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Soderberg v. City of McCall

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 2, 2018

JOHN LENARD SODERBERG, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MCCALL; DALLAS PALMER, JUSTIN WILLIAMS; ESTATE OF EUGENE PAUL DRABINSKI; EUGENE PAUL DRABINSKI; LARRY STOKES; DOES 1 - 25, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE EDWARD J. LODGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court in the above entitled matter is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 15.)[1] The parties have filed responsive briefing and the Motion is ripe for the Court's consideration. Having fully reviewed the record herein, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Motion shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff John Soderberg was a guest at the Shore Lodge hotel in McCall, Idaho when the incident that led to this suit took place. (Dkt. 3, 22.) On February 1, 2015, at or around 2:30 a.m., Mr. Soderberg was socializing with friends in his hotel room when the front desk called and asked him and his guests to quiet down. Sometime after receiving the phone call, Mr. Soderberg heard a knock at his hotel room door. (Dkt. 3 at ¶ 5.6.) Mr. Soderberg answered the door, opening it about a foot. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg at ¶ 9.) When Mr. Soderberg opened the door he observed two individuals standing in the dimly lit hotel hallway. (Dkt. 3 at ¶ 5.11.) The first individual was standing in the hallway immediately in front of his door and identified himself as a Shore Lodge Security Officer. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg at ¶ 8.) Mr. Soderberg observed a second individual standing, mostly out of view, behind the Shore Lodge Security Officer who, Mr. Soderberg states, was wearing dark clothing and did not speak or identify himself. (Dkt. 3 at ¶ 5.11.) That second individual was Defendant Dallas Palmer, a police officer with the McCall City Police Department (“MPD”), who was wearing his full MPD uniform with his gun and badge visible.[3] (Dkt. 15-3, Aff. Palmer ¶ 14.)

         While Mr. Soderberg was speaking with the Shore Lodge Security Officer, Officer Palmer came to the forefront and “began barking commands at Mr. Soderberg.” (Dkt. 22.) Officer Palmer demanded that Mr. Soderberg leave his room and step into the hallway to speak with him. (Dkt. 3 at ¶ 5.12.) When Mr. Soderberg refused, Officer Palmer told him that “he smelled marijuana coming from the room and yelled at him to come out or he was going to be arrested.” (Dkt. 22.) Again, Mr. Soderberg refused and when he tried to retreat into his hotel room, Officer Palmer placed his foot inside of the room and wedged it against the door preventing Mr. Soderberg from closing it. (Dkt. 3 at ¶ 5.14.) Mr. Soderberg reacted in turn by wedging his foot against the inside of the door to keep the door from opening further. (Dkt. 22.) Attempting to force the door open, Officer Palme r threw his body against the door from his position in the hallway. (Dkt. 22.) Officer Palmer then grabbed Mr. Soderberg by the arms and kicked his leg several times in an attempt to knock Mr. Soderberg's foot away from the inside of the door. (Dkt. 3 at ¶¶ 5.15-5.16.) Mr. Soderberg alleges that Officer Palmer “physically wrenched” him from “behind the partially opened door” into the hallway “while punching and kicking him, and then threw him to the ground on all-fours.” (Dkt. 22.) Officer Palmer ordered Mr. Soderberg to get on his stomach and put his hands behind his back all the while kicking and striking Mr. Soderberg, including knee strikes to his ribs. (Dkt. 3 at ¶ 5.18.) The hallway was narrow and Mr. Soderberg states that he could not stretch out and lie on his stomach from the position he was in. (Dkt. 22.) Eventually, Mr. Soderberg was handcuffed and led out to a patrol car. He was arrested for frequenting a premises where drugs are being used and resisting and obstructing an officer. (Dkt. 3 at ¶¶ 5.21, 5.27.) Mr. Soderberg was placed in jail until he could make bail. Thereafter, Mr. Soderberg's attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence. The prosecutor ultimately dismissed the charges against Mr. Soderberg. (Dkt. 3 at ¶ 5.29.)

