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Spencer v. City of Spokane

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

November 18, 2019

QUANAH M. SPENCER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SPOKANE, a municipal corporation in and for the State of Washington; GREGORY PAUL LEBSOCK, in his individual and official capacities; SPOKANE COUNTY, a municipal corporation and political subdivision of the State of Washington; and CASEY A. EVANS, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER RESOLVING DEFENDANTS' DISPOSITIVE MOTIONS AND PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A CONTINUANCE OF SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Rosanna Malouf Peterson United States District Judge

         BEFORE THE COURT are Defendant Lebsock and City of Spokane's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 26, and Defendant Evans and Spokane County's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. 21. In Plaintiff Spencer's Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, he moved for a continuance of the Court's consideration of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). The Court considers that motion as well. A hearing on these matters was held on September 13, 2019, and all parties were present and represented. The Court has considered the record, the pleadings, counsels' oral argument, and is fully informed.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2017, Quanah Spencer and his wife Gwen Spencer filed a consumer protection lawsuit regarding property they had purchased in Spokane against SAS Oregon, LLC and former employees of the Spokane Police Department. ECF No. 22-2 at 2; ECF No. 1 at 10. Attorney Aaron Kandratowicz represented them. See id. The Spencers did not prevail in their lawsuit, and the court ordered garnishment of Mr. Spencer's wages to pay the defendants' attorneys' fees in the amount of $37, 102.50. ECF No. 22-2 at 2. Mr. Spencer's employer, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), was notified of the garnishment through a writ.

         However, after the writ of garnishment was entered, the Spencers' attorney, Mr. Kandratowicz, told the Spencers that he had obtained an order for a permanent injunction of the order of garnishment, shielding Mr. Spencer from further wage garnishment. See ECF No. 1 at 9. In truth, the court had issued no such order. Mr. Kandratowicz was charged with forging the order and eventually pleaded guilty to the charge. See ECF No. 1 at 23. Upon learning of the purported injunction, Mr. Spencer used his credit card at a UPS store to fax the order to his employer, BNSF. See id.; ECF No. 22-2 at 4. BNSF stopped garnishing his wages after receiving the forged order. Id. at 3. Fifteen months later, counsel for SAS Oregon discovered the purported injunction and contacted Mr. Kandratowicz and the court. Id. Mr. Kandratowicz did not respond to counsel's communications, nor did he appear at a show cause hearing set for November 20, 2017, regarding the purported injunction. See ECF No. 1 at 11.

         The court notified the City of Spokane Police Department (SPD), which promptly initiated an investigation regarding who had forged the order. SPD assigned Defendant Lebsock to investigate the case. See ECF No. 22-2. On January 5, 2018, Officer Lebsock submitted an Affidavit of Facts, setting out facts to support probable cause as to Mr. Spencer, and requesting a warrant for Mr. Spencer's arrest. ECF No. 22-2. A warrant was issued that same day for Mr. Spencer's arrest. ECF No. 22-3. Mr. Spencer was living in Missoula, Montana at the time.

         In his Affidavit of Facts, Defendant Lebsock laid out facts to support probable cause for a forgery charge against Mr. Spencer. ECF No. 22-2 at 1, 8. Officer Lebsock's investigation revealed that Mr. Spencer had used his credit card to fax the forged order to his employer. Id. Detective Lebsock's Affidavit of Facts did not mention that Mr. Kandratowicz was a person of interest or a target for further investigation even though Mr. Kandratowicz had failed to appear at a show cause hearing regarding the forged order several weeks earlier. ECF No. 1 at 13-14. However, Officer Lebsock did note that the forged order was marked with the stamp of Mr. Kandratowicz's law firm. See ECF No. 22-2 at 4.

         In addition to Officer Lebsock's Affidavit of Facts, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (DPA) Evans submitted a “Certificate” in support of the arrest warrant. The Certificate states that “there exists good cause to issue a direct warrant for the immediate arrest of the defendant.” ECF No. 22-4 at 1. It also provides supporting reasons, which include: (1) the nature of the allegations; (2) “the defendant's multi-state business dealings between Washington and Montana and the potential risk for the defendant to seek refuge outside the state of Washington”; (3) the defendant may not respond to a summons because he appears to live at his Montana residence; and (4) the potential to “interfere with the administration of justice considering the nature of these allegations and the risk of evidence tampering or destruction.” Id.

