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Reynolds v. Lewis County Washington

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

April 7, 2015

RONALD ALLEN REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
LEWIS COUNTY WASHINGTON, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STRIKE, GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BENJAMIN H. SETTLE, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkts. 28, 43). The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motions and the remainder of the file and hereby rules as follows:

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On December 6, 2013, Plaintiff Ronald Reynolds ("Reynolds") filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit against Defendants Lewis County, Lewis County Coroner, Warren McLeod, and Jane Doe McLeod (collectively "Defendants") in Lewis County Superior Court. Dkt. 2, Declaration of John Justice, Ex. 2 ("Comp."). On December 13, 2013, Defendants removed the case to this Court. Dkt. 1.

On January 15, 2015, Defendants moved for summary judgment. Dkt. 28. On February 13, 2015, Reynolds filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 43. On March 9, 2015, Defendants responded to Reynolds's cross-motion and moved to strike various exhibits.[1] Dkt. 50. On March 12, 2015, Reynolds replied. Dkt. 51.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On December 16, 1998, Reynolds's wife, Ronda Reynolds, was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head in the family home. Dkt. 50-1, Second Declaration of John Justice ("Second Justice Dec."), Ex. 2 at 8. Reynolds was home at the time. Dkt. 29, Declaration of John Justice ("Justice Dec."), Ex. 1 ("Reynolds Dep.") 50:18-52:1.

On August 9, 1999, Lewis County Coroner, Terry Wilson ("Coroner Wilson"), listed Ronda Reynolds's manner of death as suicide on her death certificate. Second Justice Dec., Ex. 2 at 8. On May 30, 2002, a law enforcement investigation confirmed that Ronda Reynolds died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Id.

In 2006, Ronda Reynolds's mother petitioned for judicial review of Coroner Wilson's determination. Id. In 2009, a jury found that Coroner Wilson inaccurately determined that Ronda Reynolds's death was a suicide. Id. at 8-9. In 2010, the trial court subsequently ordered that the manner of Ronda Reynolds's death be removed from her death certificate. Dkt. 30, Declaration of Warren McLeod ("McLeod Dec.") ¶ 7. The trial court also ordered that her manner of death be redetermined. Id.

Coroner Wilson appealed the verdict. Second Justice Dec., Ex. 2 at 9. While the appeal was pending, Lewis County voters elected a new coroner, Warren McLeod ("Coroner McLeod"). Reynolds Dep. 82:12-20; McLeod Dec. ¶ 7. Coroner McLeod took office on January 1, 2011. McLeod Dec. ¶ 7.

After taking office, Coroner McLeod was informed of the trial court's order regarding Ronda Reynolds's manner of death. Id. On January 3, 2011, Coroner McLeod issued an amended death certificate for Ronda Reynolds. Id. The amended certificate changed her manner of death from suicide to undetermined. Id.

Coroner McLeod decided to convene an inquest jury pursuant to RCW 36.24.020 to redetermine Ronda Reynolds's manner of death. Id. Coroner McLeod notified Reynolds that an inquest would take place. Reynolds Dep. 82:19-83:1. The appellate court subsequently dismissed the appeal as moot. McLeod Dec. ¶ 9.

On October 10, 2011, Coroner McLeod began the inquest. McLeod Dec. ¶ 10. An inquest jury of five people, with two alternates, was selected. Id. Many of the jurors were familiar with the case, and two had read a book about Ronda Reynolds's death. Id. All jurors swore under oath to be fair and impartial and to reach a verdict solely based on evidence presented at the inquest. Id.

During the inquest, the jury heard testimony from fact and expert witnesses. Id. ¶ 11. The jury also received all photographs, reports, and other written evidence gathered by law enforcement during its investigation. Id. Reynolds was subpoenaed to testify in front of the inquest jury. Reynolds Dep. 84:8-10, 84:22-24. He moved to quash the subpoena, which Coroner McLeod granted. Reynolds Dep. 84:25-85:3, 86:24-87:5. Reynolds did not testify in front of the inquest jury. Reynolds Dep. 86:24-87:5.

At the end of the evidence presentation, Coroner McLeod instructed the jury on the deliberation process. McLeod Dec., Ex. 3 at 12-13. Coroner McLeod told the jury that they should apply a preponderance of the evidence standard. Id. at 13.

The jury was asked to determine the manner of Ronda Reynolds's death. McLeod Dec., Ex. 4. The inquest jury unanimously found that her manner of death was homicide. Id. at 6. The jury was then instructed to determine whether they could identify "the person or persons responsible" for Ronda Reynolds's death. McLeod Dec., Ex. 5. The jury unanimously identified Reynolds and his son, Jonathan Reynolds, as the persons responsible for Ronda Reynolds's death. Id. at 2.

On October 19, 2011, Coroner McLeod issued arrest warrants for Reynolds and his son pursuant to RCW 36.24.100. McLeod Dec. ¶ 14, Ex. 6. RCW 36.24.100 provides: "If the [inquest] jury finds that the person was killed and the party committing the homicide is ascertained by the inquisition, but is not in custody, the coroner shall issue a warrant for the arrest of the person charged, returnable forthwith to the nearest magistrate."

On October 20, 2011, the Lewis County Sheriff's Office notified Coroner McLeod that someone had possibly seen an inquest juror in the courthouse with the book about Ronda Reynolds's death. McLeod Dec. ¶ 15. Based on this information, Coroner McLeod quashed Reynolds's arrest warrant until an investigation could be conducted. Id. The investigation revealed that the person with the book could not have been an inquest juror. Id.

On October 25, 2011, Coroner McLeod reissued Reynolds's arrest warrant. McLeod Dec., Ex. 7. Two days later, Coroner McLeod learned that the Lewis County Prosecutor would not file any criminal charges against Reynolds and his son. McLeod Dec. ¶ 16. Coroner McLeod quashed Reynolds's arrest warrant again to consider whether the warrants should be issued in light of the Lewis County Prosecutor's decision. Id.

Coroner McLeod reviewed RCW 36.24.100 again and determined that its language regarding the issuance of arrest warrants was mandatory. Id. ¶ 17. On October 28, 2011, Coroner McLeod reissued the final arrest warrants for Reynolds and his son. McLeod Dec., Ex. 9.

The Lewis County Sheriff notified Reynolds of the arrest warrant and asked him to voluntarily come to the Sheriff's Office. Reynolds Dep. 97:18-98:9. Reynolds met with the Sheriff and was driven to the jail for booking. Reynolds Dep. 101:6-102:8. Reynolds appeared before a judge. Reynolds Dep. 105:9-17. The Lewis County Prosecutor informed the judge that no charges would be filed. Reynolds Dep. 105:18-21. The judge subsequently told Reynolds that he was free to go. Reynolds Dep. 107:1-6.

On August 15, 2012, Reynolds resigned from his job with the Toledo School District. Second Justice Dec., Ex. 3 at 21:21-22:24.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendants move for summary judgment on several grounds. First, Defendants argue that Coroner McLeod is entitled to qualified immunity. Dkt. 28 at 12. Additionally, Defendants argue that Lewis County is not liable because no constitutional violation occurred. Id. at 6. Finally, Defendants argue that ...


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