Zalaski v. City of Hartford

Decision Date18 January 2012
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:08cv601 (VLB).
Citation838 F.Supp.2d 13
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesLisa ZALASKI, Animal Rights Front, Inc., and Derek Oatis, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF HARTFORD and Sergeant Albert, Defendants.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Derek V. Oatis, Lobo & Associates, Manchester, CT, for Plaintiffs.

Andrew R. Crumbie, Henri Alexandre, Crumbie Law Group, LLC, Jonathan H. Beamon, Corporation Counsel's Office, Nathalie Feola–Guerrieri, City of Hartford, Office of the Corporation Counsel, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AFTER TRIAL TO THE COURT

VANESSA L. BRYANT, District Judge.

I. Introduction

The Plaintiffs, Lisa Zalaski (Zalaski), Derek V. Oatis (Oatis) and Animal Rights Front, Inc., (ARF) initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Hartford (the City) and Sergeant Daniel Albert (Albert) in connection with Zalaski and Oatis's arrest by members of the City of Hartford Police Department and Defendant Albert during an April 23, 2006 animal rights protest at the Hartford Marathon Foundation, Inc.'s Red Nose Run event (“Red Nose Run” or “Event”). The Plaintiffs presented evidence at trial in support of five claims. These claims were that Defendant Albert's actions violated Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to free expression and assembly, and secondly of their right to free speech under Article First, §§ 4 and 14 of the Connecticut Constitution. They also presented evidence in support of their claims of unlawful retaliation in violation of the First Amendment; false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Defendant Albert offered evidence namely that Plaintiffs' arrests were supported by probable cause and that he is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity.

II. Background
a. Allegations in the Complaint

Plaintiffs filed their complaint on April 21, 2008 consisting of a litany of facts all of which were incorporated into six causes of action against the City of Hartford and Defendant Albert. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Plaintiffs were protestingthe abuse of circus animals during the Red Nose Run event held at the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza (the “Riverfront Plaza” or “Plaza”) which was a children's run event celebrating the circus coming to Hartford. Plaintiffs broadly allege that Defendants arrested Plaintiffs without probable cause and in violation of Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to free speech after they declined to move from the area in which they were demonstrating in to another area in Riverfront Plaza as requested by Defendant Albert. See [Dkt. # 1, Complt. at ¶¶ 1–10].

In the first cause of action, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants excluded the Demonstrators from an area owned by the City of Hartford and historically held open for public use” and that “by its arrests and threats to arrest the Demonstrators based on their future exercise of free speech and assembly, Defendants have imposed a prior restraint on the Demonstrators in violation of their First Amendment Right to expression and assembly upon a public forum.” [Dkt. # 1, Pl. Compl. at ¶¶ 18–24]. Although, Plaintiffs have alleged a single cause of action with respect to the First Amendment in the complaint, the pleadings and submissions both before and at trial from both parties suggest that Plaintiffs are asserting two separate causes of action under the First Amendment. First, generally that Defendant's actions abridged their right to free speech under the First Amendment, and second, that Plaintiffs Zalaski and Oatis were arrested in retaliation for the exercise of their First Amendment rights. The Defendant introduced evidence in defense of both claims at trial and did not object to the admission of evidence in support of either claim at trial.

In the second cause of action, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant City of Hartford was liable for the violation of Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights on the basis that Defendant Albert, in taking these actions described [t]herein, had final decision-making authority to act on behalf of the Defendant City of Hartford and that these “actions were taken pursuant to official policy of the Defendant City of Hartford.” [Dkt. # 1, Pl. Compl. at ¶ 25].

In the third cause of action, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant Albert, falsely and maliciously and without probable cause, provocation or warrant, ordered the arrest [of] the Plaintiffs on a purported charge of obstructing free passage in violation of Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a–182a.” [Dkt. # 1, Pl. Compl. at ¶¶ 20–29]. Plaintiffs alleged that the charges against them were dismissed on May 2, 2006.

In the fourth cause of action, Plaintiffs alleged that the “actions of the Defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights as secured by the Constitution of the State of Connecticut.” [ Id. at ¶ 26].

