Catherine Nietzel and Jonathan Zellner Win Dismissal of Claims against Police Department

September 20, 2017

Catherine Nietzel and Jonathan Zellner recently won dismissal (on summary judgment) for a Connecticut police department and several of its officers who were charged with violations of a resident’s constitutional rights arising out of domestic violence calls to police by his then-wife. The couple had just initiated divorce proceedings and the husband claimed in the lawsuit that the police helped facilitate the wife’s efforts to gain possession of the marital residence using a strategy the husband called “Possession by 911.”  The husband claimed that police lacked probable cause and otherwise violated his Fourth Amendment, substantive due process and equal protection rights when they twice arrested him and, on several other occasions, investigated his wife’s claims of domestic violence by coming to the house and interviewing them. The husband, an Ivy League educated lawyer, made the unusual claim that police should have recognized his wife’s mental illness and thus disbelieved her claims as to his conduct, calling her “unreliable” because of her mental illness.   The court concluded, “No reasonable jury looking at the evidence alone could conclude that the officers responding . . . were without probable cause to arrest.”  In dismissing the plaintiffs’ substantive due process claim, the legal standard for which requires that the conduct be “conscious shocking,” the Court commented, “Even where the allegations of domestic violence prove to be unfounded, there can be no claim that responding to allegations of domestic violence with the seriousness they deserve is egregious or outrageous.”