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Dodea v. City of Rifle

United States District Court, District of Colorado

January 27, 2015

JOANN DODEA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF RIFLE, SERGEANT DIEGO PIÑA, OFFICER BRITTANY KOLEY, OFFICER MICHAEL PRUITT, OFFICER JEREMY MUXLOW, and UNKNOWN EMPLOYEES AND AGENTS OF THE CITY OF RIFLE, Defendants.

ORDER

LEWIS T. BABCOCK, JUDGE

This matter is before me on a Motion for Summary Judgment Asserting Qualified Immunity [Doc #41] in which the Defendants, the City of Rifle, Sergeant Diego Piña, Officer Brittany Koley, Officer Michael Pruitt, and Officer Jeremy Muxlow, seek entry of judgment in their favor, and against Plaintiff Jo Ann Dodea, based on a defense of qualified immunity. Oral arguments would not materially assist me in my determination of this motion. After consideration of the parties’ arguments, and for the reasons stated, I GRANT the motion and, as such, I DISMISS this case.

I. BACKGROUND

The underlying facts, which are undisputed unless otherwise noted, are as follows. In May of 2012, a report was made to the City of Rifle Police Department that chickens were being kept on residential property located in the City of Rifle and owned by Plaintiff. In response to this complaint, Community Service Officer Brittany Koley went to the property on May 21, 2012. Plaintiff allowed her onto her property, where Officer Koley observed a large number of chickens and five geese being kept in violation of Rifle Municipal Code §7-6-103(a). After several follow-up conversations, Officer Koley ultimately advised Plaintiff that she was not permitted to have chickens or geese living on the property under Rifle Municipal Code. As such, Plaintiff was given one week (until May 30, 2012) to remove them.

Officer Koley returned on May 30, 2012. During her initial visit to the property, Officer Koley left her card on Plaintiff’s front door, and then walked around the property to see if she could see any chickens or geese. At her deposition, Officer Koley admitted that during that visit she observed no fowl on the property. [Doc #49-2] She return two hours later, and met with Plaintiff who would not tell her whether or not the chickens and geese were still being kept on the property. Plaintiff then informed Officer Koley that she would need a search warrant in order to remain on the property.

Officer Koley, with the assistance of Detective Justin Macklin (who is no longer a defendant in this case), applied for a search warrant of Plaintiff’s property. The search warrant affidavit – signed by Macklin based on Officer Koley’s investigation – failed to include that Officer Koley did not see or hear any chickens or geese while at the property two times earlier that day. A warrant was subsequently issued for the search for domestic fowl at Plaintiff’s property. [Doc #41-9] The following day, on March 31, 2012 at 11:00 am., Officer Koley and Detective Macklin searched Plaintiff’s property while she was not there. The search revealed no chickens, but five geese were found in the garage.

After returning from the search, Officer Koley drafted two penalty assessment citations – one against Plaintiff and one against her roommate – for violation of Rifle Municipal Code §7-6-103(a) for keeping geese on the property. [Doc #41-5] A penalty assessment citation permits the payment of a fine, but if payment is not made within 20 days, appearance in court at a specific day and time is required. At that time the Chief of Police specifically directed Officer Koley not to arrest Plaintiff, but rather to wait and if she did not appear in court on the appointed date, the court could issue an arrest warrant. [Docs #41-22, #47-2, #47-3]

Officers Michael Pruitt and Jeremy Muxlow were given the citations for service on the evening of May 31, 2012. At that time Sergeant Diego Piña instructed Officer Pruitt to arrest Plaintiff if she refused to sign the citation. [Doc #41-12] Sergeant Piña, in his affidavit in support of this motion, indicated that he ordered the arrest because a refusal to sign is an event that suggested to him that the accused individual is unlikely to comply with the terms of the citation. [Doc #41-12] When they arrived at Plaintiff’s property, Officers Pruitt and Muxlow served the citation and told her that if she did not sign it she would be arrested and taken into custody. [Docs #41-10, #47-1] After Plaintiff refused to sign the citation, Officer Pruitt and Muxlow contacted Sergeant Piña, via police radio, and confirmed with him that they were to arrest Plaintiff. Officer Muxlow then placed Plaintiff in handcuffs and arrested her. Thereafter, Sergeant Piña arrived at the scene and again demanded that Plaintiff sign the citation or, instead, go to jail. When she refused, she was transported to the police station where she was fingerprinted and photographed. [Doc #41-20]

When the Chief of Police was informed of the arrest, he expressed “disappointment” as Plaintiff should not have been arrested pursuant to his prior instructions to Officer Koley. [Doc #49-4] Sergeant Piña then voided the penalty assessment citation, and instead served Plaintiff with a summons and complaint which was marked “refused” for service. [Doc #47-4] Plaintiff was released. Ultimately, Plaintiff’s roommate (who apparently owned the geese) paid the $150 fine pursuant to the citation served on him. As such, the charges against Plaintiff were dismissed.

Plaintiff subsequently filed this civil rights complaint, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, claiming Unlawful Search & Seizure and Deprivation of Equal Protection, in violation of her constitutional rights, as well as Municipal Liability against the City of Rifle. She also asserts the following state law claims: false imprisonment; battery; abuse of process; malicious prosecution; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and negligent hiring, training and supervision. Defendants have filed this motion seeking summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims based on qualified immunity.

II. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009)(quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). Qualified immunity “gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments, ” and “protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’” Messerschmidt v. Millender, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1235, 1244-45, 182 L.Ed.2d 47 (2012).

“[W]hether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on the ‘objective legal reasonableness’ of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were ‘clearly established’ at the time it was taken.” Id., 132 S.Ct. at 1245 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). As such, once a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff bears the burden of satisfying the following strict two-part test; the plaintiff must establish “(1) that the defendant violated a constitutional or statutory right, and (2) that this right was clearly established at the time of the defendant’s conduct.” McBeth v. Himes, 598 F.3d 708, 716 (10th Cir. 2010)(quoting Bowling v. Rector, 584 F.3d 956, 964 (10th Cir. 2009)). The court is not required to address these inquiries in any specific order, Pearson v. Callahan, supra, 555 U.S. at 236-37, and if the plaintiff fails to carry either part of his or her two-part burden, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124, 1128 (10th Cir. 2001).

Thus, the framework for analyzing claims of qualified immunity on summary judgment is well settled. Baptiste v. J.C. Penney Co., 147 F.3d 1252, 1255 (10th Cir. 1998). Once a defendant pleads qualified immunity, the plaintiff bears the burden of: (1) coming forward with sufficient facts to show that the defendant’s actions violated a federal constitutional or statutory right, and (2) demonstrating that the right violated was clearly established at the time of the conduct at issue. Id. (citing Clanton v, Cooper, 129 F.3d 1147, 1153 (10th Cir. 1997); Albright v. Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531, 1534 (10th Cir. 1995)). At the summary judgment stage in a qualified immunity case, the court may not weigh ...


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