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Watson v. City of Vancouver

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

March 12, 2015

JEFFERY WATSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF VANCOUVER, et al., Defendants. ROBERT O'MEARA, GEOFFRY GILLESPIE, and JAY ALIE, Counterclaimants,
v.
JEFFERY WATSON and CHELSEE OSBACK, Counterdefendants.

ORDER [DKT. #'S 68, 81, 79, AND 82]

RONALD B. LEIGHTON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant City of Vancouver's Motions for Summary Judgment [Dkt. # 68] and for Partial Summary Judgment Re: Punitive Damages [Dkt. # 81], Plaintiff Jeffery Watson's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against Defendant Robert O'Meara [Dkt. # 79], and Counterdefendants Jeffery Watson and Chelsee Osback's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. # 82].

On June 18, 2011, Vancouver Police Department received a 911 call about a domestic disturbance at Watson and Osback's apartment. Officers (and Defendants) Gillespie, O'Meara, and Alie responded to the call and arrested Watson at his apartment.

Watson and Osback sued the City and the three officers, alleging that the officers arrested Watson unlawfully and with excessive force, in violation of their constitutional rights. They asserted a variety of § 1983 claims, Americans with Disabilities Act claims, and state law claims.[1] Officers O'Meara, Gillespie, and Alie brought a malicious prosecution counterclaim against Watson and Osback.

Four motions are pending before this Court. First, the City seeks summary judgment on Watson's remaining claims: his Fourth Amendment claims, his First Amendment claim, his Monell claim, and his Title II ADA claim. [Dkt. #68]. Generally, the Defendants argue that a lack of evidence and lack of clearly established law entitle each individual officer to qualified immunity, and that Watson's claims against the City are insufficient as a matter of law. The City also seeks partial summary judgment on Watson's punitive damages claim, arguing that there is no evidence that the officers had the evil motive or intent required for Watson to claim punitive damages. [Dkt. # 81].

Watson seeks partial summary judgment on his illegal entry and his unreasonable use of force claims against O'Meara. [Dkt. # 79]. Watson argues that O'Meara entered his home without a warrant or consent, and that the emergency exception did not apply. Watson also argues that O'Meara used unreasonable force against him as a matter of law. [Dkt. #79 at 14]. Finally, Watson and Osback seek summary judgment on the officers' malicious prosecution counterclaim, arguing that no reasonable jury could find that they sued with malice, or without probable cause. [Dkt. 82]. The Motions are addressed in turn.

II. BACKGROUND

Shortly before 1:00 a.m. on June 18, 2011, the resident of the apartment next to Watson's, Lisa Davis, called 911 about a domestic disturbance in the Watson's apartment. Davis reported that a male was yelling, a female was screaming, and things were being broken. A Vancouver Police dispatcher sent a message reading: "MALE VS. FEMALE SOUNDS PHYSICAL LOTS OF THINGS BREAKING AC." "AC" stands for "area check."

The parties' accounts differ greatly at this point. The officers claim that O'Meara arrived first, and could hear the disturbance from Watson's apartment. O'Meara says he knocked on the door and Watson opened it, wearing nothing but boxer shorts and appearing agitated and angry, with Osback standing behind him crying and in distress. O'Meara asked Watson to step outside, and Watson replied "fuck you" and tried to slam the door shut. O'Meara then kicked the door open and grabbed Watson's arm to escort him outside. According to O'Meara, Watson became "actively resistive, " leading O'Meara to pull Watson to the ground in an attempt to handcuff him. O'Meara says he gave Watson a "tap" to the back of the head with his flashlight, in an attempt to distract Watson momentarily, so that he could apply the handcuffs.

Officer Gillespie recounts that he saw Watson try to slam the door in O'Meara's face and ran upstairs to assist. By the time Gillespie entered the apartment, the flashlight strike had already occurred and Watson was bleeding from the back of the head. Gillespie helped O'Meara handcuff Watson. Around this time, Osback told the officers that Watson had post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD").

Watson's version is entirely different. He claims he and Osback heard a knock on the door and that he went to answer. As he began to turn the lock he looked back to see if Osback was dressed, and the door burst open. Watson says he "did not have time to blink or breathe" when someone grabbed him by his throat and face, and another person grabbed his body, and together they began smashing his face and body into the furniture. Watson claims O'Meara hit him in the head twice with a flashlight; once on the back of his head, and once on the top.

Sergeant Alie reports that he arrived about the time O'Meara and Gillespie handcuffed Watson. Alie claims that Watson tried to spit on him as he escorted Watson outside. Watson denies spitting or attempting to spit on any of the officers. He does admit that he tried to expel plastic shards, debris, and blood from his mouth and airway. The officers escorted Watson to the parking lot and turned him over to the paramedics.

No charges were initially filed against Watson. Six months after the incident, the prosecuting attorney charged Watson with malicious mischief, obstructing an officer, and attempted third degree assault for trying to spit blood on the officers. The prosecutor eventually decided only to charge Watson with attempted assault against Sergeant Alie. The state court granted Watson's motion for acquittal and denied the City's motion to reopen the case.

