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Estate of Peterson v. City of Missoula

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

November 7, 2017

ESTATE OF COLTON PETERSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF MISSOULA, et al., Defendants.


          Donald W. Molloy, District Judge United States District Court

         Colton Peterson ("Colton") committed suicide on July 27, 2010. Plaintiffs (Colton's estate, his mother, and his step-father) brought this action against several Missoula City and County defendants seeking damages for Colton's death under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state theories. At this point, the only surviving claim is that brought by Colton's mother, Juliena, against the City of Missoula ("the City") for emotional distress. All other claims have been dismissed. (See Doc. 199.) Three motions are currently pending: (1) the City seeks reconsideration of its summary judgment motion as to Juliena's claim for emotional distress, (Doc. 221); (2) Plaintiffs seek to stay the case pending the Montana Supreme Court's answer to the certified question posed in Bassett v. Lamantia, No. 17-0322 (Mont. May 30, 2017), (Doc. 224); and (3) Detective Krueger seeks to be dismissed as a named defendant, (Doc. 231). The Court heard argument on all three motions on November 7, 2017. The City's and Plaintiffs' motions are denied. Detective Krueger's motion is granted.


         As the parties are familiar with the factual background, it is not restated here.[1] However, consideration of the present motions requires an appreciation of the procedural background of the case; that history is outlined below.

         In July 2012, Plaintiff sued the City of Missoula, the County of Missoula, the Police Department, the Sheriffs Department, Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin, Missoula City Police Chief Mark Muir, and Detectives Krueger and Gunter in their capacity as officers of their respective departments. (Doc. 1.) That original complaint raised claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Montana Constitution, and state law negligence and emotional distress theories. United States Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch held the initial preliminary pretrial conference in November 2012, (Min. Entry, Doc. 32), and set trial before Chief District Judge Dana Christensen in February 2014, (Doc. 33). In December 2012, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, providing more detail as to the existing claims and adding causes of action for survival and wrongful death. (Doc. 35.)

         In September 2013, the City moved unopposed to continue the trial date, (Doc. 64), and the trial was reset for April 28, 2014, (Doc. 65). That same month, Plaintiffs sought leave to amend their complaint, (Doc. 68), on the basis that a Montana Supreme Court decision[2] changed the law regarding wrongful death claims, (Doc. 69). Judge Lynch denied the motion. (Doc. 83.)

         In October 2013, the defendants filed various motions for summary judgment, (Docs. 84, 86, 87, 90), and motions in limine, (Docs. 96, 111, 135, 140, 141). Plaintiffs also filed motions in limine, (Docs. 133, 137), and sought to strike a number of the defendants' summary judgment filings, (Doc. 130). In December 2013, Judge Lynch recused himself from the case, (Doc. 145), and the case was reassigned to United States Magistrate Judge Keith Strong, (Doc. 147).

         In January 2014, Judge Strong held a motions hearing on all of the outstanding motions. (Minute Entry, Doc. 178: Transcript, Docs. 180, 188). On March 25, 2014, he issued findings, recommending that the defendants' motions for summary judgment, (Docs. 84, 86, 87), be granted. (Doc. 189.) As to the federal claims, he concluded that the individual officers were not deliberately indifferent and each was entitled to qualified immunity; he therefore also found no Monell liability. (Id. at 5-7.) As to the state law claims, Judge Strong concluded that the facts fell short of the threshold requirement of emotional distress and that the public duty doctrine barred Plaintiffs' negligence and state constitutional claims. (Id. at 8-10.) Upon Plaintiffs' request, the April 2014 trial was vacated to allow time for objections. (Doc. 192.)

         In August 2014, Judge Christensen issued a 52-page order adopting in part and rejecting in part Judge Strong's Findings and Recommendation. (Doc. 199.) Judge Christensen sustained a number of Plaintiffs' factual objections and determined that Plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Detective Krueger acted with deliberate indifference to Colton's risk of suicide, establishing that Detective Krueger's actions violated Colton's Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process. (Id. at 30-31.) Judge Christensen also determined that Detective Krueger was not entitled to qualified immunity, (id. at 33), and that Juliena, Colton's mother, could maintain her emotional distress claim against the City (but not the County). (Id. at 40.) Judge Christensen agreed with Judge Strong, however, that the public duty doctrine barred Plaintiffs' remaining state common law and constitutional claims. And, Judge Christensen found no supervisory liability for either Sheriff McMeekin or Police Chief Muir. (Doc. 199 at 45-49.) Following Judge Christensen's ruling, only two claims against two defendants survived: (1) the § 1983 claim against Detective Krueger and (2) Juliena's emotional distress claim against the City. (See Doc. 46 (order dismissing Police Department); Doc. 159 (stipulated dismissal of Detective Jon Gunter); Doc. 178 (terminating Sheriffs Department).)

         Detective Krueger filed an interlocutory appeal of Judge Christensen's qualified immunity determination. (Doc. 200.) The Ninth Circuit held that Detective Krueger is entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established at the time of the violation. (Doc. 214.) Following remand, the case was reassigned to the undersigned, (Doc. 234), and the current motions were filed. Those motions are now addressed in turn.


         I. Detective Krueger's Motion to Dismiss

         Detective Krueger seeks to be dismissed as a named defendant from the case in light of the Ninth Circuit's qualified immunity determination. (Doc. 231.) Although Plaintiffs indicated that they opposed the motion, (see Id. at 2), they did not file any responsive briefing, see L.R. 7.1(d)(1)((b)(ii) ("[F]ailure to file a response brief may be deemed an admission that the motion is well-taken."). And, at oral argument, Plaintiffs stated that they did not oppose the motion, but merely did not know if relief was warranted.

         Krueger's motion is granted. Judge Christensen initially granted summary judgment relief to Krueger as to all claims but Plaintiffs' federal civil rights claim. That matter was appealed and the Ninth Circuit determined Krueger was entitled to qualified immunity. (See Doc. 214.) Given the Ninth Circuit decision, there are no remaining claims against Krueger and no possibility of recovery by Plaintiffs. In the absence of any just reason ...

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