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Miller v. Ortiz

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 22, 2018

Justin Miller, Plaintiff,
Derek Ortiz, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable Steven P. Logan United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 58.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of a collision between an Arizona Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) patrol car driven by Defendant Derek Ortiz and a motorcycle ridden by Plaintiff Justin Miller. The facts that follow regarding the collision are undisputed. Facts that are in dispute, however, are noted and considered in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

         On the evening of November 11, 2014, Plaintiff became intoxicated at a friend's home. (Doc. 59 ¶ 1; Doc. 75 ¶ 1.) When it was time to leave, Plaintiff got on his motorcycle and rode eastbound on U.S. Highway 60 in Mesa, Arizona. (Doc. 59 ¶ 2; Doc. 75 ¶ 2.) Plaintiff did not have a motorcycle license. (Doc. 59 ¶ 3; Doc. 75 ¶ 3.) The exact manner and speed at which Plaintiff was traveling is disputed by the parties.[1] DPS Officer Hiebert was traveling eastbound on U.S. Highway 60 when he saw Plaintiff and radioed to dispatch that a motorcyclist was traveling in excess of the speed limit in the high-occupancy vehicle (“HOV”) lane and asked if there were any other officers in the area to intercept Plaintiff. (Doc. 59 ¶¶ 8, 10; Doc. 75 ¶¶ 8, 10.) Officer Hiebert began to pursue Plaintiff with his emergency lights and sirens activated. (Doc. 59 ¶ 11; Doc. 75 ¶ 11.) Officer Hiebert then witnessed Plaintiff veer quickly from the HOV lane to the far-right shoulder of the highway where DPS Officer Derfus was standing outside of his patrol unit attending to an abandoned vehicle. (Doc. 59 ¶¶ 12-14; Doc. 75 ¶¶ 12-14.) The parties dispute whether Plaintiff swerved at Officer Derfus. (Doc. 59 ¶¶ 18-23; Doc. 75 ¶¶ 18-23.)

         Defendant Officer Ortiz was on-duty and parked at a nearby gas station when he heard Officer Hiebert's radio report of a motorcyclist traveling at a high rate of speed (Doc. 59 ¶ 29; Doc. 75 ¶ 29), and then Officer Derfus's subsequent report that the motorcyclist had swerved at him. (Doc. 59 ¶ 30; Doc. 75 ¶ 30.) Defendant Ortiz then proceeded to U.S. Highway 60 where he began to perform a traffic break[2] in an attempt to encourage Plaintiff to stop or slow down. (Doc. 59 ¶ 31; Doc. 75 ¶ 31.) Plaintiff estimated that he was one-half mile away when he saw Defendant Ortiz begin to perform the traffic break, roughly forty-seconds to one minute before the collision. (Doc. 59 ¶¶ 42-43; Doc. 75 ¶¶ 42-43.) Plaintiff continued to pass cars that were slowing down in response to the traffic break. (Doc. 59 ¶¶ 47-48; Doc. 75 ¶¶ 47-48.) Defendant Ortiz saw Plaintiff only briefly before his patrol car and Plaintiff's motorcycle collided. (Doc. 59 ¶ 34; Doc. 75 ¶ 34.) In an interview recorded just hours after the collision, Plaintiff could not recall whether he had hit Defendant Ortiz or if Defendant Ortiz had hit him. (Doc. 59 ¶ 60; Doc. 75 ¶ 60.) Plaintiff pleaded guilty to felony reckless endangerment and driving under the influence. (Doc. 59 ¶ 61; Doc. 75 ¶ 61.)

         Plaintiff has brought suit against the following parties: Defendant Derek Ortiz; Defendant Ortiz's wife, Defendant Jane Doe Ortiz; and Defendant State of Arizona. (Doc. 1-1 at 17.) Plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment against all Defendants (Count I); state law claims for negligence (Count II) and battery (Count III) against all Defendants; and respondent superior liability against Defendant State of Arizona (Count IV).[3] (Doc. 1-1 at 18-20.)

         II. Standard of Review

         A court shall grant summary judgment if the pleadings and supporting documents, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, “show[] 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Material facts are those facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact arises if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the movant is able to do such, the burden then shifts to the non-movant who, “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” and instead must “come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). At this stage, the function of the judge is “not [] to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         III. Discussion

         Derek Ortiz and the State of Arizona maintain that each are shielded from liability by qualified immunity and are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Doc. 58 at 1.) Because qualified immunity bears prominently on the outcome of Defendants' summary judgment motion, the Court will address it first.

         More than a mere defense to liability, the doctrine of qualified immunity “protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Qualified immunity extends to an official's actions regardless of whether the “error is a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231 (internal citation omitted). The doctrine provides government officials “breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011). “When properly applied, it protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'” Hughes v. Kisela, 862 F.3d 775, 782 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 743).

         A. ...

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