Watson and Osback sued the City and its officers, alleging that the officers arrested Watson unlawfully and with excessive force, in violation of their constitutional rights. They asserted a variety of § 1983 claims, ADA claims, and state law claims for assault, false arrest, and loss of consortium. The City's answer included a malicious prosecution counterclaim against Watson and Osback.

Some of Watson claims have already been dismissed, including state law claims for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and respondeat superior. [Dkt. #20; Dkt. #31]. Osback's claims were dismissed in July, 2014. [Dkt. #43].

The City now seeks summary judgment on all of Watson's claims: (1) his Fourth Amendment claim against O'Meara and Gillespie for arresting him without probable cause; (2) his Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against O'Meara and Gillespie; (3) his Fourth Amendment unlawful entry claim against O'Meara, Gillespie, and Alie; (4) his malicious prosecution claim against O'Meara, Gillespie, and Alie; (5) his First Amendment retaliation claims against O'Meara and Gillespie; (6) his Monell no policy and failure to train claims against the City of Vancouver; and (7) his Title II ADA wrongful arrest claim against the City. [Dkt. #68]. The City argues that Watson cannot establish that its officers violated any of his constitutional rights, and even if he could, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. It also argues that Watson's Monell and ADA claims against the City are insufficient as a matter of law because Watson has not shown that the City had a deliberately indifferent policy for handling the mentally ill or was deliberately indifferent in training its officers for Monell liability, nor evidence that Watson's behaviors at the time of his arrest were due to PTSD for ADA liability. The City also seeks summary judgment on Watson's punitive damages claim. [Dkt. # 81].

For his part, Watson seeks partial summary judgment against O'Meara on his unlawful entry and excessive force claims. [Dkt. # 79]. He argues that O'Meara entered his home without a warrant or consent, and that the emergency exception did not apply. Watson also argues that O'Meara's use of a Maglite flashlight on his head constituted unreasonable force as a matter of law, and that the "governmental interests" factors did not support O'Meara's use of force.

Finally, Watson and Osback seek summary judgment on the malicious prosecution counterclaim. They argue that a reasonable jury could not find they brought their claims with malice or without probable cause. [Dkt. 82]. The Motions are addressed in turn.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard.

Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact which would preclude summary judgment as a matter of law. Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to present, by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file, "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is not sufficient." Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995). Factual disputes whose resolution would not affect the outcome of the suit are irrelevant to the consideration of a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In other words, "summary judgment should be granted where the nonmoving party fails to offer evidence from which a reasonable [fact finder] could return a [decision] in its favor." Triton Energy, 68 F.3d at 1220.

B. Qualified Immunity Standard.

Qualified immunity "shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted." Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004). The Supreme Court has endorsed a two-part test to resolve claims of qualified immunity: a court must decide (1) whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged "make out a violation of a constitutional right, " and (2) whether the "right at issue was clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Pearson v. Callahan, 553 U.S. 223, 232 (2009).[2] A government official's conduct violates clearly established law when, "at the time of the challenged conduct, [t]he contours of [a] right [are] sufficiently clear' that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.'" Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034 (1987)). A case directly on point is not required, "but existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Id. (citing Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S.Ct. 1092, (1986)). Qualified immunity protects officers not just from liability, but from suit: "it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial, " and thus, the claim should be resolved "at the earliest possible stage in litigation." Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640 n.2. The purpose of qualified immunity is "to recognize that holding officials liable for reasonable mistakes might unnecessarily paralyze their ability to make difficult decisions in challenging situations, thus disrupting the effective performance of their public duties." Mueller v. Auker, 576 F.3d 979, 993 (9th Cir. 2009). Because "it is inevitable that law enforcement officials will in some cases reasonably but mistakenly conclude that probable cause [to arrest] is present, "qualified immunity protects officials "who act in ways they reasonably believe to be lawful." Garcia v. County of Merced, 639 F.3d 1206, 1208 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson, 483 U.S. at 641) (bracket added).

Even if the officer's decision is constitutionally deficient, qualified immunity shields him from suit if his misapprehension about the law applicable to the circumstances was reasonable. Brosseau, 543 U.S. at 198 (2004). Qualified immunity "gives ample room for mistaken judgments" and protects "all but the plainly incompetent." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 229, 112 S.Ct. 534 (1991).

C. Factual issues preclude summary judgment on Watson's excessive force claim, but summary judgment is granted on Watson's remaining claims.

The City and its individual officers argue that Watson's version of the facts cannot be reconciled with the medical records and evidence. They argue that even if the officers' conduct was not constitutional, they are entitled to qualified immunity. They also argue that Watson's claims against the City fail as a matter of law: his Monell claim is fatally flawed because the City does have policies on how its officers are to handle the mentally ill, and it trains them in doing so. It claims it has policies and training on the use of force, and argues that Watson cannot demonstrate that it was deliberately ...


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