Oram v. The Dillon City Police Department et al
ORDER granting 93 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting 101 Motion for Summary Judgment; adopting in part Findings and Recommendations re 130 Findings and Recommendations. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Lynch's Finding s and Recommendations (No. 130) is ADOPTED IN FULL. Officers Jeremy Alvarez and Ceth Haggard's Motion for Summary Judgment (No.93) and the City of Dillon's Motion for Summary Judgment (No. 101) are GRANTED. Oram's claims in this case r elated to Officers Alvarez and Haggard, and the City of Dillon and the Dillon City Police Department are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Final Pretrial Conf scheduled for 1/5/17 at 3:30 p, and the trial scheduled for 1/23/17, at 9:00 am are VACATED pending further action from the Court. Signed by Judge Brian Morris on 12/20/2016. (ELL) Modified on 12/20/2016 to indicate that a copy was mailed to Oram by U.S. Mail (ELL).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
GARY ORAM, JR.,
THE CITY OF DILLON, CETH
HAGGARD, JEREMY ALVAREZ,
and JACOB JOHNSON,
ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE
JUDGE’S FINDINGS AND
Defendants The City of Dillon, Ceth Haggard, and Jeremy Alvarez move
the Court for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.
United States Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch issued Findings and
Recommendations in this matter. (Doc. 130.) Judge Lynch recommended that the
Court grant the motions and dismiss the action. No party has filed objections. The
Court has reviewed Judge Lynch’s Findings and Recommendations for clear error.
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313
(9th Cir. 1981). The Court finds no error.
This case arises from an incident that occurred in the early morning hours on
January 30, 2014, in Dillon, Montana. Pro se Plaintiff, Gary Oram, Jr., was
intoxicated and was attempting to open a door on a parked police car. A bystander,
Jacob Johnson, approached Oram to deter him from accessing the car, and the two
got into a physical altercation. Defendants Jeremy Alvarez and Ceth Haggard,
Dillon Police Officers, arrived at the scene later and arrested Oram for assaulting
Oram asserts that he sustained injuries during his arrest. Although Oram
indicates he was not personally aware of exactly what happened, he believes that at
some point the officers physically beat him by either hitting or kicking him. He
later underwent several surgeries to address a hematoma affecting his right ear.
Oram advances four legal claims for relief. First, he alleges that Defendants
are liable for “conspiracy.” Specifically, he contends law enforcement officers
were obligated to arrest Johnson for his assault on Oram. (Doc. 35 at 24.) The
officers instead exercised the “power of conspiratorial coercion” and wrongfully
arrested Oram. Id.
Second, Oram alleges that Haggard and Alvarez employed excessive force
to arrest him in violation of his rights protected under the Fourth Amendment.
Third, Oram alleges that Haggard and Alvarez unlawfully arrested him without
probable cause in violation of both the Fourth Amendment and his due process
rights protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Finally, Oram alleges that Defendants violated his equal protection rights
guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. He asserts that Haggard and Alvarez
discriminated against him and treated him differently than Johnson because they
arrested Oram, and not Johnson.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) entitles a party to summary judgment
“if 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.” A movant may satisfy this
burden where the documentary evidence produced by the parties permits only one
conclusion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). Once the
moving party has satisfied his burden, he is entitled to summary judgment if the
non-moving party fails to designate by affidavits, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, or admissions on file, “specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).
The Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party in deciding a motion for summary judgment, and draws all justifiable
inferences in the non-moving party’s favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Betz v.
Trainer Wortham & Co., Inc., 504 F.3d 1017, 1021 (9th Cir. 2007). Additionally,
because Oram is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his documents
liberally and give them “the benefit of any doubt” with respect to Defendant’s
summary judgment motion. Frost v. Symington, 197 F.3d 348, 352 (9th Cir. 1999).
See also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
Oram advances his claims alleging that Defendants violated his federal
constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 permits claims under
federal law against a local governmental entity, or a local official or employee. “To
make out a cause of action under section 1983, plaintiffs must plead that (1) the
defendants acting under color of state law (2) deprived plaintiffs of rights secured
by the Constitution or federal statutes.” Williams v. California, 764 F.3d 1002,
1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (quotation and citation omitted).
Judge Lynch determined that Haggard and Alvarez had probable cause to
arrest Oram for assault. (Doc. 130 at 6-12.) Judge Lynch noted that the information
that Haggard and Alvarez possessed at the time of Oram’s arrest, as set forth in
their investigative reports, remains largely undisputed. No reasonable jury could
conclude that no probable cause existed to arrest Oram for assault. See Yousefian v.
