United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Charles G. Douglas, III, Esq.
E. Douglass, Esq.
A. Curran, Esq.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
K. JOHNSTONE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Sargent alleges that her former employer, the Town of Hudson
Police Department (“HPD”), treated her reports of
domestic violence differently than those made by other women
solely because her abuser was a police officer in a
neighboring town. She initially brought this action in state
court, alleging two counts: (1) a state-law gross negligence
claim brought against the Town of Hudson (“Town”)
and three HPD officers under New Hampshire Revised Statutes
Annotated (“RSA”) § 173-B:12 (Count I); and
(2) a federal claim alleging an equal-protection violation on
a “class-of-one” theory, brought against the
three officers (the “individual defendants”)
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II). Defendants removed
the action to this court on the basis of the federal claim,
and the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the
undersigned magistrate judge.
move for summary judgment on both counts. Doc. no.
17. Plaintiff opposes summary judgment (doc. no.
33), but also asks that this court certify two
questions to the New Hampshire Supreme Court with respect to
her state-law claim (doc. no. 24). Defendants object
to certification (doc. no. 25) and move to strike
certain exhibits attached to plaintiff's objection to
summary judgment (doc. no. 38).
reasons that follow, the court grants
defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the federal
claim, finding that the individual defendants are entitled to
qualified immunity. The court declines supplemental
jurisdiction over the state claim and
remands the case to the superior court,
concluding that it is the appropriate forum to resolve this
claim in the first instance. The court therefore
denies plaintiff's motion to certify. In
light of these determinations, the court denies as
moot the motion to strike.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is appropriate where the moving party “shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “If a nonmovant bears the ultimate
burden of proof on a given issue, she must present
‘definite, competent evidence' sufficient to
establish the elements of her claim in order to survive a
motion for summary judgment.” Pina v.
Children's Place, 740 F.3d 785, 795-96 (1st Cir.
2014) (quoting Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d
816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991)). The court must “draw all
reasonable inferences from the record in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, disregarding any
‘conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, or
unsupported speculation.'” McGrath v.
Tavares, 757 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting
Alicea v. Machete Music, 744 F.3d 773, 778 (1st Cir.
2014)). Where, as here, the moving party raises a qualified
immunity defense, the nonmoving party has the burden of
showing that qualified immunity does not apply. See
Mitchell v. Miller, 790 F.3d 73, 77 (1st Cir. 2015)
(second prong); cf. Lopera v. Town Of Coventry, 640
F.3d 388, 395-96 (1st Cir. 2011) (first prong); Ashcroft
v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011).
otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed in the
record. Janelle Sargent began working for the HPD as a
fulltime dispatcher in July 2005. Doc. no. 33-3 ¶ 4.
Janelle married her ex-husband, Benjamin Sargent,
months later. Id. ¶ 3. Beginning in 2009 or
2010, Janelle was transitioned to the HPD legal department
due to a backlog, though she continued to spend time working
in dispatch. Doc. no. 17-4 at 2-3; doc. no. 33-7 at 19
(mentioning that Janelle worked in dispatch in 2011). Janelle
was a good employee, with HPD Captain William Avery
describing her as “probably the best dispatcher [he]
ever worked with.” Doc. no. 17-4 at 2-3.
2011, Ben was hired by the Litchfield Police Department
(“LPD”). Doc. no. 33-3 ¶ 5. The individual
defendants all knew that Ben worked for the LPD during the
period relevant to this case. See doc. no. 33-4 at 8; doc.
no. 33-5 at 23; doc. no. 33-12 at 16. It does not, however,
appear that any individual defendant interacted with Ben more
than in passing during this timeframe. See doc. no. 33-4 at
8; doc. no. 33-5 at 23.
Early Instances of Domestic Violence
point in 2011, Janelle told HPD Officer Kevin Sullivan that
Ben had pointed a gun at her head while she was taking a
shower. Doc. no. 33-7 at 19-20. Janelle did not ask
Sullivan to initiate a criminal complaint or investigation
because she was scared for her life. Id. at 21.
