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Lankford v. City of Pullman

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

March 1, 2018

TYLER JAMES THOMAS LANKFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PULLMAN; COUNTY OF WHITMAN; STATE OF WASHINGTON; OFFICER JOSHUA BRAY; OFFICER BRIAN CHAMBERLAIN; DETECTIVE TODD DOW; OFFICER ALEX GORDON; SERGEANT SAM SOREM; OFFICER GREG UMBRIGHT; OFFICER JUSTIN DEROSIER; OFFICER MIKE PETLOVANY; and DOES I-X, Defendants.

          ORDER RULING ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS

          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         On July 26, 2015, Officers contacted Plaintiff Tyler Lankford at his hotel room in the Quality Inn to take him into protective custody and deliver him to a mental health crisis stabilization center. After speaking to negotiators for approximately an hour, Lankford surrendered himself in the hotel hallway and was immediately placed in handcuffs and removed from the scene. SWAT officers then conducted a brief, visual search of Lankford's hotel room.

         Lankford asserts that the “sweep” of his hotel room violated state law and his Fourth Amendment rights. He alleges Fourth Amendment claims against SWAT Officers Mike Petlovany and Justin DeRosier under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as state law claims for trespassing, conversion, and false arrest and imprisonment. Lankford also asserts these claims against Washington State and Whitman County under a theory of respondeat superior liability.

         Defendants Petlovany and Washington State move for summary judgment on Lankford's § 1983 and state law claims, ECF No. 53. Defendants DeRosier and Whitman County move for summary judgment on the same issues. ECF No. 49. Lankford filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to Defendant DeRosier's and Whitman County's liability on the § 1983 claims, ECF No. 53, and filed a substantially identical motion as to Defendant Petlovany and Washington State, ECF No. 126. Because all four motions involve the same basic issues, this Order addresses the motions together.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Officer Petlovany is a police officer at Washington State University. He has also been a member of the joint Whitman County Regional SWAT team since 2011. Deputy DeRosier is a deputy with the Whitman County Sherriff's Office and a member of the SWAT team. Both Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier responded to the SWAT call-out to the Quality Inn on July 26, 2015.

         When Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier arrived on the scene, they were advised that the call was for felony harassment and a welfare check. The computer aided dispatch (CAD) record available to officers indicated that Lankford was heavily armed, had mental disorders, had been making graphic threats, and was paranoid.

         Before contacting Lankford, the SWAT team cleared all patrons and hotel employees from the rooms and area around Lankford's room and set up a safety perimeter. Negotiators then spoke with Lankford to convince him to come out of the hotel room. Negotiators asked Lankford whether he had explosives or weapons. He responded that he had no explosives, but would not comment on whether he had weapons. After some time, negotiators convinced Mr. Lankford to come out into the hall.

         When Lankford entered the hallway, he was placed in handcuffs and removed from the scene. Incident to Lankford being placed into custody, the SWAT team was directed to conduct a protective sweep of Lankford's hotel room. Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier assumed their positions in a safety formation including several other SWAT officers and advanced towards the hotel room door. When Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier reached the hotel room door, it was already open. Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier entered the room and looked for any persons in the room and any weapons or other safety hazards. Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier did not touch anything in the room and were in the room for a matter of seconds. Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier did not know if the search was with or without Lankford's consent.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Once a party has moved for summary judgment, the opposing party must point to specific facts establishing that there is a genuine dispute for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party fails to make such a showing for any of the elements essential to its case for which it bears the burden of proof, the trial court should grant the summary judgment motion. Id. at 322. “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule [56(a)], its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (internal citation omitted). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court does not weigh the evidence or assess credibility; instead, “the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Officer Liability

         Both Officer Petlovany and Deputy DeRosier were members of the SWAT team that conducted the initial search of Lankford's hotel room after he was taken into protective custody. Lankford asserts both Fourth Amendment claims under § 1983 and state law claims against the officers. These claims are addressed in turn below.

         1. The “sweep” of Lankford's hotel room violated ...


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