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Perryman v. City of Seattle Police

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

May 25, 2017

WAYNE PERRYMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF SEATTLE POLICE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MUNICIPAL DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on “Defendants City of Seattle, Seattle Police Department's Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1).” Dkt. # 9.[1] In the context of a motion to dismiss, the Court's review is generally limited to the contents of the complaint. Campanelli v. Bockrath, 100 F.3d 1476, 1479 (9th Cir. 1996). Nevertheless, Ninth Circuit authority allows the Court to consider documents attached to or referenced extensively in the complaint, documents that form the basis of plaintiffs' claim, and matters of judicial notice when determining whether the allegations state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). U.S. v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908-09 (9th Cir. 2003). Because the documents attached to the complaint and the surveillance videos provided by the City fall within one or more of these categories, the allegations of the complaint and these records have been considered in ruling on the City's motion. The City has not, however, shown that the General Offense Report regarding the incident or the Declaration of Kathleen O'Toole are integral parts of plaintiff's complaint or are matters which can be judicially noticed for the truth of the matters stated therein. The Court declines to convert the City's motion into a motion for summary judgment and has therefore not considered the report or declaration.

         The question for the Court on a motion to dismiss is whether the facts alleged in the complaint sufficiently state a “plausible” ground for relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). All well-pleaded allegations are presumed to be true, with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of the non-moving party. In re Fitness Holdings Int'l, Inc., 714 F.3d 1141, 1144-45 (9th Cir. 2013). If the complaint fails to state a cognizable legal theory or fails to provide sufficient facts to support a claim, dismissal is appropriate. Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Having reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits as set forth above, [2] the Court finds as follows:

         BACKGROUND

         What follows is a recitation of plaintiffs' allegations modified as necessary to be consistent with the surveillance videos. Both the allegations and the videos are construed in favor of plaintiffs.

         Plaintiffs' claims arise out of an incident occurring on April 4, 2015, outside the Rhino Room bar in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Plaintiff Sean Perryman (hereinafter, “Perryman”[3]) was out with two friends and was denied reentry into the Rhino Room by a security guard. Perryman's friend, Matthew Taylor, “became uncontrollably angry, ” and Perryman attempted to defuse the situation. Dkt. # 3-1 at 4. Taylor would not be dissuaded, however. Even after Perryman physically removed him from the scene, Taylor returned and began taking photos of the security guards with his phone. A security guard came up behind Taylor and either grabbed his phone or shoved him. Perryman intervened, putting his shoulder into the security guard's midriff and knocking him away from Taylor. The guard stumbled backwards and Perryman ended up on the ground. As Perryman was getting up, a bystander, Justin Ismael, shoved him. Perryman rushed Ismael, driving him into a metal railing: the two of them locked and ended up in the street. At this point, Perryman is attacked by a number of people who push him further out into the street. Plaintiffs allege that Perryman was thrown to the ground, put into a choke hold, tased, and handcuffed. His lips were split open, and he chipped a tooth. Ismael can be seen falling back onto the curb. When he attempts to get up, his leg will not hold him.

         Taylor, meanwhile, called 911 and reported that he had just been assaulted, that security guards were on top of his friend, that Perryman's face was pinned to the ground, and that he was spitting out blood. A patrol car pulled up shortly thereafter. The officer who emerges from the passenger side door is met by an unidentified man and sees Ismael sitting on the ground with a disfigured knee and Perryman lying handcuffed on the sidewalk. The officer and his partner speak with Taylor, who reported that he was attacked by one of the security guards. An officer spoke with Ismael, who identified Perryman as the person who injured his leg. Ismael told the officer that he had gotten involved because Perryman had thrown Taylor to the ground. Other witnesses at the scene are questioned and reported that Perryman was the one who attacked Ismael. Plaintiffs allege that Taylor told the responding officers that he wanted to press charges against the security guard who attacked him and asked them to “watch the video.” Dkt. # 3-1 at 7. The officers did not review the surveillance tapes or the videos taken by numerous bystanders before arresting Perryman and charging him with assault. The charge was dropped when additional evidence, presumably the surveillance videos, threw doubt on Ismael's version of events.

         Plaintiff Sean Perryman and his father, the Reverend Wayne Perryman, filed this lawsuit pro se on January 24, 2017. It is not entirely clear what causes of action are being asserted against the City, but the gravamen of the complaint seems to be that Perryman's arrest was a reflection of racist police policies and practices which presume African Americans are guilty and that other races are not. Plaintiffs do not deny that Perryman fought with Ismael or that Ismael was injured. Rather, they allege that, had the police not been so quick to assume that the only African American at the scene must be the guilty one, they would have done a more thorough investigation and discovered that Ismael lied when he said that Perryman had attacked Taylor and that Ismael was the aggressor in the conflict. The Court will assume, for purposes of this motion, that plaintiffs are asserting that Perryman was falsely arrested and/or that his equal protection rights were violated.[4]

         A. False Arrest and/or Unreasonable Seizure

         Under Washington law, “[a] false arrest occurs when a person with actual or pretended legal authority to arrest unlawfully restrains or imprisons another person.” Youker v. Douglas County, 162 Wn.App. 448, 465 (2011). Under federal law, the Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable seizure. Seizures are neither unlawful nor unreasonable if the arresting officer has probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a crime. Manuel v. City of Joliet, Ill., __ U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 911, 917 (2017). Probable cause that will defeat a claim for false arrest or unreasonable seizure must be based on reasonably trustworthy information. Bishop v. City of Spokane, 142 Wn.App. 165, 170 (2007); Allen v. City of Portland, 73 F.3d 232, 237 (9th Cir. 1995). An officer may not rely solely on the claim of a witness that he or she was the victim of a crime “but must independently investigate the basis of the witness' knowledge or interview other witnesses.” Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley Transp. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 925 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Plaintiff Sean Perryman was arrested for assaulting Ismael. The allegations of the complaint and the two surveillance videos reveal that the arresting officers did not simply rely on Ismael's account of what happened. They contacted a number of witnesses at the scene, all of whom stated that Perryman had injured Ismael. Even if all of the witnesses “deliberately and intentionally fabricated their story to have Sean arrested” (Dkt. # 3-1 at 6), there is no indication that the officers had any reason to doubt the version of events they heard from a number of individuals. Plaintiffs do not allege that Perryman or Taylor told the officers that Perryman was acting in self-defense or was otherwise not responsible - factually or legally - for Ismael's injury. In fact, for purposes of this motion, there is no indication that Perryman told the officers anything. Taylor, for his part, was allegedly focused on the security guard's attack on himself, indicating that he wished to bring charges against the guard. Whatever happened between Taylor and the security guard has no bearing, however, on whether the officers had probable cause to believe that Perryman had assaulted Ismael.[5]

         Plaintiffs' false arrest and unreasonable seizure claims are based on the assertion that the officers ignored exculpatory evidence, namely the surveillance videos, when investigating the melee in front of the Rhino Room. But the officers spoke with a number of witnesses at the scene and were told the same thing: Perryman was the aggressor and had injured Ismael. Given what they knew, the investigation was reasonable. Plaintiffs have not plead any facts from which one could plausibly conclude that the officers should have realized at the time that further inquiry was necessary before determining that there was probable cause to arrest Perryman for assault.

         Because plaintiffs have not properly alleged a false arrest or unreasonable seizure claim against an individual officer, the City can have no liability as ...


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