         Mr. Soderberg contends that as a result of this incident and the subsequent criminal charges, he has suffered emotional and mental trauma, damage to his reputation and credibility that resulted in the loss of his pharmaceutical representative job, and a lack of steady employment at a comparable compensation level. (Dkt. 3 at ¶¶ 5.32-5.34.)

         On January 30, 2016, Mr. Soderberg initiated these proceedings against the City of McCall, Officer Dallas Palmer, McCall Chief of Police Justin Williams, the Estate of former City Manager Eugene Drabinski, and former Interim McCall Chief of Police Larry Stokes. In his Complaint, Mr. Soderberg raises several § 1983 claims alleging the Defendants violated his constitutional rights when Officer Palmer conducted an unlawful search and seizure, invaded his right to privacy, used excessive force, and falsely arrested and confined him. (Dkt. 3.) Mr. Soderberg also raises other federal claims under § 1983 including conspiracy-failure to investigate; failure to supervise, train, and discipline; negligence; failure to implement appropriate policies; and malicious prosecution. (Dkt. 3.) Additionally, Mr. Soderberg asserts the following state law claims: unlawful search and seizure; unlawful entry; assault and battery; discrimination; false imprisonment; trespass and malicious injury to property; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; and negligence. (Dkt. 3.)

         On March 16, 2017, Defendants filed this Motion for Summary Judgment as to all of Mr. Soderberg's claims which the Court now takes up. (Dkt. 15.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Motions for summary judgment are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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).

         Summary judgment 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         Rule 56 mandates summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element which is essential to the non- moving party's case and upon which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. To show the material facts are not in dispute, a party may cite to particular parts of the record, or show that the materials cited in the record do not establish the presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party is unable to produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B); see T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322). The Court must consider “the cited materials, ” but it may also consider “other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

         The materials presented by the parties must be “presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). The Court does not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence put forth by the non-moving party and it must view all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Hughes v. United States, 953 F.2d 531, 541 (9th Cir. 1992).

         DISCUSSION

         This is a civil rights action. Mr. Soderberg's federal claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Dkt. 3.) His state law claims allege violations of the Idaho Constitution and state law.

         As a preliminary matter, Mr. Soderberg concedes that Defendants should be granted summary judgment on the following federal claims: (1) right to privacy, as it is subsumed by his search and seizure claim, and (2) conspiracy-failure to investigate. (Dkt. 22.) Mr. Soderberg also concedes that Defendants should be granted summary judgment on the following state law claims: (1) unlawful search and seizure, (2) unlawful entry, (3) discrimination, and (4) malicious injury to property. (Dkt. 22.) As such, this Court grants Defendants' Motion as to Counts Three, Four, Five, Eight, Eleven, and Fourteen of the Complaint. (Dkt. 3.) The Court finds as follows on the remaining claims.

         1. Section 1983 Claims

         “Section 1983 provides a cause of action for violations of a plaintiff's constitutional or other federal rights by persons acting under color of state law.” Summers v. City of McCall, 84 F.Supp.3d 1126, 1146 (D. Idaho 2015) (citing Nurre v. Whitehead, 580 F.3d 1087, 1092 (9th Cir. 2009)). “The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights.” McDade v. West, 223 F.3d 1135, 1139 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992)). To prevail on a § 1983 claim, the plaintiff must show that (1) acts by the defendant, (2) under color of state law, (3) deprived him of federal rights, privileges, or immunities and (4) caused him damage. See Wyatt, 504 U.S. at 161 (citing Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1163-64 (9th Cir. 2005)).

         The parties do not dispute that Officer Palmer was acting under the color of state law. The issue before the Court on these claims is whether Office Palmer's acts deprived Mr. Soderberg of his federal rights, privileges, or immunities.

         A. Search & Seizure and False Arrest Claims Against Defendant Palmer

         Mr. Soderberg argues Officer Palmer violated his Fourth Amendment rights when (1) Officer Palmer searched and seized him without probable cause and exigent circumstances and (2) Officer Palmer maliciously and falsely arrested and confined him without a warrant or probable cause. (Dkt. 3.) Defendants contend that Officer Palmer's conduct was lawful because the search and seizure was supported by probable cause and exigent circumstances and the arrest was supported by probable cause. (Dkt. 15-1.)

