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Filler v. Hancock County

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 12, 2019

HANCOCK COUNTY et al., Defendants.



         Concluding that a defendant committed the tort of malicious prosecution, the Court awards $1, 769, 354 in compensatory, economic, and punitive damages in favor of a man the defendant falsely accused of committing gross sexual assaults and assaults against his then wife. The Court's verdict and judgment runs against his now ex-wife's friend, who conspired with his wife to concoct the allegations that he committed these crimes, falsely reported these crimes to law enforcement, encouraged his wife to make false reports to the police, and falsely testified at his trials, resulting in his convictions for gross sexual assault and assault of which he was later entirely absolved.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         On January 9, 2015, Vladek Filler filed a civil action in the Superior Court of Hancock County, Maine against Hancock County, a number of government officials, and Linda Gleason. State Ct. Record Attach. 1, Docket Record at 2 (ECF No. 6). On February 4, 2015, the Defendants removed Mr. Filler's lawsuit to this Court. Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1) (Notice of Removal). This Court and the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit resolved issues of governmental immunity by and large in favor of Mr. Filler. Order on Mots. to Dismiss (ECF No. 42), 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10777 (D. Me. Jan. 27, 2016); Filler v. Kellett, 859 F.3d 148 (1st Cir. 2017). In July and August 2018, Mr. Filler and all the Defendants except Linda Gleason filed Stipulations of Dismissal with the Court. Stip. of Dismissal with Prejudice Pursuant to [Fed. R. Civ. P.] 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) (ECF No. 98); Stip. of Dismissal with Prejudice Pursuant to [Fed. R. Civ. P.] 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) (ECF No. 101); Stip. of Dismissal with Prejudice Pursuant to [Fed. R. Civ. P.] 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) (ECF No. 103).

         Mr. Filler impleaded Ms. Gleason as an original Defendant in January 2015 and on March 17, 2015, he served a copy of the Amended Complaint on her in South Greenfield, Missouri. See Notice of Removal Attach. 1, Compl., State Ct. Record Attachs. 4-5, Am. Compl.; Mot. for Entry of Default Against Linda Gleason Pursuant to F.R. Civ. P. 55, Attach. 1 Proof of Serv. of Summons and Compl., Attach. 2, Aff. of Counsel in Support of Req. for Entry of Default as to Def. Linda Gleason Pursuant to F.R. Civ. P. 55 (ECF No. 27). Ms. Gleason never filed an answer to the Amended Complaint nor has she otherwise defended the civil action. Accordingly, on May 1, 2015, Mr. Filler moved for entry of default against Ms. Gleason and on June 1, 2015, the Deputy Clerk of Court duly entered a default against her. Order Granting Mot. for Entry of Default (ECF No. 33).

         On October 12, 2018, Mr. Filler moved for a default judgment against Ms. Gleason. Pl.'s Mot. for Default J. Against Def. Linda Gleason (ECF No. 106) (Pl.'s Mot.). Mr. Filler's Amended Complaint contains two counts against Ms. Gleason: Count Five, a malicious prosecution count, and Count Six, a negligent infliction of emotional distress count. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 616-54. Mr. Filler requested a hearing and the entry of a judgment against Ms. Gleason. Pl.'s Mot. at 1-2.

         On November 9, 2018, the Court entered an order on Mr. Filler's motion for default judgment. Order on Mot. for Default J. (ECF No. 108). The Court allowed Mr. Filler to proceed with an evidentiary hearing on damages, required him to give notice of the hearing to Ms. Gleason, and mandated that he provide evidence that Ms. Gleason had not otherwise defended the lawsuit. Id. at 1-6. On January 23, 2019, the Court held a default hearing on damages. Min. Entry (ECF No. 114). Mr. Filler appeared with his attorney, David Weyrens; Ms. Gleason did not appear. Attorney Weyrens confirmed by affidavit that he had a notice of the January 23, 2019 damages hearing served on Ms. Gleason on December 17, 2018 in South Greenfield, Missouri. Aff. of Paralegal, Andrew R. Ambrose ¶¶ 5-6 (ECF No. 110). On February 22, 2019, Mr. Filler filed a memorandum of law in support of his claim for damages. Pl.'s Demand for Damages Against Linda Gleason (ECF No. 117) (Pl.'s Damages Demand).

