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Thomas v. Cassia County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 17, 2019

DEREK THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CASSIA COUNTY, IDAHO, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho, JAY M. HEWARD, and MICHAEL AKERS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          David C. Nye, Chief U.S. District Court Judge

         I. OVERVIEW

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Derek Thomas' (“Thomas”) Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 71); Motion for Entry of Judgment under Rule 54(b) (Dkt. 72); Motion for Discovery (Dkt. 84); and Motion Requesting Oral Argument (Dkt. 85). Defendant Michael Akers' (“Akers”) has also filed a Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 82).

         Having reviewed the record and briefs, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court will address the motions without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(1)(B). Accordingly, Thomas' Motion Requesting Oral Argument (Dkt. 85) is DENIED.

         For the reasons outlined below, the Court also finds good cause to GRANT in PART and DENY in PART Thomas' Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 71), DENY Thomas' Motion for Entry of Judgment (Dkt. 72), STAY Akers' Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 82) for ninety days, and GRANT Thomas' Motion for Discovery (Dkt. 84).

         II. BACKGROUND

         The background of this case is set forth in the Court's prior order (Dkt 70). The Court incorporates that background by reference here. Following the Court's order on Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 70), Thomas filed a Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. 71), and, alternatively, a Motion for Entry of Judgment under Rule 54(b) (Dkt. 72). Shortly thereafter, Akers filed a Motion for Reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Nieves v. Bartlett, 139 S.Ct. 1715 (2019).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Thomas asks the Court to reconsider its decision under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). This Rule does “permit[] a district court to reconsider and amend a previous order, ” but the Ninth Circuit instructs that the Rule offers an “extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources.” Carroll v. Nakatani, 342 F.3d 934, 945 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting 12 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 59.30[4] (3d ed. 2000)). “[T]here are four limited grounds upon which” a district court may grant a motion for reconsideration: “(1) the motion is necessary to correct manifest errors of fact or law; (2) the moving party presents newly discovered evidence; (3) reconsideration is necessary to prevent manifest injustice; or (4) there is an intervening change in the law.” Coffelt v. Yordy, No. 1:16-CV-00190-CWD, 2016 WL 9724059, at *1 (D. Idaho Nov. 30, 2016) (citing Turner v. Burlington N. Santa Fe R.R. Co., 338 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003)). “A losing party cannot use a Rule 59(e) motion to relitigate old matters or to raise arguments that could have been raised before the entry of judgment.” Id. (citing Sch. Dist. No. 1J, Multnomah Cty. v. ACandS, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir. 1993)).

         This Court has previously explained:

A motion to reconsider an interlocutory ruling requires an analysis of two important principles: (1) Error must be corrected; and (2) Judicial efficiency demands forward progress. The former principle has led courts to hold that a denial of a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment may be reconsidered at any time before final judgment. Preaseau v. Prudential Insurance Co., 591 F.2d 74, 79-80 (9th Cir. 1979). While even an interlocutory decision becomes the “law of the case, ” it is not necessarily carved in stone. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes concluded that the “law of the case” doctrine “merely expresses the practice of courts generally to refuse to reopen what has been decided, not a limit to their power.” Messinger v. Anderson, 225 U.S. 436, 444 (1912). “The only sensible thing for a trial court to do is to set itself right as soon as possible when convinced that the law of the case is erroneous. There is no need to await reversal.” In re Airport Car Rental Antitrust Litigation, 521 F.Supp. 568, 572 (N.D. Cal. 1981) (Schwartzer, J.).
The need to be right, however, must co-exist with the need for forward progress. A court's opinions “are not intended as mere first drafts, subject to revision and reconsideration at a litigant's pleasure.” Quaker Alloy Casting Co. v. Gulfco Indus., Inc., 123 F.R.D. 282, 288 (N.D. Ill. 1988).

Lancaster v. Kordsiemon, 1:15-CV-00239-BLW, 2016 WL 6471428, at *1 (D. Idaho Oct. 31, 2016).

