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Valdez v. Motyka

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 16, 2019

MICHAEL VALDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT MOTYKA, Jr., Denver Police Officer, in his individual capacity; CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, a municipality, Defendants.

          ORDER REGARDING MUNICIPAL LIABILITY DISCOVERY AND DISPOSITIVE MOTIONS

          William J. Martinez, United States District Judge.

         Defendant Robert Motyka, Jr. (“Motyka”), a Denver police officer, shot Plaintiff Michael Valdez (“Valdez”) at least once, and perhaps twice, at the end of a dramatic car chase on the morning of January 16, 2013. Valdez claims that Motyka opened fire after all danger had passed, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Familiarity with the parties' respective versions of events, recounted elsewhere (e.g., ECF No. 152), is presumed.

         This action was filed in January 2015 and was presided over by Senior U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch until his death in May 2019.[1] It was reassigned to the undersigned in July 2019.

         On November 26, 2019, the Court held a status conference regarding the number of days reasonably required to try this case (“Status Conference”). (See ECF No. 157.) There was significant discussion at the Status Conference, and in briefing leading up to it, regarding Valdez's theories for holding Denver liable under the framework established in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), often known as “municipal liability.” (See ECF Nos. 154-56.) The Court explained at the Status Conference that it was strongly considering revisiting some of Judge Matsch's rulings regarding municipal liability, and that a written order would issue in that regard.

         This is that order. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Valdez should have been allowed to complete his municipal liability discovery through a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of Denver. Accordingly, the Court will allow such a deposition to go forward, subject to certain constraints, and then Denver will receive a second opportunity to move for summary judgment against Valdez's municipal liability theories, if appropriate.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Motion to Compel

         In March 2018, Valdez moved to compel a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of Denver on topics related to his municipal liability theories, including Denver's training, policies, and procedures. (ECF No. 63 at 4-5, 14-17; ECF No. 63-3.) Judge Matsch held a hearing in May 2018 to resolve this and other pending motions. (See ECF No. 79.) On the topic of the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition, Judge Matsch had the following exchange with counsel for Denver:

Q. But there was an investigation [of the shooting] as there would be in any shooting?
A. That's right, there were two. One by the Denver DA's office in conjunction with our homicide unit, and then after that it went to our use-of-force board for determination of whether or not it was within or without policy. It was found to be within policy with respect to the involved officers.
Q. All right. So if it's within policy and there is a constitutional violation, the City is going to be liable, and I don't think we have to go beyond that.

(ECF No. 89 at 14-15.) Judge Matsch then switched to another topic, but soon followed up on the foregoing exchange, again addressing counsel for Denver:

Q. . . . you know, I'm saying the 30(b)(6)-I'm not sure what-what we need-what is needed, particularly, what I just heard that the policy, the training is what it is and that he-all of the officers acted pursuant to legitimate- established policy. That's your statement, correct?
A. Yes, Your Honor. They were found all acti[ng] within (inaudible) policy.
Q. Yeah. So it's going to be-the City is going to liable if they're liable.

(Id. at 15-16.) Counsel for Valdez then began trying to persuade Judge Matsch to at least allow a deposition about a particular training method, but Judge Matsch refused:

Well, what difference does it make if there could be other kinds of training? The City is taking responsibility for what has been done here, so it seems to be end of problem. Alternative training, what difference does it make? So I don't see any need for this 30(b)(6) stuff.
Let's get to trial. . . .

(Id. at 17.)

         For reasons that will be discussed below, in the Court's view Judge Matsch's statement that Denver would be liable if an individual defendant is liable is incorrect, at least without certain important qualifications. At the hearing, however, Denver's counsel never sought to correct or qualify Judge Matsch's repeated and unqualified statements to this effect.

         B. Summary Judgment Proceedings

         Denver moved for summary judgment in May 2018, arguing (among other things) that it deserved summary judgment on municipal liability because Valdez lacked necessary evidence. (ECF No. 82 at 32-42.) Valdez responded that Denver's municipal liability arguments should be denied on the basis of judicial admission or judicial estoppel arising from the motion-to-compel hearing, because Denver allowed Judge Matsch to deny the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition under the assumption that Denver's liability would automatically flow from the individual officers' liability, if any. (ECF No. 92 at 69-75.) Valdez further responded, on the merits, that it has evidence of “ratification” (apparently referring to the after-the-fact finding that the officers acted according to policy) and failure to train (because “Denver clearly failed to adequately train Defendants not to shoot an unarmed, surrendering man, under [the] circumstances of this case”). (Id. at 75-80.)

         In reply, Denver argued that Judge Matsch's reasoning at the motion-to-compel hearing was flawed:

Here, Denver's Use of Force Board reviewed the incident and, based upon the information that was gathered during the homicide investigation, found the officers' conduct to be within policy. Thus, to the extent that a jury were to find the officers' conduct as considered by the Use of Force Board to be unconstitutional, municipal liability could be imposed. Importantly, however, Denver did not approve of the officers' conduct as Plaintiff alleges, i.e., that Sgt. Motyka intentionally shot him when he was lying on the ground not posing any threat to anyone. Thus, to the extent that Plaintiff could prevail on his version of events . . . a finding of municipal liability based upon ratification would not be warranted, as the record is devoid of any evidence to demonstrate that any final decisionmaker ratified the unconstitutional actions Plaintiff claims the officers engaged in along with the basis for such actions.

(ECF No. 104 at 48-49 (citation omitted).) This argument is correct, for reasons the Court will explain below. But correct or not, what of the fact that Denver allowed Judge Matsch to persist in incorrect reasoning to reach a result in Denver's favor, i.e., denying the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition? On that, Denver feebly argued that Judge Matsch's reasoning had no binding effect because he was only making a decision about relevance and proportionality of discovery. (Id. at 50-53.)

         Judge Matsch resolved Denver's summary judgment motion in April 2019. (ECF No. 124.) On municipal liability, he began by saying:

There is no evidence concerning the DPD training policy with respect to police responding to a community threat by pursuing a vehicle whose occupants are firing at the police which ends with a crash and the occupants coming out of the passenger door with no shooting. The plaintiff's counsel sought to obtain a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition to discover DPD training. This Court denied that motion at a conference during which the Court commented that if the defendants are liable then Denver is liable. That was an unfortunate comment which the plaintiff's counsel understood to be a ruling on municipal liability
It was not a ...

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