Zalaski v. Oatis, Civil Action No. 3:08-cv-601 (VLB).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
Writing for the CourtVANESSA L. BRYANT
Citation704 F.Supp.2d 159
PartiesLisa ZALASKI, Animal Rights Front, Inc., and Derek V. Oatis, Plaintiffs,v.CITY OF HARTFORD and Sergeant Albert, Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:08-cv-601 (VLB).
Decision Date31 March 2010

704 F.Supp.2d 159

Lisa ZALASKI, Animal Rights Front, Inc., and Derek V. Oatis, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF HARTFORD and Sergeant Albert, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 3:08-cv-601 (VLB).

United States District Court,
D. Connecticut.

March 31, 2010.

704 F.Supp.2d 160


704 F.Supp.2d 161
Derek V. Oatis, Lobo & Associates, Manchester, CT, for Plaintiffs.

Andrew R. Crumbie, Edward Mark Schenkel, Justin M. Pawluk, Mark Edward Dumas, Crumbie Law Group, LLC, John Rose, Jr., Corporation Counsel, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.
VANESSA L. BRYANT, District Judge.

The Plaintiffs, Lisa Zalaski (hereinafter “Zalaski”), Derek Oatis (“Oatis”), and Animal Rights Front, Inc. (“Animal Rights”) initiated this action against the City of Hartford (“Hartford”) and Sergeant Daniel Albert (“Albert”) in connection with Zalaski and Oatis' arrest by members of the City of Hartford Police Department during an April 23, 2006 Animal Rights protest at the Hartford Marathon Foundation, Inc.'s (“Hartford Marathon”) Red Nose Run event. The Plaintiffs assert two claims for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of their First Amendment rights, claims for false arrest, false

704 F.Supp.2d 162
imprisonment and malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Connecticut state law, a claim for violation of the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, and Connecticut state law claims for intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress.

The Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure against the Plaintiffs as to all claims. [Doc. # 48]. The Defendants contend that there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact as the City of Hartford is entitled to municipal immunity, Sergeant Albert is entitled to qualified immunity, and the Plaintiffs cannot establish the required elements for their any of their claims. For the reasons stated hereafter, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, summary judgment is granted in favor of the Defendants on the Plaintiffs' claims for intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress. The Plaintiffs' remaining claims shall go forward to trial.

I Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed for the purpose of the Defendants' motion for summary judgment unless otherwise noted. On April 23, 2006, the Hartford Marathon Foundation, Inc. organized a “Red Nose Run” event that was held at the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza (the “Plaza”) in Hartford, Connecticut. The Plaza spans over Interstate 91 South of the Founders Bridge between the Connecticut River and Columbus Boulevard. The Defendants contend that the Plaza is owned by the State of Connecticut and has been leased to the City of Hartford pursuant to a January 24, 1992 Airspace Lease Agreement. The Plaintiffs in turn note that the lease of the property from the State of Connecticut is only the property which is within the “air space” over Interstate 91, and that the Defendants have failed to provide the “Airspace Lease Agreement” referenced in violation of Rule 56(e)(1) and Local Rule 56(3). The Defendants also contend that the City has subleased the Plaza to Riverfront Recapture, Inc., pursuant to a lease agreement dated January 26, 1998, and that under the lease agreement, the City of Hartford had limited responsibilities, including the provision of police and other customary public safety services, and that the Hartford Police Department's sole duty is to provide police protection. The Plaintiffs again note that the Defendants have failed to provide the “Airspace Lease Agreement” referenced in violation of Rule 56(e)(1) and Local Rule 56(3).

The Red Nose Run is a community and family-oriented event held to promote the circus in anticipation of circus performances held in Hartford. 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. For the event, the Red Nose Run organizers erected a tent at the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza that children and adults traveled in and out of during the event.

While the Hartford Marathon Foundation obtained a permit issued by the City of Hartford to use the Plaza for the Red Nose Run, the Plaintiffs note that the event was co-organized by Feld Entertainment, which they identify as the parent company to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Plaintiffs also contend that Feld Entertainment paid all fees relating to the event.

The Plaintiffs, Derek V. Oatis and Lisa Zalaski, along with other members of the Animal Rights Front, Inc., 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

704 F.Supp.2d 163
Plaintiffs did not obtain a permit for their protest activities.

The parties dispute the nature of the Plaintiffs' protest activities. The Defendants claim that the Plaintiffs “yelled at” event attendees, including children, during their protest. Def. Loc. R. 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 15. The Defendants further contend that the Plaintiffs and other protestors “obstructed” pedestrian traffic, and as a result, the Red Nose Run could not be conducted as planned. Id. ¶ 16-17. Believing that the Plaintiffs' demonstration posed a safety hazard, Kay Page Greaser, the event organizer, called the police dispatcher and requested police assistance. She informed the dispatcher that the protestors were obstructing the event. Id. ¶ 18.

