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Piccone v. Quaglia

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 7, 2015

COLLEEN C. PICCONE; PETER V. QUAGLIA, Plaintiffs, Appellants,
v.
JOHN W. BARTELS, JR., Defendant, Appellee, DALTON POLICE DEPARTMENT; TOWN OF DALTON, Defendants

Page 767

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Mark L. Wolf, U.S. District Judge.

Daniel K. Gelb, with whom Richard M. Gelb, Michelle Iandoli Lamendola, and Gelb & Gelb LLP were on brief, for appellants.

David S. Lawless, with whom Nancy Frankel Pelletier and Robinson Donovan, P.C. were on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Selya, and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 768

STAHL, Circuit Judge.

Following an encounter between the parties, Defendant, a local police chief, called Plaintiffs' employer to complain about their behavior during the incident. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging, inter alia, slander and interference with advantageous business relations. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendant on both counts. We affirm.

I. Background

Colleen Piccone, a resident of New York, is Deputy Associate Chief Counsel to Customs and Border Protection, part of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Her boyfriend, Peter Quaglia, is a New York-based special agent with the same agency. In January 2008, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) and local police began investigating Piccone's brother, Louis, for alleged child abuse. The state court granted temporary custody of Louis's three children to DSS. Meanwhile, Louis fled the state with his wife and children. Subsequently, the court issued warrants for the parents' arrest.

Piccone applied for temporary custody of her brother's children with the intent of supervising them in the family's Dalton, Massachusetts home. On February 1, 2008, Piccone traveled with Quaglia from New York to Massachusetts to attend a hearing on her application. Before the hearing began, a juvenile court probation officer informed Piccone and Quaglia that someone would need to install a carbon monoxide detector in Louis's home in order to place the children there in Piccone's care. On counsel's advice, Piccone and Quaglia purchased a detector at a local hardware store and headed to Louis's home to install it before the hearing.

When they arrived, Piccone and Quaglia found two police officers at the house. Defendant John W. Bartels, Jr., chief of the Dalton Police Department, demanded that Piccone and Quaglia identify themselves and told them that they could not enter the dwelling. Piccone presented her driver's license and Quaglia showed his federal identification. After a tense exchange, Bartels called the juvenile court probation officer, who confirmed that Piccone and Quaglia had been told to install a carbon monoxide detector in the home. Bartels returned to Quaglia and told him that he could enter the house and install the detector. Quaglia did so, and then he and Piccone left for the courthouse.

Later that day, Bartels spoke with a state trooper and expressed his frustration that Quaglia and Piccone were " telling everybody what to do. That -- that's what really gets my ass out." The state trooper encouraged Bartels to " [m]ake calls to [the federal agency], get someone fired, do something." Shortly after speaking with the state trooper, Bartels contacted DHS to complain about Plaintiffs' behavior and spoke with Matthew Carbone, an agent with DHS's Office of Inspector General. During their conversation, Bartels described his encounter with Plaintiffs at

Page 769

length and told Carbone that he found their conduct unprofessional.[1] After describing how he and his fellow officer asked Plaintiffs for identification and told them that they could not go in the house, Bartels relayed the following information:

Uh and there was a little bit of a uh an argument. You know things were getting a little agitated here. Uh and [my fellow officer and I] were on a . . . high anxiety level as it was because we've been dealing with this thing for two weeks . . . . But at any rate I told them you're not going in[to the house], period. Uh until we're told by the court that you can. And uh they then um you know obeyed what we said. And they went and sat in their car.

Bartels then explained that he had confirmed Plaintiffs' story about the carbon monoxide detector with the juvenile court probation officer. Carbone replied:

CARBONE: Ok. So their story did pan out.
BARTELS: It did.
CARBONE: It's just that they really weren't too ...

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