RRD Obtains Dismissal on Behalf of West Haven Police Officer

June 4, 2014

A federal district court handed RRD Partner Catherine S. Nietzel and Associate Jonathan C. Zellner a victory recently by dismissing a woman’s case against a West Haven police officer who she claimed failed to collect evidence of a motorist’s alleged intoxication.  She claimed the motorist who struck her as she crossed a street was obviously intoxicated. The officer investigated the accident but made the decision not to administer a field sobriety test.  The officer knew the motorist, a disabled veteran.  The plaintiff thereafter brought a civil lawsuit against the motorist, which lawsuit she settled, but she claimed that the value of her tort claim against him was diminished because of her inability to prove that he was intoxicated.  In her complaint against the officer, the plaintiff claimed that the officer, by his actions, deprived her of her right of access to the courts under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and that he committed the common law tort of spoliation of evidence.

RRD filed a motion to dismiss on behalf of the officer on the grounds that the claim against the officer was legally inadequate on its face.  In a decision issued from the bench, District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint,  holding that nothing in the plaintiff’s allegations could lead to the conclusion that the officer had prevented the plaintiff from establishing her claim against the motorist or that he had frustrated her attempts to do so.  Judge Underhill held that the plaintiff did not need the results of a field sobriety test to prove her case.  In addition, Judge Underhill held that, to the extent Connecticut recognized the tort of third-party spoliation of evidence, the plaintiff failed to establish that the officer destroyed any evidence.  Judge Underhill found that the officer’s actions constituted nothing more than a failure to create evidence, which did not suffice for purposes of the plaintiff’s spoliation claim.