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Chaney v. Stewart

United States District Court, D. Vermont

April 7, 2015

Matthew Chaney, Plaintiff.
Steven Stewart, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER (Docs. 21, 27)

JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Matthew Chaney filed this action against Defendant Town of Stowe police sergeant Steven Stewart pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Complaint alleges that Stewart, in his individual capacity, violated Chaney's Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure by participating in an illegal eviction from a room at the Stowe Inn which had been afforded to Chaney as an employee of the Inn. (Doc. 1.) All parties have consented to direct assignment to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Docs. 3, 5.)

Currently pending before the Court is Stewart's Motion for Summary Judgment (MSJ). (Doc. 21.) Chaney opposes the MSJ in a response titled, "Objection Re: Motion for Summary Judgment" (referred to herein as "Opposition"). (Doc. 23.) Stewart filed a Reply responding to the Opposition (Doc. 25), and Chaney thereafter filed a Surreply (Doc. 26). Stewart filed a Motion to Strike Chaney's Surreply, arguing that: (1) the filing violates Local Rule 7; (2) Chaney has demonstrated no extraordinary circumstances justifying the need to file briefing beyond that allowed by Rule 7; and (3) the Surreply mostly just restates the arguments made in Chaney's Opposition. (Doc. 27.) The Court heard oral argument on the MSJ and the Motion to Strike on March 12, 2015.[1]

Preliminarily, the Court GRANTS Stewart's Motion to Strike Chaney's Surreply (Doc. 27) for reasons of judicial efficiency and fairness, and for the reasons stated in the Motion. The Local Rules do not provide for the filing of a surreply, and Chaney has neither requested leave of court nor presented extraordinary circumstances justifying the filing in this case. See L.R. 7(a); The Lee Family v. Int'l Paper Co., No. 1:09-CV-280, 2010 WL 2949635, at *1 n.2 (D. Vt. July 23, 2010). Furthermore, having reviewed the contents of Chaney's Surreply, the Court finds that it does not affect the Court's consideration of Stewart's MSJ. See Starr v. Cox, Civil No. 05-cv-368-JD, 2008 WL 1914286, at *2 (D.N.H. Apr. 28, 2008) ("A surreply on this issue will not alter the outcome of the case. Therefore, [the plaintiff] has failed to establish that there are extraordinary circumstances' requiring a surreply.").

The only new argument made in Chaney's Surreply is that the Court should consider Chaney's "Supplemental Statement of Undisputed Material Facts." (Doc. 26 at 1-3; see Doc. 23-2.) But "[t]his Court has repeatedly reminded litigants that the Local Rules do not provide an opportunity for the nonmoving party to file a statement of undisputed facts at the summary judgment stage.'" Zitta v. Graham, 996 F.Supp.2d 272, 275 n.1 (D. Vt. 2014) (quoting Rotman v. Progressive Ins. Co., 955 F.Supp.2d 272, 276 (D. Vt. 2013) (citing cases)). Local Rule 56(b) afforded Chaney the opportunity to bring relevant, disputed factual matters to the Court's attention, and Chaney took advantage of this rule by filing a Statement of Disputed Material Facts (Doc. 23-1).[2] The Local Rules contain no provision, however, for the filing of Chaney's "Supplemental Statement of Un disputed Material Facts." (Doc. 23-2 (emphasis added).) As this Court stated in Schroeder v. Makita Corp., "because [the nonmoving] party's ability to withstand summary judgment depends on the existence of disputed facts, not undisputed ones, there is no need for [that party] to establish undisputed facts at this stage of the litigation." No. 2:02-CV-299, 2006 WL 335680, at *4 (D. Vt. Feb. 13, 2006).

Accordingly, the Court does not consider Chaney's "Supplemental Statement of Undisputed Facts" in determining Stewart's MSJ, and Stewart is under no obligation to respond to it. See id. Moreover, following this Court's prior rulings, the Court will disregard Chaney's additional facts unless it is clear from the parties' briefing that those facts are both material and undisputed. See Rotman, 955 F.Supp.2d at 276 (citing Schroeder, 2006 WL 335680, at *3-4; Post v. Killington Ltd., No. 5:07-CV-252, 2010 WL 3323659, at *1 n.1 (D. Vt. May 17, 2010); Boule v. Pike Indus., Inc., No. 5:12-cv-7, 2013 WL 711937, at *1-2 (D. Vt. Feb. 27, 2013)).

