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Pida v. City of Bonners Ferry

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 15, 2018

THE CITY OF BONNERS FERRY, by and through its employee, CITY POLICE OFFICER WILLIAM COWELL in his official and individual capacities, Defendants.


          Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Now pending before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 16), Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 18), and the parties' Joint Stipulated Motion to Continue Trial (Docket No. 30). Having carefully considered the record, participated in oral argument, and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a traffic stop that occurred in Boundary County, Idaho, on March 18, 2015. At 7:30 p.m. that evening, Defendant William Cowell, an officer with the Bonners Ferry Police Department, pulled over Plaintiff Brother Timothy Marie Pida, a Catholic Hermit, for speeding (traveling 53 mph in a 35 mph traffic zone). Greeting Officer Cowell with a “Peace be with you officer, ” Plaintiff apologized and indicated that he likely did not see the multiple speed limit signs because he was talking on his cell phone and was not paying attention.

         As part of the traffic stop, Officer Cowell asked Plaintiff for his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. According to Officer Cowell, Plaintiff “appeared to be extremely nervous” as he variously explained that he was returning (to Eureka, Montana) from Spokane, Washington; had been working with Mother Theresa's Sisters, providing aid to people who were dying; had an elderly mother with health problems; and had a brother who was a state policeman. After securing the requested information, Officer Cowell returned to his patrol vehicle and ran Plaintiff's vehicle through dispatch.

         Relevant here, Officer Cowell also made a call to Agent Clancy Harris with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, asking Agent Harris if he was nearby and could respond with his police dog to perform a “canine drug sniff.” Officer Cowell was suspicious of Plaintiff's behavior after being pulled over and overall appearance (Plaintiff was wearing the raiment of a Catholic Hermit); he also smelled what he believed to be the odor of marijuana and cayenne pepper (a potential masking agent) coming from Plaintiff's vehicle. Agent Harris indicated that, “if [you] can hang out, I can make it in about ten minutes.” Officer Cowell agreed and began filling out an Idaho Uniform Citation for speeding.

         When Agent Harris arrived on the scene approximately 12 minutes later, Officer Cowell was still in the process of completing the citation. When he finished, he exited his patrol vehicle and had the following exchange with Agent Harris:

Harris: Hey.
Cowell: Alright.
Harris: How many people in there?
Cowell: There's one.
Harris: One?
Cowell: Yeah. Ok, he's Spokane to Eureka. Ummm, I'm getting an odor that, gotta faint, faint odor of green and then an odor like cayenne.
Harris: Oh, ok.
Cowell: The guy is a, hmm, in full Catholic priest, uh, yeah, garb.
Harris: Uh huh.
Cowell: He's on the phone with my dying Mother. I've been down with mother Theresa's Sisters in Spokane helping people that, that, you know, they're dying. He's nervous, he, ah, couldn't find his driver's license, ahh, my brother's a State Trooper.
Harris: Really?
Cowell: Yeah, things aren't adding up.
Harris: Alright, I'll talk to him real quick and take the dog around and see if he detects?

         Officer Cowell then returned to Plaintiff's vehicle to give him back his information and issue the citation. Simultaneously, Agent Harris walked his dog around Plaintiff's vehicle to have the dog sniff for drugs. Officer Cowell explained to Plaintiff that he was issuing him a simple violation for speeding and went over the general protocol for either paying the fine or contesting the ticket. Officer Cowell then returned to his patrol vehicle to retrieve additional information on contacting the Boundary County Courthouse (that Officer Cowell claimed to have forgotten to originally give to Plaintiff) and, on his way back to Plaintiff's vehicle, was informed by Agent Harris that his dog did not alert to the presence of any drugs. Officer Cowell gave Plaintiff the additional information, discussing what needed to be done regarding the citation and possible court dates. When finished, Plaintiff shook Officer Cowell's hand and was free to leave.

         The entire traffic stop lasted approximately 23 minutes. Plaintiff later contested the citation and was found guilty of speeding after a trial on the merits on April 2, 2015.

