defendants" or "officers") warrantless arrest of the plaintiff Reginald D. Sledge inside Sledge's apartment, and their subsequent warrantless searches of, and seizures inside, the apartment. During the week of January 14, 2002, the defendants received a tip from a jailhouse informant that Sledge was involved in a bank robbery. Without applying for or obtaining a warrant, the defendants went to Sledge's apartment. After gaining access to the apartment, the defendants arrested Sledge and conducted several searches of Sledge's person and his property, both before and after obtaining consent to search. Sledge, acting pro se, filed a section 1983 claim alleging that his arrest, and the defendants' searches and seizures, violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The defendants moved for summary judgment on several of Sledge's claims. For reasons that follow, the defendants' summary judgment motion is denied.

I. Background

A reasonable jury could find, from the record evidence, the following facts to be true. During the week of January 14, 2002, O'Connell interviewed Curtis Leggett, an inmate housed at the Hartford Correctional Center, about a bank robbery that occurred in East Hartford in October or November 2001. Leggett told O'Connell that a black male named Reggie, later identified as the plaintiff, committed the robbery. On January 17, 2002, O'Connell and Stoldt went to the Hartford Police Department to ask for assistance in locating Sledge because they considered Sledge to be a suspect in the robbery. The Hartford Police gave the defendants Sledge's address.

Without obtaining a search or arrest warrant, O'Connell and Stoldt proceeded to Sledge's apartment. When they arrived, they knocked on his front door. Without opening the door, Sledge asked for the officers' identities and O'Connell and Stoldt identified themselves. Sledge then replied "if you don't have a warrant, you aint coming in." O'Connell and Stoldt then went to one of Sledge's neighbor's apartments to ask if Sledge lived in the apartment.

The defendants then returned to Sledge's apartment and again announced their presence. This time, Patricia Lee, Sledge's girlfriend and cotenant, answered the door. Without obtaining Lee's consent,2 O'Connell and Stoldt entered the apartment. O'Connell located Sledge in the bathroom and, at gunpoint, ordered him to come out into the kitchen. Sledge refused to identify himself and the officers handcuffed him and slammed him against the refrigerator. The officers removed Sledge's wallet from his back pocket to check for identification.3 After informing Lee not to say anything to the police, one' of the officers began to choke Sledge, taunting, "you think you're so smart, don't you Reggie." The defendants assert that Sledge was being "verbally abusive to the officers" and "uncooperative."

The officers then moved Sledge from the kitchen to the living room and sat him down on the couch. Stoldt moved several laundry bags away from Sledge. When Stoldt dropped one of the bags on the floor, he heard a "thud." Stoldt turned the bag over and saw the butt end of a pistol. Stoldt also saw some money in another laundry bag. At that point, O'Connell asked Lee for consent to search the rest of the apartment. Lee signed a written consent form. During the ensuing search of Sledge's person and of his apartment, the officers allegedly found drugs, money, and a shoulder-strap bag that was used in the bank robbery.

On December 2, 2003, Sledge filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which he asserted three claims. First, he alleges that the defendants' warrantless arrest and searches inside his apartment violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Second, he alleges that the defendants' destruction and confiscation of his property violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights. Third, he alleges that the defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights by using excessive force to detain him.

The defendants moved for summary judgment on several grounds. First, they assert that they had valid consent to enter, and to search, Sledge's apartment. Second, they argue that they never, in fact, arrested Sledge, but instead only effected an investigatory detention. Third, they argue that even if they did arrest Sledge, the arrest was supported by probable cause. Fourth, they argue that Sledge's Fourteenth Amendment property claims lack merit because Sledge failed to pursue other post-deprivation proceedings, and because their actions were not conscience-shocking. Finally, the defendants argue that they are' entitled to qualified immunity.4

II. Standard of Review

In a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that he is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See; Fed. R.Civ.P. 56; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202. (1986); SCS Communications, Inc. v. Herrick Co., Inc., 360 F.3d 329, 338 (2d Cir.2004). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); see also Aldrich v. Randolph Central School District, 963 F.2d 520, 523 (2d Cir.1992) (court is required to "resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party"), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 965, 113 S.Ct. 440, 121 L.Ed.2d 359 (1992). Thus, "[o]nly when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849, 112 S.Ct. 152, 116 L.Ed.2d 117 (1991). See also Suburban Propane v. Proctor Gas, Inc., 953 F.2d 780, 788 (2d Cir.1992). Moreover,

[t]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.

Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

III. Discussion
A. Fourth Amendment Claims

Sledge asserts that the defendants' entry into his apartment to arrest him, and their subsequent searches and seizures inside his apartment, violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. "At the very core of the Fourth Amendment stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion." Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 589-90, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980) (quoting Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511, 81 S.Ct. 679, 5 L.Ed.2d 734 (1961)). "It is axiomatic that the `physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.'" Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 748, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 80 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984) (quoting United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313, 92 S.Ct. 2125, 32 L.Ed.2d 752 (1972)). The Fourth Amendment has "drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house." Milner v. Duncklee, 460 F.Supp.2d 360, 367 (D.Conn.2006). It is thus "a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable." Payton, 445 U.S. at 586, 100 S.Ct. 1371 (quotations omitted); see also Milner, 460 F.Supp.2d at 368 (noting that the primary purpose of the warrant requirement is to safeguard against intrusions into one's home by taking the finding of probable cause out of the hands of interested officers and putting finding in the hands of a detached, neutral judge or magistrate).

In this case, it is undisputed that the defendants did not have a warrant to arrest Sledge or to search Sledge's person and his apartment, so the officers' arrest of Sledge and their searches of his apartment were presumptively unreasonable. The defendants argue, however, that they had valid consent to enter Sledge's apartment.5

The presumptive unreasonableness of a warrantless search or seizure inside a dwelling is overcome where "voluntary consent has been obtained, either from the individual whose property is searched ... or from a third party who possesses common authority over the premises." Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 181, 110 S.Ct. 2793, 111 L.Ed.2d 148 (1990) (citations omitted). Although Sledge explicitly refused his consent to the defendants' entry into his apartment, the defendants contend that they obtained consent from Lee, Sledge's girlfriend and cotenant, to enter the apartment.6 Sledge, by declaration, vehemently denies the defendants' factual assertions and asserts that Lee did not affirmatively consent to the officers' entry before they barged into his...

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