Nuzzo v. Devine et al
ORDER. For the reasons stated in the attached ruling, the Court DENIES plaintiff Jeffrey Nuzzo's motion for reconsideration or relief from judgment (Doc. # 59 ). It is so ordered. Signed by Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer on 01/10/2022. (Gilles, E.) Modified on 1/10/2022 to flag ruling as an opinion (Barry, Donna).
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
No. 3:18-cv-516 (JAM)
SERGEANT DEVINE AND TROOPER
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM JUDGMENT
Plaintiff Jeffrey Nuzzo has moved for relief from a final judgment against him on his
claim that the defendant police officers violated his constitutional right to be free from the use of
excessive force. Because I conclude that Nuzzo has not shown sufficient grounds to conclude
that the judgment should be overturned, I will deny the motion.
Nuzzo filed this lawsuit against Sergeant Devine and Trooper Warren of the Connecticut
State Police in 2018. He claimed that they violated his constitutional right against the use of
excessive force in connection with an incident at Nuzzo’s house in October 2015 that culminated
in the use of two police dogs against Nuzzo.
The case proceeded to a bench trial in October 2019, and I issued a decision in the
defendants’ favor in October 2020. See Nuzzo v. Devine, 494 F. Supp. 3d 232 (D. Conn. 2020).
The trial evidence showed that late one night at his family home, Nuzzo had engaged in unstable
and threatening behavior indicating a mental health breakdown that prompted his family to
summon the police. Id. at 233. By the time the police arrived, however, Nuzzo was hiding on the
roof, and the police were unable to find him after hours of searching on surrounding property
through the night, even with the assistance of specially trained police dogs and a helicopter. Id. at
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233–34. In the meantime, Nuzzo texted his wife to inform her that “if the police did not leave, he
would blow up the house, or walk outside and attempt so-called ‘suicide by cop.’” Id. at 234.
Ultimately, Nuzzo re-entered his house from the roof and came out through the front door
to surrender to the police. Id. at 235. Nuzzo testified that—notwithstanding his full compliance
with the officers’ commands—the police (including the defendants Sergeant Devine and Trooper
Warren) grabbed hold of him and held him down in order to have the dogs attack him. Ibid. By
contrast, police witnesses testified that Nuzzo did not obey police commands as he left the house,
and as a result two of the officers (Trooper Leary and Trooper Naples, who were not named as
defendants) deployed their police dogs to secure Nuzzo, resulting in significant dog-bite injuries.
Id. at 235–36.
I weighed the testimoy of the witnesses and credited the police officers over Nuzzo. Id. at
236. As to whether the officers violated Nuzzo’s constitutional rights, I concluded in relevant
part that “[i]n light of what the police knew about Nuzzo, the fast-moving sequence of events,
and what Troopers Leary and Naples reasonably believed when they instructed their dogs to
secure Nuzzo, it was not objectively unreasonable for them to believe that the deployment of the
dogs was appropriate to ensure the apprehension of Nuzzo and without increasing a risk of injury
to police officers.” Id. at 237.
I noted as well that Nuzzo had not filed suit against Troopers Leary and Naples but only
against Sergeant Devine and Trooper Warren, who the trial evidence conclusively showed “had
nothing to do with instructing the dogs to secure Nuzzo.” Ibid. I found that “[i]n view of what
was known about Nuzzo’s unbalanced, evasive, and threatening conduct, as well as the rapid
course of events once Nuzzo left the house in very dark lighting conditions, I am not convinced
that Sergeant Devine or Trooper Warren knew or should have reasonably been aware that it was
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excessive for the dogs to be deployed on Nuzzo or to hold their positions on Nuzzo as long as
they did,” such that “even assuming the use of excessive force by other officers, the evidence
does not show that the failure of Sergeant Devine and Trooper Warren to intervene amounted to
a violation of the constitutional right of Nuzzo to be free from the use of excessive force.” Id. at
Nuzzo appealed. The Second Circuit affirmed by summary order, rejecting Nuzzo’s
arguments that the facts did not support the judgment against him or that there was any error of
law. See Nuzzo v. Devine, 2021 WL 4695515 (2d Cir. 2021).