         A warrant was issued, and on January 11, 2018, Mr. Spencer was arrested in his home in Montana. ECF No. 1 at 16. The following day, a judge in Missoula County ordered that Mr. Spencer be released immediately. Id. However, he was not released until January 16, 2018. According to Mr. Spencer, one of the jail guards told him that somebody from Spokane had called and “cancelled his release.” Id. at 16-17. Detective Lebsock agrees that he called the Spokane County judge who issued the arrest warrant, after learning that Mr. Spencer was about to be released from Missoula County Jail. ECF No. 28 at 15. Detective Lebsock states that, after he contacted the Spokane County judge, the judge “contacted someone either at the Missoula County Jail or at Missoula County Superior Court to discuss the warrant.” Id.

         On January 16, 2018, when Mr. Spencer was released from jail, he realized that his debit card was missing from his wallet, and his coat was ripped and torn. Id. at 18. Mr. Spencer claims that Detective Lebsock caused his debit card to go missing and his jacket to be torn through alleged connections at Missoula County Jail. Id.

         On February 27, 2018, the charge against Mr. Spencer was dismissed. Id. at 24. Prior to the dismissal order, SPD obtained a search warrant for Mr. Kandratowicz. ECF No. 1 at 19. He was never arrested or taken into custody. Id. He pleaded guilty on May 11, 2018, to having forged the order enjoining the garnishment. Id. As punishment for his actions, DPA Evans recommended six months of community custody, and no jail time. Id.

         Mr. Spencer filed his complaint in this Court on March 29, 2019. See ECF No. 1. The Spencers are both Native American and argue that Defendants acted in a racially discriminatory manner toward Mr. Spencer in their investigation and prosecution of Mr. Kandratowicz's crime. They also allege that the Defendants were motivated to harm Mr. Spencer because Mr. Spencer had recently sued former SPD employees in a 2017 lawsuit. Against each defendant, Mr. Spencer alleges violations of his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. He also alleges the following state law claims against each defendant: false imprisonment, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, negligence, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Furthermore, Mr. Spencer alleges that the City of Spokane and Spokane County are liable for the actions of their employees, Evans and Lebsock, through a respondeat superior theory.

         Defendants Spokane County and DPA Evans filed a 12(b) and 12(c) motion to dismiss. See ECF No. 21. In their motion, Defendants argue that DPA Evans has absolute immunity and, in the alternative, qualified immunity. Id. at 6, 16. Detective Lebsock and the City of Spokane have moved for summary judgment on all of Mr. Spencer's claims. See ECF No. 26. They argue that Mr. Spencer has failed to support his claims against them, and that Detective Lebsock is entitled to qualified immunity. Mr. Spencer has asked the Court to either deny summary judgment or to continue summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(d) in order for additional discovery to be completed.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         Although the parties agree that the Motion to Dismiss brought by the County and DPA Evans is a motion for judgment on the pleadings, they disagree about the applicable legal standard. Mr. Spencer argues that the Court should decide the motion using the summary judgment standard because Defendants have supported their motion with documents outside the pleadings. Rule 12(d) states that a court must apply the summary judgment standard to 12(c) motions if it considers “matters outside the pleadings” in its decision. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). However, a document is “not outside the complaint if the complaint specifically refers to the document and if its authenticity is not challenged.” Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453 (9th Cir. 1994). A defendant may attach these documents to a 12(c) motion for the court's consideration without converting the motion to a motion for summary judgment. Id. A court also may consider any documents of which it may take judicial notice pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201 when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, without converting it to a motion for summary judgment. Id.

         Here, Defendants have attached the Information, Officer Lebsock's Affidavit of Facts filed January 5, 2018, the order issuing Mr. Spencer's arrest warrant, and Mr. Evan's Certificate. ECF Nos. 22-1-22-4. Mr. Spencer referenced these documents in his complaint, quoting two of them at length. Therefore, the applicable standard for Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is set out in Rule 12(b)(6).