         B. The Allegations in the Amended Complaint

         1. The Truth of the Factual Allegations is Assumed

         “A party who defaults is taken to have conceded the truth of the factual allegations in the complaint as establishing the grounds for liability as to which damages will be calculated.” Franco v. Selective Ins. Co., 184 F.3d 4, 9 n.3 (1st Cir. 1999); Perfect Fit, LLC v. Inmate Legal Forms Serv., No. 1:18-cv-00239-LEW, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14537, at *1 (D. Me. Jan. 30, 2019) (citations omitted). The Court turns first to the allegations in the Amended Complaint and later describes the evidence Mr. Filler presented at the damages hearing. In describing the allegations in the Amended Complaint, the Court focused on Ms. Gleason's role, but the significance of her actions becomes meaningful in the context of the actions of others because Ms. Gleason and others caused the sequence of tragic events that befell Mr. Filler.

         2. A Cautionary and Extraordinary Tale a. Ligia Arguetta's Mental Health History

         Mr. Filler's Amended Complaint tells a cautionary and extraordinary tale. Mr. Filler says that before he knew her, his ex-wife, Ligia Arguetta, had “a history of serious mental problems, psychiatric treatment, and [a] history of claims of sexual abuse and abandonment.” Am. Compl. ¶ 40. In fact, Ms. Arguetta had “a prior child custody dispute involving three restraining orders, numerous claims of abuse, and criminal charges against [her] for Assault and Battery and Assault and Battery with a Deadly Weapon (her teeth) on one Carlos Badias who sought parental rights to the daughter he had with Arguetta in 1990.” Id. ¶ 41. Mr. Filler says that when he began dating Ms. Arguetta in October 1991, he was “unaware of her previous hospitalization and court experiences.” Id. ¶ 42.

         b. Vladek Filler and Ligia Arguetta's Relationship: 1994-2007

         Mr. Filler and Ms. Arguetta moved in together in 1994 and were married in October 1995. Id. ¶ 43. Mr. Filler and Ms. Arguetta had been intimate partners for sixteen years and married for twelve, producing two sons. Id. ¶ 37. Ms. Arguetta brought a daughter, Natasha, to the marriage and Mr. Filler “raised and mentored” Natasha from the time she was one year old. Id. ¶ 38. In May of 2004, Mr. Filler, Ms. Arguetta and their family moved to coastal Maine, where Mr. Filler worked from home and cared for the three children and for Ms. Arguetta. Id. ¶ 45. Mr. Filler owned an historic 1800's timber-framed project house in Gouldsboro, Maine that overlooked Frenchman Bay and Mount Desert Island and the family moved into the house in May 2004. Id. ¶ 39.

         c. The Filler-Arguetta Marriage Deteriorates: 2007

         While in Maine, Ms. Arguetta's mental health deteriorated and she was prescribed medications “with daily doses reaching some twenty-four pills.” Id. ¶ 46. By 2007, Mr. Filler's and Ms. Arguetta's marriage had “deteriorated beyond repair and the parties were in the midst of a separation initiated by [Mr. Filler].” Id. ¶ 48. Mr. Filler “openly made plans and arrangements to relocate with the children to the state of Georgia to live with relatives.” Id. ¶ 49.

         d. Linda Gleason and Ligia Arguetta

         Linda Gleason was “a registered nurse working at the Maine Coast Memorial Hospital and Mount Desert Island Hospital.” Id. ¶ 617. Ms. Gleason also “taught a nursing course at Sumner High School Adult Education.” Id. In 2007, Ms. Gleason was unmarried and residing alone in a new three-bedroom house in Steuben, Maine. Id. ¶ 618. Ms. Gleason met Ms. Arguetta when Ms. Arguetta took her “adult education certified nurs[es] aid[e] class, beginning in January 2007.” Id. ¶ 619. Over the next few months, Ms. Gleason and Ms. Arguetta developed “a close relationship.” Id. ¶ 620. Ms. Arguetta informed Ms. Gleason that Mr. Filler “intended to leave [Ms.] Arguetta and move back to his family's home in Georgia and take his two sons with him.” Id. ¶ 621.

