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Batt v. Buccilli

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 31, 2017

TIMOTHY BATT, LUANN BATT, and JOSEPH BATT, Plaintiffs,
v.
LT. JOSEPH BUCCILLI, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR. Chief Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         On April 17, 2012, Lieutenant Joseph Buccilli (“Lt. Buccilli”) of the Orchard Park Police Department entered the home of Timothy, LuAnn, and Joseph Batt (“the Batts”) without a warrant or the Batts' consent to check on the welfare of LuAnn Batt's father, Fred Puntoriero. The parties differ sharply on the two key issues in this case: whether Lt. Buccilli's entry into the Batt's home violated the Fourth Amendment, and whether Lt. Buccilli is entitled to qualified immunity.

         For the following reasons, the Court declines to resolve the first question, because even if a violation of the Fourth Amendment occurred, Lt. Buccilli is indeed shielded by qualified immunity, and this case must be dismissed.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         On April 17, 2012, Lt. Buccilli was employed by the Town of Orchard Park Police Department, and at all times relevant to this action, was working in his capacity as a police officer.

         Fred Puntoriero is the father of LuAnn Batt. Prior to April 17, 2012, Fred Puntoriero had dementia, was wheelchair bound, and had previously been diagnosed in 2009 with failure to thrive. On April 17, 2012, Timothy Batt, LuAnn Batt, Joseph Batt, and Fred Puntoriero all resided at 3122 Bieler Road, Orchard Park, New York.

         On April 17, 2012, Donna Locicero, a Senior Case Worker employed by the Erie County Department of Social Services, Adult Protective Services, received a call of concern from Annette Puntoriero, the daughter-in-law of Fred Puntoriero, regarding Fred Puntoriero. Adult Protective Services had not received any prior calls of concern regarding Fred Puntoriero.

         During this call, Annette Puntoriero told Adult Protective Services[2] that Fred Puntoriero was living in the home of Timothy and LuAnn Batt; that Joseph Puntoriero and LuAnn Batt shared a “joint POA [Power of Attorney]” for Fred Puntoriero; and that LuAnn Batt “is making all the decisions” regarding Fred Puntoriero's care because Joseph Puntoriero is “out of town so often”

         Annette Puntoriero also told Adult Protective Services that, at some point prior to April 17, 2012, her “husband had told her that [Fred Puntoriero] was very lethargic and could not stay focused on the conversation. And then Joseph [Puntoriero] thought that [Fred Puntoriero] could be dehydrated again, because [Fred Puntoriero] often doesn't drink enough water.”

         Annette Puntoriero further told Adult Protective Services that no one had seen Fred Puntoriero for two weeks; that Joseph Puntoriero told her that he went to the Batts' home on April 16, 2012; that Joseph Puntoriero told her that he was not permitted to see Fred Puntoriero on April 16; and that Joseph Puntoriero told her that he suspected Fred Puntoriero was not doing well and that was why he was not permitted to see Fred Puntoriero on that day.

         Annette Puntoriero stated that she and LuAnn Batt did not see eye to eye on what was in the best interests of Fred Puntoriero; that Joseph Puntoriero and LuAnn Batt “did not agree on there being an issue with [Fred Puntoriero] at this time; and that there was “some animosity” between her and LuAnn Batt.

         Annette Puntoriero further told Adult Protective Services that she “couldn't possibly know what was going on in LuAnn and Timothy's home; that she “didn't know what was going on in the other home;” that she “couldn't answer . . . questions” about whether Fred Puntoriero was eating or feeding; that there was a family dispute between Annette Puntoriero, Joseph Puntoriero, and LuAnn Batt; that she had not personally been to the Batts' home on April 16, 2012; that she had not personally been denied access to the Batts' home on April 16, 2012; and that she did not know what the condition and interior of the home was like. Adult Protective Services attempted to get as much information as possible from the Annette Puntoriero, but they did not ask her if Fred Puntoriero was under the care of Hospice or an outside caregiver.