There is no evidence in the record suggesting that Janelle or
Sullivan ever formally reported or otherwise mentioned this
incident to anyone else at the HPD.
early April 2012, Ben assaulted Janelle, causing bruising to
her temple and her neck. Id. at 15. The following
day, Janelle went to work with her hair up and without
wearing makeup, hoping that one of her colleagues would
notice the bruising. Id. When no one did, Janelle
sought out HPD Officer Dan Conley, who took photographs of
Janelle's bruising on a department camera. Id.
at 15, 21, 33; doc. no. 33-8 at 5. Janelle stated that she
was going to send the photographs to her attorney. Doc. no.
33-8 at 5. Though she secretly hoped that Conley would
disclose this interaction to a superior officer, Janelle
asked that Conley keep it a secret because she believed doing
so would provide an excuse if it ever got back to Ben that
she had spoken with Conley. Doc. no. 33-7 at 21, 34; doc. no.
33-8 at 6. Conley agreed not to mention it to anyone so long
as Janelle told her attorney about the incident. Doc. no.
33-8 at 5.
Janelle left his office, Conley started to worry that
something bad might happen to Janelle and how he “would
have that on [him]” if he did not tell anyone.
Id. Conley therefore told Avery about his
interaction with Janelle and about the photographs he had
taken. Id. at 5-6. Avery responded,
“[W]e're dealing with stuff with Janelle, she's
got some personal issues we're working through, ”
and thanked Conley for the information. Id. at 6.
Avery did not ask to see the photographs or prepare a report
for the file regarding what Conley had said. Id.;
doc. no. 33-4 at 5. Neither Avery nor Conley informed anyone
else at the HPD about Conley's conversation with Sargent.
Id. at 6.
June 2012 Incident
before 1:00 A.M. on June 30, 2012, Janelle called HPD
dispatch and reported that Ben had scratched her neck with a
key. Doc. no. 33-5 at 16; doc. no. 33-7 at
14; 33-6 at 1; 33-19 at 1. Lieutenant
Charles Dyac and Officer Scott MacDonald responded to the
call. Doc. no. 33-5 at 2; 33-19 at 3. Dyac
was the first to arrive at the Sargents' residence,
followed by MacDonald two-to-three minutes later.
Id. at 2.
is no dispute that that Dyac spoke with both Janelle and Ben
while at the scene. See, e.g., Id. at 2, 4; doc. no.
33-19 at 3. Each provided Dyac with a significantly
different version of the events leading up to Janelle's
call. Dyac memorialized these different versions, along with
his own observations, in both a police report and a
subsequent e-mail to several of his HPD supervisors. Doc. no.
33-10; doc. no. 33-19; doc. no.
33-6. Janelle disputes both Ben's version of
events and several portions of Dyac's report and e-mail.
Dyac's Report and E-mail
to Dyac's police report, when he arrived at the scene,
Janelle was “highly intoxicated and unsteady on her
feet.” Doc. no. 33-19 at 3. Janelle stated
that she and Ben had been at the Backstreet Bar and Grill
(“Backstreet”), where she had been “making
out” with another woman. Id. She stated that
Ben became jealous, and that Ben scratched her on the side of
her neck with a key when they left the bar. Id.
Janelle stated that when she returned home, she tried to
photograph the scratch for a future divorce proceeding, but
that Ben disabled the camera. Id. Janelle stated
that she then called the police. Id.
MacDonald arrived, Dyac went inside to speak with Ben.
Id. Ben told Dyac that Janelle had been kissing
another woman at Backstreet, that Janelle and the woman had
entered the women's bathroom together for long periods of
time, and that when they exited the bathroom, both women
bragged about having sexual contact with each other.
Id. Ben noted that he did not approve of this
behavior and eventually told Janelle that he wanted to leave,
but Janelle initially refused. Id. Ben reported that
when he and Janelle finally did leave, Janelle said that she
was “going to call them, ” which Ben interpreted
to mean the HPD. Id. Ben stated that he was confused
by this, as there had been no physical altercation.
to Dyac, Ben maintained that he did not assault Janelle.
Id. at 4. Rather, Ben believed that Janelle received
the scratch from the woman she had been kissing, as Janelle
and the woman were “groping each other's face[s] .
. . .” Id. at 4. Ben told Dyac that Janelle
was taking several different medications, pain relievers, and
antidepressants, and had been drinking heavily. Id.
at 3. Ben stated that he had started hiding certain
medications from Janelle when she was intoxicated, so as to
avoid an accidental overdose. Id. Dyac reported that