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Stucki v. City of Pocatello

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 25, 2017

GINA STUCKI; MINOR CHILD 1, by and through her mother GINA STUCKI; and MINOR CHILD 2, by and through her mother, GINA STUCKI, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF POCATELLO; BANNOCK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; BANNOCK COUNTY EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS CENTER and NIKO GORDON IV, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer for Pocatello Police Department, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge United States District Court.

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it Defendants City of Pocatello and Niko Gordon's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 51). The Court heard oral argument on the motion on May 17, 2017 and now issues the following decision.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND.

         In May 2012, Jay Romjue and Gina Stucki were romantically involved, and Romjue moved into Stucki's house. He later moved out, but on September 11, 2013, Stucki called police regarding concerns about Romjue. Stucki made the call directly to police headquarters; it was not a 911 call. Stucki asked the police to help her get Romjue to leave her alone.

         That evening, Officer Evans met with Stucki. He told her he would contact Romjue the next morning and tell him to leave Stucki alone or face trespassing charges. At about 8:00 a.m. the next morning, police received a hang-up 911 call from the Stucki residence. Romjue had entered Stucki's home, grabbed Stucki by the hair, and was waiving a gun. Stucki's daughter made the 911 hang-up call.

         Dispatch advised Officer Gordon of the 911 hang-up call. Officer Gordon went to the Stucki residence, and Stucki answered the door. Officer Gordon asked her if everything was okay. Stucki shook her head no, and pulled Officer Gordon into the house. Officer Gordon did not see any signs of struggle at that moment, but Stucki and her daughter were crying. Officer Gordon was positioned between the child and Romjue, but at some point Stucki and her child ended up behind Romjue.

         Officer Gordon began questioning Romjue. He then suggested Romjue leave the residence so the parties could cool off. Stucki informed Officer Gordon that she and Romjue had a past relationship which had been physically abusive at times. Both Stucki and Romjue confirmed that there had been pushing. About five minutes into the encounter, Stucki's daughter told Officer Gordon that Romjue had a gun. Officer Gordon asked to see the gun, and Romjue pulled it out. Romjue did not place his finger on the trigger, and he appeared to be surrendering his gun. Romjue did not appear agitated, but seemed calm and compliant.

         Officer Gordon started to step back, but slipped and fell. As he fell, he pulled out his gun, tried to radio for back up, and fired four shots at Romjue. None of the shots hit Romjue. Stucki grabbed her daughter and ran to the bathroom. Romjue headed the opposite way to the kitchen. Officer Gordon abandoned his position between Stucki and Romjue and left the house. Officer Gordon then called dispatch, advised that shots had been fired, and was told by dispatch to retreat and take cover. Officer Gordon then left the immediate area.

         Stucki and her daughter were left in the house with Romjue for about 45 minutes. Outside, police advised Stucki and her children to stay calm. Romjue eventually broke through the bathroom door. He then killed himself in front of Stucki and her children. Stucki filed this action on behalf of herself and two daughters alleging federal civil rights claims and state negligence claims.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “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). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001)(en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support ...


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