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Estate of Jimma Pal Reat v. Rodriguez

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

May 31, 2016

JUAN JESUS RODRIGUEZ, individually, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal From the United States District Court For the District of Colorado (D.C. NO. 1:12-CV-02531-REB-MEH)

Eric M. Ziporin (Jennifer F. Kemp with him on the briefs), Senter Goldfarb & Rice, L.L.C., Denver, Colorado, for Appellant.

Erica Grossman (John R. Holland with her on the brief), Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman, P.C., Denver, Colorado, for Appellees.

Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, MURPHY, and BACHARACH, Circuit Judges.

TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

This case arises out of the fatal shooting of Jimma Pal Reat at a Denver intersection. Reat was killed after Denver 911 operator Juan Rodriguez directed him back into the path of his armed assailants. His estate sued the 911 operator, alleging civil rights claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state law claims.

Rodriguez moved for summary judgment on all claims against him on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court granted summary judgment in his favor on all constitutional claims except for a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim based on a theory of state-created danger. Under that claim, Reat's Estate contends Rodriguez used his governmental authority to subject him to the callous shooting that caused Reat's death.

We conclude the law was not clearly established such that a reasonable 911 operator would have known his conduct violated Reat's constitutional rights. We therefore reverse and remand for entry of summary judgment in favor of Rodriguez.

I. Background

The facts of this case are tragic. At 4:12 a.m. on April 1, 2012, Ran Pal called 911 to report that several men had thrown a bottle and broken the rear windshield of the car he was driving. He told Operator Rodriguez that although the attack had occurred at Tenth Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard in Denver, he and his passengers had fled to safety in the nearby city of Wheat Ridge on the west side of Sheridan Boulevard.

For reasons that remain unclear, Rodriguez told Pal that because the attack had occurred in Denver, he needed to return to the city in order to receive help from the police. At first, Pal refused to return. He told Rodriguez he was in a state of shock, needed time to recover, and did not want to drive. Pal pleaded with Rodriguez to send help to his current location. Over the course of the fourteen-minute call, Pal told the operator at least six times that he was injured, in shock, and afraid. Still, Rodriguez insisted the police could not help unless he returned to Denver. About three minutes into the call, Pal finally agreed. He remained on the phone with Rodriguez as he drove.

On his way back to Denver, Pal fleshed out the details of the assault on the call. He explained that he, his brother, cousin, and a friend had been driving through Denver when a red jeep pulled up next to them. While both cars were stopped at a red light, the men in the jeep threw bottles and bottle rockets at Pal's car, breaking the windshield. Shards of glass injured Pal's hand and face. He told Rodriguez he had gotten a partial license plate number as the assailants sped off northbound on Sheridan Boulevard. Pal continued to tell the operator he was in shock. Rodriguez asked where Pal was, and Pal replied that he was crossing Sheridan on Twenty-Ninth Avenue. Rodriguez instructed him to stop there, and continued to ask questions to determine whether an ambulance was necessary. Rodriguez failed to dispatch an ambulance or the police at this time.

About eight minutes into the call, Pal revealed to Rodriguez that the assailants had brandished a gun. Rodriguez asked questions about the size, color, and type of gun. He also asked more questions about the attackers, including their race and what they had been wearing. Pal told the operator that four or five Hispanic men had gotten out of the car and hurled forty-ounce beer bottles at his vehicle. He told Rodriguez he had fled the scene when his brother urged him to do so because the attackers were armed. After questioning the victims about whether they had been drinking, Rodriguez confirmed that Pal was still at Twenty-Ninth Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard. He told Pal to pull over and wait there for the officers whom he would dispatch. Rodriguez also instructed Pal to turn on his hazard lights so that the police could easily locate the vehicle.

About ten minutes into the call, another man in the car picked up the phone. The man repeated that they were all in shock and scared, and asked whether police were on their way to provide help. Though Rodriguez indicated he had sent the police, he in fact had not. Rodriguez asked that the phone be handed back to Pal. Rodriguez then had Pal confirm that his hazard lights were on, and reiterated that Pal needed to wait at that location. He warned ...

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