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Wojdacz v. Wood

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 31, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on United States Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix's Recommendation dated July 17, 2019 (the “Recommendation”; ECF No. 260), which recommended that this Court (1) dismiss Defendants John Doe Deputy, John Doe Officer, John Doe Deputies, and John Doe Officers (collectively, “Doe Defendants”) from this case; and (2) grant Defendant Deputy Wood's (“Deputy Wood”) Motion for Summary Judgment (the “Motion”; ECF No. 243). The Recommendation is incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Plaintiff Elizabeth Wojdacz (“Plaintiff”) filed an Objection to the Recommendation (“Objection”; ECF No. 264), to which Deputy Wood responded (ECF No. 270).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Recommendation is adopted in its entirety, Plaintiff's Objection is overruled, the Doe Defendants are dismissed without prejudice, and Deputy Wood's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On the night of September 28, 2014, Deputy Wood was on patrol in the 9500 block of East Iliff Avenue in Denver, Colorado. (¶ 2.)[2] During his patrol, Deputy Wood observed Plaintiff's white Chevrolet S-10 driving past him on the other side of the street. (Id.) Deputy Wood then received a “hit” on his License Plate Reader, which informed him that there was a misdemeanor warrant associated with the vehicle. (Id.) Deputy Wood turned his patrol car around and followed Plaintiff's vehicle. (Id.) Deputy Wood then observed Plaintiff's vehicle turn left into a parking lot behind a store located at 2281 South Parker Road. (Id.) Deputy Wood continued to the stop light at the intersection of East Iliff Avenue and South Parker Road. (Id.)

         While at the stop light, Deputy Wood researched the License Plate Reader “hit, ” and learned that there was an “attempt to locate” notice on the vehicle rather than a warrant. (¶ 3.) Deputy Wood then observed Plaintiff's vehicle turn left out of the parking lot “into the outer-most right-hand lane” of South Parker Road. (Id.; see also ECF No. 243-2 at 2 (Plaintiff admitting that in turning left out of the parking lot, she went “straight across the road, [to] the farthest lane”).) Deputy Wood perceived this turn as an improper lane violation under Colorado traffic law and, for this reason, activated his emergency lights and pulled over Plaintiff's vehicle for a traffic stop. (¶ 3.) See also Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-4-901(1)(b) (“Whenever practicable, the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection so as to leave the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as such vehicle on the roadway being entered.”).

         Upon making contact with the vehicle, Deputy Wood observed Plaintiff as the sole occupant and driver of the vehicle. (¶ 4.) Deputy Wood recalls that Plaintiff's vehicle was “full of personal items” and in “disarray, ” and that it was apparent Plaintiff “was living out of her vehicle.” (¶ 11; see also ECF No. 243-2 at 15 (Plaintiff acknowledging that she lived in her vehicle at the time).) Deputy Wood asked Plaintiff for her license, registration, and proof of insurance. (¶ 4.) Plaintiff provided Deputy Wood with her license, registration, and an expired proof of insurance. (Id.) In addition to providing the expired proof of insurance, Plaintiff claims that she also provided Deputy Wood with a valid, unexpired proof of insurance. (ECF No. 243-2 at 15 (“I gave him two [proofs of insurance]: One valid, one expired.”).) (But see id. (when asked why she gave Deputy Wood two proofs of insurance, Plaintiff responded: “I gave him all the stuff I had in my wallet. I didn't go through it.”).) Plaintiff, however, never informed Deputy Wood that she provided him with a valid proof of insurance-nor did Deputy Wood ever acknowledge the receipt of any valid proof of insurance. (¶¶ 4-5; ECF No. 243-2 at 3.)

         Deputy Wood requested that Plaintiff provide an alternative proof of insurance. (¶ 4.) In response, Plaintiff provided Deputy Wood with a bill for payment of insurance. (Id.) Deputy Wood did not accept this alternative proof of insurance because it did not identify the vehicle associated with the insurance bill or the policy dates of coverage. (Id.) According to Plaintiff's deposition testimony, she believed that the insurance bill should have been accepted because it contained the policy number. (ECF No. 243-2 at 3.)

         Deputy Wood then returned the expired proof of insurance to Plaintiff and returned to his patrol car with her license and registration in order to write a citation. (¶ 6.) Plaintiff alleges that, at some point during this interaction, Deputy Wood unbuttoned his shirt and placed her unexpired proof of insurance in his shirt. (ECF No. 243-2 at 15-16.) (But see ¶ 20 (“During traffic stops, my practice is to clip the driver's license and registration to my shirt pocket using the clip of my pen, which is already in my pocket. I take these documents with me when I go back to my vehicle to enter information in the computer system. My best guess is [Plaintiff] observed me placing the documents she gave to me on my shirt pocket. However, I returned all of those documents to her.”).)

