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Caniglia v. Strom

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

June 4, 2019

ROBERT F. STROM as the Finance Director of THE CITY OF CRANSTON, THE CITY OF CRANSTON, COL. MICHAEL J. WINQUIST in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as Chief of the CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, CAPT. RUSSELL HENRY, JR., in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as an officer of the CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, MAJOR ROBERT QUIRK, in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as an officer of the CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, SGT. BRANDON BARTH, in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as an officer of the CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER JOHN MASTRATI in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as an officer of the CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER WAYNE RUSSELL in his individual capacity and as an officer of the CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER AUSTIN SMITH in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as an officer of tho CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, and JOHN and JANE DOES NOS 1-10, in their individual capacities and in their official capacities as officers of the CRANSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.

          John J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This case brings to the forefront the constitutionality of police conduct when officers are not acting in their law enforcement or investigatory capacity, but aiding individuals out in the community. Edward Caniglia's wife called Cranston police for assistance when she became concerned for her husband's health and safety. Police arrived at the Caniglia's home, spoke to both Mr. and Mrs. Caniglia, and ultimately decided to send Mr. Caniglia in a Cranston rescue for a well-being check at Kent Hospital and to remove from the home the guns that he legally possessed.

         Mr. Caniglia filed this lawsuit and both he and the City have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The City moves (ECF No. 45) on these counts: Count I - Rhode Island Firearms Act; Count II - Second Amendment/Article I, § 2 of the Rhode Island Constitution; Count III - Fourth Amendment/Article 1, § 6 of the Rhode Island Constitution; Count V - Equal Protection; Count VI - Rhode Island Mental Health Law; and Count VII - Conversion, and claims for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. Mr. Caniglia has cross-moved (ECF No. 43) on Counts III, VI, and VII and also on Count IV - Due Process, and the City's immunity and community caretaking function defenses.

         I. PACTS

         On August 20, 2015, Mr. Caniglia and his wife had an argument in their home in Cranston, Rhode Island. ECF No. 55 at ¶ 1. Mrs. Caniglia asked her husband what was wrong, and he responded by going into their bedroom and returning with a gun; he threw it on the table and said, "why don't you just shoot me and get me out of my misery." Id. at ¶ 3. Mrs. Caniglia was shocked by her husband's behavior and threatened to call 911. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. Mr. Caniglia left the home. Id. at ¶ 7. Mrs. Caniglia did not call 911. Id.

         Mrs. Caniglia hid the gun between the mattress and box spring in their bedroom. Id. at ¶ 8. She then realized that the gun had not been loaded because she saw the magazine under the mattress. Id. at ¶ 9- She moved the magazine to a drawer. Id. She hid the gun and magazine because she was worried about her husband's state of mind. Id. at ¶ 11. When Mr. Caniglia returned to their home, the couple continued to fight, and Mrs. Caniglia left to spend the night at a hotel. Id. at ¶14.

         The next morning, Mrs. Caniglia tried to reach Mr, Caniglia by phone, but he did not answer. ECF No. 59 at ¶ 62. She became worried; she was afraid that he would do something with the gun. Id. at ¶ 63. She called Cranston police and asked them to make a well call.[1] ECF No. 55 at ¶16. She also asked for an escort back to her home to check on Mr. Caniglia. ECF No. 59 at ¶¶ 63-64. Officers John Mastrati, and Austin Smith, and Sargent Brandon Barth arrived at the hotel to speak with Mrs. Caniglia. ECF No. 55 at ¶ 19. She told them about the gun and what she did with it and the magazine and about what Mr. Caniglia said during their argument. Id. at ¶ 20. She told them that she was concerned about her husband's safety and about what she would find when she got home; she was worried about him committing suicide. Id. at ¶ 22.

         Officer Mastrati called Mr. Caniglia and asked to speak with him at his home. ECF No. 59 at ¶ 66. He told Mrs. Caniglia that her husband sounded fine, but instructed her to follow them to the home, and to stay in the car. Id. at ¶ 67. The officers spoke with Mr. Caniglia on his back porch. Id. at ¶ 69. Mr. Caniglia told Officer Mastrati that he brought the gun out during an argument with his wife, that he was sick of arguing with her, and that he told his wife "just shoot me" because he "couldn't take it anymore." ECF No. 55 at ¶¶ 26, 29. He was calm for the most part and told Officer Mastrati that he would never commit suicide. ECF No. 59 at ¶¶ 70-71. He seemed normal during that encounter, Id. at ¶ 80. When officers asked about his mental health, he told them it was none of their business. Id. at ¶ 82.

