Kanizaj v. Santello et al
Docket Entry Correction re 47 Order on Motion for Summary Judgment, replacement pdf of order attached. (Ruocco, M.) Modified on 2/6/2017 to change document type to opinion(Ruocco, M.).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
BRIANNA SANTELLO, ET AL.,
CASE NO. 3:15cv949(DFM)
RULING ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiff, Stephen Kanizaj, brings this civil rights
complaint against several Old Saybrook police officers1 pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that they violated his Fourth
Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and
Pending before the court is defendants’ motion for
summary judgment. (Doc. #44.)
For the reasons set forth below,
the motion is GRANTED. 2
The following facts, drawn from the parties’ Local Rule
56(a) statements and exhibits, are undisputed.
his original complaint, plaintiff named Brianna
Santello, Michael Small, John Doe, and James Doe as defendants.
(Doc. #1.) By way of his amended complaint (doc. #34),
plaintiff dismissed the action as to defendant Santello and
substituted “Patrolman Miller,” Robbert van der Horst, and James
Forte for the Doe defendants.
2This is not a recommended ruling.
On March 11, 2016, the
parties consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge.
Doc. #38; see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b).
On April 15, 2014, at approximately 4:41 PM, the Old
Saybrook Police Department received a call3 from an individual
who identified himself as “James Brink.”
Rule 56(a)(1) Statement of Facts (“Def. SOF”), Doc. #44-2, ¶¶ 1,
4; Plaintiff’s Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement (“Pl. SOF”), Doc.
#45-1, ¶¶ 1, 4.)
The caller stated, “I’m hearing gunshots from
across the street.”
Pl. SOF ¶ 2.)
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 2;
He explained, “I’m just down the street, but the
location of where the gunshots are . . . coming from is 225
Pl. SOF ¶ 3.)
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 3;
Plaintiff lives at 225 Springbrook Road.
SOF ¶ 23; Pl. SOF ¶ 23.)
The caller continued that “this happened about two minutes
I just keep hearing gunshots and screaming, I’m just
scared right now.”
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 5,
11; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 5, 11.)
He stated that he was “looking through
the window” and could “see people with guns pointed to people’s
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 6, 9; Pl. SOF
¶¶ 6, 9.)
Police were dispatched to the scene.
Recording, Def. Ex. A.)
The caller reported that there were two
armed individuals wearing black ski masks and “a whole family on
was not a 911 call--the call was made directly to the
Old Saybrook Police Department. (Def. SOF ¶ 1; Pl. SOF ¶ 1.)
SOF ¶ 14.)
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 14; Pl.
When asked if any shots had been fired, the caller
informed the dispatcher that about five shots were fired.
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 8; Pl. SOF ¶ 8.)
told the dispatcher, “I think someone’s been shot in the leg”
and that “there are only a couple alive.”
Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 16, 17; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 16, 17.)
what the people were doing, the caller answered, “they are just
lying on the floor with blood coming out.”
Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 18; Pl. SOF ¶ 18.)
The dispatcher informed the responding officers by radio
that the caller heard gunshots, that there were people in the
house with guns to their heads, and that the caller could hear
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶¶ 7, 10, 12;
Pl. SOF ¶¶ 7, 10, 12.)
She relayed the caller’s report that one
to three people possibly had been shot in the leg and that he
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex. A; Def. SOF ¶ 19; Pl. SOF
Police arrived on Springbrook Road about 6 minutes and 20
seconds after the start of the call.
A; Def. SOF ¶ 13; Pl. SOF ¶ 13.)
(Audio Recording, Def. Ex.
The officers were wearing
(Pl. Depo., Def. Ex. B, Doc. #44-4, p. 11; Def.
SOF ¶ 33; Pl. SOF ¶ 33.)
Plaintiff was standing in his kitchen
when his adult son alerted him that there were police officers
in their backyard.
(Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, pp. 4-5.)
Plaintiff went to the back screen door and an officer told him
to come out of the house.
(Id. at 5.)
Plaintiff asked if he
could put on sneakers or take his socks off because it was wet
The officer responded that he could take his
(Id. at 7; Def. SOF ¶ 30; Pl. SOF ¶ 30.)
did so and came outside.
(Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p.
Some of the officers asked plaintiff questions that “didn’t
make sense” to him.
One officer asked plaintiff if he
had heard a car backfiring, another asked if he had heard shots
being fired, and another asked if someone had been shot in the
(Id. at 8.)
