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Matson v. Cappetta

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 18, 2016

JOHNATHAN MATSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CATHY CAPPETTA, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 37)

          CHRISTINA REISS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Pursuant 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.

         Mr. Matson is represented by Brian R. Marsicovetere, Esq. Trooper Cappetta is represented by Vermont Assistant Attorney General David R. McLean.

         I. The Undisputed Facts.

         On 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.

         On 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 VSP barracks.

         On 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.

         On 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 RFAs.

         On 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.

         Mr. Matson nonetheless continued to send Ms. Stoudt text messages, some of which concerned their children and some of which concerned their vehicles.[1] 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.

         Trooper 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.)[2] 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 arrested him.

         At the 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 ...


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