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Howell v. Earl

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

February 5, 2014

MARION I. HOWELL, and FRANCIS L. HOWELL, Plaintiffs,
v.
TRAVIS EARL, individually and as agent of Gallatin County Sheriff's Department, State of Montana, KELLI MUNTER, individually and as agent of Gallatin County Sheriff's Department, State of Montana, SCOTT SECOR, individually and as agent of Gallatin County Sheriff's Department, State of Montana, JAMES ANDERSON, individually and as agent of Gallatin County Sheriff's Department, State of Montana, DAVID JOHNSTON, individually and as agent of Gallatin County Sheriff's Department, State of Montana, JAMES CASHELL, individually and as agent of Gallatin County Sheriff's Department, State of Montana, GALLATIN COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Montana, MICHAEL WALRATH, individually and as agent of Montana Highway Patrol, State of Montana, JAMES SULAGES, individually and as agent of the Montana Highway Patrol, State of Montana, JUSTIN BRAUN, individually and as agent of Montana Highway Patrol, MIKE TOOLEY, individually and as agent of Montana Highway Patrol, State of Montana, STATE OF MONTANA, and JOHN DOES I-X, Defendants.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

JEREMIAH C. LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion of Defendants Mike Tooley, Michael Walrath, James Sulages, and Justin Braun requesting dismissal of the claims under Montana law advanced against them individually by Plaintiffs Marion and Francis Howell. Defendant Tooley also seeks dismissal of the Howells' claims advanced against him under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons discussed, the Court recommends the motion be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The following description of this case is taken from Plaintiffs Marion and Francis Howell's allegations in their First Amended Complaint, and the description does not constitute conclusive findings of fact. The Howells allege as follows:

On June 26, 2011, the Howells' son, Shapleigh Howell, was allegedly involved in a single motor vehicle accident which occurred on a road in the area between Belgrade and Manhattan, Montana. The vehicle involved in the accident left the roadway and collided with a trailer that was located in the road right of way.

Several law enforcement officers from the Gallatin County Sheriff's Department and the Montana Highway Patrol ("MHP") - many of the individuals named as Defendants in this action - responded to a 911 call regarding the accident. The responding officers all converged at the scene of the accident to investigate, and this lawsuit arises from the officers' conduct during that investigation.

The Howells' house was approximately a quarter of a mile from the location of the accident. The law enforcement officers' investigation apparently led them to the Howells' house where they found Francis Howell outside the house standing near his vehicle, and Marion Howell was inside the house. The officers proceeded to question the Howells about the accident.

The law enforcement officers questioned Francis Howell first. For reasons unknown, the officers handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. A short time later the officers decided not to arrest Francis and removed the handcuffs. But for reasons unknown, the officers changed their minds again, handcuffing Francis a second time, and placing him in one of the law enforcement patrol cars.

Once again, however, the officers decided not to arrest Francis, removed him from the patrol car and released him from the handcuffs.

Francis asserts the officers never explained to him why he was arrested either time. And Francis was never charged with any criminal offense. He claims he sustained injury to his right shoulder and both wrists as a result of the encounter.

Sheriff deputy Scott Secor and MHP officer James Sulages then entered the Howells' home and questioned Marion. Sulages informed Marion he was recording their conversation. Marion asserts she was scared, that she felt compelled to comply with the officers, and she felt she could not remove herself from the officers' allegedly intimidating interrogation. Marion alleges she was, in effect, in the custody of the officers, but that the officers did not advise Marion of her rights. Marion asked several times to consult with an attorney, but the officers ignored her requests.

While questioning Marion, Sulages and MHP officer Justin Braun directed her to accompany them to the accident scene in a patrol car. Marion again felt compelled to comply with the officers' demands.

Following the events on June 26, 2011, MHP officer Michael Walrath charged Marion with the criminal offense of obstructing justice. Ultimately, however, the charge was dismissed.

The Howells' First Amended Complaint includes claims against Defendant Mike Tooley, the Chief of the MHP. Although the parties agree Tooley did not personally interact directly with the Howells (doc. 22 at 5), they nonetheless assert he is personally liable for his alleged inactions. They allege he failed to implement and enforce necessary written policies, and failed to train his subordinate officers relative to specific procedures and situations that MHP officers Walrath, Sulages and Braun faced during the course of their encounter with the Howells. The Howells also allege Tooley failed to properly supervise and control those patrol troopers. They assert Tooley's failures caused Walrath, Sulages and Braun to violate the Howells' various rights, and that Tooley knew, or should have known, that his conduct and inaction would lead to the violation of the Howells' rights. Further, the Howells allege Tooley is liable for his "acquiescence in the constitutional violations by" his subordinates. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 124.)

The Howells commenced this action seeking compensation for the injuries they allegedly sustained as a result of Defendants' conduct during their investigation of the June 26, 2011 motor vehicle accident. They advance claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for their alleged use of excessive force, for their unlawful arrests, searches and prosecution, and for their violations of the Howells' rights to due process.

Additionally, the Howells advance claims under Montana law against all the Defendants. They assert Defendants are liable for false arrest, malicious prosecution, negligence, gross negligence, negligence per se, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, acting in concert, defamation, ...


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