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Boateng v. Metz

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 30, 2019

PHILIP BOATENG, Plaintiff
v.
CHIEF NICHOLAS METZ, in his official and individual capacity, SERGEANT JEFFREY LONGNECKER, in his official and individual capacity, AURORA POLICE DEPARTMENT, and CITY OF AURORA, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS AND GRANTING AURORA’S MOTION TO DISMISS

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Philip Boateng (“Plaintiff”) sues Defendants City of Aurora (“Aurora”), as well as two employees of the Aurora Police Department in their individual capacities, Chief Nicholas Metz (“Metz”) and Sergeant Jeffrey Longnecker (“Longnecker”) (together, “Individual Defendants”), for alleged violations of certain First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as for malicious prosecution. (ECF No. 1.) Currently before the Court are the Individual Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss and Aurora’s Motion to Dismiss. (ECF Nos. 21 & 22.) For the reasons stated below, the Individual Defendants’ Motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Aurora’s Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court accepts the following allegations as true for purposes of resolving the pending motions. All paragraph references (“¶__ ”) are to Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (“Complaint”). (ECF No. 17.)

         A. Impoundment of Plaintiff’s Vehicle

          On November 12, 2017, Plaintiff drove his black BMW SUV bearing license plate QXK512 to work at his usual time, approximately 6:20 p.m. He drove along his usual route, taking Potomac Street to Colfax Avenue to the University Hospital. (¶¶ 14, 16.) He parked his car in his usual lot, Parking Lot 4, at his usual time, 6:23 p.m. (¶ 15.) He walked into the University Hospital building and clocked into work at 6:28 p.m. (¶ 16.)

         At 6:26 p.m., after Plaintiff left his car but before he clocked into work, Longnecker and two other Aurora Police Department officers pulled into Parking Lot 4 and towed Plaintiff’s vehicle. (¶ 18.) When parked, Plaintiff’s vehicle was not obstructing traffic or interfering with highway maintenance, nor did it fall under any of the enumerated conditions under which an Aurora Police Department officer may tow a vehicle. (¶ 40.) The same day Plaintiff’s vehicle was towed, Plaintiff was charged with three violations of Colorado law: careless driving, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-4-1402; speeding, id. § 42-4-1101; and eluding police, id. § 42-4-1413. (¶ 37.) Plaintiff contends that there was no lawful reason to charge him with these violations. (¶ 50.) Plaintiff was ordered to appear in Arapahoe County District Court on January 5, 2018. (¶ 38.)

         Plaintiff alleges that at 6:23 p.m. on the day of the towing, “Longnecker was in the 900–1000 block of Potomac Street and observed a blue BMW SUV with Colorado license plate KYX512.” (¶ 17.) The import of this fact is not explained in the Complaint, but perhaps Plaintiff intends to suggest that Longnecker confused Plaintiff’s vehicle with the blue SUV.[1]

         In any event, when Plaintiff left work after his night shift (it is unclear whether he left late on November 12 or on the morning of November 13), he could not find his car, and so called the University Police to report his car missing. (¶¶ 19–21.) The University Police investigated and advised Plaintiff that his car had been towed by Longnecker at 6:26 p.m. (¶ 21.)

         Plaintiff called Longnecker and left several messages. (¶¶ 23–24.) Longnecker eventually returned Plaintiff’s calls. (¶ 24.) During their conversation, Longnecker accused Plaintiff of “speeding, eluding a police officer, drinking and driving, being on drugs, and lying to [ ] Longnecker about all of these things.” (¶ 25.) Plaintiff denied engaging in such behavior, and asked why his vehicle had been towed. (¶ 26.) Longnecker asked Plaintiff for identifying information, and Plaintiff provided his name, address, and date of birth. (¶¶ 27–28.) Plaintiff confirmed that the vehicle was his. (¶ 30.) Plaintiff declined to provide his social security number, regarding it as unnecessary. (¶ 27.) Longnecker stated that if Plaintiff refused to provide his social security number, Plaintiff’s car would remain impounded until Longnecker returned to work the following week. (¶ 29.)

         Longnecker then stated that the only way Plaintiff would be able to retrieve his vehicle before Longnecker’s absence from the office was if Plaintiff met Longnecker that evening. (¶ 31.) Longnecker’s police narrative stated that he impounded the vehicle so that he could meet Plaintiff in person to verify his identity. (¶ 41.) Plaintiff was hesitant, and told Longnecker that “he wanted to speak to an attorney because he did not commit any crimes.” (¶ 31.) Plaintiff inquired if there were other days he could retrieve his vehicle, but Longnecker “repeated that he would only release the vehicle if Plaintiff met with him when he was back at his desk the following week.” (¶ 33.) Longnecker also stated that he would put a note in the system so that no other officer would release the vehicle to Plaintiff while Longnecker was out of the office. (¶ 34.)

         On November 14, 2018, Plaintiff’s counsel contacted Metz about releasing Plaintiff’s vehicle. (¶ 43.) Counsel provided Metz with detailed information and argued that Longnecker’s impoundment of the vehicle was improper. (¶ 44.) After that conversation, Aurora City Attorney Nancy Rogers contacted Plaintiff’s counsel on behalf of Metz and advised that Metz would not release the car and was “not in the business of second-guessing his officers.” (¶ 45.)

         On December 6, 2017, an Aurora municipal judge found that the impound of Plaintiff’s vehicle was improper, and ordered the car be released. (¶ 49.) On May 29, 2018, the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office dismissed all charges against Plaintiff. (¶ 51.) Plaintiff claims that the charges were dismissed after a “review of the evidence provided by Defendant Longnecker, ” and that the dismissal “reflect[ed] a prosecutorial judgment that the case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Id.)

         B. Allegations of Racial Profiling

         Plaintiff, who is African American, alleges that Longnecker wrongfully charged Plaintiff and impounded his vehicle because of his race. (¶¶ 52, 133.) He adds that Metz and Aurora did not question Longnecker’s actions because “Defendants have a history and unwritten policy of racially profiling Aurora citizens of color and wrongfully charging them or over-charging them with crimes” because of their race. (¶ 53.)

         Plaintiff adds that Aurora has failed to properly train and supervise officers to avoid racially-biased policing, and has instead continually condoned and ratified officers’ misconduct. (¶ 56.) In support, Plaintiff cites over a dozen claims alleging Aurora Police Department officer misconduct against persons of color, many of which settled for a sum of money. (ECF No. 17-1.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim in a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The Rule 12(b)(6) standard requires the Court to “assume the truth of the plaintiff’s well-pleaded factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). In ruling on such a motion, the dispositive inquiry is “whether the complaint contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Granting a motion to dismiss “is a harsh remedy which must be cautiously studied, not only to effectuate the spirit of the liberal rules of pleading but also to protect the interests of justice.” Dias v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 567 F.3d 1169, 1178 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Thus, ‘a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Individual Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 22)

         Plaintiff asserts three claims against the Individual Defendants. Set forth in the sequence in which they will be addressed below, they are: (1) retaliation in violation of the First Amendment (Claim 2); (2) racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Claim 4); and (3) malicious prosecution (Claim 3). The Individual Defendants claim that qualified immunity protects them from liability on all claims asserted against them. (ECF No. 22.)

         “Qualified immunity shields federal and state officials from money damages unless a plaintiff pleads facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the challenged conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011). This Court has discretion to address the “clearly established” element ...


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