         “As long as a district court has jurisdiction over the case, then it possesses the inherent procedural power to reconsider, rescind, or modify an interlocutory order for cause seen by it to be sufficient.” City of L.A. v. Santa Monica BayKeeper, 254 F.3d 882, 885 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Melancon v. Texaco, Inc., 659 F.2d 551, 553 (5th Cir. 1981)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Motions to Reconsider

         In their competing motions to reconsider, Thomas and Akers ask the Court to reconsider numerous holdings in its prior order. The Court considers each request in turn:

         1. Finding that a reasonable officer could have found probable cause existed to arrest Thomas

         First, Thomas claims that the Court committed error when it held that a reasonable officer could have found probable cause existed to arrest Thomas. Thomas accuses the Court of “neglect[ing] a profusion of exculpatory evidence negating probable cause, as well as evidence of fabrication and mischaracterization of evidence by defendant Akers.” Dkt. 71, at 6. This is incorrect. While the Court's order may not have specifically discussed everything it considered in reaching its conclusions, the Court considered the entire record, including every theory, argument, and piece of potentially exculpatory evidence presented by Thomas. Simply, reaching a different conclusion than Thomas would have liked is not error.

         Thomas raises a number of items he contends the Court ignored or disregarded. See Dkt. 71-1, at 3-9. As an initial matter, the Court notes that in reaching its decision on the Motions for Summary Judgment, it considered every one of these theories and pieces of evidence. Regardless, in an effort to be as clear as possible, the Court will briefly discuss a few of the items Thomas specifically raises in his Motion to Reconsider.

         First, Thomas contends that the Court ignored inconsistencies between Akers' probable cause affidavit and S.K.'s deposition testimony-which he contends serve as evidence that Akers falsified his probable cause affidavit. Specifically, Thomas states that “Akers attributed the following identical, verbatim recitations of the following events from both S.K. and Povlsen: “Mr. Thomas' blue Chevrolet pickup truck accelerat[ed] away to the east at 45-50 MPH.” Dkt. 71-1, at 4. Thomas claims that later, “against his own interests S.K. denied under oath that he ever said this to Akers.” Id.

         This, however, misconstrues S.K.'s later testimony. At his deposition, S.K. was asked whether he made a statement to Deputy Akers regarding Thomas' speed when leaving the scene of the accident. S.K. said “I told [Akers] he went from 35 to 45.” Dkt. 52-12, at 27. Shortly thereafter, S.K. clarified that he may have given Akers an estimation up to 50 miles per hour. Id. at 28. This is the exact portion of S.K.'s deposition that Thomas cites in support of his contention that S.K. “denied under oath that he ever said this to Akers.” Construing this as a denial of S.K.'s prior statement is a mischaracterization of his deposition testimony and does nothing to persuade the Court.

         Similarly, Thomas contends that Akers falsified his probable cause affidavit by attributing a statement to S.K.'s grandfather that he never made. Specifically, in his probable cause affidavit, Akers wrote that Povlsen told him he was inside his house when he “heard the sound of a vehicle rapidly accelerating” and then stepped outside and “saw a blue Chevrolet pickup truck accelerate to the east at 45-50 MPH.” Dkt. 52-21, at 2. Thomas contends that Povlsen actually said he “didn't see anything.” Dkt. 71-1, at 5.

         Thomas bases this theory on a statement Povlsen made to another officer (Officer Higley) a few days after his initial interview with Akers. Office Higley informed Povlsen that he was there to talk to him about the incident, and Povlsen replied “I actually told the officer that come out there the first time, you know, I actually didn't see anything.” Dkt. 52-20, at 2. Later, he told Officer Higley “the actual incident I did not see.” Id. at 6.

         However, in his deposition testimony, Povlsen was asked about this statement. Specifically, Plaintiff's Counsel said: “[W]hen [Officer Higley] came out the first time, you told him that you didn't see anything.” Dkt. 52-14, at 6. Povlsen replied “I did not see the accident.” Id. Plaintiff's Counsel sought clarification from Povlsen regarding the meaning of that statement, to which Povlsen replied “I didn't see the accident-the impact.” Id.

         Nothing in these subsequent statements are inconsistent with Povlsen's initial statement to Akers that he “heard the sound of a vehicle rapidly accelerating” and then stepped outside and “saw a blue Chevrolet pickup truck accelerate to the east at 45-50 MPH.” Dkt. 52-21, at 2. In fact, at his deposition, Pavlsen once again affirmed that he saw Thomas' truck driving away from the scene of the alleged incident. The Court is unsure why Thomas continues to mischaracterize these statements, but it considered these theories in reaching its decision on the Motions for Summary Judgment and found them unpersuasive.

