Wilson v. Lyons, Docket No. 02-218-P-H (D. Me. 5/22/2003)

Decision Date22 May 2003
Docket NumberDocket No. 02-218-P-H.
PartiesCHRISTOPHER WILSON, Plaintiff, v. STEPHEN LYONS and SEAN LALLY, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine




DAVID M. COHEN, Magistrate Judge.

The defendants, Stephen Lyons and Sean Lally, police officers in Westbrook, Maine, move for summary judgment in this action that was removed to this court from the Maine Superior Court (Cumberland County). I recommend that the court grant the motion in part.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the record shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "In this regard, `material' means that a contested fact has the potential to change the outcome of the suit under the governing law if the dispute over it is resolved favorably to the nonmovant. By like token, `genuine' means that `the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in favor of the nonmoving party.'" Navarro v. Pfizer Corp., 261 F.3d 90, 93-94 (1st Cir. 2001) (quoting McCarthy v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 56 F.3d 313, 315 (1st Cir. 1995)).

The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In determining whether this burden is met, the court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences in its favor. Nicolo v. Philip Morris, Inc., 201 F.3d 29, 33 (1st Cir. 2000). Once the moving party has made a preliminary showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists, the nonmovant must "produce specific facts, in suitable evidentiary form, to establish the presence of a trialworthy issue." Triangle Trading Co. v. Robroy Indus., Inc., 200 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1999) (citation and internal punctuation omitted); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). "As to any essential factual element of its claim on which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial, its failure to come forward with sufficient evidence to generate a trialworthy issue warrants summary judgment to the moving party." In re Spigel, 260 F.3d 27, 31 (1st Cir. 2001) (citation and internal punctuation omitted).

II. Factual Background

The following undisputed material facts are appropriately presented by the defendants in their statement of material facts in accordance with this court's Local Rule 56.

In September 2000 defendant Lyons was employed by the City of Westbrook as a detective sergeant. Defendants' Statement of Material Facts ("Defendants' SMF") (Docket No. 8) ¶ 1; Plaintiff's Objection to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts ("Plaintiff's Responsive SMF") (Docket No. 10) ¶ 1. In September 2000 defendant Lally was employed as a detective with the Westbrook Police Department. Id. ¶ 4. Both were graduates of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and certified by the state to function as police officers in the state. Id. ¶¶ 2, 5.

On September 19, 2000 Westbrook police officer Stephen Crocker took an incident report concerning the theft on September 16 or 17 of an all-terrain vehicle ("ATV") from a person who identified himself as Steve Foster. Id. ¶¶ 7, 10. Foster is the service manager for Dead River Oil Company and had stored two ATVs at the Dead River bulk plant at 14 Terminal Way, Westbrook. Id. ¶ 8. The bulk plant is a fenced-in area containing large propane storage tanks. Id. ¶ 9. On the morning of September 21, 2000 Lyons spoke with Foster on the telephone about his complaint. Id. ¶ 11. Foster told Lyons that he suspected the manager of the Dead River bulk plant, the plaintiff, knew something about the theft of the ATV. Id. ¶ 12. Foster told Lyons that the plaintiff had physical control of the bulk plant, was often alone at the plant and was responsible for securing the facility at night. Defendants' SMF ¶ 13.1 Foster told Lyons that he had reason to suspect the plaintiff in the theft of the ATV. Id. ¶ 14.2 Foster further advised Lyons that relatives of his, Genaro and Linda Balzano, who live on the same street as the plaintiff, saw a pickup truck with an ATV in the back the previous weekend and that they had observed the plaintiff and a group of young men standing around the pickup and ATV in front of the plaintiff's house at that time. Id. ¶ 16.3 Lyons asked Foster if he believed the plaintiff had stolen the ATV himself and Foster replied that he "wasn't sure." Defendants' SMF ¶ 17; Plaintiff's Responsive SMF ¶ 17. Foster clearly conveyed to Lyons his suspicion that the plaintiff at least had information about his stolen ATV. Id. ¶ 18.

