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Berry v. City of Montrose

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 12, 2014

ROBERT SCOTT BERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MONTROSE, COLORADO; MICHAEL L. WATSON, Detective, Montrose Police Department, in his official capacity; LARRY ABEYTA, Detective, Montrose Police Department, in his official capacity; and GARY CORAM, Defendants.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on defendant Gary Coram's FED.R.CIV.P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 17] and the Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 19] filed by defendants City of Montrose, Michael L. Watson, and Lenny Abeyta.[1] This case arises out of plaintiff Robert Scott Berry's removal of a surveillance camera belonging to the Montrose Police Department from a common area of the building in which he runs his business and his subsequent arrest.

I. BACKGROUND

In his complaint, Mr. Berry alleges as follows. On October 1, 1997, Mr. Berry purchased property from Mr. Coram located at 2400 E. Main Street in Montrose. Docket No. 2 at 4, ¶ 14. Mr. Coram is one of the owners of 2400 E. Main Street and conducts his business out of that address. Id. at 4, ¶ 10. Mr. Berry operates a business in Unit D at this location. Id. at 1, ¶ 1. The Articles of Agreement for Warranty Deed governing the sale contain Mr. Coram's agreement not to encumber the property "in any manner" without Mr. Berry's consent. Docket No. 2 at 5, ¶ 15. Mr. Coram violated this provision of the Articles of Agreement several times, [2] leading to an ongoing dispute between Mr. Berry and Mr. Coram. Docket No. 2 at 5, ¶ 17. Beginning in April 2011, Mr. Coram filed a number of reports against Mr. Berry with the Montrose Police Department ("MPD"). Docket No. 2 at 5, ¶ 18. These reports contained false allegations regarding Mr. Berry's conduct. Docket No. 2 at 5, ¶ 19. None of these reports resulted in charges being brought against Mr. Berry. Docket No. 2 at 5-8, ¶¶ 18-29.

In early January 2012, Mr. Coram asked the MPD if it would install a surveillance camera in the common area of the building at 2400 E. Main Street. Docket No. 2 at 8, ¶ 31. The MPD advised Mr. Coram that he should consider installing the device on his own because his dispute with Mr. Berry was civil in nature. Docket No. 2 at 8, ¶ 32. At or about 6:30 a.m. on January 6, 2012, two detectives from the MPD, Michael Watson and Lenny Abeyta, met with Mr. Coram and agreed to install the device as requested as a favor to Mr. Coram. Docket No. 2 at 8-9, ¶ 33.

On or about January 15, 2012, Mr. Berry noticed the camera, recognized its purpose, examined it, and, finding no evidence that it was the property of the MPD, removed the camera and brought it into his office. Docket No. 2 at 9, ¶ 37. Mr. Berry then telephoned the MPD and spoke with Sergeant Jake Suppes about the events of that morning, expressing his concern that the purpose of the camera was to track when his secretary left the office so that his business could be burglarized. Docket No. 2 at 10, ¶ 39. Later that day, Sergeant Suppes notified Detective Watson about Mr. Berry's call. Docket No. 2 at 10, ¶ 40. On or about March 19, 2012, plaintiff's office manager provided the camera to MPD Officer Luis Perez. Docket No. 2 at 11, ¶ 44.

On May 12, 2012, Detective Watson sought a warrant for Mr. Berry's arrest. Docket No. 2 at 11, ¶ 46. Detective Watson deliberately made false statements in his supporting affidavit, intending to mislead the judge.[3] Id. Mr. Berry was arrested, detained, and prosecuted in the County of Montrose. Docket No. 2 at 11, ¶ 47. The case was terminated in Mr. Berry's favor. Docket No. 2 at 11, ¶ 48. Neither Detective Watson nor the MPD maintained reliable custody of the camera that Mr. Berry had removed. Docket No. 2 at 12, ¶ 50. As a result of this prosecution, Mr. Berry sustained economic damages in the form of harm to his business and noneconomic damages in the form of emotional distress and damage to his reputation. Docket No. 2 at 12, ¶ 52.

On April 30, 2013, plaintiff brought this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that (1) Detectives Watson and Abeyta violated Mr. Berry's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to be free from malicious prosecution; (2) Montrose is liable for the detectives' actions under Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (3) Detectives Watson and Abeyta and Mr. Coram entered into a civil conspiracy to violate Mr. Berry's constitutional rights; and (4) Mr. Coram breached the Articles of Agreement. Docket No. 2 at 15-24, ¶¶ 65-110. Mr. Berry seeks compensatory economic and noneconomic damages, attorney's fees and costs, and pre- and post-judgment interest. Docket No. 2 at 24-25, ¶¶ A-E.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must allege enough factual matter that, taken as true, makes the plaintiff's "claim to relief... plausible on its face." Bryson v. Gonzales, 534 F.3d 1282, 1286 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (internal quotation marks and alteration marks omitted). Thus, even though modern rules of pleading are somewhat forgiving, "a complaint still must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Bryson, 534 F.3d at 1286 (alteration marks omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Constitutional Violation

Mr. Berry alleges that Detectives Watson and Abeyta violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by maliciously prosecuting him without probable cause. Docket No. 2 at 16-17, ¶ 71 ("Defendant's Detectives Watson and Abeyta violated Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, to be free from malicious prosecution without probable cause and without due process when they worked in concert to secure false charges against the Plaintiff which resulted in the confinement and prosecution of the Plaintiff."). Detectives Watson and Abeyta counter that they are entitled to qualified immunity because Mr. Berry cannot demonstrate an underlying constitutional violation. Docket No. 19 at 3-7.

The doctrine of qualified immunity "shields government officials performing discretionary functions from liability for damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Boles v. Neet, 486 F.3d 1177, 1180 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). In addition, it provides a defense to trial and the other burdens of litigation such as discovery. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001), overruled on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). ...


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