Tiramani v. Johnson et al
ORDER granting 38 Motion for Summary Judgment. Please see attached Ruling & Order for details. The Clerk may enter judgment and close the case. So ordered. Signed by Judge Robert N. Chatigny on 2/8/18. (Jones, P.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
J. BERRY and
Case No. 3:16-cv-431(RNC)
RULING AND ORDER
Plaintiff Galiano Tiramani brings this action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 seeking damages for a warrantless entry into his
Named as defendants are four officers of the
Greenwich Police Department (“GPD”): Carl Johnson, John
D’Inverno, Joel Berry and Sean Welsh.
The defendants have moved
for summary judgment arguing that the entry was reasonable and
they are entitled to qualified immunity.
I agree that the
officers are protected by qualified immunity and therefore grant
The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.
In July 2014, plaintiff entered into a five-year lease agreement
with the owner of a large home in Greenwich (“the property”).
the time he entered into the lease, foreclosure proceedings
initiated by Bank of New York Mellon (“BNYM”) had been pending
for five years.
By November 2015, when the events giving rise to
this case occurred, the property had been foreclosed and an
eviction proceeding was pending against the plaintiff.
During the time plaintiff resided at the property, it was
known by his friends and others in the community as the “Hobo
The property had been abandoned for several years and
was in poor condition when he moved in.
He subleased rooms to
several “roommates,” and made some changes to the property,
including converting the backyard into a dirt bike track.
Plaintiff and others created a “Hobo Mansion” page on Facebook,
which advertised parties at the property, in addition to
chronicling some of the residents’ escapades.
During plaintiff’s tenancy at the property, neighbors filed
numerous complaints with the GPD and other Greenwich officials.
They complained of persons riding dirt bikes at excessive speeds
in the neighborhood, loud music and rowdy behavior.1
2015, the Greenwich Zoning Enforcement Office informed BNYM that
activities at the property violated the Town’s nuisance code.
At some point in the fall of 2015, plaintiff relocated to
California for approximately one month.
Around this time, there
was a string of burglaries at foreclosed and abandoned properties
The burglars stripped copper and other valuable
One email to a town selectman describes “[h]undreds of people
swarming our quiet street,” an unsafe environment, and public
materials from the buildings.
They were reported to be carrying
guns and wearing body armor.
While plaintiff was in California, a property management
company retained by BNYM secured the property and contacted GPD
to ensure the property would be monitored.
GPD conducted regular
patrols in the area and responded to several complaints of
suspicious activity, including a report of “kids” breaking into
the house and having a large party.
After the party, BNYM’s
management company placed a padlock on the garage door track to
prevent its wheels from rolling up.
On November 18, patrolling officers saw that the garage door
They entered, found no one, and secured a door
allowing access to the home from the garage.
OTHER UNSECURE DOORS OR WINDOWS FOUND.”
They reported “NO
In the early morning
hours of November 19, patrolling officers reported the “GARAGE
DOOR THAT WAS CLOSED BY OFFICERS YESTERDAY WAS STILL CLOSED
On the night of November 19, plaintiff, recently returned
from California, contacted the GPD to report that the property
had been burglarized.
defendant in this suit.
Two officers responded; neither is a
According to the plaintiff, he told the
officers that he was back from California and was driving a white
GMC sport utility vehicle (“SUV”) with Ohio plates.
wrote down the license plate number and told him “we want to make
sure we know it’s your car and that it’s you here.”
One of the
officers sent an email to the entire GPD advising that plaintiff
The email did not mention the white SUV.
On November 21, patrolling officers reported “ALL DOORS AND
WINDOWS APPEAR TO BE SECURE.”
This was the last patrol before
the events at issue here.
On November 24, at 8:16 p.m., the GPD received a report that
there was a “suspicious” white SUV in the driveway of the
Defendant Officer Welsh and non-defendant Trainee
Officer Justin Quagliani arrived at the scene at 8:31 p.m.
saw the SUV in the driveway, ran the plates, and discovered that
the vehicle was registered to PV Holding Corp., an Ohio
They approached the front door, knocked and rang
There was no answer.
third floor windows was illuminated.
D’Inverno arrived at the scene.
Welsh noticed one of the
Officers Johnson, Berry and
All the officers walked around
the house, knocked on doors, shouted their presence and checked
for any sign of forced entry.
According to the defendants, the garage door was off its
track and there were signs that someone had attempted to break
into the garage.
Plaintiff disputes this.
He would ask a jury
to find that the defendants broke into the garage by tearing the
door off its track and breaking the padlock installed by BNYM.
He contends that a jury could draw that inference because he did
not notice anything wrong with the door until after the officers
left the property.
