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Walker v. Suarez

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 26, 2016

GEORGE WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
VINCE SUAREZ, Walsenburg Police Captain, and KEVIN STONER, Deputy District Attorney for Colorado's Third Judicial District, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

ORDER

R. BROOKE JACKSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on defendant Vince Suarez's and defendant Kevin Stoner's Motions to Dismiss, ECF Nos. 10 and 17. For the reasons discussed below, both motions are granted.

I. FACTS

The plaintiff, George Walker, brings this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. ECF No. 5 ¶¶ 25-30. One of the defendants, Vince Suarez, is the Captain of the City of Walsenburg Police Department. Id. at ¶ 7. The other defendant, Kevin Stoner, is a Deputy District Attorney for Colorado's Third Judicial District. Id. at ¶ 8. Mr. Walker's claims arise out of his arrest and detention for statements that he made about Michael Brown, a Certified Peace Officer for Colorado's Division of Wildlife. Id. at ¶ 10.

Joe Kancilja is the owner of a pawn shop in Walsenburg, CO. Id. at ¶ 12. According to Mr. Kancilja, near the end of March 2015, Mr. Walker came to Mr. Kancilja's pawn shop and stated that he was angry with the Division of Wildlife's helicopter for scaring away elk that Mr. Walker was trying to hunt. Id. at ¶ 12; Ex. B to Am. Compl; Ex. C to Am. Compl. Mr. Walker also stated "that he was going to shoot the [helicopter] down and kill everyone inside." Id. at ¶ 12; Ex. B to Am. Compl. Mr. Brown was in this helicopter checking the area for illegal hunting activity. Id. at ¶ 12.

On April 10, 2015 Mr. Walker returned to Mr. Kancilja's pawn shop and was angry that the helicopter had chased away the elk again. Id. at ¶ 12; Ex. B to Am. Compl. Mr. Walker stated that "he was going to shoot Mike Brown for chasing elk once again." Id. at ¶ 12; Ex. B to Am. Compl. Mr. Kancilja felt that Mr. Walker's statements "made it sound like [Mr. Walker] was laying for Mike Brown on the road." Id. at ¶ 12. Mr. Kancilja urged told Mr. Walker "to let it go, " which angered Mr. Walker. Id. at ¶ 12. George Hundrun was also in the pawn shop at this time and heard Mr. Walker's statements concerning Mr. Brown. Id. at ¶ 12. Mr. Hundrun further reported that Mr. Walker bought a rifle scope while he was at the pawn shop. Id. at ¶ 12.

On April 14, 2015 Mr. Kancilja called Mr. Brown and told him about what Mr. Walker had said. Ex. B to Am. Compl. On April 15, 2015 Mr. Brown obtained written statements from Mr. Kancilja and Mr. Hundrun containing accounts of the declarations Mr. Walker made about shooting Mr. Brown and the helicopter. Id. at ¶ 13; Ex. B to Am. Compl.; Ex. C to Am. Compl. Mr. Brown then took the written statements to Mr. Suarez. Id. at ¶ 13. On April 16, 2015, Mr. Suarez applied for a warrant to arrest Mr. Walker for felony menacing in violation of C.R.S. § 18-3-201(1)(B). Id. at ¶ 14; Ex. D to Am. Compl. Mr. Stoner reviewed and initialed the application for the warrant, and Mr. Suarez filed it with the Huerfano County District Court. Id. at ¶ 16. Honorable Judge Gary Stork issued the arrest warrant, and Mr. Suarez and other Walsenburg Police officers arrested Mr. Walker. Id. at ¶ 17-18.

Upon Mr. Walker's arrest, Judge Stork issued a $5, 000 cash-only bond and scheduled Mr. Walker's first appearance for, and ordered the People to file charges by, May 11, 2015. Id. at ¶ 19. However, on May 8, 2015 Mr. Stoner filed with the court a motion for Nolle Prosequi requesting that the charges against Mr. Walker be vacated due to the lack of evidence necessary to prove the case against Mr. Walker beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at ¶ 20. On May 11, 2015 Judge Stork granted the Nolle motion. Mr. Walker was unable to post the $5, 000 bond and remained in the Huerfano County Jail from April 16, 2015, the day he was arrested, until the court granted the Nolle motion on May 11, 2015. Id. at ¶ 22.

On July 30, 2015 Mr. Walker filed his Complaint against Mr. Suarez and Mr. Stoner in the Huerfano County Combined Courts. ECF No. 4. On September 9, 2015, the case was removed to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1446. ECF No. 1. While the case was still before the Huerfano court, Mr. Walker filed an Amended Complaint alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 5 ¶ 30. Specifically, Mr. Walker alleged that Mr. Suarez's and Mr. Stoner's actions in connection to his April 16, 2015 arrest and subsequent detention violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure because neither Mr. Suarez nor Mr. Stoner had probable cause to issue an arrest warrant and arrest Mr. Walker. ECF Nos. 19, 21. Mr. Walker also alleged that Mr. Suarez and Mr. Stoner violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Id. at ¶ 24-30. Both Mr. Suarez and Mr. Stoner subsequently filed Motions to Dismiss, arguing that Mr. Walker's claims should be dismissed on the following grounds: (1) both defendants are entitled to qualified immunity;[1] (2) Mr. Walker's first claim of relief for violations of his Fourth Amendment right fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and (3) Mr. Walker's second claim of relief for violations of his First Amendment rights also fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plausible claim is a claim that "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the Court must accept the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Robbins v. Wilkie, 300 F.3d 1208, 1210 (10th Cir. 2002), purely conclusory allegations are not entitled to be presumed true, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. However, so long as the plaintiff offers sufficient factual allegations such that the right to relief is raised above the speculative level, he has met the threshold pleading standard. See, e.g., Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556; Bryson v. Gonzales, 534 F.3d 1282, 1286 (10th Cir. 2008).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Qualified Immunity.

Mr. Suarez and Mr. Stoner argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. ECF No. 10, 11. Qualified immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability." Lewis v. Tripp, 604 F.3d 1221, 1225 (10th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted). All public officials are presumed to have qualified immunity from suits for money damages, "except those who are plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'" See Shimomura v. Carlson, No. 14-1418, 2015 WL 9466899, at *3 (10th Cir. 2015); see also Lewis, 604 F.3d at 1225 (discussing how qualified immunity is the norm' for public officials"). However, an "assertion of qualified immunity" may be overcome by a showing that (1) the public official "violated a federal statute or the U.S. Constitution and (2) the underlying rights were clearly established at the time of their alleged violation.'" Shimomura, 2015 WL 9466899 at *3. Considering this, "[i]n resolving a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity, a court must consider whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged [] make out a violation of a constitutional right, ' and whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct.'" Leverington v. City of Colorado Springs, 643 F.3d 719, 732 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)). ...


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