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff's claim will be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible when the plaintiff pleads “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court “accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008). A court is not required, however, to “assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.” Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (internal quotation omitted). “[C]onclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.” Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Motion for Summary Judgment

         A court may grant summary judgment where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact” of a party's prima facie case, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if sufficient evidence supports the claimed factual dispute, requiring “a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). A key purpose of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

         The moving party bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, or in the alternative, the moving party may discharge this burden by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's prima facie case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324. The nonmoving party “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 322 n.3 (internal quotations omitted). The Court will not infer evidence that does not exist in the record. See Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89 (1990). However, the Court will “view the evidence in the light most favorable” to the nonmoving party. Newmaker v. City of Fortuna, 842 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2016). “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

         I. Detective Lebsock and the City of Spokane's Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Fourth Amendment Claim

         Mr. Spencer brings his constitutional challenges through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “Traditionally, the requirements for relief under [§] 1983 have been articulated as (1) a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by a federal statute, (2) proximately caused (3) by the conduct of a ‘person' (4) acting under color of state law.” Crumpton v. Gates, 947, F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). For the purposes of Section 1983 litigation, municipalities are considered “persons, ” and may be found liable if their policies or customs cause the plaintiff's constitutional injury. Long v. Cty. of L.A., 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1976)).

         Mr. Spencer alleges that the Defendants acted together to violate his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. He states that the warrants[1] used to search his property and to arrest him lacked probable cause. ECF No. 1 at 33. The Spokane County judge who issued the arrest warrant found, after considering “an affidavit establishing probable cause, ” that “probable cause exist[ed] for the arrest and detention” of Mr. Spencer. ECF No. 22-3. Mr. Spencer does not contest the judge's finding of probable cause on the facts put before him. However, Mr. Spencer maintains that the Affidavit of Facts submitted by Detective Lebsock was judicially deceptive, containing materially incomplete information and false statements. ECF No. 1 at 33. In addition to that Affidavit, DPA Evans submitted a Certificate to the county court, explaining the reasons why an arrest warrant should issue. ECF No. 22-4. Mr. Spencer maintains that DPA Evans' Certificate contained false statements and lacked material information, thereby making it judicially deceptive. A warrant based on judicial deception cannot provide the basis for a constitutional search, seizure, or arrest. See Butler v. Elle, 281 F.3d 1014, 1023-24 (9th Cir. 2002).

         1. Judicial Deception Claim Against Detective Lebsock

         Detective Lebsock, along with the City of Spokane, has moved for summary judgment on Mr. Spencer's Fourth Amendment judicial deception claim. To survive summary judgment on a judicial deception claim, the plaintiff must “(1) make a substantial showing of deliberate falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth, and (2) establish that but for the dishonesty, the challenged action would not have occurred.” Id. at 1024. If the plaintiff meets these two prongs, then, “the matter should go to trial.” Butler v. Elle, 281 F.3d 1014, 1024 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Hervey v. Estes, 35 F.3d 784, 788-789 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         In a judicial deception analysis, the question of materiality is for the Court to decide. Id. (“Materiality is for the court, state of mind is for the jury.”) (citing Hervey, 65 F.3d at 789 (9th Cir. 1995)); see also Bravo v. City of Santa Maria, 665 F.3d 1076, 1084 (9th Cir. 2011). To determine if an alleged false statement or omission is material, the court must consider “whether the affidavit, once corrected and supplemented, establishes probable cause.” Bravo, 665 F.3d at 1084 (quoting Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1224 (9th Cir. 2009)). “If probable cause remains after amendment, then no constitutional error has occurred.” Id.

         Probable cause exists “when police officers have facts and circumstances within their knowledge sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that the suspect . . . committed . . . a crime.” United States v. Wallace, 213 F.3d 1216, 1220 (9th Cir. 2000). The existence of probable cause depends on the unique facts and circumstances of each case. Id. District courts evaluate the existence of probable cause using an objective test; while the facts within the arresting officer's knowledge are relevant to the assessment, the officer's state of mind is not relevant. Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 593-94 (2004) (quoting Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996) (quoting Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 138 (1978))). The Supreme Court ...


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