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Finley v. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 26, 2016

Amelia Finley, Plaintiff,
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, et al., Defendants.



Before the Court is Defendants Gerlach, Fax, Osborn, and Anderson’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 90.) The motion is fully briefed.[1] For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion is granted.


On December 16, 2013, detectives from the Maricopa County Sherriff’s Office (“MCSO”) were surveilling Plaintiff Amelia Finley’s apartment because they had received a tip that her nephew, Joseph Lee Gonzales, might be hiding there. (Doc. 91, Ex. 3.) Gonzales was wanted for a murder that had occurred two days prior.[2] (Id., Ex. 2.) Around 1:00 PM, non-party Detective Felix observed an individual who he believed matched Gonzales’ general description exit Plaintiff’s apartment and enter a taxi. (Id., Ex. 3; Doc. 94, ¶ 14.) Detective Felix radioed this information to dispatch, describing the individual as a black person dressed in tan shorts, a dark color t-shirt, and possibly a hooded sweatshirt. (Doc. 91, Ex. 3.)

Detectives Anderson, Osborn, and Gerlach responded to Detective Felix’s radio dispatch and followed the taxi. (Id.) Detective Anderson attempted to verify the passenger’s identity through the taxi windows, but was unsuccessful because they were tinted. (Id., Exs. 3, 7-10.) When the taxi reached its destination, Detectives Gerlach and Osborn surrounded the taxi with their guns drawn and ordered the occupants to exit the vehicle with their hands up and lie face down on the ground. (Id., Exs. 3, 8, 9; Doc. 94, ¶¶ 17-18.)

Although the parties dispute some of the details of what occurred next, [3] they generally agree about how the encounter unfolded. For example, Defendants assert that Plaintiff hesitated to exit the taxi and began screaming profanities at them; Plaintiff insists that she exited the taxi “without a word uttered.” (Id.) They agree, however, that Plaintiff complied with Defendants’ demands to lie face down on the ground. (Id.) Detective Gerlach approached Plaintiff and handcuffed her. (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 9; Doc. 94, ¶ 21.) Detective Gerlach contends that he helped Plaintiff to a sitting position, but Plaintiff claims that he “tossed her on her back.” (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 9; Doc. 94, ¶ 23.) At this point, Detective Gerlach discovered that Plaintiff was not Gonzales. (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 9.) When asked, Plaintiff identified herself as Amelia Finley. (Id., Ex. 3; Doc. 94, ¶ 24.) Detective Gerlach asserts that he removed Plaintiff’s handcuffs shortly after she identified herself; Plaintiff claims that “a lot of time had passed” before they were removed. (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 9; Doc. 94, ¶¶ 27-28.)

After discovering that Plaintiff was not Gonzales, Defendants questioned her about her relationship to Gonzales and her knowledge of his whereabouts. (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 9; Doc. 94, ¶¶ 29-35.) Defendants contend that Plaintiff became increasingly angry and continued to shout profanities at them. (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 9.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendants told her Gonzales was a member of a drug cartel that would “go after his family until they found him, ” which Plaintiff interpreted as a threat to her safety. (Doc. 94, ¶¶ 31-34.) Plaintiff denied knowledge of Gonzales’ whereabouts and the murder, and was released. (Doc. 91, Ex. 3; Doc. 94, ¶¶ 35-36.)

A few minutes later, Plaintiff returned to the scene and demanded Defendants’ names and badge numbers. (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 7, 10; Doc. 94, ¶ 57.) Defendants gave her the information and resumed questioning her about Gonzales. (Doc. 91, Ex. 3; Doc. 94, ¶ 58.) Plaintiff revealed that she had heard rumors about the homicide, attempted to contact Gonzales via social media, and received a phone call from him. (Doc. 91, Ex. 3; Doc. 94, ¶¶ 59-60.) She then left the scene and did not return. (Doc. 91, Ex. 3; Doc. 94, ¶ 62.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants infringed her Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by falsely arresting her and using excessive force to detain her.[4] (Doc. 10, ¶¶ 17-20.) As a result of the incident, Plaintiff claims that she has experienced fear, paranoia, emotional distress, and mental anguish, all exacerbated by the fact that she was already suffering from PTSD. (Doc. 94, ¶¶ 63-70.) Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 90.)


Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates “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). Substantive law determines which facts are material and “[o]nly 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). A fact issue is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). When the nonmoving party “bear[s] the burden of proof at trial as to an element essential to its case, and that party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine dispute of fact with respect to the existence of that element, then summary judgment is appropriate.” Cal. Architectural Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)).


Section 1983 provides a cause of action for persons who have been deprived of their constitutional rights by persons acting under color of law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It is a mechanism “for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred, ” and Ais not itself a source of substantive rights." Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1164 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). To succeed on a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show “(1) that a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under color of State law.” Long v. Cty. of L.A., 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by falsely arresting her and using excessive force during the encounter.

I. Detectives Fax & Anderson Preliminarily, “[l]iability under section 1983 arises only upon a showing of personal participation by the defendant.” Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Detectives Fax and Anderson did not participate in the stop and detainment of Plaintiff. The record indicates that both arrived some time afterward. (Doc. 91, Exs. 3, 7-10.) Because Plaintiff provides no evidence that Detectives Fax and ...

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