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Hubbard v. Sheffield

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 27, 2013

ROBERT G. HUBBARD, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
JAY C. SHEFFIELD, Justice of the Peace; JOSEPH CIK, Deputy County Attorney; LT. ROGER GUCHES; DEPUTY TRAVIS SMITH; SHERIFF ROBY BOWE; CAROL RAMOS; LINCOLN COUNTY MONTANA; DEPUTY SCOTT REBO; JOHN DOES 1-10; and JANE DOES 1-10, Defendants.

ORDER

JEREMIAH C. LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court are Defendants Roby Bowe, Roger Guches, Scott Rebo, Travis Smith, and Lincoln County's Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 motions for summary judgment. Each motion requests dismissal of Plaintiff Robert Hubbard's Amended Complaint. Hubbard is proceeding pro se in this action.

For the reasons stated, the Court concludes the referenced motions are properly denied as to several limited claims. But the Court concludes the motions shall be granted in all other respects dismissing the various claims specified herein.

I. BACKGROUND

This action arises from Hubbard's experiences with the criminal justice system in Lincoln County, Montana. In July, 2010, Hubbard was arrested for disorderly conduct. Following a jury trial before Defendant Jay Sheffield, Lincoln County Justice of the Peace, Hubbard was convicted of the charge, and Sheffield imposed sentence against Hubbard. While Hubbard's appeal of that conviction was pending, Hubbard entered a plea agreement with Defendant Joseph Cik, Deputy Lincoln County Attorney - a plea agreement that reduced the sentence Sheffield had imposed.

Apparently displeased with the plea agreement, Sheffield expressed his displeasure to Cik, who, in turn, told Hubbard of Sheffield's displeasure. Hubbard alleges that Sheffield thereafter had a vendetta against him, and that Cik, Sheffield, and the other Defendants conspired to target Hubbard for further adverse consequences within the criminal justice system.

On March 20, 2011, Hubbard and his teenage son, Christian, got involved in a dispute which escalated into a physical confrontation at the family's residence. Christian called the police, and Defendants Roger Guches and Travis Smith, Lincoln County law enforcement officers, and Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Bryce Ford responded to the residence. Guches and Smith interviewed Hubbard, Christian, and Hubbard's teenage daughter, Shayna. Christian told the officers that Hubbard struck him with a broom. But Hubbard alleges that Christian was the aggressor, and that Smith and Guches also believed that Christian assaulted Hubbard.

Hubbard asserts that while Smith was at Hubbard's residence, Smith called Defendant Roby Bowe, the Lincoln County Sheriff, to consult with him regarding the altercation. Hubbard contends that Bowe instructed Smith to arrest Hubbard because Bowe and Sheffield are close friends and Bowe knew Sheffield was upset with Hubbard. Allegedly as a result of his phone call with Bowe, Smith arrested Hubbard for the offense of family member assault in violation of Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-206, and transported him to jail.

Guches remained at Hubbard's residence with Patrol Trooper Ford, and took photographs of the scene of the altercation and the location of the broom Hubbard allegedly used to hit Christian. Hubbard alleges Guches rearranged items at the scene to support Christian's statements indicating Hubbard attacked Christian. Guches and Ford then left Hubbard's children, including a third child who was 9 years old, at the residence.

Smith prepared a police report of the incident between Hubbard and Christian. Hubbard alleges Smith provided false information in his report.

Hubbard appeared before Sheffield for his arraignment on the criminal charge. Sheffield detained Hubbard and set his bail in the amount of $10, 000. Hubbard later posted bail and he was released from custody. As a condition of his release, however, Sheffield prohibited Hubbard from having any contact with Christian and Shayna. Consequently, Christian and Shayna began living with their uncle and were not permitted to live with Hubbard.

Hubbard elected to represent himself in the family member assault criminal case. While the prosecution was pending, Hubbard interviewed Smith and Guches about their investigation of the altercation between Hubbard and Christian. Hubbard alleges Guches, Smith and Cik conspired to fabricate facts about Hubbard's altercation with Christian to sustain the prosecution against him.

Hubbard moved to disqualify Sheffield from presiding over the family member assault case on the basis that he believed Sheffield was biased against him. Sheffield ultimately recused himself from the case. Justice of the Peace Stormy Langston was then assigned to preside over the case.

At some point Hubbard moved to modify the condition of his release that prohibited him from having contact with Christian and Shayna. Cik opposed the motion, and Justice of the Peace Langston denied Hubbard's motion. Later, however, Shayna was permitted to return to Hubbard's residence.

While the family member assault charge was pending, Guches learned that Hubbard's Oregon drivers' license was suspended. Guches told Defendant Scott Rebo, a Lincoln County employee, that Hubbard's license was suspended, and he asked Rebo to let Guches know if he saw Hubbard driving.

On July 29, 2011, Rebo observed Hubbard driving his vehicle. Rebo engaged Hubbard and told him to go to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office. Guches was at the Sheriff's Office, and when Hubbard arrived there Guches arrested Hubbard for driving with a suspended license. Guches and Rebo then transported Hubbard to jail.

After Hubbard got out of jail he found that there was a mistake in Oregon's drivers' license records. He states in his Amended Complaint that he fixed the mistake.

The prosecution against Hubbard on the family member assault charge proceeded. Upon jury trial on September 20, 2011, Hubbard was found not guilty.

Hubbard advances numerous legal claims for relief against the various Defendants. Invoking federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, Hubbard asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his rights under the United States Constitution. And invoking supplemental jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1367, Hubbard advances claims under Montana law. He seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.

