Glenn v. Hrgota
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting 35 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Chief District Judge Julie A Robinson on 6/26/2017. (ydm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
Case No. 16-2092-JAR
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Chrystal Glenn filed this suit against Defendant Violeta Hrgota, a night response
detective with the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, alleging Defendant wrongfully
detained her in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. The matter before the Court is
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35). The motion is fully briefed and the
Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds Defendant is entitled to
qualified immunity and grants summary judgment in Defendant’s favor.
Standards for Summary Judgment on Qualified Immunity
Defendant moves for summary judgment under the doctrine of qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity protects public officials performing discretionary functions unless their
conduct violates “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known.”1 Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to
make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.2
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011).
As the Tenth Circuit explained in Rojas v. Anderson,3 “because qualified immunity is
designed to protect public officials from spending inordinate time and money defending
erroneous suits at trial,” the qualified immunity defense triggers a modified summary judgment
standard.4 The initial burden rests on the plaintiff, rather than the defendant; and the plaintiff
must first “clear two hurdles:” (1) demonstrate that the defendant violated his constitutional or
statutory rights; and (2) demonstrate that the right was clearly established at the time of the
alleged unlawful activity.5 The court may decide the appropriate order to consider these issues.6
Only if the plaintiff clears these hurdles does the burden shift back to the movant defendant to
make the traditional showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that he is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.7
The following facts are uncontroverted or viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff
as the nonmoving party. In February 2014, Plaintiff lived in a house with her fiancé Jesse
Hernandez, her three children (ages 13, 7, and 23 months), and her mother, Kathy Snoderly.
Two other adults and four children also lived at the home.
Shortly before 5:00 a.m. on February 19, 2014, Plaintiff woke to find her twenty-three
month old son (“J.G.”) unresponsive and breathing abnormally. Plaintiff immediately alerted her
mother, who performed CPR to resuscitate the boy while Plaintiff called 9-1-1. Police arrived at
the home first. Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) arrived shortly thereafter. Upon arrival,
727 F.3d 1000 (10th Cir. 2013).
Id. at 1003.
Riggins v. Goodman, 572 F.3d 1101, 1107 (10th Cir. 2009) (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
Camreta v. Greene, 131 S. Ct. 2020, 2031–32 (2011).
Rojas, 727 F.3d at 1003.
EMS crewmembers began performing CPR and other first aid protocol. Due to the severity of
J.G.’s condition, EMS rushed J.G. to Children’s Mercy Hospital for further treatment.
According to Plaintiff, EMS did not ask her to accompany them and left before she had a chance
to fully dress.
At the relevant time, Defendant was assigned to the Kansas City, Kansas Police
Department’s night response unit. As a night response detective, her job was to respond to crime
scenes, to direct police investigation, and to take witness statements from victims, witnesses, and
suspects for all crimes except child abuse, child death, suspicious death, and homicide. For these
crimes, Defendant must secure the scene, gather general facts, and page the Major Case unit.
Major Case detectives direct the investigation of these cases and take recorded witness
At 5:22 a.m., after EMS left with J.G., Defendant arrived at Plaintiff’s residence. Upon
arrival, patrol officers at the scene briefed Defendant — a child without any known medical
condition was rushed to the hospital.8 Defendant then introduced herself to Plaintiff and
questioned her about the circumstances surrounding her son’s health conditions. Defendant
observed the house was in complete disarray. Decaying food, cigarette butts, empty beer cans,
and garbage littered the floors.
At 5:32 a.m., a physician at Children’s Mercy Hospital pronounced J.G. dead. Shortly
thereafter, hospital staff called Plaintiff and asked her to come to the hospital. Plaintiff told the
hospital that Defendant would not allow her to leave her residence. At the hospital’s request,
Plaintiff passed the phone to Defendant, who took the call outside of Plaintiff’s hearing. At this
Plaintiff objected to any statements by the patrol officers as hearsay. The Court overrules this objection.
These statements are not hearsay because they are not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Instead, they
explain Defendant’s state of mind at the relevant time and what led her to believe there may have been foul play. In
any case, police may rely on hearsay of another officer to form the basis of reasonable suspicion. United States v.
Merritt, 695 F.2d 1263, 1270 (10th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 916 (1983).
time, hospital staff told Defendant that J.G. had died. Neither Defendant nor the hospital told
Plaintiff that J.G. had died.