         Plaintiff has since filed a Complaint (and, later, a First Amended Complaint) against the City of Bonners Ferry and Officer Cowell under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the traffic stop was unduly prolonged for a canine drug sniff in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Pl.'s First Am. Compl., ¶ 51 (Docket No. 1-3). Plaintiff also alleges that Officer Cowell's negligence in extending a routine traffic stop for the purpose of conducting a canine drug sniff resulted in “severe scratches and gouges” in the paint of Plaintiff's vehicle (allegedly caused by Agent Harris's dog). See id. at ¶¶ 26, 45, 47, & 49. Defendants now move for summary judgment on each claim. See generally Defs.' MSJ (Docket No. 16). Plaintiff opposes these efforts, while also moving for partial summary judgment on his § 1983 claim. See generally Pl.'s MPSJ (Docket No. 18).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides, in pertinent part, that the “court shall grant 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For summary judgment purposes, an issue must be both “material” and “genuine.” An issue is “material” if it affects the outcome of the litigation; an issue is “genuine” if it must be established by “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute . . . to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” Hahn v. Sargent, 523 F.3d 461, 464 (1st Cir. 1975); see also British Motor. Car Distrib. v. San Francisco Auto. Indus. Welfare Fund, 883 F.2d 371, 374 (9th Cir. 1989). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         When parties submit cross motions for summary judgment, courts independently search the record for factual disputes. See Fair Hous. Council of Riverside Cnty., Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001). The filing of cross motions for summary judgment “where both parties essentially assert that there are no material factual disputes” does not vitiate a court's responsibility to determine whether disputes as to material facts are present. See id.

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, courts do not make findings of fact or determine the credibility of witnesses. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Rather, it must draw all inferences and view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587-88; Whitman v. Mineta, 541 F.3d 929, 931 (9th Cir. 2008).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Officer Cowell is Entitled to Qualified Immunity on Plaintiff's § 1983 Action

         In determining whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity, courts must determine (1) whether there has been a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the officer's alleged misconduct. See Lal v. California, 746 F.3d 1112, 1116 (9th Cir. 2014). Consequently, at summary judgment, an officer may be denied qualified immunity in a § 1983 action “only if (1) the facts alleged, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting injury, show that the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right, and (2) the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the incident such that a reasonable officer would have understood his or her conduct to be unlawful in that situation.” Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2011).

         Here, there is no dispute that Officer Cowell's initial seizure of Plaintiff (pulling him over for speeding) was based on probable cause and was concededly lawful. However, a seizure that is lawful at its inception can nonetheless violate the Fourth Amendment if its manner of execution unreasonably infringes interests protected by the Constitution. See Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 407 (2005). Using a trained narcotics-detection dog (even without probable cause) during a lawful traffic stop, does not, in and of itself, automatically implicate privacy interests. See id. at 409 (“Any intrusion on respondent's privacy expectations [via canine drug sniff] does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement.”). But where a canine drug sniff adds any time to an otherwise lawful traffic stop, its use must be supported by an independent, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. See Rodriguez v. U.S., 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1614-16 (2015) (police may not extend otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion to conduct canine drug sniff).

         Therefore, the merits of each party's motion for summary judgment (at least with respect to Plaintiff's § 1983 claim and alleged Fourth Amendment violation) depend on (1) whether Officer Cowell prolonged Plaintiff's traffic stop to conduct a canine drug sniff and, if so, (2) whether Officer Cowell had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity so as to justify extending the traffic stop by using a canine drug sniff. If there is no unreasonable delay or Officer Cowell had the requisite reasonable suspicion to use a canine drug sniff and, thus, delay Plaintiff's traffic stop, Defendants prevail; conversely, if there is an unreasonable delay and no corresponding reasonable suspicion, Plaintiff prevails.

         At the outset, the Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that Officer Cowell had reasonable suspicion to add time to Plaintiff's traffic stop for the purpose of conducting a canine drug sniff. Officer Cowell admitted as much during his ...

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