What happened next is undisputed.
garage with their weapons drawn.
The officers entered the
They opened an unlocked door
leading from the garage into the house.
As they moved through
the house, they continued to announce their presence.
secured all the rooms on the first and second floors and made
their way up to the third floor.
When they reached the third
floor, plaintiff came out of a room in his underwear and shouted,
“get the f**k out of here,” “you don’t have a warrant,” and “get
out of my house!”
Officer Johnson holstered his weapon and
ordered the other officers to do the same.
He asked plaintiff to
calm down and explained that they were investigating a suspicious
vehicle at the property.
Plaintiff continued to tell them to
Approximately one minute after encountering the
plaintiff, the officers left.
II. Legal Standard
Summary judgment may be granted when there is no genuine
issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.
317, 322 (1986).
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
To avoid summary judgment, the non-moving party
must point to evidence that would permit a jury to return a
verdict in his or her favor.
477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
In determining whether this standard
is met, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. Id. at 255.
Plaintiff claims that defendants’ warrantless entry
violated the Fourth Amendment.
Defendants argue that summary
judgment should be granted because they did not violate the
Fourth Amendment and, even if they did, they are entitled to
I agree that the defendants are protected by
Qualified immunity “serves to protect police from liability
and suit when they are required to make on-the-spot judgments in
tense situations and when their actions could reasonably be seen
Lennon v. Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 424 (2d Cir. 1995).
An officer is shielded from a suit for damages under § 1983 if
“it was ‘objectively reasonable’ for the officer to believe his
conduct did not violate a clearly established constitutional
Hartline v. Gallo, 546 F.3d 95, 102 (2d Cir. 2008)
“‘Clearly established’ means that, at the
time of the officer’s conduct, the law was ‘sufficiently clear’
that every ‘reasonable official would understand what he is doing
District of Columbia v. Wesby, __ S. Ct. __, 2018
WL 491521, at *9 (Jan. 22, 2018) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd,
563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011)).
The standard protects “all but the
plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”
Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).
Searching a home without a warrant is presumptively
However, officers may conduct a warrantless search
when there is “probable cause plus exigent circumstances.”
v. Louisiana, 536 U.S. 635, 638 (2002).
Defendants argue, and I
agree, that it was objectively reasonable for them to believe a
burglary was occurring at the property, which provided exigent
circumstances justifying a warrantless entry.
A. Probable Cause
Probable cause to search is defined as a “fair probability
that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a
Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983).
For purposes of conducting a warrantless arrest, probable cause
exists when officers have knowledge of facts and circumstances
justifying a belief by a prudent person that an offense has been
or is being committed.
Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964).
Probable cause is “a practical, nontechnical conception,” based
on “common sense conclusions about human behavior.”
U.S. at 231.
It is “a fluid concept - turning on the assessment
of probabilities in particular factual contexts - not readily, or
even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.”
Qualified immunity shields an officer from liability for a
search if he can show “arguable probable cause”: either because
it was “objectively reasonable . . . to believe that probable
cause existed” or “officers of reasonable competence could
disagree on whether the probable cause test was met.”
v. Lunn, 361 F.3d 737, 743 (2d Cir. 2004) (citations and
quotation marks omitted).
The arguable probable cause standard
is “more favorable” to officers than the actual probable cause
standard, but it is not “toothless”: qualified immunity will not
apply if reasonable officers “would have to agree” that the
information does not “add up” to probable cause - even if it
Ackerson v. City of White Plains, 702 F.3d 15, 21
(2d Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).
Based on the facts known to the defendants at the time of
the warrantless entry, I think they had arguable probable cause
to believe a burglary was in progress.
The defendants were
responding to a report from a concerned neighbor that there was a
suspicious vehicle at the property.
None of the defendants knew
plaintiff was using a white SUV with Ohio plates.2
A string of
Plaintiff argues that the information he provided to other
officers on November 19 regarding his use of the vehicle can be
imputed to the defendants. He relies on the collective knowledge
doctrine, which provides that, “for the purpose of determining
whether an officer had probable cause for an arrest, where ‘law
enforcement authorities are cooperating in an investigation, . .
. the knowledge of one is presumed shared by all.” Savino v. City
of New York, 331 F.3d 63, 74 (2d Cir. 2003)(quoting Illinois v.
Andreas, 463 U.S. 765, 772 n.5 (1983)). “[T]he doctrine has
traditionally been applied to assist officers in establishing
probable cause - not to impute bad faith to one member of an
enforcement team on the basis of another member’s knowledge.”