For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Stewart's MSJ (Doc. 21) and DISMISSES this action.

Relevant Facts

The following facts, which are presented in the light most favorable to Chaney, are undisputed unless otherwise noted. On September 2, 2010, Chaney began working as an assistant innkeeper at the Stowe Inn. (Doc. 21-2 at ¶¶ 1-2.) Under the parties' employment agreement, Chaney would receive $9 per hour plus a room at the Inn in exchange for his services. ( Id. at ¶ 3.) Less than one week later, on September 8th, Chaney received an "Employee Warning Notice" from the Inn, which stated that he had violated the employment agreement by neglecting customer needs, leaving tasks for other employees, and having an unprofessional attitude and demeanor. ( Id. at ¶ 5; Doc. 21-3 at 65.)

On September 11, 2010, a few days after Chaney received the Employee Warning Notice, Heather Elie, another employee at the Inn, informed Chaney that he was being fired and had to vacate his room. (Doc. 21-2 at ¶¶ 8, 10.) Elie and her father, Tim Dow, the Inn's general manager, gave Chaney a letter from Lori Lascola, the Inn's owner, notifying Chaney that, due to his poor performance, his services were no longer required at the Inn. ( Id. at ¶¶ 11, 12.) The letter requested that Chaney "turn in [his] room key and vacate [his] room immediately." (Doc. 21-3 at 64.) Chaney put the letter in his pocket, stated that he "would think about it, " and started walking toward his room. (Doc. 21-2, ¶ 13.)

Elie and Dow followed Chaney, and the three raced to the room. ( Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) Dow made it there first, and blocked the door to the room. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) In a raised voice, Chaney told Dow to "get the fuck away from [the] door" and that he was going to call the police. ( Id. at ¶¶ 17-18; Doc. 21-3 at 37.) Dow or Elie may have told Chaney that they were going to call the police as well. (Doc. 21-2, ¶ 21.)

Chaney left the Inn and drove to the Stowe Police Department. ( Id. at ¶ 22.) When he arrived there, he overheard a dispatcher announcing that he was sending an officer to the Inn in response to a complaint about an "unruly person." ( Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.) Chaney told the dispatcher that he was the "unruly person, " and he was told to wait for an officer. ( Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.) Approximately 10-15 minutes later, Sergeant Stewart arrived to meet with Chaney. ( Id. at ¶ 26.) Prior to Stewart and Chaney meeting, Elie had spoken with Stewart, advising him that Chaney worked at the Inn and had a room there. (Doc. 23-2, ¶ 5.)

Chaney told Stewart that he lived and worked at the Inn but the Inn was firing him and had "kicked [him] out" of his room there. (Doc. 21-2, ¶¶ 28-30.) Showing Stewart the termination letter from the Inn, Chaney told Stewart that he had no money and needed a place to stay. ( Id. at ¶ 31; Doc. 23-2, ¶ 7.) Stewart told Chaney that he had received a complaint from Elie about Chaney using foul language when he was fired. (Doc. 21-2, ¶ 32.) Stewart further stated that there was nothing he could do, including preventing Dow from blocking him from entering his room at the Inn. ( Id. at ¶ 33; Doc. 21-3 at 58-59, 62.) Stewart advised Chaney that the Inn "could fire him and kick him out [of his room, ] and he would have to leave." (Doc. 21-2, ¶ 34.)

Although Stewart was a 30-year veteran of the Stowe Police Department with training in landlord-tenant dispute resolution, and although the Department regularly referenced a pamphlet entitled "Renting in Vermont, " Stewart did not recognize the dispute between Chaney and the Inn as a landlord-tenant matter. ( Id. at ¶¶ 27, 54; Doc. 23-2, ¶¶ 8-10.) Rather, Stewart believed his ...

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