United States District Court, D. Vermont
DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR
CLARIFICATION AND RECONSIDERATION (DOC. 27)
GEOFFREY W. CRAWFORD, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
malicious prosecution case returns to court on
defendants' motion for clarification and reconsideration
(Doc. 27) following issuance of a decision by the Honorable
J. Garvan Murtha. (Doc. 26.) Judge Murtha has taken inactive
status and the case has been reassigned to the undersigned.
ruling, Judge Murtha denied the motion with respect to Count
One (false arrest) with respect to all thee defendants. He
dismissed Count Two (failure to adequately investigate). He
denied the motion to dismiss with respect to Count Three
(malicious prosecution) against all three defendants. He
permitted Count Four (abuse of process), Count Five
(deprivation of liberty in violation of due process), and the
state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional
distress to proceed against defendant Drew Cota only because
Trooper Cota signed the affidavit of probable cause.
defendants bring this motion for clarification and
reconsideration pursuant to Local Rule 7(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P.
60(b), which states that "the court may relieve a party
. . . from a final judgment, order, or proceeding." The
Second Circuit has held that "[t]he 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."
Shrader v. CSX Tramp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d
motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true the allegations
of the complaint, which are as follows. On June 27, 2014,
plaintiff Ryan Lawyer was the passenger in an automobile
stopped by defendant Drew Cota, a Vermont State Trooper, on
suspicion of DUI. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. Lawyer was
intoxicated. Id. ¶ 9. Despite orders from
Trooper Cota to remain in the car, Lawyer got out three
times. Id. ¶ 10. He was arrested for impeding a
police officer and disorderly conduct. See 13 V.S.A.
§§ 3001 and 1026.
was transported to the St. Albans Vermont State Police
barracks and placed in a holding cell. Am. Compl. ¶ 12.
He was seated on a bench and handcuffed to the wall.
Defendant Derek Rolandini, also a Vermont State Trooper,
entered the cell and found Lawyer lying down on the bench.
One of his shoes was off, and approximately 100 bags of
heroin lay scattered on the floor. Id. ¶ 19.
Rolandini left the cell and returned with defendants Cota and
Ben Patnode (also a Vermont State Trooper). The three
troopers roused Lawyer and questioned him about the heroin.
Id. ¶ 20. Lawyer was still intoxicated and had
been recently awakened. His response was
"unintelligible." Id. The troopers
increased the charges against Lawyer to include felony
possession of heroin. Id. ¶ 21. They contacted
the Vermont Superior Court, Franklin District Division, which
set felony bail at $10, 000. Id. This was an
increase from the initial bail amount of$500.
was arraigned on June 30, 2014, and held until July 1, 2014,
when family members posted a bail bond. Id. ¶
holding cell was equipped with video recording equipment.
Id. ¶ 13. The video of Lawyer's detention
shows that the heroin did not belong to him. In the video, he
is seen using his foot to dislodge an object from the sink
located in his cell. Id. ¶ 15. The object then
split open, spilling bags of heroin across the floor. Lawyer
subsequently lost interest and fell asleep. Id.
¶ 18. A little later, defendant Rolandini entered the
cell and observed the heroin. Id. ¶ 19.
State dismissed the heroin charge on July 10, 2014.
Id. ¶ 28.
seeks reconsideration on qualified immunity. Judge Murtha did
not extend qualified immunity to the federal constitutional
counts of malicious prosecution or to the abuse of process
and due process claims as they relate to defendant Cota. He
also did not extend it to the state law claim of intentional
infliction of emotional distress.
reviewing Judge Murtha's decision and the pleadings, the
court concludes that qualified immunity should have resulted
in the dismissal of all five counts under federal law and,
through the state law analog, to the IIED claim as well. This
case presents a striking instance of a good-faith mistake by
police officers based on the information available to them at
the time. That further review of the videotape exonerated the
defendant does not alter the facts as alleged. These are that
the troopers locked plaintiff in his cell and returned after
a short ...