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Thompson v. City of Lake Havasu City

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 9, 2018

John D Thompson, Plaintiff,
City of Lake Havasu City, et al., Defendants.


          Douglas L. Rayes, United States District Judge.

         At issue are three motions for summary judgment: two filed on behalf of Plaintiff John Thompson and one on behalf of Defendants the City of Lake Havasu City (“City”) and Lake Havasu City Police Department Officers Michael Fuller and Jonathan Gray. (Docs. 29, 38, 57.) Thompson seeks summary judgment on all of his claims; Defendants seek summary judgment on Thompson's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim only. The motions are fully briefed and the Court heard oral argument on January 11, 2018. For the following reasons, the Court grants summary judgment for Officer Fuller on Thompson's § 1983 claim, but denies the remainder of all three the motions.

         I. Background

         In 2015, non-party Dennis Kropp consigned a boat to non-party Offshore Custom Marine (“OCM”), a boat dealership in Lake Havasu City owned by non-party Tim McDonald. Thompson purchased the boat from OCM for $40, 600. The boat then was hauled to South Carolina, where Thompson lives. Upon its arrival, Thompson noted that the boat had been damaged during transport. Accordingly, OCM hired non-party Douglas Parks to haul the boat to California for repairs, and then to transport it back to Thompson in South Carolina.

         While en route from California to his home in Lake Havasu City, Parks received a phone call from Kropp, who claimed to be the owner of the boat. Kropp asked Parks to turn the boat over to him, but Parks refused both because he did not know who Kropp was and because he had instructions to deliver the boat to Thompson in South Carolina. Unbeknownst to Parks, Kropp had not been paid his share of the purchase price from OCM and McDonald. Kropp had reported this fact to Officer Fuller, who already was familiar with issues surrounding OCM and McDonald's business practices. In fact, Fuller began investigating McDonald earlier that year after a number of individuals similarly reported that they had sold boats on consignment through OCM but had not been paid.

         Parks eventually arrived at his home in Lake Havasu City, where he was met by Kropp and some other individuals who had accompanied him. Kropp showed Parks paperwork that indicated he owned the boat and again asked Parks to give the boat to him. Parks responded that he was not willing to give Kropp the boat unless someone of authority confirmed the information in the paperwork and told him to release it.

         At some point, Parks' spouse and Kropp separately called the Lake Havasu City Police Department. Officer Gray responded to the civil standby call after dispatch informed him that (1) Kropp wanted to retrieve a boat he believed was his, (2) Officer Fuller had advised Kropp to call for assistance if he located the boat, and (3) Kropp wanted the police present to ensure that the exchange occurred without incident.

         Once at the scene, Officer Gray spoke with Kropp and Parks, both of whom informed him that the boat had been sold by OCM to someone in South Carolina. Kropp also gave Officer Gray the paperwork he previously had presented to Parks as proof of ownership. Officer Gray inspected the paperwork and ran a registration check through dispatch, which confirmed that Arizona records showed Kropp was the owner of the boat. Officer Gray conveyed this information to Parks and said “[w]e're going to allow [Kropp] to take possession of the boat.” (Doc. 39-2 at 17.) Parks gave Thompson's contact information to Officer Gray and then returned the boat to Kropp.

         As a result, Thompson had to take legal action in Arizona to recover the boat. Thompson subsequently filed this action against the City and Officers Fuller and Gray, claiming that the officers deprived him of his property without due process of law in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Defendants negligently handled the civil standby call.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, viewing those facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment may also be entered “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party based on the competing evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of material factual issues that “can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. When parties submit cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court reviews “each motion on its own merits” and “consider[s] each party's evidentiary showing, regardless of which motion the evidence was tendered under.” Oakley, Inc. v. Nike, Inc., 988 F.Supp.2d 1130, 1134 (C.D. Cal. 2013) (citing Fair Hous. Council of Riverside Cty., Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001)).

         III. Discussion

         For the most part, the pertinent facts are not genuinely disputed. Although the parties each identify some facts as disputed in their separate and controverting statements of facts, these disputes either involve immaterial matters, are semantic squabbles over the opposing party's characterization of deposition testimony, or reflect disagreements over the inferences that reasonably may be drawn from ...

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