II. APPLICABLE LAW - SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) entitles a party to summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A movant may satisfy this burden where the documentary evidence produced by the parties permits only one conclusion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986).

A party moving for summary judgment who does not have the burden of persuasion at trial must produce evidence which either: (1) negates an essential element of the non-moving party's claim, or (2) shows that the non-moving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element to ultimately carry his burden at trial. Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. Ltd. v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000).

Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and designate by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file, "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). A party opposing summary judgment must identify evidence establishing that a dispute as to a particular material fact is genuine. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The opponent "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. The party opposing the motion "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

A party must support an assertion of fact by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations [...], admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). See also L.R. 56.1(a)(2) and (b)(2). While the material presented in summary judgment proceedings "does not yet need to be in a form that would be admissible at trial, the proponent must set out facts that it will be able to prove through admissible evidence[]" later at trial. Norse v. City of Santa Cruz, 629 F.3d 966, 973 (9th Cir. 2010). See also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.

To be admissible, any specific item of documentary evidence must be authenticated by other evidence sufficient "to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims." Orr v. Bank of America, NT & SA, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9tth Cir. 2002). Evidentiary materials or exhibits may be "authenticated by affidavits or declarations of persons with personal knowledge through whom they could be introduced at trial." Zoslaw v. MCA Distributing Corp., 693 F.2d 870, 883 (9th Cir. 1982). See also Orr, 285 F.3d at 774 (adding that authentication may occur by any manner permitted by Fed.R.Evid. 901(b) or 902). Absent proper authentication, however, a court may not consider the exhibit in ruling on a summary judgment motion. Orr, 285 F.3d at 773 (citing cases).

Where a party fails to address another party's factual assertion the court may consider the fact "undisputed for purposes of the motion[, ... and] grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting material - including the facts considered undisputed - show that the movant is entitled to it[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) and (3).

"In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations, and is required to draw all inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party." Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997), abrogated on other grounds as noted in Shakur v. Schriro, 514 F.3d 878, 884-85 (9th Cir. 2008).

Finally, because Hubbard is proceeding pro se in this action the Court must construe his documents liberally and give them "the benefit of any doubt." Frost v. Symington, 197 F.3d 348, 352 (9th Cir. 1999). See also Erickson v. Pardus 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Bowe, Guches, Smith and Rebo

1. Hubbard's Federal Claims - 42 U.S.C. § 1983

42 U.S.C. § 1983 permits a plaintiff to present claims under federal law against a state official or employee if the plaintiff can establish that person was acting under color of state law and deprived the plaintiff of a federal right. Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1092 (9th Cir. 2003). Hubbard alleges all Defendants, as state actors, violated several of the rights secured him by the United States Constitution.

a. Official Capacity Claims

Hubbard's federal claims against Defendants are pled against them in both their individual and official capacities. Defendants Bowe, Guches, Smith and Rebo move for summary judgment dismissing Hubbard's section 1983 claims to the extent the claims are asserted against them in their official capacities.

Although a plaintiff may pursue a section 1983 claim against a local governmental officer in either his individual/personal capacity, or in his official capacity, an official-capacity suit "generally represent[s] only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'" Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) and Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). Consequently, an official-capacity suit is treated as a suit against the employing governmental entity, and the entity is deemed the real party in interest. Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25. Thus, where a governmental employee and the local governmental entity with which the employee is employed are both named as defendants in a lawsuit, the section 1983 claims against the employee in his or her official capacity are redundant to the claims against the employing governmental entity and, therefore, may be dismissed. Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, 533 F.3d 780, 799 (9th Cir. 2008).

Defendants Bowe, Guches, Smith and Rebo were, at all relevant times, employees of Lincoln County, and Lincoln County is also named as a Defendant in this action. Therefore, Hubbard's claims against Bowe, Guches, Smith and Rebo in their official capacities are redundant to his claims against Lincoln County and are properly dismissed, leaving only Hubbard's claims against them in their individual capacities. See Sanchez v. City of Fresno, 914 F.Supp.2d 1079, 1114-15 (E.D. Cal. 2012). Defendants' summary judgment motion is granted in this respect.

b. Individual Capacity Claims

(1) Guches and Smith

Hubbard alleges Defendants Guches and Smith are liable under section 1983 for falsely arresting him in violation of his right against unreasonable seizure protected under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. With respect to this claim, Guches and Smith argue they are entitled to qualified immunity for their conduct in arresting Hubbard for the offense of family member assault on March 20, 2011. Guches also asserts qualified immunity is applicable to his conduct in arresting Hubbard on July 29, 2011, for driving with a suspended license.

Qualified immunity renders individual state actors immune from suit "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). "Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments, ' and protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.''" Messerschmidt v. Millender, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1235, 1244-45 (2012) (citations omitted).

Under the qualified immunity analysis the court considers whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, show the defendant's conduct violated a constitutional right. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). If no constitutional right was violated, the court need not proceed further with its inquiry. Id. at 201.

Another independent prong of the immunity analysis requires the court to consider whether the asserted constitutional right was clearly established. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. A right is clearly established if the "contours of the right [are] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Id. 532 U.S. at 202. See also Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa, 718 F.3d 800, 824 (9th Cir. 2013).

"[W]hether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on the objective legal reasonableness' of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established' at the time it was taken." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987) (citation omitted).

Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at 1245. Restated, "existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Acosta, 718 F.3d at 824 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011)). The court has "discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the ...


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