Willhauck v. Halpin, No. 91-1328

Decision Date11 October 1991
Docket NumberNo. 91-1328
Citation953 F.2d 689
PartiesFrancis A. WILLHAUCK, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. Paul HALPIN, et al., Defendants, Appellees. . Heard
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Robert C. Hahn with whom Hahn & Matkov, Boston, Mass., was on brief, for appellant.

John P. Flynn with whom Murphy Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, Quincy, Mass., was on brief, for appellees Town of Milton, John Moriarty, Robert Galvin and James Rogers.

Peter M. Coppinger, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom Scott Harshbarger, Atty. Gen., Boston, Mass., was on brief, for appellees Metropolitan Dist. Com'n, Paul Halpin, John Perry, Donald Callender, Richard Huffam and J.B. Mills.

Before TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge, and TAURO, * District Judge.

BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal of Augean dimensions arising from the failure of the plaintiffs to prevail in a multi-party, multi-claim action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs in this case are Francis A. Willhauck, Jr. ("Willhauck") and several of his family members. The defendants are various police officers in their individual capacities, the Towns of Milton and Dedham, Norfolk and Suffolk Counties of Massachusetts, and the Metropolitan District Commission ("MDC"). Willhauck's § 1983 claims arose from a late-night, high-speed automobile chase through Boston and some surrounding towns that ended with his arrest and alleged beating by the police, and from a subsequent late-night intrusion by police officers into the Willhauck household several months after the car chase. Willhauck's claims also relate to the conduct of Norfolk and Suffolk County prosecutors who brought separate actions against him for offenses committed on the night of the car chase.

The district court dismissed Willhauck's claims against the Towns of Milton and Dedham, the MDC, and Norfolk and Suffolk Counties. It also dismissed constitutional challenges to provisions of Massachusetts law governing the authority of police officers to order vehicles to stop (Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 90, § 25), and the Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure governing consolidation of cases among separate counties (Mass.R.Crim.P. 37(b)(2)). Claims against the officers involved in the late-night intrusion into the Willhauck household were also dismissed. The case went to trial against the six remaining defendants, all of whom were police officers involved in the car chase and alleged beating. The district court granted directed verdicts for four of the officers, and the jury found in favor of the two remaining officers.

Willhauck appeals the district court's dismissal of his constitutional challenges to Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 90, § 25 and Mass.R.Crim.P. 37(b)(2). He also attacks the dismissals of the Town of Milton and MDC. In addition, Willhauck challenges certain rulings by the district court prior to and during trial barring argument on several of his theories of constitutional injury. Neither the directed verdicts nor the jury verdict have been challenged on appeal.

A. The High Speed Chase

The following facts are based on the appendix submitted by Willhauck in this appeal. Willhauck's saga began on the evening of July 1, 1979, when he visited a bar in Stoughton, Massachusetts. There, Willhauck discovered his girlfriend, with whom he had broken up the day before, in the company of another man. Willhauck got into an argument with his girlfriend and her date. The argument continued outside the bar and developed into a fight between Willhauck and his girlfriend's companion. During the fight, Willhauck's antagonist attacked him with a motorcycle chain, hitting him on the head. Willhauck decided to abandon the fight, although he testified that the blow from the chain drew no blood.

After leaving the lounge in his car, Willhauck decided to go to his father's house on Brook Road in Milton. At his father's house, Willhauck called his girlfriend and became involved in another heated argument. He then decided to visit his girlfriend at her home in Randolph, and set out in his car from his father's house in Milton. On the way to see his girlfriend, however, Willhauck concluded that it was too late and that he should return to his father's house. He started to drive back to Milton via Canton Avenue.

At about one a.m. that night, Officer John Moriarty of the Milton Police Department received a radio report in his police cruiser about a suspicious person in the vicinity of Woodland Road and Canton Avenue. The report described the suspect as wearing a green jogging outfit. Officer Moriarty immediately headed for Woodland Road via Canton Avenue. Moriarty then saw a pair of taillights moving away from him on Canton Avenue. It was Willhauck's car. As Moriarty followed the car, it began to accelerate. Because the car was speeding and because of the suspicious activity report, Moriarty turned on his blue lights, anticipating that the car would stop. Moriarty estimated that both the car and the cruiser were travelling at least fifty miles per hour at the time he turned on the cruiser's blue lights.

