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Soderlind v. Haigh

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

May 11, 2018

URSULA J. HAIGH, et al., Defendants.


          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on “King County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.” Dkt. # 71. On July 16, 2013, plaintiff Guy Soderlind was arrested for violating anti-harassment orders his neighbors had obtained against him.[1] Plaintiff asserts claims of conspiracy to violate his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the investigating officer, Detective Jon C. Holland, the arresting officers, Deputies Erin M. Garske and Mike Mansanarez, and their employer, King County (collectively, “the King County defendants”). The King County defendants seek dismissal of all claims against them.

         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 that would preclude the entry of judgment as a matter of law. The party seeking summary dismissal of the case “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion” (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)) and “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” that show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. The Court will “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party . . . and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Krechman v. County of Riverside, 723 F.3d 1104, 1109 (9th Cir. 2013). Although the Court must reserve for the jury genuine issues regarding credibility, the weight of the evidence, and legitimate inferences, the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position will be insufficient” to avoid judgment. City of Pomona v. SQM N. Am. Corp., 750 F.3d 1036, 1049 (9th Cir. 2014); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Summary judgment should be granted where the nonmoving party fails to offer evidence from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in its favor. Freecycle Sunnyvale v. Freecycle Network, 626 F.3d 509, 514 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Having reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted by the parties, [2] having heard the arguments of counsel, and taking the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the Court finds as follows:

         A. Conspiracy to Violate Plaintiff's Civil Rights - Claim 1

         In order to establish a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff has the burden of showing (1) the existence of an express or implied agreement among the defendants to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights and (2) an actual violation arising from that agreement. See Avalos v. Baca, 596 F.3d 583, 592 (9th Cir. 2010). There is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that there was a meeting of the minds or other agreement to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights. The investigating officers (only one of whom is a defendant in this litigation) independently received citizen complaints which they then investigated. There is no indication that the investigating officers had ever discussed or considered plaintiff prior to the events of July 14-16, 2013. The fact that an officer responds to and investigates a citizen's complaint is not evidence of a conspiracy to violate the suspect's constitutional rights. As discussed more fully below, the investigations performed by the officers were reasonably thorough and gave rise to probable cause to believe that plaintiff had violated the anti-harassment orders, a determination on which the arresting officers relied. The circumstances of this case do not give rise to the slightest inference of an illicit agreement between the complaining property owners and the officers or among the officers themselves. Plaintiff's first claim against the King County defendants fails as a matter of law.

         B. False Arrest in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - Claim 2

         Plaintiff argues that his July 16, 2013, warrantless arrest for violation of the anti-harassment orders obtained by his neighbors violated the Fourth Amendment because it was without probable cause. The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable . . . seizures.” “[T]he general rule [is] that Fourth Amendment seizures are ‘reasonable' only if based on probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a crime.” Bailey v. U.S., 568 U.S. 186, 192 (2013). Conclusive evidence of guilt is not necessary, nor is mere suspicion or rumor sufficient. U.S. v. Lopez, 482 F.3d 1067, 1072 (9th Cir. 2007). Rather, probable cause for a warrantless arrest exists when, “under the totality of circumstances known to the arresting officers, a prudent person would have concluded that there was a fair probability that [the suspect] had committed a crime.” U.S. v. Smith, 790 F.2d 789, 792 (9th Cir. 1986). “In establishing probable cause, officers may not solely rely on the claim of a citizen witness that he was a 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 was arrested pursuant to Washington's warrantless arrest statute which authorizes such arrests when the officer has probable cause to believe that an anti-harassment order has been issued, that the person is aware of the order, and that he or she has violated its terms. RCW 10.31.100(9). The question, then, is whether, given the totality of the circumstances, a prudent person in the officers' position would have concluded that there was a fair probability (1) that plaintiff was aware that his neighbors had obtained an anti-harassment order against him and (2) that he had violated the order.

