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Robinson v. City and County of Denver

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 10, 2014



WILEY Y. DANIEL, Senior Judge.


THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Partial Reconsideration of Order [Doc.92] or in the Alternative to Certify for Immediate Interlocutory Appeal under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1292(b) filed February 25, 2014. A response was filed by Plaintiff Christian Aubin Robinson ["Robinson"] on March 3, 2014, a reply was filed on March 7, 2014, and a surreply was filed on March 26, 2014. Argument was taken on this motion at a hearing on March 12, 2014.

Defendant the City and County of Denver [the "City"] moves for reconsideration of pages 39 through 43 of my Order on Summary Judgment issued on February 20, 2014 (ECF No. 92). That portion of the Order denied summary judgment on Robinson's municipal liability claims that the City failed to train its clerks in how to process seemingly conflicting information that could change the target of a warrant, and failed to implement fail-safes, double-checks and/or technological information to prevent the entry of erroneous warrant information that may change the target of the warrant. The City agrees with, and does not seek reconsideration, of the remainder of the Order which granted summary judgment: (1) on the basis of qualified immunity to the individual officer Defendants; (2) on the municipal liability claims involving the City's alleged failure to train its front-desk officers to conduct a reliable identity and/or probable cause investigation, to implement the Prisoner Identity-in-Question Investigation ["PIQ"] procedure and/or to train its employees to utilize the PIQ procedure; and (3) on the municipal liability claim regarding an alleged policy of deferring to the state district court to schedule court appearances.

I note that the briefing on the summary judgment motion did not address in any detail the issue of whether and under what circumstances the City could be held liable when its officers were dismissed based on qualified immunity. This issue was addressed primarily in connection with the City's motion for reconsideration. The issue has been somewhat of a moving target; indeed, the reply to the motion for reconsideration cited new authority that had never been raised; namely, the case of Martinez v. Beggs, 563 F.3d 1082 (10th Cir. 2009). Martinez rejected the argument that "if no single individual county employee is found liable, the county may still be liable for a systemic injury' caused by the interactive behavior of several government officials, each of whom may be acting in good faith.'" Id. at 1092 (quotation omitted). It held that, "[t]o the extent this argument suggests that the county can be liable, even if no individual government actor is liable, it is precluded by our prior precedent." Id. I allowed Robinson to file a surreply primarily to address that new authority. I now turn to the merits of the City's motion for partial reconsideration.


"The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure recognize no motion for reconsideration.'" Hawkins v. Evans, 64 F.3d 543, 546 (10th Cir. 1995) (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). The court's treatment of the motion for reconsideration depends on whether the order is a final order that disposes of all claims and all parties or is an interlocutory order. In this case, the motion seeks review of an interlocutory order. See Haas v. Tulsa Police Dep't, 58 Fed.App'x 429, 431 (2003) ("The district court's order granting summary judgment against plaintiffs in some respects and denying it in others was not a final judgment.").

A motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order "invok[es] the district court's general discretionary authority to review and revise interlocutory rulings prior to entry of final judgment.'" Fye v. Okla. Corp. Com'n, 516 F.3d 1217, 1224 n. 2 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted); see also Nat. Bus. Brokers, Ltd. v. Jim Williamson Productions, Inc., 115 F.Supp.2d 1250, 1255 (D. Colo. 2000) ("Prior to entry of final judgment, district courts have the inherent power to alter or amend interlocutory orders."). "This inherent power is not governed by rule or statute and is rooted in the court's equitable power to process litigation to a just and equitable conclusion.'" Nat. Bus. Brokers, 115 F.Supp.2d at 1256 (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). "Thus, a court can alter its interlocutory order even where the more stringent requirements applicable to a motion to alter or amend a final judgment under Rule 59(e) or a motion for relief from judgment brought pursuant to Rule 60(b) are not satisfied." Id. While the court has broad discretion to alter its interlocutory orders, "as a practical matter, [t]o succeed in a motion to reconsider, a party must set forth facts or law of a strongly convincing nature to induce the court to reverse its prior decision.'" Id. (quotation omitted).