         e. Ligia Arguetta and Linda Gleason Concoct a Plan

         Ligia Arguetta and Linda Gleason “conspired to concoct a plan which would allow [Ms.] Arguetta to keep custody of her two sons” and the plan “included [Ms.] Arguetta and her children residing at [Ms.] Gleason's home in Steuben.” Id. ¶¶ 622-23. On April 21, 2007, Ms. Arguetta “in fact moved into [Ms.] Gleason's Steuben home, along with her daughter and one-year-old son.” Id. ¶ 624. “This move was part of the plan, and was in place prior to April 21, 2007.” Id. It “was agreed between [Ms.] Gleason and [Ms.] Arguetta that [Ms.] Arguetta would falsely accuse [Mr. Filler] of simple assault and gross sexual assault.” Id. ¶ 625. “The purpose of this was to promote [Ms.] Arguetta obtaining custody of the children, to subject [Mr.] Filler to false and malicious prosecution, and preclude him from maintaining a relationship of any kind with his children.” Id. ¶ 626.

         f. April 2007: Ligia Arguetta's Allegations, Linda Gleason and Initial Police Involvement

         “As the date of [Mr. Filler's] departure approached, on April 21, 2007, [Ms.] Arguetta unexpectedly took their one-year-old son and relocated to live with an unknown new friend at an undisclosed location in another county.” Id. ¶ 51. In an “effort to gain physical custody of the couple's ten-year-old son, [Ms.] Arguetta engaged the police and began making numerous allegations of abuse.” Id. ¶ 52.

         On April 22, 2007, Linda Gleason, Ms. Arguetta's new friend, “called the Gouldsboro police to go over to [Mr. Filler's] house and ‘get' the couple's ten-year-old son and deliver him . . . to [Ms.] Arguetta's custody.” Id. ¶ 75. Gouldsboro police “only agreed to get involved if [Ms.] Arguetta was a victim of abuse, ” and Ms. Arguetta “then took the phone and claimed she was a victim of being ‘pushed' by [Mr. Filler] two days earlier on April 20, 2007.” Id. ¶ 76. Gouldsboro Police Sergeant Harry Larrabee “later testified he could hear [Ms.] Arguetta's friend Linda Gleason ‘in the background advising her' to make claims of sexual abuse.” Id. ¶ 77.

         Without meeting Ms. Arguetta or Ms. Gleason in person, Gouldsboro police officers drove directly to Mr. Filler's home and “separately interviewed [Mr. Filler] and his ten-year-old son. Both denied [Ms.] Arguetta's allegations and according to Sgt. Larrabee, [Mr. Filler] appeared to have no prior knowledge that police were coming to interview him.” Id. ¶ 78. The ten-year-old reported prior incidents of witnessing his mother assault and punch his father; however, other than an argument, no physical contact at all took place on the night [of April 20, 2007].” Id. ¶ 79. The ten-year-old “refused to be taken to his mother or live with her.” Id. ¶ 80.

         Mr. Filler “informed Gouldsboro Police that he and [Ms.] Arguetta were in the middle of separation and a child custody dispute and that [Ms.] Arguetta was clearly attempting to gain an advantage in their child custody dispute as she employed identical tactics in another custody fight with the father of her daughter in Massachusetts.” Id. ¶ 81. Mr. Filler “reported he never assaulted [Ms.] Arguetta but suffered physical violence from [her] including being hit and punched in the face in front of the children and that he didn't call the police because he was a man.” Id. ¶ 82. Mr. Filler “reported [Ms.] Arguetta was on numerous medications, and had previous criminal charges for attacking the father of her first child in Massachusetts.” Id. ¶ 83. Gouldsboro police “still issued a summons to [Mr. Filler] for simple assault and then traveled to meet and interview [Ms.] Arguetta and her friend Linda Gleason for the first time.” Id. ¶ 84.

         g. Sergeant Larrabee's April 22, 2007 Interview of Ligia Arguetta

         When the police arrived at Linda Gleason's residence, and Ligia Arguetta observed that they did not have her ten-year-old son with them, she “collapsed in her friend's driveway.” Id. ¶ 85. Sergeant Larrabee interviewed Ms. Arguetta and inspected her arms, finding no bruises or markings of any kind, two days after the alleged assault. Id. ¶ 86. Before leaving, Sergeant Larrabee advised Ms. Arguetta to get a physical examination at one of the two local hospitals and provide him with a medical release required for his investigation. Id. ¶ 87.

         h. Chief Wycoff's April 23, 2007 Interview of Ligia Arguetta

         On April 23, 2007, Ligia Arguetta met with town of Gouldsboro Chief of Police Guy Wycoff at Ms. Gleason's residence. Id. ¶ 88. At that time, Mr. Filler had been ordered to stay out of his house so that Ms. Arguetta could retrieve her belongings. Id. At Ms. Gleason's house, Ms. Arguetta showed Chief Wycoff a new bruise on her upper arm and she alleged that Mr. Filler had caused the bruise during his alleged altercation with her three days before. Id. ¶ 89. Chief Wycoff took photographs of Ms. Arguetta showing her bruise. Id. ¶ 90.