         On July 14, 2013, Detective Holland received a call from one of plaintiff's neighbors, Christine Barton, who reported a violation of the anti-harassment order she had obtained against plaintiff to keep him off her property. Ms. Barton complained that plaintiff had walked on her property to access a boat moored offshore. She also reported a history of negative interactions between the neighbors. Detective Holland looked up the anti-harassment order in the King County Sheriff's Office system, which showed that Ms. Barton was the petitioner, that plaintiff was the respondent, that plaintiff had been served with the order, and that the order was valid until December 15, 2013. The fields indicating the terms and conditions of the order showed that, although plaintiff was permitted access to the roadway in front of Ms. Barton's house (SW 172nd Street), he was prohibited from accessing Ms. Barton's property, including part of the tidelands.[3] Detective Holland requested a hard copy of the order.

         Later that day, Detective Holland received an email from another neighbor, Ms. Haigh, with a video showing a person, identified as plaintiff, passing in front of her bulkhead allegedly in violation of another anti-harassment order with similar conditions to the order obtained by Ms. Barton. Ms. Haigh reported that her husband also saw plaintiff on their property and that plaintiff had crossed Ms. Hart's and Ms. Barton's properties.

         In the evening of July 14, Detective Holland received an email from Ms. Barton requesting assistance in dealing with dirt from plaintiff's property that was being dumped onto her and another neighbor's property. When she called the next morning, Detective Holland requested specific information regarding how plaintiff had accessed her property the previous day. Just before noon on July 15, Detective Holland attempted to arrest plaintiff at his home, but he was not there. The Detective notified dispatch and patrol that there was probable cause to arrest plaintiff for violation of the anti-harassment orders obtained by Ms. Barton and Ms. Hart.[4]Deputies Garske and Mansanarez arrested plaintiff shortly thereafter. They informed plaintiff that he was being arrested for violations of the anti-harassment orders: he was not given an opportunity to explain or provide additional information prior to his arrest.

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, there was probable cause for the arrest. The investigating officers had no reason to think the victims were unreliable, their statements corroborated each other, and there were supporting images of the alleged violations. The officers confirmed the existence, terms, and service of the anti-harassment orders at issue. The language of the anti-harassment orders seemed to support the neighbors' assertion that plaintiff was barred from their property with the exception of the portion lying within SW 172nd Street, and the officers confirmed that the property owners were not complaining about plaintiff being on the roadway. The Court finds, as a matter of law, that the investigating officers sought out and obtained “knowledge [and] reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to lead a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense” as defined in RCW 10.31.100(9) had been committed. Lopez, 482 F.3d at 1072.

         Plaintiff argues that the investigating and/or arresting officers should have done more. In particular, he asserts that they should have (a) interviewed plaintiff, (b) inspected the 1907 plat for the development in which the properties are located, and (c) interpreted the portion of the anti-harassment orders that referenced the “tidelands lying within Seacoma Boulevard (now Southwest 172nd Street)” broadly and in his favor. At the moment the arrests were made, however, the facts and circumstances known to the officers appeared sufficient to provide probable cause. Facts which become known or appreciated after an arrest may ultimately dissipate probable cause or even prove the suspect's innocence, but they do not change the fact that probable cause for the arrest existed at the time. See Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 152 (1972); Lopez, 482 F.3d at 1075. There is no hard and fast requirement that a suspect be given an opportunity to explain himself, nor is the kind of records review plaintiff demands essential to a reasonable investigation or the sufficiency of known facts. The language of the underlying anti-harassment orders seems to support, not contradict, the neighbors' demands for protection and their claims of violation. In the circumstances presented here, the investigating officers had sufficient information to justify a reasonably prudent person to conclude that plaintiff had likely violated the anti-harassment orders and to inform dispatch and patrol of that determination.

         Plaintiff also argues that, even if Detective Holland had probable cause to arrest plaintiff, the arresting officers were not entitled to rely on his determination and were required to conduct their own investigation before proceeding. The general rule is that, under the collective knowledge doctrine (otherwise known as the fellow officer rule), courts look to the collective knowledge of all the officers involved in the criminal investigation when determining whether probable cause exists for arrest. Harper v. City of Los Angeles, 533 F.3d ...

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