Willhauck had a different recollection of these events. He claimed that he was observing the thirty mile an hour speed limit at the time he noticed the cruiser's flashing blue lights in his rear view mirror. Because he felt that he hadn't done "anything wrong," Willhauck got "mad," and decided to try "speeding out of there to get away from the police officer."

A high speed chase then began, with Willhauck accelerating along Canton Avenue to speeds which Moriarty estimated to approach sixty miles an hour. The chase moved to Blue Hills Parkway in Milton. Willhauck attempted to turn off Blue Hills Parkway onto Brook Road, where Willhauck's father lived, but found the exit obstructed by a second Milton police cruiser, manned by Sergeant Robert Galvin. It appeared to Moriarty that Willhauck was going to ram Sergeant Galvin's cruiser, which was parked with its blue lights flashing. Willhauck, however, continued heading north towards Boston on Blue Hills Parkway, reaching speeds that Moriarty estimated at eighty-five to ninety miles an hour.

Crossing the line between Milton and the City of Boston, Willhauck led the Milton police on a chase lasting approximately twenty to twenty-five minutes through Mattapan Square, Roslindale, West Roxbury, and Dedham. Both Willhauck and the police passed through stop lights and intersections at high speeds. Willhauck ignored the blue lights and sirens of the pursuing cruisers. Officer Moriarty testified that he saw Willhauck almost hit several pedestrians in the Mattapan Square business district, and then again around Wellington Hill Street. After Moriarty radioed that he was attempting to stop the car, several MDC cruisers joined the pursuit.

Willhauck entered the vicinity of Roslindale Square, where he side-swiped an MDC cruiser occupied by Officers Paul Halpin and John Perry. Officer Halpin testified that he reversed his cruiser in an attempt to get out of Willhauck's way, so that the resulting impact to the front of his cruiser was not severe. After this collision, which Officer Moriarty characterized as "minor," Halpin and Perry pursued Willhauck southbound on Washington street, and then onto Spring Street, leading the two Milton cruisers in the chase. On Spring Street, Halpin pulled his cruiser parallel to Willhauck's car on the driver's side, with the result that the two cars were moving alongside each other at the same high speed. Officers Halpin and Moriarty both testified that at this point Willhauck attempted a left turn, causing Halpin and Perry's cruiser to spin out of control to a stop in front of the Veterans Hospital.

Rather than pursue Willhauck's vehicle, Officers Halpin and Perry decided to drive to a roadblock that had been set up with the assistance of police cruisers from the Town of Dedham. Driving behind a Dedham cruiser, Halpin entered the intersection of Oakmere and Laurie Avenues in West Roxbury. There, Halpin saw another Dedham police car and other police vehicles from the City of Boston, and brought his vehicle to a stop on Laurie Avenue. Meanwhile, Willhauck was driving along Laurie Avenue, with the Milton police cruisers following him at a distance. As he approached the roadblock, Willhauck found himself surrounded by police cruisers.

Willhauck claimed that he pulled over his car to a stop on the left-hand side of the road, realizing that "this [was] it." According to Willhauck, after he stopped his car the MDC cruiser suddenly accelerated and rammed the front of his car. Officer Halpin testified that Willhauck's vehicle "came over the hill and struck [his cruiser] head on." Officer Moriarty agreed that it was Willhauck who rammed Halpin's cruiser. Willhauck's car was severely damaged. Milton Officers Moriarty and Galvin arrived after the collision between Willhauck's vehicle and Officers Halpin and Perry's cruiser.

Willhauck testified that after being rammed by Halpin and Perry's cruiser, he picked himself off the floor of his car and voluntarily stepped outside, raising his hands when he saw that the police officers had their guns drawn. He recalled saying "All right. All right." According to Willhauck, he was hit on the back of the head a number of times and recalled seeing Officer Halpin hitting him with his gun on the back of his head before passing out. Willhauck stated that when he came to in an ambulance, he asked Halpin why he had hit him, and claims that Halpin responded that he was " 'lucky I didn't kill you.' " To corroborate his story, Willhauck introduced into evidence a picture which showed a group of officers, including Officers Moriarty and Halpin, standing around while Willhauck was lying on the ground. In the picture, in which Willhauck is apparently unconscious and bleeding from his head, Halpin has his left foot on Willhauck's...

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