United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 37)
CHRISTINA REISS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Jonnathan Matson alleges
that Defendant Cathy Cappetta ("Trooper Cappetta"),
a Vermont State Police ("VSP") Trooper at the time,
subjected him to a false arrest in violation of his Fourth
Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and his
Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. Mr.
Matson's claim arises out of his arrest on August 16,
2011 for violating a Relief from Abuse Order
("RFA") issued in favor of his estranged wife.
Pending before the court is Trooper Cappetta's motion for
summary judgment (Doc. 37), which Mr. Matson opposes. After
oral argument, the court took the motion under advisement on
June 21, 2016.
Matson is represented by Brian R. Marsicovetere, Esq. Trooper
Cappetta is represented by Vermont Assistant Attorney General
David R. McLean.
The Undisputed Facts.
August 5, 2011, Carey Stoudt filed a complaint in the Family
Division of the Vermont Superior Court (the "Family
Division") for a RFA against Mr. Matson. The Family
Division granted her request (the "August 5 RFA"),
and restricted communication between Mr. Matson and Ms.
Stoudt to communication for the purpose of arranging
parent-child contact between Mr. Matson and their children.
Mr. Matson was also ordered to maintain a three-hundred foot
distance from Ms. Stoudt and their marital residence. The
August 5 RFA specified that a hearing would be held on August
9, 2011, and stated that "[t]he temporary order remains
in effect until the court dismisses the case or, after a
hearing, issues an order or denies a final order, or at 5:00
PM on the date of hearing, whichever is earlier." (Doc.
37-3 at 3.) On August 5, 2011, Mr. Matson was served with the
August 5 RFA.
August 8, 2011, Mr. Matson was charged in the Addison
Criminal Division of the Vermont Superior Court (the
"Vermont Criminal Court") with five misdemeanor
counts of violating the August 5 RFA. The court issued
conditions of release, which Mr. Matson signed (the
"CORs"). The CORs prohibited him from sending more
than ten text or email messages to Ms. Stoudt within a
twenty-four hour period and limited his in-person contact
with her to dropping off and picking up their children at the
August 9, 2011, the Family Division issued an
"Extended" RFA (the "August 9 RFA").
(Doc. 37-6 at 2.) The August 9 RFA provided:
[Mr. Matson] shall not telephone, write to, . . . contact.. .
[Ms. Stoudt] . . . in any way, or attempt to communicate
directly or indirectly with him/her/them through a third
party or in any other manner, except that [Mr. Matson] may:
communicate w/ [Ms. Stoudt] via email text messaging in
person contact is permitted to exchange the children @
school sport events/public activities for the children[.]
Id. The August 9 RFA also ordered Mr. Matson to
refrain from stalking, threatening, or harassing Ms. Stoudt.
It permitted him to retrieve "agreed upon items from the
marital residence" in the company of law enforcement or
a third party. Id. at 3. The August 9 RFA stated
that it remained in effect "until the court dismisses
the case or, after a hearing, issues an order or denies a
final order, or at 5:00 PM on the date of the hearing,
whichever is earlier." Id. It indicated that a
hearing was scheduled for August 30, 2011.
August 9, 2011, Mr. Matson was served with the August 9 RFA.
On August 12, 2011, the Vermont Criminal Court issued
modified conditions of release (the "August 12 Modified
CORs"), which prohibited Mr. Matson from having any
contact with Ms. Stoudt, except that he was permitted to send
ten text or email messages to her within a twenty-four hour
period. The August 12 Modified CORs additionally ordered Mr.
Matson to abide by all Family Division orders, including
August 14, 2011, Ms. Stoudt sent Mr. Matson a text message
inquiring whether he would be at the VSP barracks the next
day to exchange their children. Mr. Matson did not reply. The
following morning, Ms. Stoudt sent him another text message,
stating, "I do not want to bring them if you will not be
taking them. I do not want them to be disappointed
again." (Doc. 37-8 at 2.) Mr. Matson sent Ms. Stoudt the
following text message in reply:
Disappointed that they got to spend time with Nana and Liz?