         i. Ligia Arguetta Suffers a Mental Breakdown

         Soon after Ms. Arguetta began to act “delusional and psychotic” one moment and “calm and calculating” another moment. Id. ¶ 117. Ms. Arguetta was intent upon regaining custody of her ten-year-old son, who was still with Mr. Filler, and after a series of escalating claims, on April 24, 2007, she claimed that he had sexually assaulted her. Id. ¶¶ 116-19. After failing to convince her seventeen-year-old daughter to claim that Mr. Filler had molested her, Ms. Arguetta headed down the road on foot with her one-year-old son in tow with the intention of going to Mr. Filler's residence and retrieving their ten-year-old son. Id. ¶¶ 121-23. She was “spotted and apprehended by Deputy Willey, Deputy Crabtree and Lieutenant Denbow running on the road barefoot ‘only in a bra' and pants with a child while screaming she would cut her husband into pieces and kill Deputy Willey.” Id. ¶ 124. Ultimately on April 24, 2007, she was taken to Machias Hospital “and involuntarily hospitalized for psychiatric observation and physical examination.” Id. ¶ 143.

         j. The April 25, 2007 Chief Wycoff Videotaped Interview

         Linda Gleason was “the first one to promote that [Ms.] Arguetta should tell the police she had been sexually assaulted by Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 627. On April 25, 2007, Ms. Gleason “made arrangements to pick up [Ms.] Arguetta at the Next Steps facility (a women's shelter) following [her] involuntary psychiatric hospitalization on April 24, 2007 as a result of a psychotic episode” and Ms. Gleason brought Ms. Arguetta to the Hancock County District Attorney's Office to give a taped interview to Gouldsboro Chief Wycoff and Detective Stephen McFarland. Id. ¶¶ 630-31, 146. Ms. Gleason “knew that [Ms.] Arguetta did not eat or sleep between April 21, 2007 and April 24, 2007, and that when [Ms.] Gleason left [Ms.] Arguetta the morning of April 24, 2007 to go to work, [Ms.] Arguetta was in a state of total confusion, and was rambling in a paranoid fashion.” Id. ¶ 634. Ms. Gleason was aware that Ms. Arguetta “was suffering a psychotic episode brought about in part because [Ms.] Arguetta could not tolerate the thought of [Mr. Filler] getting custody of the children.” Id.

         At the interview, Chief Wycoff allowed Ms. Gleason “who has never met [Mr. Filler], to sit in during the entire interview, and then to submit her own ‘witness statements' to help corroborate Ms. Arguetta's claims.” Id. ¶ 148. At the time of the interview, Ms. Gleason knew that Ms. Arguetta was “mentally unsound.” Id. ¶ 628.

         After about an hour, when the interview was coming to a close, Chief Wycoff left the room. Id. ¶ 149. The videorecorder was still recording as Ms. Arguetta “admitted to her friend that her report of sexual abuse against her husband was her way of ‘fighting for the children.'” Id. Ms. Gleason advised Ms. Arguetta “to cry during the interview to make the story of spousal rape ‘seem real.'” Id. ¶¶ 150, 632. Ms. Arguetta “calmly put lip gloss or lip balm on, and told Linda Gleason that she didn't feel like crying, but Linda Gleason repeatedly urged her to cry stating that ‘it wouldn't seem real' unless [Ms.] Arguetta cried during the interview.” Id. ¶ 151. Ms. Arguetta “expressed some strategic concerns about claims she was making against her husband making her sound less believable.” Id. ¶ 152. When Chief Wycoff returned to the room and briefly resumed the interview, Ms. Arguetta “began crying hysterically.” Id. ¶ 153.

         k. Vladek Filler April 26, 2007 Arrest

         On April 26, 2007, Mr. Filler “was charged and arrested on a claim that he raped his wife on April 6, 2007 . . . because, according to [Ms.] Arguetta, ‘He was very upset that I spent money from his bank account to have my hair cut.'” Id. ¶¶ 163, 165. “No investigation beyond [Ms.] Arguetta's claims was done prior to [Mr. Filler's] arrest” and “[b]oth [Mr. Filler's] joint and business bank account records showed no money being withdrawn by anyone at any time on or around April 6, 2007.” Id. ¶ 166.

         l. Linda Gleason Witness Statement

         One week after the April 25, 2007 Wycoff interview, the police allowed Ms.