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees individuals the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and that no warrant “shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. “The purpose of this amendment is to ‘safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials.'” Silva v. City of San Leandro, 744 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1050 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (quoting Camara v. Municipal Court of the City and Cnty. of San Francisco, 387 U.S. 523, 528 (1967)). “The text of the Amendment thus expressly imposes two requirements. First, all searches and seizures must be reasonable. Second, a warrant may not be issued unless probable case is properly established.” Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011) (citation omitted). While “[a] seizure conducted without a warrant is per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, ” the presumption of unreasonableness can be overcome by “specifically established and well delineated exceptions.” Brewster v. Beck, 859 F.3d 1194, 1196 (9th Cir. 2017) (internal quotations omitted); see also Hopkins v. Bonvicino, 573 F.3d 752, 763 (9th Cir. 2009); United States v. Hawkins, 249 F.3d 867, 872 (9th Cir. 2001).

         i. Search & Seizure Claim

         Defendants argue that Officer Palmer had probable cause to believe Mr. Soderberg was violating the law when he smelled marijuana emanating from Mr. Soderberg's hotel room and his concern that evidence would be imminently destroyed was an exigent circumstance justifying his entry into the hotel room. (Dkt. 15-1.) Mr. Soderberg contends that Officer Palmer entered his hotel room and seized him without probable cause and unsupported by any exigent circumstances. (Dkt. 22.)

         One well-recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement “applies when ‘the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that [a] warrantless search is objectively reasonable.'” King, 563 U.S. at 459 (quoting Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 394 (1978)). An officer may lawfully conduct a search and seizure without a warrant if he has “probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed” and exigent circumstances exist. Sandoval v. Las Vegas, 756 F.3d 1154, 1161 (9th Cir. 2014); see also Hopkins, 573 F.3d at 766-67 (The exigent circumstances exception requires that (1) the officer had probable cause to search the house and (2) exigent circumstances justified the warrantless intrusion.). “[T]he exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search when the conduct of the police preceding the exigency is reasonable…[and, ] where…police did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment, warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is reasonable and thus allowed.” King, 563 U.S. at 462.

         “Probable cause exists ‘when the facts and circumstances within [an officer's] knowledge are sufficient for a reasonably prudent person to believe that the suspect has committed a crime.'” Reed v. Lieurance, 863 F.3d 1196, 1204 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Rosenbaum v. Washoe Cnty., 663 F.3d 1071, 1076 (9th Cir. 2011)). “The analysis involves both facts and laws. The facts are those that were known to the officer at the time of the arrest. The law is the criminal statute to which those facts apply.” Id. “Probable cause…is not a high bar: It requires only the kind of fair probability on which reasonable and prudent [people, ] not legal technicians, act.” Kaley v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 1090, 1103 (2014). The standard is an objective one, and “[t]he arresting officers' subjective intention…is immaterial in judging whether their actions were reasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes.” Kaley, 134 S.Ct. at 1103. “[T]he question of whether a reasonable officer could have believed probable cause existed goes to the jury unless there is only one conclusion a rational jury could reach.” Act Up!/Portland v. Bagley, 988 F.2d 868, 872 (9th Cir. 1993).

         A situation is considered exigent when the circumstances “‘make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.'” United States v. Struckman, 603 F.3d 731, 743 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006)). The Ninth Circuit has found, while not an immutable list, that exigent circumstances include: “‘(1) the need to prevent physical harm to the officers or other person, (2) the need to prevent the imminent destruction of relevant evidence, (3) the hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect, and (4) the need to prevent the escape of a suspect.'” Id. (quoting Fisher v. City of San Jose, 558 F.3d 1069, 1075 (9th Cir. 2009)).