         Mrs. Caniglia arrived at the house and the officers told her she could come in. ECF No. 55 at ¶ 31. Mr. Caniglia asked her why she called the police and she told him that she was worried about him. Id. at ¶ 33. Based on his conversations with Mrs. Caniglia, Officer Mastrati was concerned about Mr. Caniglia's suicidal thoughts and that he was a danger to himself. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37. Sargent Barth, who was in charge at the scene, also considered Mr. Caniglia's statement that his wife should shoot him as a suicidal statement. Id. at ¶ 38.

         A rescue from Cranston Fire Department responded to the scene. Richard Greene, a rescue lieutenant, remembers little about the call but that police told him that they recovered a gun from the scene and that Mr. Caniglia asked his wife to shoot him. ECF No. 59 at ¶ 103. Officer Greene told Mr. Caniglia that he was taking him to Kent Hospital, and he went. Id. at ¶¶ 105-106. Mr. Caniglia disputes the officers' characterization that he went voluntarily because he says he only went so that the officers would not take his guns, but there is no evidence that Mr. Caniglia's submission to Cranston rescue was involuntary. ECF No. 65 at ¶ 70. A physician and a nurse examined him, and he was evaluated by a social worker. ECF No. 59 at ¶ 121. The hospital discharged him the same day. Id.

         Sargent Barth made the decision to seize Mr. Caniglia's guns, [2] which Captain Henry approved based on the assertion from the officers at the scene who felt it was reasonable to do so based on Mr. Caniglia's state of mind. ECF No. 55 at ¶ 41; ECF No. 59 at ¶ 87. Captain Henry was concerned that if the guns remained in the home, Mr. Caniglia and others could be in danger. ECF No. 55 at ¶ 42. After Mr. Caniglia left the home, Mrs. Caniglia showed the police where the guns and magazines were kept in the bedroom and garage and the officers removed them from the premises. Id. at ¶ 40. The parties dispute the assertion that Mrs. Caniglia wanted the guns removed, but it is undisputed that she pointed out where the guns were and allowed the officers to remove them. ECF No. 59 at ¶¶ 113-114.

         A few days later, Mrs. Caniglia went to the Cranston Police Department to retrieve her husband's guns. Id. at ¶ 122. After being informed that she needed a copy of the police report and such a request required a captain's approval, she complied and waited only to be told a few days later that her request was denied, and she needed to get a court order. Id. at ¶¶ 122-123. A month later, Mr. Caniglia tried to get his guns back from Cranston Police and they told him that they were not going to release them. Id. at ¶ 125. Mr. Caniglia's attorney sent a letter to Chief Michael Winquist requesting that the police return the guns to no avail. Id. at ¶ 126. After filing this lawsuit, the police gave Mr. Caniglia his guns back without a court order. Id. at ¶¶ 133-134. Cranston Police did not prevent Mr. Caniglia from buying or possessing any new guns during this time period. ECF No. 55 at ¶ 46.


         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must look to the record and view all the facts and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Continental Cas. Co. v. Canadian Univ. Ins. Co., 924 F.2d 370, 373 (1st Cir. 1991). Once this is done, Rule 56(c) requires that summary judgment be granted if there is no issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A material fact is one affecting the lawsuit's outcome. URI Cogeneration Partners, L.P. v. Board of Governors for Higher Education, 915 F.Supp. 1267, 1279 (D.R.I. 1996).

