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Carbajal v. Lucio

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 14, 2016

GILBERTO LUCIO, in his individual capacity, JAMES DIXON, in his individual capacity, MICHAEL O'NEILL, in his individual capacity, and JEFFREY WATTS, Investigator for the Second Judicial District, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


          PHILIP A. BRIMMER United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Jeffrey Watts' Motion for Reconsideration of this Court's Order Dated March 29, 2016 [Docket No. 809].

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff originally asserted claims against Mr. Watts for unreasonable search and seizure, conspiracy, and excessive use of force as violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Docket No. 254 at 19-21, ¶¶ 90-95, 100-105. On July 13, 2015, Mr. Watts moved for summary judgment. Docket No. 697. Plaintiff did not file a response. Based on Mr. Watts' motion, the magistrate judge recommended the dismissal of Mr. Watts as to all claims. Docket No. 783 at 22-30. Plaintiff did not object to the magistrate judge's recommendation. Although plaintiff did not object to the recommendation, the Court conducted an independent review of the magistrate judge's recommendation to determine if the dismissal of Mr. Watts was appropriate. Docket No. 804 at 15-16. The Court rejected the magistrate judge's recommendation as to plaintiff's excessive force claim regarding the alleged August 24, 2010 incident on two grounds: first, because the recommendation erroneously relied on whether plaintiff has alleged anything more than a de minimis injury, id., and, second, because the Court was “unaware of any case that immunizes officers from excessive force claims if the victim of such force is able to evade capture.” Id. at 16.

         Mr. Watts seeks reconsideration [Docket No. 809] because, in the course of researching a potential interlocutory appeal, he discovered an unpublished opinion of the Tenth Circuit, United States v. Beamon, 576 F. App'x 753 (10th Cir. 2014), that addressed the question of whether a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment can take place where a police officer attempts an arrest, but the plaintiff's liberty is not restrained by such attempt. Id. at 757-58. Beamon held that a show of authority, which does not result in actual restraint, is not a seizure and therefore does not implicate the Fourth Amendment. Id.


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not specifically provide for motions for reconsideration. See Hatfield v. Bd. of County Comm'rs for Converse County, 52 F.3d 858, 861 (10th Cir. 1995). Instead, motions for reconsideration fall within a court's plenary power to revisit and amend interlocutory orders as justice requires. See Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Thompson Theatres, Inc., 621 F.2d 1088, 1090 (10th Cir. 1980) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b)); see also Houston Fearless Corp., 313 F.2d at 92. However, in order to avoid the inefficiency which would attend the repeated re-adjudication of interlocutory orders, judges in this district have imposed limits on their broad discretion to revisit interlocutory orders. See, e.g., Montano v. Chao, No. 07-cv-00735-EWN-KMT, 2008 WL 4427087, at *5-6 (D. Colo. Sept. 28, 2008) (applying Rule 60(b) analysis to the reconsideration of interlocutory order); United Fire & Cas. Co. v. McCrerey & Roberts Constr. Co., No. 06-cv-00037-WYD-CBS, 2007 WL 1306484, at *1-2 (D. Colo. May 3, 2007) (applying Rule 59(e) standard to the reconsideration of the duty-to-defend order). Regardless of the analysis applied, the basic assessment tends to be the same: courts consider whether new evidence or legal authority has emerged or whether the prior ruling was clearly in error. Motions to reconsider are generally an inappropriate vehicle to advance “new arguments, or supporting facts which were available at the time of the original motion.” Servants of the Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000).

         Mr. Watts states that counsel “discovered” Beamon while researching another matter. Docket No. 809 at 2. Mr. Watts filed his summary judgment motion on July 13, 2015. Docket No. 697. Beamon was decided in 2014. In his summary judgment motion, Mr. Watts failed to identify Beamon or any other case standing for the proposition that the Fourth Amendment does not apply where force is used but a seizure is not effectuated. Compare Docket No. 697 with Docket No. 809 at 2-3. As noted, it is generally inappropriate to reconsider a previous ruling when the grounds for the motion to reconsider were available at the time of the original motion.

         However, it is appropriate to reconsider an order where the prior ruling was clearly in error. Mr. Watts' summary judgment motion did not cite Beamon and the Court's order did not differentiate between the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in addressing plaintiff's excessive force claims. As a result, the Court will reconsider its prior ruling in light of Beamon to determine whether the Court clearly erred in denying summary judgment.

         III. ANALYSIS

         As noted in the Court's prior order [Docket 804 at 3-5], summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is “material” if under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001).

         The Court must “accept as true all material facts asserted and properly supported in the summary judgment motion” and grant summary judgment if, based on those facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Reed v. Bennett, 312 F.3d 1190, 1195 (10th Cir. 2002).

         According to Mr. Watts' statement of undisputed facts, on or about August 24, 2010, Mr. Watts pursued plaintiff after observing plaintiff violate a no-contact order. Docket No. 697 at 2-3, ¶¶ 3, 5-9. While attempting to evade Mr. Watts, plaintiff crashed his bicycle. Id. at 3, ¶¶ 11-12. In his summary judgment motion, Mr. Watts concedes that there is a dispute of fact between him and the plaintiff regarding the cause of plaintiff's crash. Mr. Watts claims “Plaintiff simply crashed his bicycle, got up, back on and continued to flee apprehension. Plaintiff claims Mr. Watts hit him with his vehicle, knocking Plaintiff off the bicycle, onto the hood of the vehicle and then to the ground.” Docket No. 697 at 8. Thus, although plaintiff did not respond to the summary judgment motion, the Court will assume that the circumstances of the bicycle crash are in dispute. The Court finds that plaintiff was able to successfully flee the scene after falling to the ground and did not receive any treatment for injuries arising from his fall from the bicycle. Id. at 3, ¶¶ 13-14.

         Mr. Watts argues that, according to Beamon and the authorities cited therein, his alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment were not clearly established law and therefore he is entitled to qualified immunity. The plaintiff bears the burden of rebutting the presumption of qualified immunity and must demonstrate that (1) the defendant's conduct violated the law; and (2) the law was clearly established ...

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