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Schoenfeld v. Thompson

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 15, 2017

ZANE SCHOENFELD, Plaintiff,
v.
KRISTEN THOMPSON (13th Judicial District Probation Officer in her personal capacity for damages), GERARD O'HALLORAN Washington County Deputy Sheriff in his personal capacity for damages, and TRAVIS SIDES, (13th Judicial District, Deputy District Attorney, in his personal capacity for damages), Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Nina Y. Wang, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant Travis Sides's Motion to Dismiss. [#60, filed May 19, 2017]. The Motion was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to the Order Referring Case dated November 2, 2016 [#6] and the memorandum dated June 5, 2017 [#61]. After carefully reviewing the Motion and Response thereto, the entire case file, and the applicable case law, this court respectfully RECOMMENDS that the Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Zane Schoenfeld (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Schoenfeld”) initiated this civil action on October 24, 2016, through his attorney, asserting one claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants Kristen Thompson (“Defendant Thompson”) and Gerard O'Halloran (“Defendant O'Halloran”) in their individual capacities for “false arrest, ” “false imprisonment, ” “unlawful arrest without probable cause, ” and “constitutional malicious prosecution, ” in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. [#1 at 4].[1]Defendant O'Halloran serves as “a Deputy Sheriff with the Washington County Sheriff and/or is employed as an investigator with the Washington County Sheriff Department.” [Id. at ¶ 4]. Defendant Thompson is a probation officer with the 13th Judicial District, Colorado, and, at the time Plaintiff initiated this action, had served as his probation officer since approximately April 2016. [Id. at ¶ 5]. Plaintiff's claim is premised on allegations that Defendant Thompson falsely reported to Defendant O'Halloran that Plaintiff had been convicted of an offense under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-22-108(2.5)(c), and thus was required to register his email and social media addresses. Defendant Thompson's false statement resulted in Plaintiff's arrest and detention. [Id. at ¶¶ 9-12]. Plaintiff remained in jail for two weeks, after which he was released on a $1, 070 bond. By the time he was released, he had lost his full-time job. [Id. at ¶ 13]. All Parties concede that Plaintiff was never convicted of a child sex crime as enumerated in § 16-22-108(2.5)(c). [#47 at 4-5].

         On February 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend his Complaint. [#41]. Plaintiff proposed adding Deputy District Attorney Travis Sides as a defendant, adding and removing certain allegations, and asserting only claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See [#41-2]. See also [#47]. On March 9, 2017, the undersigned presided over a Scheduling Conference at which she set certain pre-trial dates and deadlines and granted the Motion to Amend. See [#46].[2] Defendant Travis Sides waived service on April 6, 2017, [#55], and filed a Motion to Dismiss on May 19, 2017. [#60]. Plaintiff filed a Response on June 10, 2017. [#64]. Although not yet fully briefed, the Motion to Dismiss is nonetheless ripe for disposition. See D.C.COLO.LCivR 7.1(d) (“Nothing in this rule precludes a judicial officer from ruling on a motion at any time after it is filed.”).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         For the purpose of assessing the sufficiency of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the court presumes as true the following facts. In January 2013, Plaintiff entered into a deferred judgment and sentence agreement in Kit Carson County District Court for attempted violations of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-402(1)(a) with respect to his estranged wife (“Kit Carson County case”). [#48 at ¶ 6].[3] Plaintiff then registered as a sex offender, in accordance with Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-22-108. However, the offense resulting in the deferred judgment did not implicate Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-22-108(2.5)(c), and thus Plaintiff was not required to register his email or social media addresses, or other information as required under § 16-22-108(2.5)(a).[4] [#48 at ¶ 7]. On or about September 14, 2016, Defendant Thompson falsely reported to Defendant O'Halloran that Plaintiff had violated § 16-22-108(2.5)(a) by failing to list a social media account on his Washington County sex offender registration. [#48 at ¶ 9]. As Plaintiff's probation officer, Defendant Thompson knew that Plaintiff had not been convicted of any of the offenses enumerated in § 16-22-108(2.5)(c), and therefore was not required to register email addresses or social media accounts. [Id.] Defendant Thompson's false statement led to Plaintiff's arrest. [Id. at ¶ 10].