In the meantime, Nuzzo filed a pro se motion for relief from judgment. 1 He principally
argues that newly discovered evidence shows that the defendants committed discovery
violations, intentionally defrauded the Court through perjury, and manipulated and concealed
critical evidence. In particular, he claims that the defendants (1) failed to disclose a use of force
report; (2) disclosed darkened, blurry copies of the photographs documenting his injuries rather
than the color originals later introduced at trial, while failing to include other probative
photographs; (3) failed to preserve an audio recording of his cell phone call to the state police
barracks during the incident in question; (4) failed to disclose relevant provisions of the
Connecticut State Police A&O manual; and (5) conspired with his own counsel to keep him from
obtaining the full supplemental investigation reports of additional officers. The defendants
oppose his motion. 2 I heard oral argument from the parties, and this ruling now follows.
Nuzzo seeks relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) and 60(b). “A court may grant a Rule 59(e)
motion only when the movant identifies an intervening change of controlling law, the availability
Docs. #59 (motion), #62 (supplement), #70 (reply). Nuzzo was represented by retained counsel at trial.
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of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Metzler Inv.
Gmbh v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., 970 F.3d 133, 142 (2d Cir. 2020). Similarly, Rule 60(b)
“allows relief from a judgment or order when evidence has been newly discovered or for any
other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.” Mirlis v. Greer, 952 F.3d 36,
50 (2d Cir. 2020). “The standard for granting such a motion is strict, and reconsideration will
generally be denied unless the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data that the
court overlooked – matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the
conclusion reached by the court.” Cho v. Blackberry Ltd., 991 F.3d 155, 170 (2d Cir. 2021). In
light of these controlling legal standards, I now evaluate Nuzzo’s claims.
Use of force report
Nuzzo argues that the defendants failed to disclose to him or his counsel before trial a use
of force report prepared by Sergeant Kevin Manzolillo.3 The defendants dispute that the report
was not disclosed. This report concludes that the officers did not use excessive force and relies
on primary evidence that was disclosed to Nuzzo, including incident reports prepared by the
police officers who were on the scene (which reports Nuzzo acknowledges were included as an
exhibit to the joint trial memorandum). 4 Even assuming that the Manzolillo report was not
disclosed, I have reviewed the report and Nuzzo’s allegations of discrepancies that could have
been the subject of cross-examination and I conclude that its disclosure would not have had any
material effect on the trial or my findings in favor of the defendants. I am not convinced that any
non-disclosure of the Manzolillo report warrants relief from the judgment.
Photographs of Nuzzo’s injuries
Nuzzo claims that the photographs provided by the defendants to the Court and his
Doc. #59 at 50-63 (report).
Id. at 63 (list of attachments to Manzolillo report); Doc. #23 at 5 (joint trial memo list of defense exhibits).
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counsel were significantly darker and blurrier than those originally disclosed by the defendants.
But the Court in fact received and relied upon the original color photographs attached to the joint
trial memorandum, one of which is reproduced in the Court’s prior ruling. See Nuzzo, 494 F.
Supp. 3d at 235. In any event, the differences in color and photograph quality that Nuzzo
identifies do not indicate an attempt by the defendants to mislead the Court, and I conclude that
any such differences would not have affected my prior decision.
Nuzzo further contends that the defendants omitted from their disclosures and the trial
evidence certain highly probative photographs showing his injuries from different angles. But
Nuzzo does not dispute that his attorney communicated with defense counsel about the
photographs each side planned to introduce at trial and could well have requested other
photographic evidence from the defense or introduced any photographs in Nuzzo’s possession.
To the extent that Nuzzo claims that any additional photographs of bite-mark patterns support his
version of what happened rather than the defendants’ version, I am not persuaded that the
photographs are conclusive in the manner Nuzzo claims. To the extent that Nuzzo claims that
photographs of the outside of the house were misleading, Nuzzo could have offered his own
photographs of the house at trial. I am not convinced that any deficiency with respect to the
disclosure of photographs warrants relief from the judgment.
Recording of telephone call with police dispatcher
Nuzzo accuses the defendants of intentionally destroying the recording of a cell phone
call he made to police dispatch during the incident in question. He claims that the recording
would show his “repeated clear and calm pleas to the officers on scene to ‘calm down’ and
‘relax’ as he was ‘not resisting’ and ‘not fighting’ them,” as well as the “subsequent solitary
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command without warning from TFC Leary directed at his K9 to ‘GET HIM.’” 5 Nuzzo says that
he did not know of the recording’s existence until Officer Lanteri referenced it in his trial
A claim for spoliation of evidence requires a showing “(1) that the party having control
over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) that the
records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and (3) that the destroyed evidence was
relevant to the party’s claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it
would support that claim or defense.” Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., 306
F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2002). Culpable intent means that “the destroying party ‘acted with the
intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation.’” Coan v. Dunne, 602
B.R. 429, 437 (D. Conn. 2019) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e)(2)).
