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Handy v. Fisher

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 27, 2019



          R. Brooke Jackson United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the March 4, 2019 Recommendation of Magistrate Judge S. Kato Crews. ECF No. 45. The Recommendation addresses a motion to dismiss by defendants Tera Fisher and Brandon Johnson, both of whom are Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputies. ECF No. 31. Magistrate Judge Crews recommends that I deny this motion to dismiss as to plaintiffs Wyatt Handy, Jr. and Ashlee Handy's Fourth Amendment individual capacity claims. ECF No. 45 at 14. However, he recommends that I grant this motion as to plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment individual and official capacity claims, and as to plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment official capacity claims. Id. The Recommendation is incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). For the reasons below, the Court ADOPTS the Recommendation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Taking plaintiffs' well-pled allegations in their complaint as true, I will summarize the relatively straightforward facts. Plaintiffs were driving along Highway 285 to visit a friend in Conifer, Colorado in the early morning of April 14, 2016 when the alleged incident occurred. Complaint, ECF No. 1 at ¶8. Three people were in the vehicle: Mrs. Handy, who is white, was driving; Mr. Handy, who is black, was the front seat passenger; and an unidentified white female passenger sat in the backseat behind Mrs. Handy. Id. at ¶9. At approximately 12:43 a.m. plaintiffs stopped in the parking lot of the 24-hour Kum and Go convenience store in Conifer to reprogram their GPS navigational unit. Id. at ¶10. As plaintiffs pulled into the Kum and Go located off Highway 285, they noticed Deputy Fisher's patrol vehicle parked in the convenience store's parking lot. Id. at ¶12. Mr. Handy alleges that he made eye contact with Deputy Fisher as plaintiffs' vehicle pulled into the Kum and Go parking lot. Id. at ¶13.

         Within one minute of parking, plaintiffs allege that Deputy Fisher repositioned her patrol car behind plaintiffs' vehicle and activated her emergency lights. Id. at ¶15. Because plaintiffs' car faced the Kum and Go building, plaintiffs were boxed in and unable to move their car. Id. at ¶16. Apparently Deputy Fisher radioed for backup because within “seconds, ” several additional officers arrived at the convenience store. Id. at ¶¶17-18. Deputy Johnson was one of those officers. With backup in place and their weapons drawn, Deputy Fisher approached the driver's side of the vehicle and Deputy Johnson approached the passenger's side. Id. at ¶¶19-20. Deputy Fisher asked Mrs. Handy for her license, insurance, and registration. Id. at ¶22. Mrs. Handy complied with the request, and then she explained that she pulled over to reprogram her GPS. Id. at ¶¶23-24. Deputy Fisher then asked Mr. Handy for his identification “in a hostile manner.” Id. at ¶¶24-25. Mr. Handy initially refused to produce identification, but he eventually complied after defendants made clear that he would be arrested if he did not produce identification. Id. at ¶¶26-28. Defendants did not request identification from the backseat passenger. Id. at ¶31. Defendants released plaintiffs after they verified that there were no outstanding warrants pending against plaintiffs. Id. at ¶30.

         Plaintiffs allege two 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against defendants. First, plaintiffs allege an unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Second, plaintiffs assert that defendants racially profiled Mr. Handy in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


         A. Magistrate Judge Recommendation.

         When a magistrate judge makes a recommendation on a dispositive motion, the district court “must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). An objection is sufficiently specific if it “focus[es] the district court's attention on the factual and legal issues that are truly in dispute.” United States v. 2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1060 (10th Cir. 1996). In the absence of a timely and specific objection, “the district court may review a magistrate's report under any standard it deems appropriate.” Summers v. Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) - Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim.

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While the Court must accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Robbins v. Wilkie, 300 F.3d 1208, 1210 (10th Cir. 2002), purely conclusory allegations are not entitled to be presumed true, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 681 (2009). However, so long as the plaintiff offers sufficient factual allegations such that the right to relief is raised above the speculative level, the plaintiff has met the threshold pleading standard. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999) (quoting Miller v. Glanz, 948 F.2d 1562, 1565 (10th Cir. 1991)).

         C. Pro Se Litigants.

         When a case involves pro se litigants, courts will review their “pleadings and other papers liberally and hold them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys.” Trackwell v. U.S. Gov't, 472 F.3d 1242, 1243 (10th Cir. 2007). Nevertheless, it is not “the proper function of the district court to assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). A “broad reading” of a pro se plaintiff's pleadings “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Id. Pro se parties must “follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.” Nielsen v. Price, 17 F.3d 1276, 1277 (10th Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. ...

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