Defendant paged Major Case detectives upon learning of J.G.’s death. To secure the
scene, the household residents were not allowed to go the back of the house where the bedroom
was located, and two uniformed officers were stationed at the door to prevent anyone from
leaving the residence.9
The Major Case detectives arrived on scene about an hour later, at approximately 6:40
a.m. Defendant left the residence shortly thereafter to obtain a search warrant. After the Major
Case detectives took Plaintiff’s recorded statement, she was allowed to leave at approximately
7:30 a.m. Plaintiff immediately proceeded to the hospital, where she found out her son had
already died. An autopsy later concluded that J.G. died of natural causes.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant had no probable cause to believe that she had committed any
offense when Defendant detained her for two hours and prevented her from being with her son
during his last moments.10 Defendant claims she did not violate the Fourth Amendment by
detaining Plaintiff because she reasonably suspected that Plaintiff was involved in J.G.’s death.11
Even if the detention was unreasonable, Defendant argues that she did not violate clearly
established law, which entitles her to qualified immunity.12
Doc. 41, Hrgota Dep. at 81-84.
Doc. 41 at 11.
Doc. 36 at 16.
The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”13 The Supreme Court
has defined three types of police-citizen encounters:
(1) consensual encounters which do not implicate the Fourth Amendment;
(2) investigative detentions which are Fourth Amendment seizures of
limited scope and duration and must be supported by a reasonable suspicion
of criminal activity; and (3) arrests, the most intrusive of Fourth
Amendment seizures and reasonable only if supported by probable cause.14
Plaintiff argues that the duration of her detention was unreasonable and entered the realm of an
Courts characterize investigative detentions as “limited intrusion[s] on the personal
security of suspect[s].”16 An investigative detention is justified “if the officer has a reasonable
suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity ‘may be afoot,’ even if the officer
lacks probable cause.” 17 In comparison, arrests require probable cause to believe that a person
committed a crime.18 Arrests are typically “highly intrusive.”19 The use of firearms, handcuffs,
and other forceful techniques indicate an arrest.20
U.S. Const. amend. IV.
United States v. Brown, 496 F.3d 1070, 1074 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).
Doc. 41 at 11.
Maresca v. Bernalillo Cty., 804 F.3d 1301, 1309 (10th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 2509 (2016)
(quoting Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983)).
Morris v. Noe, 672 F.3d 1185, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7,
109 (1989) and Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)).
Cortez v. McCauley, 478 F.3d 1108, 1115 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing Oliver v. Woods, 209 F.3d 1179, 1186
(10th Cir. 2000)).
Oliver, 209 F.3d at 1186.
Cortez, 478 F.3d at 1115–16 (citing United States v. Melendez–Garcia, 28 F.3d 1046, 1052 (10th Cir.
The uncontroverted facts in this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff,
support the finding that this was an investigatory detention rather than an arrest. Police
responded to a 9-1-1 call and entered the dwelling with consent. A child died unexpectedly.
Defendant took statements and posted guards at the front door. None of the police officers ever
touched or physically restrained Plaintiff. Plaintiff was not handcuffed and had access to her
phone during the detention. Under these circumstances, Defendant did not effectuate a full
custodial arrest of Plaintiff; she detained Plaintiff so the Major Case detectives could further
investigate what happened.
To determine whether an officer had reasonable suspicion to detain someone, the Court
examines the “totality of the circumstances, asking ‘whether the detaining officer ha[d] a
particularized and objective basis for suspecting wrongdoing’” at the time.21 “[R]easonable
suspicion may be supported by an ‘objectively reasonable’ good faith belief even if premised on
Here, Defendant had a particularized and objective basis to reasonably suspect Plaintiff
of wrongdoing. Defendant suspected that Plaintiff or her fiancé had committed the crime of
homicide by smothering J.G. to stop his crying and screaming.23 Plaintiff and her family had
reported to Defendant that J.G. had flu-like symptoms the night before, was vomiting, fussy, and
screaming throughout the night. However, Defendant observed a dry bowl next to the bed with
no signs of vomit.
United States v. Salazar, 609 F.3d 1059, 1068 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S.
266, 273 (2002)).
United States v. Vercher, 358 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Walraven, 892
F.2d 972, 974–75 (10th Cir.1989)).
Doc. 36, Hrgota Aff. at 4.
Alternatively, she suspected J.G. was the victim of neglect due to Plaintiff’s failure to
provide details regarding J.G.’s care the previous day and the condition of the house. Cigarette
butts, decaying food, empty beer cans, clothes, and trash littered the floors and surfaces
throughout the home. Defendant also observed a disabled child wearing a diaper with
overflowing feces. All of these facts led Defendant to believe that J.G. could have ingested
something toxic or became ill due to neglect.24 Given the totality of the circumstances, the Court
finds that Defendant had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting wrongdoing on
Plaintiff urges the Court to consider the EMS report, the Children’s Mercy Hospital
record, and the other officers’ reports, which all showed J.G. was not the victim of any physical
abuse. The Court cannot consider these reports because the test for reasonable suspicion is what
a reasonable officer could have known at the time.25 None of these reports were available to
Defendant at the time of detention. Officer Cobbins’ report noted he arrived at the hospital at
7:17 a.m. and that J.G. had no signs of visible injuries.26 Defendant had already left the
residence when Cobbins made that observation. Furthermore, the EMS report, the hospital
records, and the autopsy report were not available until after the detention ended. But even if
Defendant was aware that there were no signs of physical abuse on J.G., Defendant’s suspicion
that Plaintiff may have caused J.G.’s death was still reasonable because deaths caused by
smothering or ingesting a toxic substance leave no apparent physical marks.
