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Coleman v. State of New Hampshire

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 16, 2018

Richard Coleman
State of New Hampshire, et al.

          Richard Coleman, pro se

          Charles P. Bauer, Esq., Matthew Vernon Burrows, Esq.


          Andrea K. Johnstone United States Magistrate Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Richard Coleman alleges that Thomas Dronsfield of the Lee Police Department maliciously prosecuted him in violation of state and federal law.[1] Across numerous motions and other filings, each party now asks the court to enter summary judgment in his favor. These requests have been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for report and recommendation. As discussed below, the court recommends that the district judge deny Coleman's request for summary judgment, grant Dronsfield's request for summary judgment, and deny as moot several other attendant motions.

         I. Overview of Claims

         For the purposes of context, the court briefly summarizes Coleman's claims against Dronsfield as alleged in his complaint. A more comprehensive discussion of these claims can be found in the undersigned's April 18, 2017 Report and Recommendation. See doc. no. 19. Coleman alleges that in March 2012, his neighbor, Natasha Cormier, falsely reported to law enforcement that Coleman was exposing his genitals to her. Dronsfield, then a Sergeant with the Lee Police Department, responded to Coleman's residence and confronted Coleman, but did not arrest Coleman at that time. Dronsfield subsequently obtained an arrest warrant for indecent exposure, and Coleman alleges that Dronsfield lied in the affidavit he submitted to secure that warrant and intentionally omitted exculpatory information from the affidavit. Coleman was arrested and prosecuted, but the charges were ultimately dropped in January 2015. Coleman brings malicious-prosecution claims against Dronsfield under the Fourth Amendment by way of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under state tort law.

         II. Pending Motions

         As noted, there are numerous motions and other filings currently pending. These documents can be separated into six categories. The first comprises Coleman's initial motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 70), Dronsfield's objection (doc. no. 75), Coleman's “motion to deny” that objection (doc. no. 79), and Dronsfield's response to the “motion to deny” (doc. no. 81). The second includes Dronsfield's motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 76), Colemans' “motion to deny” that motion (doc. no. 88), Dronsfield's response to that “motion to deny” (doc. no. 90), and Coleman's subsequent objection to Dronsfield's underlying motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 95). The third is composed of Dronsfield's motion to strike Coleman's objection to Dronsfield's motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 97), Coleman's “motion to deny” that motion (doc. no. 3), and Dronsfield's response thereto (doc. no. 105). The fourth consists of Coleman's motion for amended summary judgment (doc. no. 102) and Dronsfield's objection (doc. no. 106). The fifth includes Coleman's motion to supplement his motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 113) and Dronsfield's objection (doc. no. 114). The last comprises Coleman's motion to charge Dronsfield with perjury, obstruction of justice, and fraud, and to charge Dronsfield's former attorney, Matthew Cairns, with subornation of perjury (doc. no. 100), Dronsfield's objection (doc. no. 104), Coleman's “motion to deny” that objection (doc. no. 109), and Dronsfield's response to that “motion to deny” (doc. no. 111).

         As an initial matter, all of Coleman's “motions to deny” are, in substance if not form, responses to the filings he seeks to have denied. The court therefore construes these “motions to deny” as objections or replies, as may be appropriate, rather than as separate motions. The court likewise construes Dronsfield's responses to those filings as replies or surreplies rather than separate responses.

         Additionally, in deference to Coleman's pro se status, the court will consider all of Coleman's filings, whether timely or not, when analyzing the respective requests for summary judgment. Thus, for the purposes of the present analysis, the court construes Coleman's requests for summary judgment to consist of his initial motion (doc. no. 70), his subsequent motion (doc. no. 102), and his recent motion to supplement (doc. no. 112). Similarly, the court considers Coleman's objection to Dronsfield's motion for summary judgment to consist of his “motion to deny” that motion (doc. no. 88) and his subsequent objection (doc. no. 95).

         As noted, the court also has for consideration Dronsfield's motion to strike and Coleman's motion seeking criminal charges against Dronsfield and Attorney Cairns. As the latter motion does not directly relate to the merits of the summary-judgment motions, the court takes it under advisement and will address it in a separate ruling. And because the court concludes that Dronsfield is entitled to summary judgment even if it considers the documents subject to the motion to strike, the court need not reach that motion and instead recommends below that it be denied as moot.

         In sum, despite the plethora of filings currently pending, the court is, in essence, presented with cross motions for summary judgment. The court focuses its analysis accordingly.

         III. Standard of Review

         When analyzing cross motions for summary judgment, the court applies the same standard to each motion. See Fadili v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 772 F.3d 951, 953 (1st Cir. 2014). Summary judgment is appropriate where “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); see also Xiaoyan Tang v. Citizens Bank, N.A., 821 F.3d 206, 215 (1st Cir. 2016). “An issue is ‘genuine' if it can be resolved in favor of either party, and a fact is ‘material' if it has the potential of affecting the outcome of the case.” Xiaoyan Tang, 821 F.3d at 215 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). At the summary judgment stage, the court “view[s] the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party” and “draw[s] all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor . . . .” Garmon v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 844 F.3d 307, 312 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court will not, however, credit “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Fanning v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 821 F.3d 164, 170 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation and quotation marks omitted) cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 627 (2017).

         “A party moving for summary judgment must identify for the district court the portions of the record that show the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Flovac, Inc. v. Airvac, Inc., 817 F.3d 849, 853 (1st Cir. 2016). Once the moving party makes the required showing, “the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, with respect to each issue on which he would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in his favor.” Id. (citation omitted). “This demonstration must be accomplished by reference to materials of evidentiary quality, and that evidence must be more than ‘merely colorable.'” Id. (citations omitted). The nonmoving party's failure to make the requisite showing “entitles the moving party to summary judgment.” Id.

         IV. Coleman's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Coleman moves for summary judgment on both of his malicious-prosecution claims. He does not, however, attach any affidavits or other evidence to his summary-judgment filings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Rather, Coleman raises a series of arguments as to why, in his view, he is entitled to summary judgment. The court addresses each of these arguments in turn.

         Coleman first argues that he is entitled to summary judgment because Judge McCafferty previously concluded, in her September 29, 2017 Order denying Dronsfield's motion to dismiss, that Coleman's malicious-prosecution claims were not barred by res judicata. This argument is unpersuasive. In that Order, Judge McCafferty concluded that a previous lawsuit brought by Coleman in 2012 did not bar his malicious-prosecution claims in this case because Coleman could not have brought those claims until January 2015, when the underlying criminal prosecution was dismissed. See 2017 DNH 213, 3-5. She reached this conclusion because termination of criminal charges in the plaintiff's favor is an essential element of malicious prosecution under state and federal law. See id. at 4. She was not asked to reach the merits of Coleman's claims, and she did not do so in her Order. Her decision ...

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