         Specifically, on September 15, 2016, Defendant O'Halloran submitted “a materially false affidavit” in support of an arrest warrant for Plaintiff for violations of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-412.5(1)(k), for failing to register email or social media addresses as required by § 16-22-108(2.5)(a). [#48 at ¶ 11]. Prior to submitting the affidavit, Defendant O'Halloran asked Defendant Sides to review it. Defendant Sides “played no role in preparing the affidavit in support of arrest warrant, ” but rather “engaged in a legal review for the sufficiency of the evidence to support probable cause.” [Id. at ¶ 12].[5] Defendant Sides agreed that the affidavit appeared to be sufficient, and approved the affidavit without first reviewing Plaintiff's criminal history to confirm that Plaintiff was subject to a conviction that would trigger the statutory duty to register an email address under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-22-108(2.5)(a). [Id. at ¶ 12]. The Washington County District Court relied on the affidavit in issuing the arrest warrant for Plaintiff, who was taken into custody on September 16, 2016. [Id.] Then, acting in his role as a Deputy District Attorney, Defendant Sides relied on the information asserted in Defendant O'Halloran's affidavit to file charges against Plaintiff on September 22, 2016. [Id. at ¶¶ 12, 14].

         Around the same time, an unrelated arrest warrant for Plaintiff was issued in Kit Carson County on the basis that he was in violation of the terms and conditions of his probation. [Id.] The Amended Complaint is not entirely clear as to what happened next, but Plaintiff appears to allege that while he was able to post bond in Washington County, he could not post bond in Kit Carson County until he had an initial appearance in that county, and “he had to stay in the Washington County jail for two weeks until he was transported to Kit Carson County.” [Id. at ¶ 13]. He lost his job as a result of the two-week detention. [Id.] Plaintiff alleges that but-for the Washington County arrest he would not have lost his job because, “he would have surrendered in Kit Carson County not Washington County, ” he would not have had to wait two weeks for the transport from Washington County to Kit Carson County, and “he could have seen a Kit Carson County Judge on the day of surrender or the next day and posted bond after that court appearance.” [Id. (emphasis in pleading)]. Referring to these allegations, Plaintiff asserts a claim for false arrest as to Defendant Sides.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendant Sides argues that Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable claim for false arrest, and that he is entitled to qualified immunity. Under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations … and view these allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1124 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009)). However, a plaintiff may not rely on mere labels or conclusions, “and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         Rather, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Plausibility refers “to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs ‘have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). “The burden is on the plaintiff to frame ‘a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' that he or she is entitled to relief.” Id. The ultimate duty of the court is to “determine whether the complaint sufficiently alleges facts supporting all the elements necessary to establish an entitlement to relief under the legal theory proposed.” Forest Guardians v. Forsgren, 478 F.3d 1149, 1160 (10th Cir. 2007).

         ANALYSIS

         Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code allows an injured person to seek damages for the violation of his or her federal rights against a person acting under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see alsoWest v. Atkins,487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). To assert a claim under § 1983, Plaintiff must show (1) that he had a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States that was violated (2) by a person who acted under color of state law. Hall v. Witteman, 584 F.3d 859, 864 (10th Cir. 2009). The doctrine of qualified immunity “shields government officials performing discretionary functions from individual liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless their conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” DeSpain v. Uphoff, 264 F.3d 965, 971 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Baptiste v. J.C. Penney Co., 147 F.3d 1252, 1255 (10th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense to § 1983 liability. See Adkins v. Rodriguez,59 F.3d 1034, 1036 (10th Cir. 1995). Once a defendant asserts the defense, the plaintiff must ...


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