Id. at 5.
White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 550, (2017) (“Because this case concerns the defense of qualified
immunity, however, the Court considers only the facts that were knowable to the defendant officers”).
Plaintiff cites Walker v. City of Orem27 to assert that a two-hour detention was
unreasonable. In Walker, the Tenth Circuit held 90 minutes was an unreasonable amount of time
to hold a witness to a shooting.28 The court went on to explain “[w]hat little authority exists on
this question suggests that police have less authority to detain those who have witnessed a crime
for investigatory purposes than to detain criminal suspects.”29 Here, Defendant considered
Plaintiff a suspect, not a witness. Therefore, Walker is inapposite.
The Supreme Court imposes no rigid time restrictions on investigative detentions.30
“Rather, the length of the stop and the potential intrusion on an individual’s Fourth Amendment
rights must be juxtaposed against ‘the need to consider the law enforcement purposes to be
served by the stop as well as the time reasonably needed to effectuate those purposes.’”31 The
Supreme Court has explained that the duration of an investigative detention is reasonable if the
police “diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their
suspicions quickly.”32 The Supreme Court cautioned courts to “not indulge in unrealistic
Here, the detention lasted two hours largely due to the delay in the Major Detectives’
arrival on the scene. Defendant followed protocol and alerted her superiors promptly. But
because the call was so early, Major Case detectives were not yet on duty and needed time to
451 F.3d 1139 (10th Cir. 2006).
Id. at 1150.
Id. at 1148.
United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 685 (1985); United States v. Rosborough, 366 F.3d 1145, 1150
(10th Cir. 2004) (“there is no absolute rule for determining how long an investigative detention may continue before
it becomes unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment”).
Rosborough, 366 F.3d at 1150 (citing Sharp, 470 U.S. at 685, and United States v. Jones, 44 F.3d 860,
871 (10th Cir. 1995)).
Sharpe, 470 U.S. at 686.
dress and travel across the city to Plaintiff’s residence. Although it may have been insensitive
for Defendant to not allow Plaintiff to go to the hospital with a police escort, the Court cannot
conclude that waiting a little over an hour for the Major Detectives to arrive on scene and take
Plaintiff’s recorded statement was unreasonable.34
Clearly Established Law
To overcome qualified immunity, plaintiffs must also show that the law was clearly
established at the time of the violation. To make this determination, the Court asks if “‘the right
[was] sufficiently clear that a reasonable officer would understand that what he is doing violates
that right.’”35 The right must be particularized to survive summary judgment, meaning that
“there must ordinarily be a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or clearly
established weight of authority from other courts.”36 In the Fourth Amendment context,
specificity is especially important because “the Court has recognized that ‘[i]t is sometimes
difficult for an officer to determine how the relevant legal doctrine…will apply to the factual
situation the officer confronts.’”37 “‘General statements of the law are not inherently incapable
of giving fair and clear warning’ to officers, but ‘in the light of pre-existing law the unlawfulness
must be apparent.’”38 The Tenth Circuit requires the following before declaring a law to be
clearly established: (1) “a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point,” or (2) a showing
See e.g., Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 100 (2005) (holding a two to three hour detention in handcuffs
was reasonable); United States v. Cervine, 347 F.3d 865, 872–73 (10th Cir. 2003) (holding fifty minute detention of
driver was reasonable); United States v. Shareef, 100 F.3d 1491, 1507 (10th Cir. 1996) (holding forty-five minute
detention reasonable); United States v. Hbaiu, 202 F. Supp. 2d 1177, 1184 (D. Kan. 2002) (holding detention lasting
one hour, 45 minutes was reasonable where delay was attributable to circumstances outside troopers’ control.).
Mecham v. Frazier, 500 F.3d 1200, 1205–06 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124,
1128 (10th Cir. 2001)); Sause v. Bauer, – F.3d –, 2017 WL 2641070 at *3(10th Cir. June 20, 2017).
Wilson v. Meeks, 52 F.3d 1547, 1552 (10th Cir. 1995).
Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S. Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 205 (2001)).