City of Glendale, 779 F.3d 1010, 1014-15 (9th Cir. 2015) (concluding summary
judgment based on finding of probable cause is properly granted where the
evidence demonstrates no reasonable jury would conclude probable cause was
Judge Lynch further determined that Oram has failed to present any
evidentiary material that raises a genuine issue for trial as to whether Haggard and
Alvarez used excessive force against him by hitting or kicking him. (Doc. 130 at
12-15.) Haggard and Alvarez each affirmatively state, through their sworn
testimony in an affidavit, that neither one of them “punched, kicked, beat,” or
otherwise used unreasonable force against Oram. (Docs. 96 at ¶ 29; 97 at ¶ 28.)
Oram relies upon what he represents as a written statement prepared by a
purported witness, Sam Hayden. The referenced document is handwritten, but is
signed by no one. The statement does not qualify as a sworn declaration or
affidavit, nor as an unsworn declaration under penalty of perjury. See 28 U.S.C.
1746. “References to such unsworn statements are insufficient to generate a
genuine dispute of fact” to survive summary judgment. Jones v. Williams, 791 F.3d
1023, 1032 (9th Cir. 2015).
Judge Lynch determined that Haggard and Alvarez are entitled to judgment
against liability for Oram’s equal protection claim under the doctrine of qualified
immunity. (Doc. 130 at 15-20.) Qualified immunity renders individual state actors
immune from suit “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
Under the qualified immunity analysis, the Court considers whether the
facts, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, show that
the defendant’s conduct violated a constitutional right. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S.
194, 201 (2001). The immunity analysis further requires the Court to consider
whether the asserted constitutional right was clearly established. Saucier, 533 U.S.
at 201. A right is clearly established if the “contours of the right [are] sufficiently
clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that
right.” Id. 532 U.S. at 202. See also Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa, 718 F.3d 800,
824 (9th Cir. 2013). The Court possesses “discretion in deciding which of the two
prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the
circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
Judge Lynch determined that the law relative to a class-of-one equal
protection claim and its application to discretionary decisions made by police
officer is not clearly established. In particular, neither the Ninth Circuit nor the
United States Supreme Court clearly has established that a police officer exercising
discretionary decision-making authority as to which suspect to charge and arrest
for a criminal offense, and which suspect not to charge, can be liable under the
equal protection clause for such conduct when the officer’s decision is not based
on the plaintiff’s membership in a protected class. The Court agrees that Haggard
and Alvarez are entitled to qualified immunity as to Oram’s equal protection claim.
Judge Lynch further determined that Haggard and Alvarez are entitled to
summary judgment on Oram’s conspiracy allegation. (Doc. 130 at 20-23.) Oram
has failed to demonstrate that either Haggard or Alvarez violated Oram’s
constitutional rights. In the absence of an underlying violation of a federal or
constitutional right actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a theory of liability alleging
defendants conspired to violate a person’s constitutional rights lacks viability.
Dooley v. Reiss, 736 F.2d 1392, 1395 (9th Cir. 1984). The failure of the underlying
section 1983 claims precludes a conspiracy claim. Cassettari v. Nevada County,
Cal., 824 F.2d 735, 739 (9th Cir. 1987).
Judge Lynch determined that The City of Dillon’s motion for summary
judgment dismissing Oram’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims should be granted as well.
(Doc. 130 at 23-24.) No sufficient evidence exists to support those claims of
liability. Given the absence of any evidence of an underlying violation of Oram’s
constitutional rights, the City of Dillon cannot be held liable. Oram has presented
no evidence which suggests that either Haggard or Alvarez violated his
constitutional rights. Municipalities cannot be held liable where the court has
concluded that no individual police officer inflicted a constitutional injury upon the
plaintiff. Yousefian, 779 F.3d at 1016.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Lynch’s Findings and
Recommendations (Doc. 130) is ADOPTED IN FULL. Officers Jeremy Alvarez
and Ceth Haggard’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 93) and The City of
Dillon’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 101) are GRANTED. Oram’s
claims in this case related to Officers Alvarez and Haggard, and the City of Dillon
and the Dillon City Police Department are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Final Pretrial Conference scheduled
for January 5, 2017, at 3:30 p.m., and the Trial scheduled for January 23, 2017, at
9:00 a.m., are VACATED pending further action from the Court.
DATED this 20th day of December, 2016.
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