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Gibson v. Brown

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 17, 2019

MICHAEL GIBSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF BROWN, in his individual capacity, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MARCIA S. KRIEGER SENIOR JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (# 103), the Defendant's Response (# 109), and the Plaintiff's Reply (# 111); and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (# 106), the Plaintiff's Response (# 110), and the Defendant's Reply (# 112). For the following reasons, the Defendant's Motion is granted and the Plaintiff's Motion is denied as moot.

         I. JURISDICTION

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

         II. BACKGROUND [1]

         In November 2014, Eric White, an officer with the Aurora Police Department, and Arapahoe County Sheriff Deputy J. Lofland were called to Belle's and Beau's Academy, a day care in Aurora, Colorado, by daycare teacher Cora Coon. (## 104-1 at 1; 104-7 ¶ 1, 3.) She had notified the police of potential child abuse that she observed while assisting a two-year old boy in the bathroom. Ms. Coon noticed red marks above the boy's buttocks that had not been there when she had seen the boy five days prior. (# 104-7 ¶¶ 3-4.)

         The officers tried to contact the boy's parents but were unsuccessful. (# 104-7 ¶¶ 16-17.) Officer White observed the boy's injuries and questioned him, but the boy mostly shrugged in response. (# 104-7 ¶¶ 5, 10.) Officer White also questioned the boy's five-year-old sister. (# 104-7 ¶ 8.) When asked if she was disciplined at home, said that her dad spanks her when she is in trouble and, one time, used a belt when she could not identify Mars as the fourth planet from the Sun. (## 104-1 at 2; 104-7 ¶¶ 12-13.) Officer White asked if her dad also spanks her brother; she said yes, she had seen him do so. (## 104-1 at 2; 104-7 ¶ 14.) At some point, Defendant Jeff Brown, another Aurora police officer, was called to the scene; Officer White conveyed the information he had gathered to Officer Brown. (## 104-7 ¶ 19; 104-8 ¶ 2.) Officer White and Deputy Lofland departed. (## 104-7 ¶ 18; 104-8 ¶ 4.) Officer Brown remained to speak with whoever picked up the children to continue the investigation. (# 104-8 ¶ 4.)

         Plaintiff Michael Gibson, the children's father, came to the day care to pick up the children. (# 104-1 at 3.) Officer Brown encountered Mr. Gibson when he arrived. (# 104-8 ¶ 7.) Accounts of what transpired differ. Officer Brown contends that he told Mr. Gibson that he wanted to speak with him about child abuse and escorted him into an office at the day care for questioning. (# 104-8 ¶¶ 8-9.) Officer Brown maintains Mr. Gibson was free to go at any time. (# 104-8 ¶ 36.) Mr. Gibson states Officer Brown told him that he was under arrest, not free to leave, and that he generally demeaned Mr. Gibson while asking him questions. (# 103 ¶¶ 12-15.) During their conversation, Officer Brown spoke on the phone to Mr. Gibson's wife, who confirmed that Mr. Gibson had spanked his son recently. (# 104-8 ¶ 40.) After being in the office for over an hour, Officer Brown issued Mr. Gibson a written summons for misdemeanor child abuse under C.R.S. § 18-6-401. (# 104-8 ¶ 47.)

         Following the Court's order at the dismissal stage (# 69), the Amended Complaint (# 58) contains a single claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Both parties move for summary judgment on that claim (## 103, 106). Mr. Gibson contends that Officer Brown had no probable cause to arrest him, and Officer Brown contends that he had probable cause to arrest Mr. Gibson before Mr. Gibson arrived. Officer Brown also invokes qualified immunity.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         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 Int'l 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).

         This case involves cross motions for summary judgment. Because the determination of whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material factual issue turns upon who has the burden of proof, the standard of proof and whether adequate evidence has been submitted to support a prima facie case or to establish a genuine dispute as to material fact, these motions must be evaluated independently. See Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1148 (10th Cir. 2000); Buell Cabinet Co. v. Sudduth, 608 F.2d 431, 433 (10th Cir. 1979) (“Cross-motions for summary judgment are to be treated ...


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