Denault v. Ahern, No. 15-2423 (1st Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
First Circuit rejects civil rights claims relating to retention of property in car towed for an evidentiary search.
Chelmsford police located Denault’s 2000 Nissan parked in Testa’s Lowell driveway. Denault, the suspect in a crime, was in custody. Testa was the mother of Denault's children. The officers had Denault's car towed and secured a warrant. Days later, they executed the warrant; having determined that the car did not contain evidence, they released it to Christopher's Towing. The officers had no contact with Denault. They did not supply, and Christopher's Towing did not request, Denault’s contact information. Testa repeatedly tried to recover the car and her belongings, particularly child booster seats. Testa claims that officers refused to discuss returning the car or its contents unless Testa agreed to be questioned in connection with the Denault investigation; they never informed her that they had released the car. Three months later, Denault's mother showed Tesla a Notice of Abandoned Vehicle sent to Denault's last known address, indicating a lien of $4797.82 for towing, storage, and processing. Neither Testa nor Denault could pay. They sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. They ultimately prevailed on a common-law conversion claim against one officer for $2225. The First Circuit affirmed, noting the “confusing” record and that the plaintiffs had waived claims relating to the initial seizure.