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Murphy v. City of Aurora

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 22, 2016

THE CITY OF AURORA, a Colorado Municipal Corporation; DANIEL OATES, in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as Chief of the Aurora Police Department, Defendants.




THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants City of Aurora and (Former) Chief Daniel Oates, in his Official Capacity (ECF No. 87) filed July 10, 2015.[1] This is a lawsuit involving claims of retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. As I detailed in my previous Order, dated March 23, 2015, Plaintiff Kenneth Murphy, a former Division Chief for the Aurora, Colorado Police Department alleges that Defendant Oates demoted him in retaliation for testimony Murphy gave at a disciplinary proceeding against a fellow Aurora police officer before the Aurora Civil Service Commission. In my Order, I concluded that although there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Murphy’s sworn testimony given at Officer Swanson’s demotion appeal hearing is protected under the First Amendment, the claim must nevertheless be dismissed against Defendant Oates in his individual capacity on the basis of qualified immunity. (ECF No. 65 at 8-9). I also found that Murphy failed to create a genuine issue of fact with respect to his municipal liability claim. (ECF No. 65 at 10-12).

Murphy filed a Motion to Reconsider, asserting that the Court was deprived of the opportunity to be briefed on the Parties’ positions, the relevant facts, and the controlling law relating to how the decisions of an employee with final policymaking authority - i.e., Chief Oates - affect municipal liability. The Court did not receive the benefit of the Parties' briefs on this issue because Defendants did not move for summary judgment (ECF No. 25) on municipal liability as it relates to the existence of a municipal policy or custom, nor did Defendants assert the issue as a defense in the Final Pretrial Order.

(ECF No. 70 at 2). I agreed and allowed the parties to submit limited briefing on the sole issue of municipal liability as it relates to whether the City of Aurora can be held liable for Chief Oates’ decision to demote Murphy. Accordingly, this Order will address Murphy’s municipal liability claim asserted against both the City of Aurora and Chief Oates in his official capacity.

A detailed recitation of the facts is set forth in my March 23, 2015 Order and is incorporated by reference herein.


Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may grant summary judgment where “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the . . . moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n. v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000). “When applying this standard, the court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.” Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1148 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). All doubts must be resolved in favor of the existence of triable issues of fact. Boren v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 933 F.2d 891, 892 (10th Cir. 1991). A “genuine” factual dispute is one “on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff, ” and requires more than a mere scintilla of evidence. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. A factual dispute is “material” only if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Justice v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 527 F.3d 1080, 1085 (10th Cir. 2008). Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that a genuine issue remains for trial with respect to the dispositive matters for which he or she carries the burden of proof. Nat'l Am. Ins. Co. v. Am. Re-Ins. Co., 358 F.3d 736, 739 (10th Cir. 2004); see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). As to these matters, the nonmoving party may not rest on his or her pleadings but must set forth specific facts. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348; Justice, 527 F.3d at 1085.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) provides, in relevant part:

On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party ... from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; ... or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment. The motion shall be made within a reasonable time, and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) not more than one year after the judgment, order, or proceeding was entered or taken.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b).


In order to establish municipal liability under § 1983 with respect to supervisor liability, a plaintiff must prove (1) the existence of an official policy or custom; (2) a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged; and (3) state of mind. Schneider v. ...

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