Plaintiff “didn’t know what was going
on,” and responded that he had not heard a car backfire or any
shots being fired.
(Id. at 5, 8.)
When asked if anyone else
was in the house, plaintiff responded that his son was inside.
(Id. at 5.)
An officer asked plaintiff to tell his son to come
Plaintiff’s son came outside and they stood on
the porch against the exterior wall of the house.
was “a mild day, drizzling.” (Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc.
#45-2, pp. 8, 11.)
An officer asked plaintiff for permission to enter the
Plaintiff refused, telling the officer, “[y]ou
have no right to go in my home.”
The officer entered
Another officer, defendant Small,5 pointed his
rifle at plaintiff, keeping him “covered for the safety of the
(Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, pp. 5, 7;
Def. SOF ¶ 29; Pl. SOF ¶ 29.)
Plaintiff told Officer Small that
he wanted to accompany the officer.
(Id. at 6.)
told plaintiff that he had to stay outside.
later, a female officer also entered the house.
were the only officers who entered plaintiff’s house.
Plaintiff estimates that the officers were inside for
“[p]robably 15 minutes.”
During the search, the officers turned on every light and
opened every interior door--“closet doors, bedroom doors,
SOF ¶ 25.)
(Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 9; Pl.
The officers did not open any drawers.
Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 9.)
damage to plaintiff’s house.
p. 9; Pl. SOF ¶ 25.)
The officers did not cause any
(Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2,
At no time did the defendants handcuff
could not testify as to the names of the officers
involved in the incident. He knows only Officer Small by name
because he gave plaintiff his business card after the incident.
(Pl. Depo., Pl. Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, pp. 6, 8.)
plaintiff or otherwise physically contact him.
(Pl. Depo., Pl.
Ex. 1, Doc. #45-2, p. 12; Def. SOF ¶¶ 31, 32; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 31,
Upon completion of the investigation, the defendants found
nothing that supported the allegations made by the caller.
(Small Aff., Def. Ex. C, Doc. #44-5, ¶ 8; Police Report, Def.
Ex. D, Doc. #44-6, pp. 5-6; Def. SOF ¶ 34; Pl. SOF ¶ 34.)
later was determined that plaintiff was the victim of
(Police Report, Def. Ex. D, Doc. #44-6, p. 6.)
Summary Judgment Standard
“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Civ. P. 56(a).
A “material” fact is a fact that influences the
case’s outcome under governing law.
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247–48 (1986).
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
A “genuine” dispute is one
that a reasonable jury could resolve in favor of the non-movant.
The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing
that there are no genuine disputes as to any material fact.
‘swatting 911 call’ is a false 911 call made to police
in which a false report of a violent crime is made to elicit a
police Special Weapons and Tactics squad (‘SWAT’) response to
the physical address of a targeted individual, his or her family
members, or place of employment.” United States v. Neff, No.
3:11-CR-0152-L, 2013 WL 30650, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 3, 2013).
Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000).
Once such a showing is made, the non-movant must show that there
is a genuine issue for trial.
The court may rely on
admissible evidence only, Spiegel v. Schulmann, 604 F.3d 72, 81
(2d Cir. 2010), and must view the evidence in the record in the
light most favorable to the non-movant, drawing all reasonable
inferences in that party’s favor.
Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 41.
The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people “to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures.”
U.S. Const., amend. IV.
“It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law . . . that
searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are
Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S.
398, 403 (2006) (internal quotation marks omitted).
presumption may be overcome in some circumstances because [t]he
ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.”
Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011) (internal quotation
[T]he warrant requirement is subject to certain
reasonable exceptions . . . .
exception applies when the exigencies of the situation
make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that [a]
warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the
Fourth Amendment . . . .
[The Supreme] Court has
identified several exigencies that may justify a
warrantless search of a home . . . .
“emergency aid” exception, for example, officers may
enter a home without a warrant to render emergency
assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an
occupant from imminent injury . . . .
Id. at 460 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see
also Brigham City at 403 (“The need to protect or preserve life
or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be
otherwise illegal absent an exigency or emergency.”) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Under the “emergency aid” exception,
“[c]ourts must apply an objective standard to determine the
reasonableness of the officer’s belief, taking into account the
circumstances then confronting the officer, including the need
for a prompt assessment of sometimes ambiguous information
concerning potentially serious consequences.”