         While in his patrol car, Deputy Wood contacted dispatch to obtain additional information regarding the “attempt to locate” notification. (¶ 7.) Dispatch informed Deputy Wood that “there was a tow order out of Denver, that the vehicle was wanted as evidence in another crime, and that the Denver Police Department [(‘DPD')] would arrange to have the vehicle towed.” (Id.) Deputy Wood also requested a second law enforcement vehicle to assist. (Id.) Shortly after, Sergeant Melissa Williams arrived at the scene to assist Deputy Wood, and two DPD officers arrived to tow Plaintiff's vehicle. (¶¶ 8-9; ECF No. 243-3 at 2, ¶¶ 4-5.)

         Because (1) Plaintiff could not provide any future address; (2) DPD was towing her vehicle, which she lived out of; and (3) of her erratic behavior, Deputy Wood became concerned that Plaintiff would not appear for court if he issued her a summons. (¶ 12; see also ¶ 10; ECF No. 243-3 at 2, ¶ 6 (Sergeant Williams's account of Plaintiff's erratic behavior).) See also Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-3-105(1)(b) (an officer may arrest a person for an arrestable offense where there is a concern that the suspect will not appear for court). Therefore, Deputy Wood arrested Plaintiff for failure to provide valid proof of insurance and booked her into the Arapahoe County Detention Facility (“ACDF”) that night. (¶ 12; ECF No. 243-1 at 8-9.) See also People v. Patnode, 126 P.3d 249, 254 (Colo.App. 2005) (“In failing to produce the required insurance card, defendant committed a class one misdemeanor traffic offense for which arrest is authorized.” (citing Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-4-1409(4)(a))). Plaintiff alleges that, while she was being held at the ACDF, Deputy Wood returned her stolen valid proof of insurance by placing it into her property bag at the jail. (ECF No. 243-2 at 8.)

         According to evidence submitted by Plaintiff, the charge against her for failure to provide valid proof of insurance appears to have been dismissed. (See ECF No. 255 at 16-17 (Plaintiff filing a motion to dismiss the charge); id. at 21-24 (Plaintiff discussing in state court filings how the district attorney agreed to dismiss the charge); id. at 34 (Plaintiff stating in a state court filing that “[a]t some point, the Court [d]ismissed the [insurance] charge”).) This appears to be because prosecutors later learned that Plaintiff did in fact have insurance coverage at the time of her arrest. (See id. at 16-17, 21, 27; ECF No. 245 at 22 (letter from L.A. Insurance Agency confirming that Plaintiff was insured on the date of her arrest).) See also Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-4-1409(6) (“A person charged with violating subsection (1), (2), or (3) of this section shall not be convicted if the person produces in court a bona fide complying policy or certificate of self-insurance that was in full force and effect as required by law at the time of the alleged violation.”).


         The procedural history of this case is not easily summarized, but a brief recitation of events will be helpful. On September 22, 2015, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed suit against numerous defendants, including Deputy Wood and the Doe Defendants. (ECF No. 1.) On December 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 10.) Following the filing of a Motion to Strike (ECF No. 31) and several Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 37-38, 43, 47, 48), Judge Mix ordered Plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 86).

         On August 31, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 88), which was soon met by a second round of Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 89, 91, 97, 100, 106, 108, 134, 138). On September 14, 2017, the Court granted the Motions to Dismiss, dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims, and granted Plaintiff leave to file a Third Amended Complaint with respect to the claims dismissed without prejudice. (ECF No. 172.)

         On October 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed her Third Amended Complaint, which is the currently operative complaint. (“Third Amended Complaint”; ECF No. 175.) Shortly after the Third Amended Complaint was docketed, another round of Motions to Dismiss were filed. (ECF Nos. 184, 197-98, 201.) On April 24, 2018, Judge Mix recommended that this Court grant the Motions to Dismiss and dismiss with prejudice all of Plaintiff's claims except for

(1) Claim Two (First Amendment retaliation) against John Doe Deputy and John Doe Officer;
(2) Claim Three (Fourth Amendment unlawful arrest) against [Deputy] Wood; and
(3) Claim Four (Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure of property) against John Doe Deputies and John Doe Officers.

(ECF No. 226; see id. at 25-26.) Plaintiff failed to timely object, and the Court adopted the Recommendation in its entirety after conducting a clear error review. (ECF No. 228.)

         On April 8, 2019, Deputy Wood moved for summary judgment. (ECF No. 243.) Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion on April 16, 2019. (“Response”; ECF No. 245.) The undersigned subsequently referred the Motion to Judge Mix, who issued her Recommendation on July 17, 2019. (ECF Nos. 246 & 260.) The following week, Plaintiff filed “Nunc Pro Tunc Corrections” to her Third Amended Complaint and to her Response-which the Court will address ...

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