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Oram v. City of Dillon

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

December 20, 2016

GARY ORAM, JR., Plaintiff,


          Brian Morris United States District Court Judge

         Defendants The City of Dillon, Ceth Haggard, and Jeremy Alvarez move the Court for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. United States Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch issued Findings and Recommendations in this matter. (Doc. 130.) Judge Lynch recommended that the Court grant the motions and dismiss the action. No party has filed objections. The Court has reviewed Judge Lynch's Findings and Recommendations for clear error. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981). The Court finds no error.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from an incident that occurred in the early morning hours on January 30, 2014, in Dillon, Montana. Pro se Plaintiff, Gary Oram, Jr., was intoxicated and was attempting to open a door on a parked police car. A bystander, Jacob Johnson, approached Oram to deter him from accessing the car, and the two got into a physical altercation. Defendants Jeremy Alvarez and Ceth Haggard, Dillon Police Officers, arrived at the scene later and arrested Oram for assaulting Johnson.

         Oram asserts that he sustained injuries during his arrest. Although Oram indicates he was not personally aware of exactly what happened, he believes that at some point the officers physically beat him by either hitting or kicking him. He later underwent several surgeries to address a hematoma affecting his right ear.

         Oram advances four legal claims for relief. First, he alleges that Defendants are liable for “conspiracy.” Specifically, he contends law enforcement officers were obligated to arrest Johnson for his assault on Oram. (Doc. 35 at 24.) The officers instead exercised the “power of conspiratorial coercion” and wrongfully arrested Oram. Id.

         Second, Oram alleges that Haggard and Alvarez employed excessive force to arrest him in violation of his rights protected under the Fourth Amendment. Third, Oram alleges that Haggard and Alvarez unlawfully arrested him without probable cause in violation of both the Fourth Amendment and his due process rights protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.

         Finally, Oram alleges that Defendants violated his equal protection rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. He asserts that Haggard and Alvarez discriminated against him and treated him differently than Johnson because they arrested Oram, and not Johnson.


         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). Once the moving party has satisfied his burden, he is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to 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).

         The Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party in deciding a motion for summary judgment, and draws all justifiable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Betz v. Trainer Wortham & Co., Inc., 504 F.3d 1017, 1021 (9th Cir. 2007). Additionally, because Oram is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his documents liberally and give them “the benefit of any doubt” with respect to Defendant's summary judgment motion. Frost v. Symington, 197 F.3d 348, 352 (9th Cir. 1999). See also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         Oram advances his claims alleging that Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 permits claims under federal law against a local governmental entity, or a local official or employee. “To make out a cause of action under section 1983, plaintiffs must plead that (1) the defendants acting under color of state law (2) deprived plaintiffs of rights secured by the Constitution or federal statutes.” Williams v. California, 764 F.3d 1002, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (quotation and citation omitted).

         Judge Lynch determined that Haggard and Alvarez had probable cause to arrest Oram for assault. (Doc. 130 at 6-12.) Judge Lynch noted that the information that Haggard and Alvarez possessed at the time of Oram's arrest, as set forth in their investigative reports, remains largely undisputed. No reasonable jury could conclude that no probable cause existed to arrest Oram for assault. See Yousefian v. City of Glendale, 779 F.3d 1010, 1014-15 (9th Cir. 2015) (concluding summary judgment based on finding of probable cause is properly granted where the evidence demonstrates no reasonable jury would conclude probable cause was lacking).

         Judge Lynch further determined that Oram has failed to present any evidentiary material that raises a genuine issue for trial as to whether Haggard and Alvarez used excessive force against him by hitting or kicking him. (Doc. 130 at 12-15.) Haggard and Alvarez each affirmatively state, through their sworn testimony in an affidavit, that neither one of them “punched, kicked, ...

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