         The analysis required for cross-motions for summary judgment is the same. Scottsdale Ins, Co. v. Torres, 561 F.3d 74, 77 (1st Cir. 2009) ("The presence of cross-motions neither dilutes nor distorts this standard of review"). In evaluating cross' motions, the court must determine whether either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on the undisputed facts. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court will begin by discussing the motions on Mr. Caniglia's federal claims. The Court will first discuss Count III, which alleges that the City unlawfully seized him and his guns in violation of the Fourth Amendment, then Count II, which alleges that the City violated Mr. Caniglia's rights under the Second Amendment by taking his guns, and then Count IV which is a claim that the City violated due process by failing to afford him any process for the return of his guns. The Court will also address the City's asserted immunity and defenses. Finally, the Court will turn to Mr. Caniglia's claims under Rhode Island common and statutory law, Counts I, VI, and VII.

         A. Count III - Fourth Amendment

         Both Mr. Caniglia and the City have moved for summary judgment on his Fourth Amendment search and seizure claim. In this claim, Mr. Caniglia alleges that the City violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by taking his guns from his home without a warrant and requiring him to submit to a mental health evaluation. ECF No, 51 at ¶ 78. The City argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because the officers' behavior was reasonable and consistent with its duty to protect the public. The Court will first look at the relevant Fourth Amendment law as well as the parameters of the community caretaking function and qualified immunity defenses that the City invokes.

         1. Fourth Amendment Law

         Generally, Fourth Amendment jurisprudence talks about searches and sei7Aires in terms of arrests, investigatory stops, or inventory searches. Morelli v. Webster, 552 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 2009) ("A detention at the hands of a police officer constitutes a seizure of the detainee's person and, thus, must be adequately justified under the Fourth Amendment."); United States v. Coccia, 446 F.3d 233, 237"38 (1st Cir. 2006) ("[A] law enforcement officer may only seize property pursuant to a warrant based on probable cause describing the place to be searched and the property to be seized."). But here, the City argues that its police officers did not violate Mr. Caniglia's constitutional rights because they neither stopped nor arrested him for law enforcement purposes, but detained him and seized his guns in furtherance of their duties under the community caretaking function. The City moves for summary judgment on this defense and also on qualified immunity. Mr. Caniglia argues that he is entitled to summary judgment because it is undisputed that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated and that this exception does not apply here because it has only been sanctioned as an exception in cases involving" seizures and searches of vehicles, not homes.

         2. Community Caretaking Function

         "The Supreme Court recognized several decades ago that '[l]ocal police officers, unlike federal officers, frequently ... engage in what, for want of a better term, may be described as community caretaking functions.'" United States v. Gemma, 818 F.3cl 23, 32 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441 (1973)). "Apart from investigating crime, police are 'expected to aid those in distress, combat actual hazards, prevent potential hazards from materializing and provide an infinite variety of services to preserve and protect public safety.'"[3] Gemma, 818 F.3d at 32 (quoting United States v. Rodriguez-Morales, 929 F.2d 780, 784-85 (1st Cir. 1991)); Cady, 413 U.S. at 441 (The community caretaking function is "totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.").

         "The community caretaking doctrine gives officers a great deal of flexibility in how they carry out their community caretaking function." Lockhart-Bembery v. Sauro, 498 F.3d 69, 75 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Rodriguez-Morales, 929 F.2cl at 785). As long as police are not investigating a crime, the Fourth Amendment imperatives stay intact, "so long as the procedure involved and its implementation are reasonable." Id. "Reasonableness does not depend on any particular factor; the court must take into account the various facts of the case at hand." Lockhart-Bembery, 498 F.3d at 75. Courts "must balance 'its intrusion' on [an individual's] substantial liberty interests in remaining in [his] home, against the defendants 'legitimate governmental interests' in minimizing the risk of harm to [an individual], the family members, and themselves" while performing their community functions. Estate of Bennett v. Wainwright, 548 F.3d 155, 172 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Skinner v. By. Labor Executives' Ass'n, 489 U.S. 602, 619 (1989)).

         The Court will first address whether there was a seizure of a person. Mr. Caniglia argues that it was unreasonable for the City to require him to go to the hospital for a mental health check. But "not all personal intercourse between policemen and citizens involves 'seizures' of persons. Only when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen may we conclude that a 'seizure' has occurred." Terry v. Ohio,392 U.S. 1, 19 n. 16 (1968); see also United States v. Smith, 423 F.3d 25, 28 (1st Cir. 2005) ("In order to find a seizure, ... we must be able to conclude that coercion, not voluntary compliance, most accurately describes the encounter."); see ...

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