Lyons told Foster that he would contact the plaintiff and inquire about his knowledge of the theft. Id. ¶ 19. Following his conversation with Foster, Lyons telephoned the plaintiff at the bulk plant and asked if it was possible for him to come to the Westbrook police station to discuss the theft of Foster's ATV. Id. ¶ 20. After further conversation, Lyons told the plaintiff that he would come to the bulk plant immediately to speak with him. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Lally accompanied Lyons to the bulk plant to interview the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 24. At the plant an employee directed the detectives to the rear of the building when they asked for the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 25. Lyons and Lally met the plaintiff at the rear of the building, identifying themselves as Westbrook police detectives. Id. ¶¶ 26-28. The plaintiff sat on a propane tank and the detectives stood within four or five feet of him. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. Lyons told the plaintiff that he had received information to the effect that someone had seen him with Foster's stolen ATV. Id. ¶ 34.

The plaintiff's response to this statement is very much in dispute. At some point, the defendants decided to arrest the plaintiff. Defendants' SMF ¶ 43.4 The defendant was handcuffed while on the ground and then the defendants stood him up. Id. ¶¶ 47-48.5 Lally then adjusted the handcuffs and double locked them for the plaintiff's comfort. Id. ¶ 49.6 The defendants then led the plaintiff to the front of the building, where Lyons patted him down for weapons and had him sit on the front stairs. Defendants' SMF ¶ 50; Plaintiff's Responsive SMF ¶ 50. Lally radioed for a uniformed officer to transport the plaintiff to the county jail. Id. ¶ 51. The plaintiff did not complain of any injuries at this time. Id. ¶ 53. Lyons read the plaintiff his Miranda rights. Id. ¶ 55. The plaintiff told Lyons that he did not steal the ATV. Id. ¶ 57. Officer Hebert arrived and transported the plaintiff to the sheriff's office. Id. ¶ 59.

The plaintiff was charged with obstructing government administration and resisting or refusing to submit to arrest. Defendants' SMF ¶ 60.7 While the defendants were at the bulk plant, Foster arrived and told them that he had just discovered that his second ATV had also been stolen from the rear of the terminal. Defendants' SMF ¶¶ 58, 65; Plaintiff's Responsive SMF ¶¶ 58, 65.8 Later that day, Foster telephoned Lyons at the police department and told him that he had checked the terminal security fence and found no damage and discovered that the rear gate padlock was missing. Defendants' SMF ¶ 66.9

Later in the night of September 21, 2000 Lyons telephoned Linda Balzano. Defendants' SMF ¶ 81; Plaintiff's Responsive SMF ¶ 81. She told Lyons that when she had seen the pickup truck in front of the plaintiff's house the previous weekend there were young men standing around the truck but the plaintiff was not there. Id. ¶¶ 82-83.10 The information that the plaintiff was not present with the young men and the ATV in the truck directly contradicted what Foster had reported to Lyons in recounting the Balzanos' statements to him. Id. ¶ 84.

The plaintiff's criminal defense attorney filed a motion to suppress in the criminal case brought against him in state court, claiming that no probable cause existed for the plaintiff's arrest on September 21 2000. Id. ¶ 87. A hearing was held on that motion on March 26, 2001 in the Maine District Court (Cumberland County). Id. ¶ 88. At the hearing the plaintiff's attorney narrowed the motion to challenge the propriety of the arrest itself, based on an alleged lack of probable cause. Id. ¶ 89. Both defendants testified for the state at the hearing; both were cross-examined by the plaintiff's attorney. Id. ¶¶ 90, 92. The plaintiff also testified. Id. ¶ 91. The judge subsequently ruled that probable cause existed to arrest the plaintiff on September 21, 2000. Defendants' SMF ¶ 93.11 A trial on the charges against the plaintiff was held in the Maine Superior Court (Cumberland County) on June 25, 2001 at which both defendants testified and were cross-examined by the plaintiff's attorney. Defendants' SMF ¶ 94; Plaintiff's Responsive SMF ¶ 94. The plaintiff also testified. Id. ¶ 95. At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial judge acquitted the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 96.

Neither defendant received any notice of claim from the plaintiff or his attorney within 180 days of September 21, 2000, the date of the arrest; March 26, 2001, the date of the probable cause hearing; or June 25, 2001, the date of the trial. Id. ¶¶ 99-100.

III. Discussion
A. Counts I and II

Count I alleges that Lyons "violated a clearly known and well established right" by "arresting the plaintiff without probable cause." Complaint (attached to Notice of Removal (Docket No. 1)) ¶ 25. Count II makes the same allegation against Lally. Id. ¶ 27. The defendants contend that these claims are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, etc. ("Motion") (Docket No. 7) at 9-12. This argument is based on...

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