RRD Partner James A. Mahar Wins Summary Judgment in Federal Civil Rights Case

May 16, 2012

RRD Partner James A. Mahar recently obtained summary sudgment in favor of a Connecticut municipality and four police officers in a federal civil rights lawsuit.  The plaintiff alleged that the police officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they seized his firearms and that they violated his Fifth Amendment Due Process rights when they applied for a “Risk Warrant” to hold the guns for up to one year.

The plaintiff called the police to report a break in at his home and told the responding officer that he had problems with people following him and breaking into his house.  He believed that “these people” were trying to gather information about him and also reported that he felt threatened by “these people” on a number of occasions.  He advised the officers that if he caught anyone coming into his house, someone would get hurt.  The plaintiff had a gun permit and owned a number of firearms and told the responding officer that he always carried a gun on him. The officer also learned that the plaintiff had made several calls to the police to report incidents of people following him and suspicious cars driving by or parked near his house.  

Based on these facts, the police officer felt that the plaintiff was very paranoid and that he might be suffering from an undiagnosed mental problem.  The plaintiff voluntarily showed police where his guns were located, after which the police officers confiscated them.  Subsequently, the responding officer and a detective applied for a “Risk Warrant” pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-39 in order to hold the plaintiff’s guns for up to one year.  At a subsequent hearing, a state court judge found by clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff posed an imminent risk of harm to others and ordered his firearms held for one year.

The plaintiff then filed a federal lawsuit against the municipality and several of its police officers, claiming that the police officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they seized his guns without a warrant and that they violated his Fifth Amendment rights to Due Process when they applied for the Risk Warrant.  He also claimed that the municipality did not properly train the police officers in the correct procedures to follow when seizing fire arms pursuant to a “Risk Warrant.”

United States District Court Judge Stefan Underhill ruled that the warrantless search of plaintiff’s home was not a Fourth Amendment violation since the plaintiff consented to the search when he invited the officers in and voluntarily showed them where he kept his guns.  With regard to the seizure of the guns, the judge ruled that there were genuine issues of fact regarding  whether the plaintiff consented to police taking his guns or whether there were exigent circumstances which justified the officers’ seizure of the guns without first obtaining a warrant.  However, since the issue of whether police officers can seize guns without first obtaining a warrant when they have probable cause to believe the owner poses an imminent risk to themselves or others is not clear, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.  He therefore entered summary judgment in favor of the municipality and the officers on all counts.