         Officer Palmer's entry into Mr. Soderberg's hotel room in order to detain him to investigate the smell of marijuana was supported by probable cause. Under Idaho Code § 37-3732(c), it is “unlawful for any person to possess a controlled substance” without a valid prescription. Possession of marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance, is a felony in Idaho. See Idaho Code § 37-2705(d)(27) and § 37-3732(c)(1). Further, Idaho Code § 37-2732(d) makes it a misdemeanor “for any person to be present at any place in which he knows illegal controlled substances are being held for use.” See State v. Williams, 394 P.3d 99, 109 (Idaho Ct. App. 2016). In his Declaration, Officer Palmer states he has training and experience in detecting drugs, including marijuana. (Dkt. 15-3, Dec. Palmer at ¶ 7.) While the Shore Lodge Security Officer was speaking with Mr. Soderberg at the door, Officer Palmer detected what he believed to be, based on his training and experience, the smell of marijuana coming from Mr. Soderberg's hotel room. (Dkt. 15-3, Dec. Palmer.)

         Mr. Soderberg does not argue that it was impossible for Officer Palmer to smell marijuana. Instead he makes two conclusory, albeit sworn, statements. First, Mr. Soderberg states that he is a law abiding citizen. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg at ¶ 35.) Second, relying on the Shore Lodge front desk manager's inspection of Mr. Soderberg's room after he checked out on February 2, 2014, he maintains that there was no evidence of smoking or marijuana found in his hotel room. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg at ¶¶ 33-35) (Dkt. 22-2, Ex. B.) These statements do not create a genuine issue of material fact.

         Based on Officer Palmer's training and experience and his having detected the smell of marijuana emanating from Mr. Soderberg's hotel room, it was reasonable for Officer Palmer to believe there was marijuana in the room unlawfully. See Lingo v. City of Salem, 832 F.3d 953, 961 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing United States v. Kerr, 876 F.2d 1440, 1445 (9th Cir. 1989 (“[T]he presence of the odor of contraband may itself be sufficient to establish probable cause” for issuance of a warrant.); State v. Derrah, 84 P.3d 1084, 1087 (Or. Ct. App. 2004) (“The scent of marijuana, emanating from a residence, without more, is sufficient to support a conclusion that marijuana will likely be found inside that residence.”)); see also State v. Cunningham, No. 41167, 2014 WL 5410648, at *4 (Idaho Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2014) (concluding that the smell of marijuana from a heating vent outside of a residence was sufficient to support a reasonable nexus for probable cause to issue a search warrant for the residence). The Court finds probable cause existed in this case.

         The Court further finds exigent circumstances were present to justify Officer Palmer's entry into Mr. Soderberg's hotel room. Officer Palmer smelled marijuana coming from Mr. Soderberg's hotel room and Officer Palmer stated he heard, and Mr. Soderberg admits there were, other individuals in his room at the time. Based on this information, Officer Palmer's concern that the evidence would be destroyed or used before he could obtain a warrant, was objectively reasonable.

         Based on the foregoing, the Court finds Officer Palmer had probable cause when he entered Mr. Soderberg's hotel room to investigate the smell of marijuana where he reasonably believed, based on the totality of circumstances, that marijuana was present and would be imminently destroyed. See United States v. Ojeda, 276 F.3d 486, 488 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Because both probable cause and exigent circumstances were present, Officer Palmer's entry into the hotel room and the seizure of Mr. Soderberg did not violate his Fourth Amendment right. Defendants' are entitled to summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim relating to Officer Palmer's search and seizure.

         ii. False Arrest and Confinement Claim

         Mr. Soderberg asserts that Officer Palmer violated his Fourth Amendment rights when he was maliciously and falsely arrested without a warrant or probable cause and then confined. (Dkt. 3.)

         To prevail on a § 1983 claim for false arrest and confinement, the plaintiff must demonstrate that there was no probable cause to arrest. See Norse v. City of Santa Cruz, 629 F.3d 966, 978 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Cabrera v. City of Huntington Park, 159 F.3d 374, 380 (9th Cir. 1998)). As such, “[t]he absence of probable cause is a necessary element of [a] § 1983 false arrest…claim.” Yousefian v. City of Glendale, 779 F.3d 1010, 1014 (9th Cir. 2015). And a warrantless arrest is constitutional if, “at the moment the arrest was made, the officer had probable cause to make it.” Beck v. State of Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964); see also United States v. Lopez, 482 F.3d 1067, 1072 (9th Cir. 2007). “The validity of the arrest does not depend on whether the suspect actually committed a crime; the mere fact that the suspect is later acquitted of the offense for which he is arrested is irrelevant to the validity of the arrest.” Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 36 (1979); see also Beauregard v. Wingard, 362 F.2d 901, 903 (9th Cir. 1966) (“[W]here probable cause does exist civil rights are not violated by an arrest even though innocence may subsequently be established.”)