         After receiving this report from Annette Puntoriero, that same day, April 17, 2012, Donna Locicero, in consultation with her supervisor, Francine Amato, called 911 to request that the Orchard Park Police Department go to the Batts' home to conduct a welfare check on Fred Puntoriero.

         Donna Locicero informed the Orchard Park Police Department that Adult Protective Services had received “a call today with some concern about [Fred Puntoriero] who lives with his daughter and son-in-law in Orchard Park;” that the reporter expressed “a concern over [Fred Puntoriero's] well-being;” that “the concern is that another family member was not allowed to get into the house when he went to visit yesterday, and they're not sure if [Fred Puntoriero] is ok;” that the last time Joseph Puntoriero had seen Fred Puntoriero was “the second or third of April;” and that LuAnn Batt had denied Joseph Puntoriero entry to the Batts' home on April 16, 2012. Based on this 911 call, the Orchard Park Police Department dispatched Lt. Buccilli to assist Officer Kadi, who was on his way to the Batts' home to conduct the requested welfare check on Fred Puntoriero.

         On the afternoon of April 17, 2012, Joseph Batt was in the Batts' home. At about 4:30 p.m. Joseph looked out the front window of the Batts' home and saw Lt. Buccilli and Officer Kadi standing outside their parked cars, talking in the Batts' driveway. While standing in the Batts' driveway, Officer Kadi was advising Lt. Buccilli of what the dispatcher had relayed to Officer Kadi with regard to Annette Puntoriero's complaint to Adult Protective Services.

         Lt. Buccilli was aware that somebody had contacted Adult Protective Services about a potential welfare issue with Fred Puntoriero, and was aware that Adult Protective Services had requested that the Orchard Park Police Department conduct a welfare check on Fred Puntoriero.

         Joseph Batt walked outside the Batts' home through a side door and approached Lt. Buccilli and Officer Kadi in the Batts' driveway. Joseph Batt did not have anything in his hands. Lt. Buccilli asked for Joseph Batt's name, and Joseph said his name was “Joe” and that he lived in the home. Lt. Buccilli asked Joseph Batt if he had a license or any identification, and Joseph Batt replied that he did not have it on him.

         The officers then told Joseph Batt that they were there to conduct a welfare check at the request of Adult Protective Services. Joseph Batt told Lt. Buccilli that Fred Puntoriero was in the Batts' home, and also told Lt. Buccilli that he did not have permission to enter the Batts' home. Lt. Buccilli stated that he did not need permission from anyone to enter the Batts' home, and stated that he did not need to seek or obtain an access order from a court to enter the residence.

         After speaking with Lt. Buccilli and Officer Kadi in the Batts' driveway, Joseph Batt re-entered the Batts' home through the side door. Lt. Buccilli and Officer Kadi followed Joseph Batt into the Batts' home through the side door. Joseph Batt attempted to close the side door through which he had entered the Batts' home, but Lt. Buccilli was already partially inside the doorway to the Batts' home. Lt. Buccilli put his foot in doorway to block the side door through which Joseph Batt had entered the Batts' home, and both Lt. Buccilli and Officer Kadi entered the Batts' home through the side door. Once inside, Joseph Batt again told Lt. Buccilli and Officer Kadi that they did not have permission to enter the Batts' home. Officer Kadi removed himself from the Batts' home.

         While Lt. Buccilli and Officer Kadi were inside the Batts' home, Joseph Batt began recording the encounter using his phone's camera. During that encounter, Lt. Buccilli said “I'll tell you why we're here. Somebody contacted -- and keep [the video] rolling, please. Somebody contacted Adult Protective Services -- Erie County Adult Protective Services. And they contacted us, a social worker, requesting that we do a welfare check on you [Fred]. I don't know the basis or the allegations of what the welfare concerns are. But as I have been trying to explain to your grandson, Joe, and the other two individuals out there, that we do have a right to come in here when an allegation is made. And ...


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