         Gleason to complete a witness statement, which was incorporated into the discovery the state disclosed to Mr. Filler. Id. ¶ 157.

         m. Linda Gleason Knowledge, False Reports, False Comments, and False Testimony

         Linda Gleason was aware that Mr. Filler “had at no time sexually assaulted [Ms.] Arguetta and that the sexual assaults were a total fabrication.” Id. ¶ 635.

         Nevertheless, on April 29, 2007, Ms. Gleason “filed a police report including false information.” Id. ¶ 636. Ms. Gleason wrote “comments on the internet to stories linked to newspaper articles related to the alleged events, and which were designed to spread false information and to incite hatred and ridicule in the community against [Mr. Filler].” Id. ¶ 637.

         At the first trial in January 2009, Ms. Gleason “falsely testified that she saw a bruise on [Ms.] Arguetta's arm when [Ms.] Arguetta moved into [Ms.] Gleason's home on April 21, 2007.” Id. ¶¶ 638-39. Ms. Gleason also “lied that she had not ‘coached' [Ms.] Arguetta during the April 25, 2007 Wycoff interview.” Id. ¶ 640. Ms. Gleason “took these actions knowingly, lacking probable cause to believe the allegations of gross sexual assault or the allegations of simple assault.” Id. ¶ 641. Ms. Gleason “conspired with [Ms.] Arguetta to promote the false allegations for the purpose of having [Mr. Filler] charged criminally, and convicted.” Id. ¶ 642. Ms. Gleason took these actions with malice and as a “direct, substantial, proximate, and foreseeable result of [Ms.] Gleason's malicious conduct, criminal charges were initiated and continued against [Mr. Filler].” Id. ¶ 645.

         C. State v. Filler, No. ELLSC-CR-2007-00135: April 27, 2007 to April 24, 2015

         Following the damages hearing, Mr. Filler filed certified copies of six exhibits, reflecting the travel of the state of Maine's criminal case against him. Pl.'s Damages Demand at 2, Attachs. 1-7. The Court admits these exhibits. The first exhibit is the docket record of the case against Mr. Filler. Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 1-24 (State Docket Record).

         The docket reflects that on April 27, 2007, the state charged seven counts against Mr. Filler:

(1) gross sexual assault, Class A, an alleged violation of 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(A),
(2) assault, Class D, an alleged violation of 17-A M.R.S. § 207(1)(A),
(3) gross sexual assault, Class A, an alleged violation of 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(A),
(4) gross sexual assault, Class A, an alleged violation of 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(A),
(5) gross sexual assault, Class A, an alleged violation of 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(A),
(6) gross sexual assault, Class A, an alleged violation of 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(A), and
(7) assault, Class D, an alleged violation of 17-A M.R.S. § 207(1)(A).

Id. at 1.

         The docket record reflects that a jury trial took place from January 12, 2009 to January 15, 2009, and on January 15, 2009, the jury returned verdicts, convicting Mr. Filler of Count I, gross sexual assault, Count II, assault, and Count VII, assault. Id. at 7. The jury returned not guilty verdicts on Count III, gross sexual assault, Count IV, gross sexual assault, Count V, gross sexual assault, and Count VI, gross sexual assault. Id. Immediately following the verdicts, Mr. Filler filed a motion for new trial “based on prosecutorial misconduct and the court's error in excluding from evidence the protection from abuse complaints and the divorce complaint, initiated by his wife.” State v. Filler, 2010 ME 90, ¶ 8, 3 A.3d 365. On March 2, 2009, the Superior Court Justice granted the motion for new trial and on March 5, 2009, the state of Maine filed a motion for further findings of fact and conclusions of law. Id. ¶¶ 8-10. In regard to the state of Maine's motion for further findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Superior Court Justice held “the interest of justice required . . . a new trial [because the] state[']s arguments were on facts not presented by the defendant as a result of rulings by the court during the trial, thereby creating the high likelihood of unfairly prejudicing the [defendant] in the eyes of the jury.” State Docket Record at 8.

         On March 31, 2009, however, the state of Maine, with the approval of the Attorney General, appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court the trial judge's granting of a new trial. Id. Mr. Filler cross-appealed the same day. Id. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the trial court judgment granting Mr. Filler's motion and ...

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