... I was trying to be nice. How were they disappointed? I am
sorry I made the wrong choice to bring my boat down here ...
& spend time with friends, away from the nightmare my
life has become up home. I mean, I don't even get to be
in my home right now. I can't even play with my kids in
their back yard that we created for them. I cannot sleep
through the night. I am tired, scared, hurt and do not
understand, and I can't even communicate with you.
I've been trying just to talk for so long, but have been
unable. I am sorry, but please do not send me messages that
make me feel guilty. Please try to understand what I am going
through. Please look out the window . . . and ask yourself
what would you do with our 3 children in my tiny 1 bedroom
apartment. I wish I would have had a little more time to find
a place that was bigger and affordable, but I did not, I am
sorry. Please tell the kids I love them, and I love you too.
Id. Ms. Stoudt informed Mr. Matson by text message
that he was violating "the family court order and RFA,
that clearly says contact only regarding kids and
possessions" and that she would "have to report
the violations." Id. Mr. Matson responded that
his attorney had advised him that there were no longer any
content restrictions on their communications. Ms. Stoudt
explained that her attorney had advised her to the contrary,
and stated, "No communication with me unless it is about
the kids[, ]" to which Mr. Matson replied, "Crystal
Clear, thanks." Id.
Matson nonetheless continued to send Ms. Stoudt text
messages, some of which concerned their children and some of
which concerned their vehicles. On August 15, 2011, Ms. Stoudt
called the VSP to report that Mr. Matson was violating the
terms of a RFA. Trooper Cappetta responded to Ms.
Stoudt's call and obtained a signed, sworn statement from
her. In her statement, Ms. Stoudt averred that "[s]ince
last Monday August 8th when [Mr. Matson] was released from
jail for violation [of] a temporary] rfa he has continued to
have contact with me that did not concern the kids or
possessions, violation [of] the rfa." (Doc. 37-9 at 2.)
She described text messages sent by Mr. Matson on August
12-15, 2011, which did not concern their children, including
a text message that made her "feel like he was
stalking" because it referenced a truck that was parked
at her home. Id. at 4. Ms. Stoudt also discussed an
incident on August 13, 2011, when Mr. Matson had arrived at
the marital residence to retrieve some of his possessions,
and it "made [her] uncomfortable when he asked [her] to
look for his fishing license w/ him in his shed telling [her]
he hid [her] diamond rings and engagement ring, etc."
Id. at 3. Ms. Stoudt explained that she followed Mr.
Matson to the shed, accompanied by her sister, and they did
not find his fishing license or her jewelry.
Cappetta obtained a copy of the August 5 RFA and reviewed it
"carefully[.]" (Doc. 43-2 at 24.) On the evening of
August 16, 2011, she arrived at Mr. Matson's residence
with another officer and explained that she had received
"another complaint from [his] ex-wife . .. concerning
text messages." (Doc. 37-11 at 4:29-40.) When Mr. Matson
stated that the text messages were only about the
couple's children, Trooper Cappetta told him that she had
read the text messages and they pertained to additional
matters. Mr. Matson asked to call his attorney, and Trooper
Cappetta replied that he could do so at the VSP barracks.
Trooper Cappetta then asked Mr. Matson: "So you
understand what this is about, right?" to which Mr.
Matson responded in the affirmative. Id. at 5:08-13.
Mr. Matson acknowledged that the text messages pertained not
only to their children, but also to his truck. Trooper
Cappetta reiterated that she had reviewed the text messages,
and noted they were sent during the previous week following
Mr. Matson's release from jail. After Mr. Matson insisted
that he "did nothing wrong[, ]" id. at
8:04-10, and repeated his request to speak with his attorney,
Trooper Cappetta permitted him to call his attorney. She then
time of his arrest on August 16, 2011, the August 5 RFA had
expired, but the August 9 RFA and August 12 Modified CORs
were in effect. Although in his Complaint Mr. Matson alleges
that he was arrested "for reasons unknown, " (Doc.
1 at 2), in his deposition he responded in the affirmative
when asked: "You understood that [your arrest] was with
respect to [the RFA Ms. Stoudt had against you], whether or
not you believed you ...