         The Court finds that Officer Palmer had probable cause to arrest Mr. Soderberg. In determining whether Officer Palmer had probable cause at the time of the arrest, the Court considers “whether at that moment the facts and circumstances within [the Officer's] knowledge…were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the petitioner had committed or was committing an offense.” Edgerly v. City and Cnty. of San Francisco, 599 F.3d 946, 954 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Beck, 379 U.S. at 91). “Although conclusive evidence of guilt is not necessary to establish probable cause, ‘mere suspicion, common rumor, or even strong reason to suspect are not enough.'” Id. (quoting Lopez, 482 F.3d at 1072).

         In this case, Mr. Soderberg alleges facts, which the Court takes as true for purposes of this Motion, that could have led a reasonable officer to believe probable cause existed to arrest Mr. Soderberg for resisting and obstructing an officer in violation of Idaho Code § 18-705.[4] Resisting and Obstructing is a misdemeanor offense that requires proof of three elements: (1) willful resistance, delay, or obstruction of an officer's duties; (2) the person resisting knew that the other person was an officer, and (3) the resisting person also knew at the time of the resistance that the officer was attempting to perform an official act or duty. State v. Adams, 67 P.3d 103, 108 (Idaho Ct. App. 2003).

         Mr. Soderberg argues his actions were not in violation of Idaho Code § 18-705 because he did not know Officer Palmer was a police officer when he answered his hotel room door as his view was obstructed by the hotel security guard and the hallway was dimly lit. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg at ¶ 10.) However, the probable cause determination is made based on the facts and circumstances known by Officer Palmer, not Mr. Soderberg, and there is no dispute that Officer Palmer was wearing his official MPD uniform, duty belt, gun, radio, and badge. (Dkt. 15-3, Aff. Palmer at ¶ 14.) Moreover, Officer Palmer stepped in front of the hotel security guard when he told Mr. Soderberg that he smelled marijuana and ordered Mr. Soderberg to exit his hotel room. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg at ¶¶ 10-13.) When Mr. Soderberg refused, Officer Palmer told him that if he did not exit the room he would be arrested. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg ¶ 14.) Officer Palmer then attempted to physically remove Mr. Soderberg from his room and Mr. Soderberg tried closing the door on the officer. It was then that Officer Palmer stuck his foot in the door and attempted to force it open while Mr. Soderberg continued to resist from the inside by trying to close the door and refusing to comply with Officer Palmer's commands. (Dkt. 22-2, Aff. Soderberg ¶¶ 15-21.) Even if Mr. Soderberg did not know Officer Palmer was a police officer when he initially answered the door, a reasonable officer in this situation would have believed that Mr. Soderberg was resisting and obstructing the officer's ability to discharge his duty to investigate the smell of marijuana.

         Officer Palmer was in uniform, stated that he smelled marijuana, ordered Mr. Soderberg to exit the room, and warned Mr. Soderberg that he would be arrested if he failed to comply. In response, Mr. Soderberg was noncompliant and resisted Officer Palmer's attempts to investigate. Based on the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable officer would have believed he had probable cause to arrest Mr. Soderberg for resisting and obstructing in violation of Idaho Code § 18-705. See Edgerly, 599 F.3d at 954 (Probable cause must exist under some specific criminal statute.) Therefore, the arrest did not violate Mr. Soderberg's constitutional rights and Defendants are granted summary judgment on the false arrest and confinement claim.

         In sum, Mr. Soderberg's § 1983 search and seizure and false arrest and confinement claims against Officer Palmer fail. Officer Palmer lawfully searched, seized, and arrested Mr. Soderberg. Therefore, Officer Palmer did not violate Mr. Soderberg's Fourth ...


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