Savino, 331 F.3d at 74. The doctrine does not support
plaintiff’s argument that the knowledge of the officers he spoke
burglaries had recently occurred at foreclosed and abandoned
properties in the area, including at least one break-in at this
very property while the plaintiff was in California.
himself had reported a burglary at the property the previous
See United States v. Rickus, 737 F.2d 360, 365 (3d Cir.
1984) (“The reputation of an area for criminal activity is an
articulable fact upon which a police officer may legitimately
rely.”); accord United States v. Gomez, 633 F.2d 999, 1004 (2d
Prior to entering, the officers repeatedly made
their presence known by ringing the doorbell, knocking and
A light was illuminated on the third floor but there
was no response to their calls.
See Murdock v. Stout, 54 F.3d
1437, 1442 (9th Cir. 1995) (officers responding to report of
suspicious activity had probable cause because door was open,
lights and television were illuminated, and no one responded to
While some of these circumstances may be
consistent with a finding of no criminal activity, I cannot
“dismiss outright any circumstances that [are] ‘susceptible of
Wesby, 2018 WL 491521, at *9 (quoting
United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 277 (2002)).
to on November 19 should be imputed to the defendants in order to
defeat arguable probable cause. See United States v. Santa, 180
F.3d 20, 28 (2d Cir. 1998); United States v. Valez, 796 F.2d 24,
28 (2d Cir. 1986).
the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable officer could
conclude there was a fair probability a burglary was in progress.
Plaintiff argues that a jury could find that the garage door
was not ajar when the defendants arrived.
I think a jury would
have difficulty finding that the officers broke in as the
The mere fact that he did not notice anything
wrong with the door until after the officers left seems
insufficient to support the dramatic inference he would ask a
jury to draw.
Even assuming a jury could reasonably find that
the door was not ajar, however, that finding would not defeat
qualified immunity based on arguable probable cause.
There was no “clearly established” law prohibiting
warrantless entry in similar circumstances in the absence of a
sign of a break-in.
Plaintiff has not identified “a controlling
case or robust consensus of cases” finding “a Fourth Amendment
violation under similar circumstances.”
491521, at *12 (quotation omitted).
See Wesby, 2018 WL
In fact, courts have found
actual probable cause in similar circumstances.
States v. Tibolt, 72 F.3d 965, 970 (1st Cir. 1995) (officers
responding to security alarm had probable cause despite no signs
of a break-in when they found closed, unlocked door and received
no response to calls);
United States v. Porter, 288 F. Supp. 2d
716, 720 (W.D. Va. 2003) (same).
B. Exigent Circumstances
In determining whether exigent circumstances exist to
justify a warrantless search, “[t]he core question is whether the
facts, as they appeared at the moment of entry, would lead a
reasonable, experienced officer . . . to believe that there was
an urgent need to render aid or take action.”
United States v.
Klump, 536 F.3d 113, 117-18 (2d Cir. 2008) (citations and
quotation marks omitted).3
Similar to the “arguable probable
cause” standard, an officer is shielded from liability for a
warrantless entry if it was objectively reasonable to believe
exigent circumstances justified the entry or “reasonable officers
could disagree as to whether exigent circumstances were present.”
Loria, 306 F.3d at 1287.
Probable cause to believe a burglary is occurring at a
residence has been held sufficient to justify a warrantless entry
due to the exigent circumstance posed by the risk of imminent
harm to any lawful occupants.
See United States v. Washington,
573 F.3d 279, 288 (6th Cir. 2009) (“In burglary cases, the
possibility that a lawful resident has been injured or is being
Factors to consider include “(1) the gravity or violent nature
of the offense with which the suspect is to be charged; (2)
whether the suspect is reasonably believed to be armed; (3) a
clear showing of probable cause . . . to believe that the suspect
committed the crime; (4) strong reason to believe that the
suspect is in the premises being entered; (5) a likelihood that
the suspect will escape if not swiftly apprehended; and (6) the
peaceful circumstances of the entry.” Loria v. Gorman, 306 F.3d
1271, 1284 (2d Cir. 2002).
held hostage gives rise to exigent circumstances.”); see also In
re Sealed Case 96-3167, 153 F.3d 759, 766 (D.C. Cir. 1998)
(citing First, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuit
precedents holding that “probable cause to believe a burglary is
in progress constitutes exigent circumstances sufficient to
permit a warrantless entry”).
Here, reports of recent burglaries
in the area carried out by persons carrying guns and wearing body
armor made it objectively reasonable for the officers to think an
immediate entry was justified.
Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment is granted.
The Clerk may enter judgment and close the file.
So ordered this 8th day of February 2018.
Robert N. Chatigny
United States District 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?