SELENA BROOKS v. DANIEL SWEENEY et al., SC 18459
Judicial District of Hartford
Torts; Whether Court Properly Found that Plaintiff's Malicious Prosecution and Emotional Distress Claims Failed Because There was Probable Cause for her Arrest; Whether Doctrine of Qualified Immunity Barred § 1983 Claims; Whether Doctrine of Governmental Immunity Barred Negligent Supervision Claim. The plaintiff, an African-American female, discovered that the septic system to her Bloomfield home was leaking into her yard. Her neighbor, James Matthews, a Caucasian male, was experiencing a similar problem. The West Hartford/Bloomfield health district (health district) later received a complaint regarding the plaintiff's yard. Daniel Sweeney, a health district employee, directed the plaintiff to repair her septic system within a specific time period. When the plaintiff failed to make the necessary repairs, Sweeney applied for a warrant for her arrest based on her violations of state and local health codes. The plaintiff was arrested, and the charges against her were ultimately nolled. She then brought this action, asserting claims of malicious prosecution and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress against Sweeney and a claim of negligent supervision against Sweeney's supervisor, Steven Huleatt. She also sought relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Sweeney and Huleatt treated her differently than Matthews based on her race and gender, thereby depriving her of her right not to have laws selectively enforced against her. Finally, she brought direct liability claims against the towns of West Hartford and Bloomfield under General Statutes § 52-227n and sought indemnification from the towns under General Statutes § 7-465 for the improper acts of their employees. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all counts. It found that the malicious prosecution claim failed because the facts known to Sweeney when he applied for the arrest warrant supported a finding of probable cause to believe that the plaintiff would not comply with the health district's order. As to the emotional distress claims, it found that subjecting a government employee to litigation for infliction of emotional distress arising from a valid arrest warrant would be contrary to public policy and inhibit the enforcement of the law. It also found that the doctrine of qualified immunity barred the § 1983 claims because it was objectively reasonable for Sweeney and Huleatt to believe that their actions did not violate the plaintiff's equal protection rights. It stated that the evidence did not show that Sweeney knew Matthews was Caucasian and that no formal complaints had been lodged against Matthews. Moreover, it found that Huleatt was entitled to governmental immunity on the negligent supervision claim because the allegations against him involved discretionary acts. It also stated that the "identifiable person-imminent harm" exception to governmental immunity did not apply because any harm that the plaintiff could have been subjected to, as a result of Sweeney's or Huleatt's conduct, was not imminent. Finally, it determined that the claims against the towns failed because they were derivative of the claims against Sweeney and Huleatt. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.