In the fifth and six causes of action, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants engaged in the intentional infliction of emotion distress and the negligent infliction of emotional distress. [ Id. at ¶¶ 30–33].

b. Procedural Background

On March 31, 2010, 704 F.Supp.2d 159 (D.Conn.2010), the Court denied in part and granted in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See [Dkt. # 61]. The Court granted summary judgment on Plaintiffs' intention and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims and denied summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' other claims. The Defendants then appealed the Court's denial of summary judgment. On May 26, 2011, 462 Fed.Appx. 13 (2d Cir.2011), the Second Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Court then entered a scheduling order directing the parties to prepare for trial in December of 2011.

On November 16, 2011 in preparation for and to clarify the issues to be decided at trial, the Court ordered the Plaintiffs to provide the Court with a brief statement articulating with specificity the basis of its claim that Defendants' actions were taken pursuant to a municipal policy or custom and what facts Plaintiffs intend to prove to support its claim. See [Dkt. # 137]. In response, Plaintiffs stated that they did not intend to pursue the claim that Defendant Albert had final decision-making authority at trial and indicated that they intended to demonstrate a municipal policy or custom through a failure to train. See [Dkt. # 145]. Defendants responded that since the complaint contained no allegations whatsoever regarding training, the complaint failed to allege a plausible Monell claim. Defendants argued that such claim should not be allowed to proceed to trial.

On December 1, 2011, four days before the start of trial, Plaintiffs moved to amend/correct the complaint to delete the prior allegation that Defendant Albert had final-policy making authority and instead assert a single new allegation that there was a “a failure to train by the Defendant City of Hartfrod [sic].” See [Dkt. # 154, Attach 2, Pl. proposed amended complaint at ¶ 25]. Defendants opposed Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint on the basis of prejudice and in the alternative moved to dismiss the proposed amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court denied the motion to amend and granted the motion to dismiss finding that the proposed amended complaint failed to allege facts which stated a plausible claim for entitlement with respect to municipal liability under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). See [Dkt. # 161].

III. Findings of Fact

As a preliminary matter, the parties, in their joint trial memorandum, stipulate to the following facts. On April 23, 2006, the Hartford Marathon Foundation, Inc. organized a Red Nose Run event that was held at the Riverfront Plaza in Hartford Connecticut. [Dkt. # 120, Joint Trial Memorandum at 11–12]. The Plaza spans over Interstate 91 South of the Founders Bridge between the Connecticut River and Columbus Boulevard. [ Id.].

The Red Nose Run is a community and family-oriented event held to promote the circus in anticipation of circus performances held in Hartford. [ Id.]. The event consists of a “race” for young children. As a result, the attendees of the Red Nose Run are primarily families and young children. [ Id.]. For the event, the Red Nose Run organizers erected a tent at the Riverfront Plaza that children and adults traveled in and out of during the event. [ Id.]. While the Hartford Marathon Foundation obtained a permit issued by the City of Hartford to use the Riverfront Plaza for the Red Nose Run, the event was co-organized by Feld Entertainment, which is the parent company to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. [ Id.].

The Plaintiffs, Oatis and Zalaski, along with other members of ARF attended the Red Nose Run at the Riverfront Plaza on April 23, 2006 for the purpose of protesting the use of animals in the circus. The Plaintiffs did not obtain a permit for their protest activities. [ Id.].

Sergeant Albert, along with officers Kevin Hart, Roger Kergaravat and Donald Rodrique, were dispatched to the Riverfront Plaza. [ Id.]. Upon arrival, Ms. Kay Page Greaser notified Albert that the Hartford Marathon Foundation had obtained a permit to use the Riverfront Plaza for the Red Nose Run and that the demonstrators continued to obstruct. [ Id.].

Albert ordered Officer Hart to arrest Oatis and Zalaski. Oatis and Zalaski were handcuffed, placed in a police car and transported to lock up for detention and processing. The charges against Oatis and Zalaski were dismissed on May 2, 2006. [ Id.].

Based on the testimonial and documentary evidence introduced at the trial the Court finds the following additional facts to have been proven by a fair preponderance of the evidence.1

Beth Shluger is the CEO and Executive Director of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, Inc. (the “Marathon Foundation”), a non-profit organization which sponsors events to promote fitness and health such as...

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