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Wright v. City and County of Denver

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 6, 2019

ANTHONY WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, COLORADO, OFFICER JOSEPH R. STADLER, and OFFICER JEREMY T. ARTHUR, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RAYMOND P. MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Nina Y. Wang (ECF No. 78) to grant Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 59). Plaintiff has filed an objection to the recommendation (ECF No. 80), and Defendants have filed a response to Plaintiff's objection (ECF No. 81). For the reasons given below, the Court overrules Plaintiff's objection, accepts in part and rejects in part the recommendation, and grants Defendant's motion to dismiss.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3), this Court reviews de novo any part of the magistrate judge's recommendation that is properly objected to. An objection is proper only if it is sufficiently specific “to focus the district court's attention on the factual and legal issues that are truly in dispute.” United States v. One Parcel of Real Prop., 73 F.3d 1057, 1060 (10th Cir. 1996). “In the absence of a timely objection, the district may review a magistrate's report under any standard it deems appropriate.” Summers v. State of Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991).

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, view those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Brokers' Choice of Am., Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc., 757 F.3d 1125, 1136 (10th Cir. 2014); Mink v. Knox, 613 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2010). However, conclusory allegations are insufficient. Cory v. Allstate Ins., 583 F.3d 1240, 1244 (10th Cir. 2009). The complaint must allege a “plausible” right to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569 n.14 (2007); see also Id. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”). To determine whether a claim is plausible, a court considers “the elements of the particular cause of action, keeping in mind that the Rule 12(b)(6) standard doesn't require a plaintiff to set forth a prima facie case for each element.” George v. Urban Settlement Servs., 833 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted).

         Finally, the Court is mindful that Plaintiff proceeds pro se; therefore, the Court reviews his pleadings liberally and holds them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Trackwell v. United States Gov't, 472 F.3d 1242, 1243 (10th Cir. 2007).

         II. BACKGROUND

         To avoid any confusion or dispute as to what the magistrate judge considered to establish the factual background herein, the Court establishes the relevant background de novo. Except as noted, the complaint alleges as follows. One cold and snowy evening, Officers Jeremy T. Arthur and Joseph R. Stadler of the Denver Police Department saw a Lexus in a driveway. (Id. at 5-6.) The officers believed that the registered owner of the Lexus did not live at the residence where it was parked and that the driver had pulled into the driveway “to prevent [them] from contacting him.” (Id. at 5.) From their patrol car, the officers saw Plaintiff, who is African American, “exiting the front door area of the residence.” (Id. at 7.) Soon afterward, the homeowner arrived at the residence in another vehicle. (Id. at 5.) The officers saw Plaintiff speaking with the homeowner, then backing the Lexus out of the driveway to allow the homeowner to park there, and parking the Lexus across the street. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff exited the Lexus and locked the doors. (Id.)

         The officers initially contacted Plaintiff as he was crossing the street, blocking his way with their patrol car. (Id.) The patrol car was marked “gang unit, ” and the officers' actions and demeanor made Plaintiff feel unsafe. (Id. at 8.) Because the officers had seen a picture of the registered owner of the Lexus, they could tell that Plaintiff was not the registered owner. (Id. at 6.) The officers interrogated him before driving up the street, making a U-turn, and slowly driving back towards where they had contacted Plaintiff. (Id. at 8.) Meanwhile, Plaintiff began to walk to a nearby store, “decided to stop in the alley to throw some trash away, ” and then changed his mind about going to the store and headed back towards the homeowner's residence. (Id.)

         The officers saw Plaintiff walking in the alley-which they considered to be suspicious given the weather-and decided to contact him again. (Id. at 6.) This time the officers exited the patrol car, grabbed Plaintiff, and escorted him to the front of the patrol car. (Id. at 9.) The officers made Plaintiff empty his pockets and asked him about the Lexus. (Id.) Plaintiff told the officers he did not have the key to the Lexus. (Id. at 9.) The officers then handcuffed Plaintiff, searched his inside pockets, and placed him in the back seat of the patrol car. (Id.) The officers took turns interrogating Plaintiff and getting out of the car to look for the key to the Lexus. (Id.) Plaintiff complained that the handcuffs were too tight and were hurting his wrist. (Id.) The officers forcefully grabbed his hands while attempting to scan Plaintiff's finger with a fingerprint reader. (Id.)

         Plaintiff asked the officers to call their supervisor, and she arrived about an hour later “with at least eight other officers from the gang unit division.” (Id. at 9-10.) Plaintiff told the supervisor he had been arrested for no reason. (Id. at 10.) She asked him about the key to the Lexus and told him that if he did not submit to the fingerprint reader he would be taken to jail. (Id.) Two other officers began interrogating Plaintiff, and he was told he was under arrest for criminal impersonation. (Id.) He was later charged with criminal impersonation and possession of a controlled substance, though both charges were ultimately dropped. (Id. at 10.) Although the complaint does not mention this, Plaintiff concedes he was also charged with resisting arrest and that he pleaded guilty to that offense pursuant to a plea deal dropping the other charges. (ECF Nos. 65 at 8; 80 at 3.)

         Plaintiff's second amended complaint (ECF No. 39) asserts thirteen claims for relief. The claims stem from the central assertion that the Officers Arthur and Stadler lacked probable cause and reasonable suspicion when they initially contacted him and when they subsequently arrested him. Some claims also stem the assertion that he was treated differently than two other individuals who were present-the homeowner, who is a “[H]ispanic male, ” and someone Plaintiff “believed to be a [C]aucasi[a]n male, ” who was asked by the officers if his car was being blocked by their patrol car. (ECF No. 39 at 14.)

         Claims 1 and 3 are brought against Officer Arthur, in his official capacity and individually, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and are based on the theory that he conducted an unreasonable search and seizure of Plaintiff. (Id. at 4, 10.) Claim 2 is brought against Officer Arthur under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981 and is based on the theory that he violated Plaintiff's equal rights. Claim 4 is ...


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