         Next, Thomas argues that Akers ignored “substantial evidence negating any suggestion that [S.K.'s damages tire and slime on S.K.'s clothes] was caused by a collision from behind, much less an intentional one.” Dkt. 71, at 8. Thomas raises a number of concerns in this area that the Court fully considered in reaching its prior decision. The Court also carefully reviewed the photographs of S.K., his bike, and Thomas' truck that Akers took the day of the incident underlying this case. The photographs clearly show green tire slim sprayed on S.K.'s clothes (Dkt. 52-6, at 1) and on his bike (Dkt. 52-6, at 3; Dkt. 52-7, at 1-3). They also show an area of his tire that had sustained damage (Dkt. 52-7, at 2). While the Court recognizes that this evidence presents some oddities (such as S.K.'s tire holding air after the alleged incident and the lack of slime on Thomas' truck), there are reasonable explanations for these oddities besides S.K. fabricating the incident. Ultimately, the Court considered all this evidence and Thomas' various theories and held that a reasonable officer in Akers' position could have found probable cause to arrest.

         That said, Thomas correctly highlights poor phrasing used by the Court in its prior order. In discussing the lack of slime on Thomas' truck, the Court said “[t]his oddity, standing alone, is not enough to overcome a finding of probable cause.” Dkt. 70, at 10.

         Based upon this sentence, Thomas contends that the Court applied an erroneous legal standard in determining whether probable cause existed. As Thomas correctly argues, probable cause determinations are based upon the “totality of the circumstances.” The Court understands Thomas' concern, and agrees that the wording of this sentence could potentially cause confusion. However, the Court also notes that-despite its poor choice of words-it still applied the correct legal standard. This is clear when the Court's discussion of probable cause is read in its entirety.

         For example, in discussing the applicable legal standard, the Court said that it must look to the “totality of the circumstances.” Dkt. 70, at 7. At the outset of its analysis, the Court stated that “[i]n viewing the totality of circumstances known to Akers at the time of the arrest, a prudent officer could have believed Thomas was guilty of leaving the scene of an accident.” Id. at 9. Finally, when summarizing its decision on the matter, the Court said “[i]n sum, the Court finds that-based upon the information known to Akers at the time- a reasonable officer could have found probable cause to arrest Thomas for hit and run.” Id. at 12.

         As these statements demonstrate (and as the Court's analysis-when viewed it its entirety-makes clear), the Court took into account all of the evidence, including potentially exculpatory evidence, when determining whether a reasonable officer could have found probable cause to arrest Thomas. Thomas' Motion for Reconsideration isolates a poorly worded sentence that the Court agrees should have been more carefully crafted. That said, the Court's analysis clearly applied the correct legal standard, and the Court stands by its prior decision regarding probable cause to arrest.

         Thomas highlights another sentence that the Court is less concerned about. When discussing concerns over S.K.'s credibility, the Court said “[w]hile Akers was at least somewhat familiar with S.K. and Thomas prior to the events in question-and may have even known of their strained relationship-that does not automatically delegitimize his finding of probable cause.” Dkt. 70, at 10-11.

         In response to this statement, Thomas states that he “has not made such an argument and need not establish this. It is just one brick among many others in a wall, which were ignored by Akers and not considered by the Court, clearly establishing a genuine issue of material fact.” Dkt. 71, at 13 (emphasis in original). However, the very next sentence of the Court's order states: “S.K.'s reliability was simply one relevant consideration in Akers' investigation.” Dkt. 70, at 11. Clearly, the Court did not ignore concerns over S.K.'s credibility and considered those concerns along with all of the other “bricks” that made up the totality of the circumstances known to Akers at the time of the arrest. However, the Court reached a different conclusion than Thomas advocated for. While that is undoubtably disappointing for Thomas, it is not error.

         The Court understands that Akers' statements made after the arrest are concerning and cast doubt over his motivations. Yet the Court has a duty to apply the law fairly and objectively. Unfortunately for Thomas, the law does not allow the Court to consider Akers' subjective intent when determining whether probable cause existed. Based upon the objective evidence that makes up the totality of the circumstances (and after thorough consideration of any potentially exculpatory evidence known or not pursued by Akers), the Court held that a reasonable officer in Akers' position could have found probable cause to arrest him. The Court stands by its decision on this matter.

         As such, Thomas' Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED in PART as it relates to the Court's finding that a reasonable officer in Akers' ...


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