White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (quoting United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997)
and Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)).
that “the clearly established weight of authority from other courts [has] found the law to be as the
Plaintiff’s discussion of clearly established law relies on general propositions from a
number of cases.40 These general propositions do not make the unlawfulness of Defendant’s
actions apparent, such that a reasonable officer in Defendant’s position would clearly understand
detaining Plaintiff under these circumstances violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The
Court’s research revealed no authority from either the Tenth Circuit or the Supreme Court that
says a two-hour detention of a suspect to await the arrival of the lead investigator for a child
death case is unconstitutional.
The sole case the parties discussed containing a similar fact pattern was Seymour v. City
of Des Moines,41 an Eighth Circuit case from 2008. In Seymour, a father was detained in his
home after calling 911 because his infant son had stopped breathing. While the mother
accompanied the child to the hospital, the father stayed home with the remaining two children,
intending to join his wife once someone arrived to watch the children. The father told the
officers at the scene “that the child had been fussy; that the father had twice tried unsuccessfully
to reach the mother on her cell phone; that the child eventually fell asleep; that when the mother
later returned the father’s call the father told her that it was time for the child to be fed; and that
Sause, 2017 WL 2641070 at *3 (citing Fancher v. Barrientos, 723 F.3d 1191, 1201 (10th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Casey v. City of Fed. Heights, 509 F.3d 1278, 1284 (10th Cir. 2007))).
Doc. 41 at 13-17 (citing Cortez v. McCauley, 478 F.3d 1108, 1123 (10th Cir. 2007) (police cannot effect
an investigative detention without reasonable suspicion; police cannot arrest without probable cause); Lundstrom v.
Romero, 616 F.3d 1108, 1125–26 (10th Cir. 2010) ( stating police officers should interview witnesses, investigate
basic evidence, and inquire if a crime committed before arrest or detention); Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200,
212 (1979) (holding arrest must be supported by probable cause); Jones v. Hunt, 410 F.3d 1221 (10th Cir. 2005)
(explaining “free to leave” standard; seizures without any legal justification violated the Fourth Amendment); Elder
v. Holloway, 510 U.S. 510 (1994) (finding police detective on notice that Fourth Amendment applies to her);
Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 573 (1988) (discussing “free to leave” standard); United States v. Hill, 199
F.3d 1143,1147–48 (10th Cir. 1999) (setting forth eight factors to determine whether a person was, in fact seized;
explaining totality of circumstances applies to determine if person felt free to terminate encounter with government
519 F.3d 790 (8th Cir. 2008).
when the mother got home and checked on the infant, he was not breathing.”42 The officers on
the scene told the father that he was to remain at the home until detectives from the child abuse
investigative team arrived. The infant died shortly after the father arrived at the hospital with
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as the likely cause of death.
The Eighth Circuit held that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to detain the
father because these facts were not inherently suspicious and the officers did not present
evidence that their training might alert them it was suspicious.43 The Eighth Circuit, however,
concluded that the defendants had made a reasonable mistake as to the legality of their actions
given: 1) the detective planned on arriving promptly to the scene, 2) the state has a strong interest
in investigating child death cases, and 3) child deaths can be difficult to investigate and that it is
important to interview the person who had cared for the child immediately before the incident.44
The Eighth Circuit ultimately concluded the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity with
respect to the detention, stating: “we cannot say that an officer conducting a child death
investigation who pursued a means of investigation that he thought would be fairly unintrusive
and which he considered useful in the circumstances made an unreasonable mistake regarding
the legality of his actions.45
Plaintiff argues Seymour is inapposite because the detective mistakenly believed that the
father wanted to remain at home to watch his remaining two children and officers on the scene
had failed to communicate to the detective that the father had repeatedly requested to go the
hospital. Plaintiff argues that no such misunderstanding or communication gaps were present in
Id. at 793.
Id. at 798.
Id. at 798–99.
this case.46 The Court finds this factual distinction insufficient to discount Seymour.
Additionally, here, Defendant had reasonable suspicion to suspect child neglect or abuse given
the condition of the house and the contradictory physical evidence that J.G. had been vomiting.
But even if Defendant lacked reasonable suspicion to detain Plaintiff and the detention was
unduly prolonged, the Court cannot say that a reasonable officer in Defendant’s position would
have known that Plaintiff’s detention was too lengthy or intrusive to pass constitutional muster.
Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that it was clearly established law that officers cannot detain
the person who cared for the child immediately before the child’s death for investigation. The
Court finds Defendant is thus entitled to qualified immunity.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED BY THE COURT that Defendants’ Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. 35) is granted.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: June 26, 2017
S/ Julie A. Robinson
JULIE A. ROBINSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Doc. 41 at 17.
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