In the case at hand, the City argues that when there is no constitutional violation committed by a municipal employee, there can be no municipal liability on a Monell claim. Since the court found that the individual officers committed no constitutional violation, the City argues that it cannot be liable on a municipal liability claim. It further asserts that it would be manifestly unjust and clear error in this case to find it deliberately indifferent to the rights of its inhabitants where no constitutional violation was committed. The City also argues that Ms. Goos, the one who changed the SID number of the warrant resulting in Robinson's arrest, did not commit a constitutional violation. At most, her actions were negligent and would not give rise to municipal liability. Thus, the City asserts that I should reconsider the partial denial of summary judgment on the municipal liability claims.

The City's key contention is that I found there was no underlying constitutional violation. While this is accurate, I analyzed the issue of constitutionality only within the limited context of whether the individual officers were entitled to qualified immunity. In that analysis, I found that it was reasonable for Officer Keita to arrest Robinson given the fact that the warrant upon which he was arrested included all of Robinson's identifying information, including his name, birth date, social security number, height, and weight. (Order on Summ. J. at 21.) I also found that Robinson had not cited clearly established authority for the proposition that Keita had a duty to further investigate Robinson's mistaken identity contention once he matched the identifiers on the warrant, or that this was a constitutional violation. ( Id. at 23-24.) Indeed, I noted that "cases have routinely found that a failure to investigate a claim of innocence under similar circumstances does not give rise to a Fourth Amendment violation." ( Id. at 24.) It is within that context that I found no constitutional violation. ( Id. at 25.)

However, it is undisputed that Plaintiff was in fact wrongly arrested and imprisoned for twelve days on a warrant that mistakenly named him instead of Michael Cagle ["Cagle"]. Having carefully considered the issue and conducted further independent legal research, I invoke my general discretionary authority to revise and amend the summary judgment order to make clear that a constitutional violation did occur in this case. The legal authority I have found through my own independent research convinces me that the warrant was invalid, albeit for a reason not raised in the briefing on summary judgment.

Turning to my analysis, the cases cited by the City in the summary judgment briefing on the constitutionality issue deal primarily with the situation where a person is arrested due to mistaken identity, i.e. when the right person is named on the warrant or where there is probable cause to arrest a person but the wrong person is arrested due to mistaken identity. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137 (1979) (the plaintiff was arrested pursuant to a valid arrest warrant for plaintiff's brother based on mistaken identity); Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 804 (1971) (there was probable cause to arrest Hill but the police arrested Miller in Hill's apartment, reasonably believing him to be Hill). In that circumstance, as noted in the summary judgment order, "it is clearly established that if police have probable cause to arrest a person, and reasonably mistake someone else for that person, then the arrest of the other person is a valid arrest." (Order on Summ. J. at 21.) This case does not, however, involve that circumstance. Instead, the wrong person was named on the warrant at the outset. Under this circumstance, I find that the issue is whether the warrant violated the particularity requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

On that issue, "[t]he Fourth Amendment's Particularity Clause provides that warrants must particularly describ[e] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." United States v. Cooper, 654 F.3d 1104, 1126 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 557 (2004)). This requirement "applies both to arrest and search warrants." Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 481 n. 9 (1963). The seminal case on the constitutionality of arrest warrants in connection with the particularity requirement is West v. Cabell, 153 U.S. 78 (1894). See Gero v. Henault, 740 F.2d 78, 83 (1st Cir. 1984). West held that "a warrant for the arrest of a person charged with crime must truly name him, or describe him sufficiently to identify him." Id. at 85. "If it does not, the officer making the arrest is liable to an action for false imprisonment." Id. The West rule "is today regularly used as the point of reference for adjudging the particularity of a warrant." Powe v. City of Chicago, 664 F.2d 639, 646 (7th Cir. 1981).

In this case, as noted in the original summary judgment order, Robinson's arrest and incarceration arose out of the fact Cagle used Robinson's Colorado identification card to identify himself to Denver Police Department officers when he was arrested in 2009. When Cagle failed to appear at court appearances, a warrant was issued by the state court that contained only Robinson's name, alias, and information except for a SID connected to Cagle. Cagle's name and other identifying information does not appear on that warrant. When the warrant was transmitted to the Denver Sheriff's Department ["DSD"], Mary Goos, an NCIC agent for the DSD, saw that the SID number on the warrant did not match the name "Christian Robinson." She then removed Cagel's SID number and ...

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