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Bell v. Fischer

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

June 13, 2018

WARREN E. BELL, Plaintiff,
JEANETTE FISCHER, et al., Defendants.




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Mindy Breiner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. #31. Defendant Breiner seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against her, asserting that she did nothing improper, she committed no due process violation, and she is entitled to quasi-judicial and qualified immunity for performing the integral judicial task of a court clerk by updating the court information database. Id. Plaintiff essentially responds that Defendant Breiner violated his right to due process by breaching her duty of care to him. Dkt. #32. For the reasons set forth below, the Court disagrees with Plaintiff, and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff initially filed this action on December 5, 2017, in King County Superior Court. Dkt. #1-1. Plaintiff alleges that on June 2, 2017, he appeared for arraignment on a bench warrant that had been issued for a prior failure to appear. Dkt. #1-1 at ¶ 1.4. He was released, and returned to court on June 5, 2017, where he reported to SeaTac Municipal Court Probation Officer Jeanette Fischer. Dkt. #1-1 at ¶ ¶ 1.5, 1.6, 4.5 and 4.6. Ms. Fischer apparently told him the warrant had been executed because she was unable to locate his current address. Id.

         Plaintiff also alleges that on November 20, 2017, Defendant Breiner informed him that she had changed his address to a Post Office Box in Seattle, WA, but did not know why she had done it. Id. at ¶ 4.7. Plaintiff alleges that this caused the Notice to Appear to be sent to the wrong address, and therefore resulted in the warrant for his arrest. Id. He asserts that Ms. Breiner's actions violated his Due Process rights. Id. at ¶ 4.8.

         The evidentiary record in this case reveals the following. Defendant Breiner is a probation officer for the Tukwila Municipal Court, and has been employed in that capacity since 2000. Dkt. #29 at ¶ 2. In March 2012, the City of Tukwila entered into an agreement with the City of SeaTac to provide municipal court probation services for them. That agreement existed until December 31, 2016. Dkt. #29 at ¶ 2. Although Defendant Breiner's title is Probation Officer, she performs many of the functions of a Court Clerk. Id. at ¶ 3. For example, she works extensively with the Municipal Court's database for docketing and entering other court related information. Id. The court uses the statewide courts database administered by the Office of the Administrator of the Courts, known as the Judicial Information System (“JIS”). Id. Defendant Breiner has the same permissions as the court clerk, except that she does not enter information related to finances (e.g., fines and payments). Id.

         Defendant Breiner acknowledges that, after his May 2017 arrest, Plaintiff told her that a Summons had been sent to a Post Office Box that was not his. Id. at ¶ 6. As a result, she later researched his claim in the JIS database and reviewed Plaintiff's address history. Id. The JIS database indicates that on February 2, 2016, Plaintiff's address was changed to a Post Office Box in Seattle, WA, with her initials next to the change. Id. Defendant Breiner also learned that in late January 2017, she received a returned envelope addressed to Plaintiff from the post office, with a notation of a bad address. Id. at ¶ 8. As a result, she updated Mr. Bell's address in JIS, according to the USPS label on the returned mail. Id. The JIS Address History report indicated that she made the change on February 2, 2017, and that someone other than Plaintiff had reported the change of address. Id. Defendant Breiner was also able to determine that the entry was coded as “Status Change Only” and that the reason given for changing the previous address was coded as “Notified by Other.” Id. at ¶ ¶ 9 and 10 and Exs. A and B thereto. This was not unusual to Defendant Breiner as, in the past ten years, Plaintiff has used 17 different addresses. Id. at ¶ 11. Further, on six separate occasions in that same timeframe, the Court was unable to deliver mail to Plaintiff. Id.

         On February 28, 2017, a Summons to appear at a March 16, 2017, Review Hearing was issued to Plaintiff, and addressed to the Post Office Box address. Dkt. #29 at ¶ 19, Ex. C at SEATAC 000101. Plaintiff did not appear and a Bench Warrant was issued for “Failure to Appear at Hearing”. Id. at SEATAC 00095 and 100. On May 18, 2017, Probation Officer Fischer advised the court that “Mr. Bell has not made himself available for probation. It is requested that probation is terminated at this time and a bench warrant issued for his arrest.” Id. at ¶ 20, Ex. C at SEATAC 00085. On June 2, 2017, Plaintiff appeared in Court on the charge of failing to have an interlock devise installed on his car as required by his Judgment and Sentence. Id. at ¶ 21, Ex. C at SEATAC 00086. He was released on his personal recognizance in order to present documentary proof that the device was properly installed. Id.

         Plaintiff subsequently brought this lawsuit. Defendants removed this action to this Court on January 3, 2018. Dkt. #1. Plaintiff filed a motion for remand, which was denied. Dkts. #10 and #18. On May 11, 2018, this Court granted Defendant's SCORE Jail's motion for summary judgment and dismissed SCORE from the action. Dkt. #28. The instant motion followed.


         A. Legal Standard on Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In ruling on summary judgment, a court does not weigh evidence to determine the truth of the matter, but “only determine[s] whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Crane v. Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 549 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d 744, 747 (9th Cir. 1992)). Material facts are those which might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d at 747, rev'd on other grounds, 512 U.S. 79 (1994). However, the nonmoving party must make a “sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof” to survive summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Further, “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will ...

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