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Nsa Sam v. City of Tacoma

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

May 17, 2018

NSA SAM, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF TACOMA, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES L. ROBART United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is the City of Tacoma, Tacoma Police Officer Eric Scripps, and Tacoma Police Officers Does I-X's (collectively, "Defendants") motion for summary judgment. (MSJ (Dkt. #21).) Specifically, Defendants rely on the stipulation and release agreement signed by Plaintiff Nsa Sam on December 17, 2014, as the basis for their motion. (Id. at 6-11.) The court has considered the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment and DISMISSES this case with prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In September 2013, Officer Scripps was a police patrol officer for the Tacoma Police Department ("TPD") and assigned to the Special Investigations Division. (Scripps Aff. (Dkt. # 23) ¶¶ 2-3.) At that time, Officer Scripps identified Ms. Sam as a suspect in a narcotics investigation. (Id. ¶¶ 4-6.) Officer Scripps worked with a confidential informant to conduct two controlled buys of illegal narcotics from Ms. Sam. (Id. ¶ 4; id. ¶ 13, Ex. 2 ("Incident Rep.") at 6.) The controlled buys involved Ms. Sam's vehicles: her 2007 Ford Mustang and her 2008 Dodge Charger. (See Id. ¶ 4; Incident Rep. at 6.) On September 20, 2013, the Pierce County Superior Court granted Officer Scripps's request for a search warrant. (Incident Rep. at 7.)

         On September 23, 2013, Officer Scripps and the TPD executed the search warrant for Ms. Sam's townhome, apartment, the 2007 Ford Mustang, and the 2008 Dodge Charger. (See Incident Rep. at 7-8.) During the search, the TPD seized $12, 780.00 in cash, the 2007 Ford Mustang, prescription pills, other drugs and drug paraphernalia, and a firearm.[2] (See id.; Homan Aff. ¶ 4, Ex. 2 ("Sept. Not. of Seizure").) On September 25, 2013, the TPD served Ms. Sam with a notice of seizure and intended forfeiture for the $12, 780.00, and the 2007 Ford Mustang. (See Sept. Not. of Seizure.) During the initial search, however, Officer Scripps did not locate Ms. Sam's 2008 Dodge Charger. (Incident Rep. at 11.)

         As a result of the first search, Officer Scripps applied for and obtained a seizure warrant for the Dodge Charger from the Pierce County Superior Court on September 25, 2013. (See Homan Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. 3 ("Dodge Seizure Warrant").) He provided the seizure warrant to South Sound 911, a separate agency that provides dispatch and records services to Pierce County agencies, in order for other law enforcement officers in the field to act upon the warrant. (Scripps Aff. ¶ 10.) On November 30, 2013, the City of Kent Police Department and various Kent police officers stopped Ms. Sam while she was driving the Dodge Charger. (Scripps Aff. ¶ 11; Incident Rep. at 16.) Kent Police Officer Robert Kellams and Kent Police Sergeant John Pagel secured the vehicle until Officer Scripps was available to take custody. (See Incident Rep. at 16.) Officer Scripps and the TPD subsequently took custody of the vehicle and sent Ms. Sam a notice of intended forfeiture. (See Homan Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. 4 ("Dec. Not. of Seizure").)

         On December 2, 2013, the TPD commenced administrative forfeiture proceedings. (See id ¶ 7, Ex. 5 ("Pet. for Removal") ¶ 1.) The City of Tacoma ("the City"), however, resolved the forfeiture matter with Ms. Sam in December 2014 pursuant to a stipulation and release. (Homan Aff. ¶ 8, Ex. 6 ("Release").) According to the terms of the release, the City returned $2, 500.00 and the 2008 Dodge Charger, and in exchange, Ms. Sam forfeited the remaining $10, 280.00 and the 2007 Ford Mustang. (Id.) Furthermore, Ms. Sam agreed to release the City, the TPD, and its officers and employees "from any and all actions, claims or damages he or she may have in any way connected with or arising out of the City's seizure, storage, and return of said property, including but not limited to attorney's fees." (Release at 2-3.) Both Ms. Sam and her attorney signed the release. (Mat 3.)

         Ms. Sam filed the present action on November 30, 2016, in Pierce County Superior Court.[3] (Not. of Rem. (Dkt. # 1) ¶¶ 1-4; see also Compl. (Dkt. # 1-1).) On January 12, 2017, Defendants removed the action to federal court. (Not of Rem. ¶¶ 1-4.) On March 1, 2017, Ms. Sam filed an amended complaint asserting four claims against Defendants: (1) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for municipal liability against the City for failing to adequately train its police officers about "what constitutes probable cause to seize a vehicle" (id. ¶ 15); (2) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Scripps for unreasonable seizure of the 2008 Dodge Charger in violation of the Fourth Amendment (id. ¶¶ 22-26); (3) a claim against the City under the theory of respondeat superior because Officer Scripps "was acting within the course and scope of his employment" (id. ¶¶ 27-28); and (4) a state law claim for false arrest and imprisonment arising from the November 30, 2013, stop by Kent Police Officers (id. ¶¶ 29-31).

         In this case, Ms. Sam was represented by counsel until February 12, 2018, when the court granted her attorney's motion to withdraw. (See 2/12/18 Order (Dkt. # 20).) Thus, Ms. Sam now appears before the court pro se. On April 9, 2018, Defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment, which the court now considers.[4] (See MSJ.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence 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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. Cty. of LA., 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "'genuine' only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact finder to find for the non-moving party." Far Out Prods., Inc. v. Oskar, 247 F.3d 986, 992 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of showing there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that it is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it can show the absence of such a dispute in two ways: (1) by producing evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case, or (2) by showing that the nonmoving party lacks evidence of an essential element of its claim or defense. Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos.,210 F.3d 1099, 1106 (9th Cir. 2000). If the moving party meets its burden of production, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving ...


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