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Jones v. Manriquez

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 18, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Jose Manriquez and Gregory Black's (together, “Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment, wherein Defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity against Plaintiff Deon Lamon Jones's four remaining claims against them. (Doc. # 65.) Having thoroughly reviewed the briefing, pertinent exhibits, and applicable law, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         United States Magistrate Judge Scott T. Varholak detailed the factual background of this case in his Recommendation on Motions to Dismiss (Doc. # 46), which this Court subsequently affirmed and adopted, see (Doc. # 47). The Recommendation is incorporated herein by reference, and the factual background explained therein need not be repeated here. The Court recounts only the facts necessary to address Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         The matter arises from an encounter Defendants, both officers of the Denver Police Department, initiated with Plaintiff in the early morning hours of April 26, 2016, when Plaintiff was parked in the parking garage of his friend's apartment building in Denver. Defendants ultimately handcuffed, patted down, and arrested Plaintiff on a charge of interference with police authority. Defendants also conducted a visual inspection of the front passenger compartment of his car before taking Plaintiff to the Denver County Jail. The District Attorney later declined to prosecute Plaintiff for interference.

         Plaintiff initiated the instant action against Defendants Manriquez, Black, Damon Ramon, and the City and County of Denver on May 8, 2017, alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment for the unlawful seizure and search of his person and his vehicle, violations of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and unconstitutional policies or failure to train. (Doc. # 1.) On November 1, 2017, the Court dismissed several claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) upon Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Doc. ## 17, 28).[1] (Doc. # 47.) Defendants Ramon and the City and County of Denver were dismissed from the action altogether. (Id.) Only four claims remain:

a. First Claim for Relief: 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Fourth Amendment violation - unlawful seizure of person, against both Defendants in their individual capacities;
b. Second Claim for Relief: 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Fourth Amendment violation - unlawful search of person, against both Defendants in their individual capacities;
c. Third Claim for Relief, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations - unlawful entry and search of vehicle, against only Defendant Manriquez in his individual capacity; and
d. Fifth Claim for Relief, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Fourteenth Amendment violation - denial of equal protection, against both Defendants in their individual capacities.

(Id.); see (Doc. # 46 at 27; Doc. # 1.)

         Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on October 1, 2018. (Doc. # 65.) Reprising the argument they made in their Partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 28) and Magistrate Judge Varholak explicitly rejected in his Recommendation (Doc. # 46 at 8-21), Defendants contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity on each of the four remaining claims against them and request that the Court enter summary judgment in their favor (Doc. # 65). Plaintiff filed his Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on November 13, 2018 (Doc. # 73), to which Defendants replied on December 7, 2018 (Doc. # 76). A three-day jury trial in this matter is set to begin on June 3, 2019. (Doc. # 90.)



         Summary judgment is warranted 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). A fact is “material” if it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim under the relevant substantive law. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, Okl., 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party-in the matter presently before the Court, in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Id. However, conclusory statements based merely on conjecture, speculation, or subjective belief do not constitute competent summary judgment evidence. Bones v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Id. In attempting to meet this standard, a movant who does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial does not need to disprove the other party's claim; rather, the movant need simply point out to the Court a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)).

         Once the movant has met its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). The nonmoving party may not simply rest upon its pleadings to satisfy its burden. Id. Rather, the nonmoving party must “set forth specific facts that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671. Stated differently, the party must provide “significantly probative evidence” that would support a verdict in his favor. Jaramillo v. Adams Cty. Sch. Dist. 14, 680 F.3d 1267, 1269 (10th Cir. 2012). “To accomplish this, the facts must be identified by reference to affidavits, deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated therein.” Id.


         The doctrine of qualified immunity “protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (internal quotation and citation omitted). To defeat a claim of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show: “(1) that the defendant's conduct violated a constitutional or statutory right, and (2) that the law governing the conduct was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.” Eaton v. Meneley, 379 F.3d 949, 954 (10th Cir. 2004); see also Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. The Court is not required to address these inquiries in any specific order, Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236-37, and if a plaintiff fails to carry either part of his or her two-part burden, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity, Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124, 1128 (10th Cir. 2001).

         With regard to the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis, “[a] clearly established right is one that is ‘sufficiently clear that every reasonable officer would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.'” Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (quoting Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012)). “Although plaintiffs can overcome a qualified-immunity defense without a favorable case directly on point, ‘existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.'” Aldaba v. Pickens, 844 F.3d 870, 877 (10th Cir. 2016) (quoting Mullenix, 136 S.Ct. at 308). “The dispositive question is ‘whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established.'” Mullenix, 136 S.Ct. at 308 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011)). “In the Fourth Amendment context, ‘the result depends very much on the facts of each case,' and the precedents must ‘squarely govern' the present case.” Aldaba, 844 F.3d at 877 (quoting Mullenix, 136 S.Ct. at 309)).


         Though basic principles of summary judgment guide the Court in this contentious case, Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 411 (10th Cir. 2014), the Court's “factual analysis relative to the qualified-immunity question” at the summary judgment phase “is distinct, ” Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1243 (10th Cir. 2015). See also United States ex rel. Burlbaw v. Orenduff, 548 F.3d 931, 940 n.6 (10th Cir. 2008) (“[W]e acknowledge our long-standing view that the task of district courts . . . is different in reviewing motions for summary judgment under traditional standards and qualified immunity principles. . . Indeed, courts should exercise care not to confuse the two analytical frameworks.”) The Court “still view[s] the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve[s] all factual disputes and reasonable inferences in [his] favor.” Henderson v. Glanz, 813 F.3d 938, 952 (10th Cir. 2015) (citing Estate of Booker, 745 F.3d at 411.) “Unlike most affirmative defenses, however, the plaintiff would bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial to overcome qualified immunity by showing a violation of clearly established law.” Id.

         Thus, at summary judgment, the Court must “grant qualified immunity unless the plaintiff can show (1) a reasonable jury could find facts supporting a violation of a constitutional right, which (2) was clearly established at the time of the defendant's conduct.” Id. (emphasis added); Martinez v. Beggs, 563 F.4d 1082, 1988 (10th Cir. 2009). The Court may “consider the two parts of this test in the sequence [it] deem[s] best ‘in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.'” Bowling v. Rector, 584 F.3d 956, 964 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236). “If a ‘plaintiff successfully carries his two-part burden,' the ‘defendant bears the burden, as an ordinary movant for summary judgment, of showing no material issues of fact remain that would defeat the claim of qualified immunity.'” Henderson, 813 F.3d at 952 (quoting Mick v. Brewer, 67 F.3d 1127, 1134 (10th Cir. 1996)).

         III. ...

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