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Mugica v. Spokane County

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 19, 2014

ERICA L. MUGICA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SPOKANE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER RE: MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JUSTIN L. QUACKENBUSH, Senior District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 50). Response and Reply briefs have been filed. (ECF No. 62 & 67). The court heard oral argument on August 12, 2014. Richard Wall appeared for Plaintiffs. Heather Yakely argued the Motion on behalf of Defendants.

I. Procedural History

This action was commenced by the filing of a Complaint on March 28, 2013. Pursuant to Plaintiffs' Motion, the court appointed Phillip Wetzel as guardian ad litem for the minor Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 10). An Amended Complaint was filed on July 3, 2013. (ECF No. 16). Plaintiffs bring claims of excessive force, unlawful detention, violation of Due Process, and failure to train pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs also assert state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and damage to real property. Defendants filed an Answer denying these allegations and counterclaimed pursuant to RCW § 4.24.350 asserting that Plaintiffs' claims are frivolous and that pursuing the action constitutes malicious prosecution. Plaintiffs did not file a response to the counterclaim.

The court held a Scheduling Conference and issued a Scheduling Order on May 24, 2013. The parties filed several motions pertaining to expert discovery and mental health records. The court issued rulings on those motions, and discovery is now closed. The parties also filed a Motion to Continue trial date, which was granted in part. The matter is set for jury trial on September 9, 2014.

II. Factual Background

In summary judgment proceedings, the facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movant. Plaintiff disputes only three of the factual statements by Defendants. (ECF No. 63, p. 9). The following facts are largely undisputed. If there is a dispute, it is noted.

Plaintiff Erica Mugica, and her four minor children, ages three to nine, were at home asleep on February 14, 2012, at approximately 6:20 a.m. Mugica was in a personal relationship with Victor Luna, and he is the father of three of the children. Luna lived with Mugica part of the time and was present in the Mugica residence the morning of February 14, 2012.

Defendants arrived that morning to execute a search warrant on the Mugica residence. They knew Luna was a convicted felon, and believed that he had gang ties. Luna was also a suspect in a December 2011 burglary in which several firearms were stolen. Defendants also had information that Mugica had a prior fourth degree assault conviction. After performing a Risk Assessment, Defendants determined that a SWAT team should be utilized in executing the search warrant. After allegedly performing a "knock and announce, " the SWAT team breached two doors to the home at the same time, using a "ram strike". (ECF No. 51, ¶ 11-13). At approximately the same time, Deputy Moyer broke out a basement window to the bedroom in which Luna and Mugica were sleeping, and deployed a Noise-Flash Distraction Device ("NFDD"). ( Id. at ¶ 13).

Mr. Luna was asked by two SWAT members to come to the top of the stairs. He complied and was detained and handcuffed without incident. ( Id. at ¶19). Ms. Mugica and three of the minor children were also asked to come upstairs. They were in the basement for approximately 3 minutes. In directing the young children, "SWAT members were particularly reserved in their demeanor and did not yell or raise their voices." ( Id. at ¶¶ 20-23). The SWAT team completed their sweep of the scene in seven minutes, and left the scene at approximately 6:35 a.m. ( Id. at ¶ 26-27).

After SWAT cleared the scene, Detective Hixson informed Mugica that she and the children were free to leave the home while the search of the residence took place. Ms. Mugica declined to leave. ( Id. at ¶29-30). Ms. Mugica and the children were asked to stay in the living room and monitored by Detective Blashill while the search was conducted. None of the Detectives or Investigators acted aggressively, spoke loudly, or intimidated Ms. Mugica. ( Id. at ¶33). It is undisputed that neither Ms. Mugica or any of her four children suffered any physical injury during the execution of the warrant.

Plaintiffs dispute only three of Defendant's 35 Statements of Fact. (ECF No. 63, p. 9). Plaintiffs dispute that the SWAT team risk assessment "required" the use of the SWAT team. Plaintiffs dispute Defendant's Statement of Fact #25 that the use of the SWAT team was a "minimal intrusion", and dispute a portion of Defendant's Fact #35 that Ms. Mugica was "part of the investigation" into Mr. Luna's alleged criminal activities. Plaintiffs also provide their own statement of 40 facts in opposition to summary judgment. (ECF No. 63).

Plaintiffs claim the Defendants used excessive and unreasonable force when the SWAT team entered the Mugica residence. Plaintiffs contend that the SWAT team Risk Assessment did not take into account that small children would be present. (P's Facts ¶ 10). Plaintiffs also set forth facts alleging that Mr. Luna went to the grocery store in the early morning hours before the SWAT raid. (P's Facts ¶ 20-22). Mr. Luna states that he saw something that "looked like a tin can" come through the bedroom window, and there was an "explosion inside the room". (P's Fact 25). Defendants' contend the noise flash distraction device was deployed outside the bedroom window. (Deft's Fact 13). Mr. Luna states that an assault rifle was pointed at him, and that he saw "red dots of light" on Ms. Mugica and one of the children. (P's Fact 27 & 28). Ms. Mugica also states that she saw "red dots from laser sights on herself and her children." (P's Fact 37). Defendants' Statement of Facts does not directly deny that weapons were pointed at Ms. Mugica and her children, although individual Defendants have filed affidavits disputing that allegation. Defendants' Statement of Facts claims that SWAT is trained to keep their weapons in the "low ready" position (pointed at the ground), trained to never point at a person unless the intent is to fire, and that only two of the officers on the SWAT team had laser pointers. (Deft's Facts 15-18). There was no arrest warrant for Mr. Luna.

III. Discussion

A. Defendants' Argument for ...


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