Mayes v. Vill. of
Hoosick Falls, 162 F. Supp. 3d 67, 80 (N.D.N.Y. 2016) (citations
and internal quotation marks omitted).
Here, it is undisputed that the Old Saybrook Police
Department received a call from an individual who gave
identifying information and stayed on the line to provide
updated details as the incident purportedly developed.
caller reported an armed home invasion at a specific address-plaintiff’s house.
He stated that he saw masked gunmen holding
a family at gun point, firing shots, and injuring some of the
At the time the officers responded and entered
plaintiff’s house, they reasonably believed that a home invasion
was in progress.
Thus, the officers were “confronted with an
urgent need to render aid or take action.”
Moore v. Andreno,
505 F.3d 203, 213 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks
Only after the search was it determined that
plaintiff was the victim of swatting.
Plaintiff’s sole argument in opposition to summary judgment
is that once he “was in custody, there simply was no evidence of
ongoing exigent circumstances sufficient to obviate the warrant
(Pl. Br., Doc. #45, p. 2.)
The fact that
plaintiff and his son exited the house and proclaimed that no
one else was inside did not pacify the exigency of the situation
or the need to search the house for potential suspects and
See, e.g., Canady v. Jackson, No. 307-CV-01843 (CSH),
2010 WL 3925132, at *6 (D. Conn. Sept. 29, 2010) (“Even if the
plaintiff was alone in the home, and explained as much to the
police, the 911 call gave more than enough cause for concern
that she might be lying, under duress, in order to make the
police go away.
It is undisputed that they . . . performed only
the most basic sweep of the premises, which was concluded in a
matter of minutes.”).
appreciate[s] the risk of a “false positive” emergency
call and recognize[s] that a show of police force in
response to a prank call is a substantial intrusion on
the lives of the prank’s victims. It is the nature of
our own assessments of what constitutes an emergency
that the police will routinely be summoned for matters
that are not, in some objective sense, real emergencies.
We will not impose a duty of inquiry on the police to
separate a true cry for help from a less deserving call
for attention because the delay may cost lives that could
have been saved by an immediate police response. The
possibility that immediate police action will prevent
injury or death outweighs the inconvenience we suffer
when the police interrupt our ordinary routines in
response to what turns out to be a non-emergency call.
U.S. v. Snipe, 515 F.3d 947, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2008).
Considering the substance of the call, the officers’ entry
and limited search of plaintiff’s house and their temporary
seizure of plaintiff were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
No rational jury could find otherwise.
Construing the evidence
in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the defendants’ search
took fifteen minutes and was limited to areas where gunmen or
victims could be found.7
The officers conducted a cursory search
an officer enters a residence under the emergency
aid exception, he may properly conduct a limited search
of the premises if it is objectively reasonable for him
to believe that the search is necessary to ensure the
safety of someone therein. The search must be strictly
circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its
initiation . . . . As to what may be done by the police
or other public authorities once they are inside the
premises, this must be assessed upon a case-by-case
basis, taking into account the type of emergency which
appeared to be present . . . . The officer’s post-entry
conduct must be carefully limited to achieving the
of plaintiff’s house, turning on lights and opening interior
On this record, defendants’ actions were objectively
reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.8
For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion for summary
judgment (doc. #44) is GRANTED.
This is not a recommended ruling.
The consent of the
parties allows this magistrate judge to direct the entry of a
judgment of the district court in accordance with the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure.
Appeals can be made directly to the
appropriate United States Court of Appeals from this judgment.
See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(3); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(c).
objective which justified the entry—the officer may do
no more than is reasonably necessary to ascertain
whether someone is in need of assistance and to provide
Mayes, 162 F. Supp. 3d at 81 (citations and internal quotation
8In light of this conclusion, the court need not address
defendants’ qualified immunity defense. See, e.g., Nelson v.
City of Stamford, No. 3:09-CV-1690(VLB), 2012 WL 233994, at *28
(D. Conn. Jan. 25, 2012) (“Having found that no constitutional
violation occurred, the Court need not address the Defendants'
claims of qualified immunity.”); Morris v. Valeriano, No. 3:06CV-392(JCH), 2007 WL 1851167, at *6 (D. Conn. June 26, 2007)
(finding no constitutional violation and granting summary
judgment, district court “need not address the defendants’
qualified immunity defense.”).
SO ORDERED at Hartford, Connecticut this 6th day of
Donna F. Martinez
United States Magistrate Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?