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Garife v. Schuster

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 30, 2019



          Marcia S. Krieger Senior United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court pursuant to Defendants Robert Schuster (“Officer Schuster”), Robert Grafner (“Officer Grafner”), and Kevin McCann's (“Officer McCann”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (# 45), Plaintiff Branson Garife's (“Mr. Garife”) response (# 48), and the Officers' reply (# 50). For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         The Court exercises jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         II. FACTS

         The Court assumes the reader's familiarity with the claims and underlying proceedings in this case. The facts, [1] as set forth in the briefing, are supported by dash cam video recordings (# 47), the Officers' affidavits (# 45-1-4), Officer Schuster's Statement in Support of Warrantless Arrest (# 48-2), and Officer Grafner's Case Narrative (# 48-3).

         On May 16, 2016 at approximately 11:30 p.m., Officer Grafner, a Town of Castle Rock police officer, was driving his patrol car when he noticed a “suspicious” vehicle parked outside a liquor store. (# 45-1 at 1). Officer Grafner observed a man leaning into the window of the driver's side of the vehicle, which was occupied by a male driver and three female passengers. Officer Grafner initially thought the vehicle occupants might be underage, and he suspected that the man might be buying alcohol for them at the liquor store. (# 45-1 at 1). Officer Grafner parked his patrol car. (# 45-1 at 2). While not entirely clear from the evidence, it appears the man then entered the liquor store. Officer Grafner walked up to the vehicle where he saw that one of the passengers had an open Corona beer in her hand while another passenger had a closed Budweiser Limearita in her lap. (# 45-1 at 2). Officer Grafner asked the driver and passengers their ages, and they all confirmed they were under 21 years of age. (# 45-1 at 2). Officer Grafner, concerned with locating the source of the alcohol and the reason the minors were parked outside a liquor store, called for additional officers to respond. (# 45-1 at 2). Officers Schuster and McCann responded at some point thereafter. (# 45-1 at 2; # 45-2 at 1; # 45-3 at 2).

         Officer Grafner saw the same man (who had previously been leaning against the vehicle) exit the liquor store holding a bottle of vodka. (# 45-1 at 2). The man approached the vehicle and attempted the enter the passenger side. (# 45-1 at 2). For safety reasons and because Officer Grafner considered the vehicle a crime scene, he directed the man to the front of the vehicle to sit on the sidewalk against the wall of the liquor store. (# 45-1 at 2). Officer Grafner informed the man that the vehicle's occupants were minors and in possession of alcohol. (# 45-1 at 3). At some point, the Officers looked at the man's passport and identified him as Branson Garife, age 21. (# 45-1 at 3; # 45-2 at 2). Both Mr. Garife and one of the passengers told Officer Grafner that Mr. Garife had not provided the alcohol found in the vehicle. (# 45-1 at 3).

         Officer Grafner ordered the underage occupants to exit the vehicle and sit on the sidewalk about ten feet away from Mr. Garife, and he and Officer Schuster began to search the vehicle. (#45-1 at 3; # 45-2 at 2; #45-3 at 2). Officer Grafner separated Mr. Garife from the others to prevent any communications which might compromise the investigation. (# 48-3). Officers Grafner and Schuster found an open Corona bottle and several additional Limearita cans in the back seat. Officer Schuster also found marijuana paraphernalia. (# 45-1 at 3; # 45-2 at 2; # 45-3 at 2).

         During the search, Officers Schuster and McCann monitored the detained individuals sitting on the sidewalk. (# 45-1 at 3; # 45-2 at 2, # 45-3 at 2). Mr. Garife attempted to stand up and move closer to the driver and passengers. Officer Schuster directed him to sit back down. (#45-1 at 3; # 45-2 at 2; # 45-3 at 2). Mr. Garife stood up again, walked over to where the driver was sitting and sat down. (# 45-1 at 3, # 45-2 at 3; # 45-3 at 2). Officer Schuster directed Mr. Garife to immediately return to where he was originally seated. When Mr. Garife refused to comply, the Officers arrested him for Obstructing a Peace Officer by taking him to the ground, handcuffing, and placing him in a patrol vehicle.[2] (# 45-1 at 4; # 45-2 at 3; # 45-3 at 2-3).

         Officer Grafner cited the driver and the passengers for violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-13-22, being minors in possession of alcohol and/or marijuana paraphernalia. Mr. Garife was charged with violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-104, Obstructing a Peace Officer and Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-103, Resisting Arrest. (# 45-2 at 3).

         On April 24, 2018, the Court issued an Order on the Officers' motion to dismiss, dismissing: all claims asserted against the Town of Castle Rock, Colorado; Claim 9 against Officer McCann for a Fourth Amendment violation of failure to intervene in Mr. Garife's arrest; and Claim 12 against Officer McCann for a Fourth Amendment violation in failing to report use of excessive force in Mr. Garife's arrest. (# 36). Accordingly, the following claims remain[3]: (1) Fourth Amendment illegal stop asserted against Officer Schuster and Officer Grafner; (2) Fourth Amendment unlawful arrest asserted against Officer Schuster, Officer Grafner, and Officer McCann; and (3) Fourth Amendment excessive force asserted against Officer Grafner and Officer Schuster.

         Of these claims only the illegal stop and unlawful arrest are at issue in this motion. The Officers move for partial summary judgment on Mr. Garife's Fourth Amendment claims for lack of reasonable suspicion and lack of probable cause and assert the doctrine of qualified immunity. In response, Mr. Garife contends that there are disputed issues of material fact precluding entry summary judgment.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Intern. Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Summary adjudication is authorized when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law governs what facts are material and what issues must be determined. It also specifies the elements that must be proved for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. v. Producer's Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). A factual dispute is “genuine” and summary judgment is precluded if the evidence presented in support of and opposition to the motion is so contradictory that, if presented at trial, a judgment could enter for either party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a summary judgment motion, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby favoring the right to a trial. See Garrett v. Hewlett Packard Co., 305 F.3d 1210, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002).

         If the movant has the burden of proof on a claim or defense, the movant must establish every element of its claim or defense by sufficient, competent evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the moving party has met its burden, to avoid summary judgment the responding party must present sufficient, competent, contradictory evidence to establish a genuine factual dispute. See Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991); Perry v. Woodward, 199 F.3d 1126, 1131 (10th Cir. 1999). If there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, a trial is required. If there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, no trial is required. The court then applies the law to the undisputed facts and enters judgment.

         If the moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial, it must point to an absence of sufficient evidence to establish the claim or defense that the non-movant is obligated to prove. If the respondent comes forward with sufficient competent evidence to establish a prima facie claim or defense, a trial is required. If the respondent fails to produce sufficient competent evidence to establish its claim or defense, then the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).


         Qualified immunity protects individual state actors from civil liability if their conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Messerschmidt v. Millender, 565 U.S. 535, 546 (2012). Because of the underlying purposes of qualified immunity, the Court treats qualified-immunity questions differently from other questions on summary judgment. See Thomas v. Durastanti, 607 F.3d 655, 662 (10th Cir. 2010). After a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff, who must: (1) show facts that “make out a violation of a constitutional right, ” and (2) establish that, at the time of the conduct at issue, it was clearly established under existing law that the defendant's conduct breached the constitutional right. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). The Court may address these questions in whichever order is best suited to the case. If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either prong of this inquiry, the Court “must grant the defendant qualified immunity.” Holland ex rel. Overdorff v. Harrington, 268 F.3d 1179, 1186 (10th ...

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