Even crediting Nuzzo’s claim that the recording of his telephone call to the police was
not preserved, he has not shown that the defendants themselves took any steps to destroy this
evidence. Nor has he shown that his counsel made a timely request in pre-trial discovery for any
recordings such that they could have been used at trial. Nuzzo did not file this lawsuit until more
than two years after the incident occurred, an interval that weighs heavily in favor of an innocent
explanation for the lack of preservation.
In addition, even if I credit Nuzzo’s account of what he was telling the police over the
telephone as he was departing the house, he has not shown grounds to conclude that Sergeant
Devine or Trooper Warren were aware at the time of the statements he made on the call or that
any sound recording that might possibly have been captured over a dropped cell phone would
have substantially changed my evaluation of the credibility of the witness testimony at trial. I am
Doc. #59 at 21-22.
Id. at 21.
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not convinced that the failure to preserve a tape recording of Nuzzo’s telephone call with the
police dispatcher warrants relief from the judgment.
Nuzzo argues that the Connecticut State Police A&O manual clarifies that supervisory
liability attaches to commanding officers for the conduct of their subordinates, including when
police dogs are used to detain an arrestee. But although an internal police manual may be
relevant to assess whether an officer should have known that his conduct was unlawful, it does
not establish the legal standard for whether a police officer has violated the Fourth Amendment
in the first place by using excessive force. See Est. of Devine v. Fusaro, 2016 WL 183472, at *7
(D. Conn. 2016), aff’d sub nom. Est. of Devine, 676 F. App’x 61 (2d Cir. 2017).
Nuzzo does not otherwise show why disclosure of the manual would have made a
difference to the outcome of the trial. Indeed, my prior ruling made clear that there is “no ‘act of
dog’ exception to a police officer’s constitutional duty to refrain from the use of excessive force
and to intervene if others do so.” Nuzzo, 494 F. Supp. 3d at 238. I am not convinced that the
failure to disclose the Connecticut State Police A&O manual warrants relief from the judgment.
Ineffective assistance of counsel
Nuzzo argues that his trial counsel was unprepared and ineffective at trial, and Nuzzo
speculates that his counsel was even collaborating with the defense. But because this is
a civil case rather than a criminal prosecution, Nuzzo cannot raise a claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel, and “any complaints he might have regarding his attorney’s performance
at trial must be raised in a separate malpractice proceeding.” James v. United States, 330 F.
App’x 311, 313 (2d Cir. 2009); see also Hango v. Royall, 466 F. App’x 30, 34–35 (2d Cir. 2012)
(noting that “[t]o the extent that Hango argues that his attorneys provided ineffective assistance
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by colluding with the defendants, … failing to introduce certain evidence, and failing to consult
with him before making certain decisions, such allegations are insufficient to warrant a new trial
because there is no constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel in civil cases”).
Accordingly, to the extent that Nuzzo premises his motion on a claim that his trial counsel was
ineffective, I am not convinced that any deficiency in performance by his counsel warrants relief
from the judgment.
In light of my conclusions above, there is no need for me to address the defendants’
arguments that Nuzzo’s claims are barred by the law-of-the-case doctrine. I have considered all
of Nuzzo’s additional arguments as set forth in his papers and at oral argument even if not
specifically addressed here and conclude that they do not justify relief from judgment. Although
I understand that the police officers’ use of their dogs was a very traumatic experience for Nuzzo
and that Nuzzo has brought this lawsuit in good faith, I am ultimately not convinced that the
evidence shows that the defendants Devine and Warren violated Nuzzo’s constitutional rights.
For the reasons stated above, the Court DENIES plaintiff Jeffrey Nuzzo’s motion for
reconsideration or relief from judgment (Doc. #59).
It is so ordered.
Dated at New Haven this 10th day of January 2022.
/s/ Jeffrey Alker Meyer
Jeffrey Alker Meyer
United States District Judge
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