The Plaintiffs contend, however, that they remained clear of the running path of children and did not obstruct any attendees or participants. Pl. Loc. R. 56(a)(2) Statement ¶ 1. They further allege that the only reason that Ms. Greaser wanted the Plaintiffs to move was because of the content of their message and their viewpoint that the circus is harmful to animals. Id. ¶ 2. In support of their claim, the Plaintiffs cite the following portions of Ms. Greaser's deposition testimony:

A: Well, there are several ways to use the word “obstruction” in my opinion. Obstruction can be physical. It can also be mental, causing problems and/or feelings for the people that are trying to have a good time.
Q: So let me back up then. In your direct examination I believe you stated that protestors obstructed the race itself.
A: U-huh ...
Q: Did Mr. Oatis obstruct the race as you observed?
A: By being in a place that was in the way of conducting the race.
Q: Did you have these kids run up the stairs [where Mr. Oatis was standing]?
A: No ...
Q: Was Mr. Oatis, when he stood on that step with his banner, the step to the registration tent, was he obstructing kids running?
A: No.
Q: So when you described that he was obstructing, you meant only access to the registration tent?
A: No.
Q: What else did you mean?
A: I meant he was obstructing the running of the race, because of the physical banner visually causing a problem with people who were trying to have a good time.
Q: Can you explain how he visually caused a problem with people trying to have a good time?
A: Visually and orally. I believe Mr. Oatis was talking quite a bit and yelling things, and was also holding a banner that had words on it that were probably not comfortable for the families.
Q: How were the words not comfortable for the families?
A: I don't remember. I don't know. I have no idea what the banner said ...
Q: So words that, for example, said please don't fund the circus would be inappropriate?
A: If that's what it said, yes ...
Q: If his banner said Got Freedom-question mark-would that be inappropriate in your opinion?
A: I'm going to ... say yes to that, because I think any saying anything is inappropriate in that particular situation in front of the registration test.
704 F.Supp.2d 164
Q: So if he had a banner that said “have a good race kids” that would be inappropriate?
A: No ...
Q: How was [Mr. Oatis's] banner inappropriate?
A: Because it was obstructing the positive feeling of the race.
Q: So when you say obstructing, you mean the message contained in the banner was contrary to the atmosphere of the event?
A: Yes.
Q: So the words-the meaning of the words was the obstruction in your opinion?
A: Yes ...
Q: So did any other protestors obstruct the event race?
A: No.
Q: So Mr. Oatis and Ms. Zalaski and their banner were the only obstruction to the event?
A: Correct.
Q: And the only obstruction they made was blocking approximately five feet of a thirty-foot step, correct?
A: Uh-huh.

Pl. Exh. B, Greaser Dep., at 49-61.

In response to Ms. Greaser's call, Sergeant Daniel Albert, along with officers Kevin Hart, Roger Kergaravat and Donald Rodrigue, were dispatched to the Plaza. Upon arriving at the Plaza, Ms. Greaser notified Sergeant Albert that the Hartford Marathon Foundation had obtained a permit to use the Plaza for the Red Nose Run and that the demonstrators continued to “obstruct.” Def. Loc. R. 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 21. Sergeant Albert asked the demonstrators to relocate to an area several yards to the side of the location in which they were standing. The Plaintiffs refused to move. Sergeant Albert then told the Plaintiffs that if they did not move, they would be arrested. When the Plaintiffs still refused to relocate, Sergeant Albert ordered Officers Kevin Hart and Donald Rodrigue to arrest them.

Officer Hart arrested the Plaintiffs and charged them with obstruction of free passage. Sergeant Albert and Officer Hart claim that they believed probable cause existed to arrest the Plaintiffs for obstruction of free passage, criminal trespass, and disorderly conduct. The Plaintiffs, on the other hand, assert that Sergeant Albert requested them to move and ordered their arrest because of their viewpoint and substantive message. The Plaintiffs rely upon Sergeant Albert's deposition testimony, in which he acknowledged that he observed the Plaintiffs to be...

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11 cases
  • Zalaski v. City of Hartford, Civil Action No. 3:08cv601 (VLB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • 18 de janeiro de 2012
    ...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 su......
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    ...factors might allow an arrest properly based on probable cause to give rise to tort liability. See Zalaski v. City of Hartford , 704 F.Supp.2d 159, 176 (D.Conn.2010) (“As a matter of law—absent other factors that may constitute ‘extreme and outrageous' conduct—an arrest will not be consider......
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    • 23 de julho de 2013 inferred from its quotation of Indrisano in denying defendants' summary judgment motion, see Zalaski v. City of Hartford, 704 F.Supp.2d 159, 171 (D.Conn.2010), and its discussion of State v. Muckle, 108 Conn.App. 146, 947 A.2d 972 (Ct.App.2008), a case that reviewed disorderly conduct co......
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    • United States
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    • 26 de setembro de 2012
    ...reckless infliction of emotional distress,” the case law suggests that there is no such cause of action. Zalaski v. City of Hartford, 704 F.Supp.2d 159, 176 (D.Conn.2010) (dismissing a claim for reckless infliction of emotional distress); see also Montanaro v. Baron, CV065006991, 2008 WL 17......
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