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Schaffer v. Hooten

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 11, 2019

George W. Schaffer, Plaintiff,
Larry Hooten and Daniel Morales, Defendants.


          David G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge.

         Pro se Plaintiff George Schaffer filed a complaint against Defendants Larry Hooten and Daniel Morales, alleging federal and state law violations arising from their encounter with and detention of Plaintiff on July 29, 2016. Doc. 17. The Court granted judgment on the pleadings for the majority of Plaintiff's claims. Doc. 27. Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Fourth Amendment false arrest claim. Doc. 51. The motion is fully briefed, and no party requests oral argument. See Docs. 51;53;55. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendants' motion.

         I. Background.

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Plaintiff is a resident of Yavapai County, Arizona, and a volunteer for the Skull Valley Fire Department (“SVFD”). Doc. 52 ¶ 16. Defendants are Yavapai County deputy sheriffs. Id. ¶ 5. On July 29, 2016, Defendants were dispatched for a search-and-rescue call on the backside of Copper Basin Road towards Skull Valley. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff also joined the search-and-rescue team, responding to a call for help from SVFD volunteers. Id. ¶ 15. Hooten oversaw the mission as the search-and-rescue coordinator. Id. ¶ 6.

         At the scene, Plaintiff was not wearing a shirt, uniform, or insignia identifying him as a volunteer with SVFD. Id. ¶ 20. He drove up in his personal vehicle, and he testified that he switched to the SVFD rescue vehicle before he met Defendants. Docs. 52 ¶ 20; 54 ¶ 20. Plaintiff first met with Morales at the search-and-rescue staging area. Docs. 52 ¶ 21; 52-1 at 171:17- 173:4. Plaintiff and Morales discussed the location of the injured party and traveled down the road so Plaintiff could show Morales where he thought the victim was located. Docs. 52 ¶ 21; 52-1 at 171:17- 173:4. They then returned to the staging area. Docs. 52 ¶¶ 21-23; 54 ¶¶ 21-23.

         The parties dispute what transpired next. According to Plaintiff, he encountered Hooten when he returned to the staging area, introduced himself as “George with Skull Valley Fire, ” and then left because Hooten did not respond. Doc. 52-1 at 179:2-13. Defendant Hooten does not recall this conversation and only testified to an unidentified individual yelling something about being on the wrong road. Docs. 52 ¶ 23-25; 52-1 at 78:21-79:11. Plaintiff also testified that after the first conversation he yelled to Hooten that the Yavapai County Sheriff deputies were going in on the wrong road. Doc. 52-1 at 185:9-24. Plaintiff testified that he could see Hooten and expected to have a conversation with him, but Hooten did not follow-up. Id. at 187:8-13. Whether Hooten could identify Plaintiff as the individual who yelled at him is disputed. Compare Doc. 52 ¶ 25-26 (stating an unidentified individual), with Doc. 54 ¶¶ 25-26 (stating Hooten identified Plaintiff in his incident report). Hooten asked the chief of the SVFD who yelled at him, and the chief answered that he did not know. Doc. 52 ¶ 29.

         After the search-and-rescue team recovered the injured party, Plaintiff attended a debriefing by Hooten. Id. ¶ 33. During the debriefing, Defendants claim that Plaintiff was visibly rude, disrespectful, and disruptive, causing Hooten concern over whether Plaintiff belonged to the SVFD. Id. ¶ 34-35. According to Defendants, Hooten asked Plaintiff to identify himself, and Plaintiff failed to respond and glared at Hooten. Doc. 52 ¶¶ 37-39. Eventually, after Hooten requested Plaintiff's name five to ten more times, Plaintiff stated: “You don't need that.” Doc. 52 ¶ 43. Defendants claim no one identified Plaintiff as a member of the SVFD. Doc. 52 ¶ 45.

         Plaintiff disputes Defendants version of the debriefing encounter, stating that he did not make any verbal comments at the debriefing and that Defendant Hooten never articulated a concern about Plaintiff's membership in the SVFD. Doc. 54 ¶ 34. Plaintiff testified that he made a “tschh” noise during the debriefing because he felt Hooten was being disrespectful to members of the SVFD. See Docs. 52-1 at 201-03; 52 ¶ 36. And Plaintiff asserts that he verbally answered each time Hooten asked for identification by saying: “You don't need that.” Docs. 52 ¶ 44; 54 ¶ 39; 52-1 at 208. Plaintiff additionally argues that Hooten specifically asked the SVFD fire chief: “Chief are you going to help your man out here?” Doc. 54 ¶ 45. The fire chief was not given the opportunity to respond. Doc. 52-1 at 215:21-22.

         The parties agree that after about fifteen minutes of back and forth, Plaintiff said that he was a member of SVFD, did not provide his name, and stated: “I'm out of here. He then turned and walked away from the debriefing. Docs. 52 ¶ 46; 54 ¶ 46. Defendants followed, requested Plaintiff's full name and date of birth, and warned that if he refused he would be handcuffed or arrested. Doc. 52 ¶ 47 (handcuffed); Doc. 54 ¶ 47 (arrested). Hooten gave Plaintiff a final warning and then instructed Morales to handcuff Plaintiff. Doc. 52 ¶¶ 56. After he was handcuffed, Plaintiff gave Defendants his full name and the handcuffs were removed. Id. ¶¶57-59. Defendants assert that the handcuffs were removed immediately, but Plaintiff states that he remained handcuffed for approximately five to ten minutes. Id. ¶ 61; Doc. 54 ¶ 59. Plaintiff also testified that Morales had a night stick, but Defendants dispute this testimony, stating that they were not issued night sticks. Docs. 52 ¶ 74; 54 ¶ 74.

         II. Legal Standard.

         A 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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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). Summary judgment is also appropriate 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, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion

         Defendants move for summary judgment on the § 1983 false arrest claim because (1) Defendants had reasonable suspicion to stop and detain Plaintiff under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); (2) Defendants' investigatory stop was not an arrest; (3) Defendants had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff; (4) Defendants are protected by qualified immunity; and (5) Plaintiff is not entitled to punitive damages.

         A. Reasonable Suspicion for a Terry Stop.

         Defendants argue that they had reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff was impersonating a public servant in violation of A.R.S. § 13-2406. Defendants also argue that it was unlawful for Plaintiff to refuse to provide his identity after an officer's request under A.R.S. § 13-2412. Doc. 51 at 9.

         The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures” by the government, and “‘its protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons . . . that fall short of traditional arrest.'” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (citing Terry, 392 U.S. at 9); see also Ramirez v. City of Buena Park, 560 F.3d 1012, 1020 (9th Cir. 2009). An investigatory stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment “if the officer's action is supported by reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity may be afoot.” Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court must look at the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether the officer had an objective basis to suspect wrongdoing. Id. The Court may consider how the facts are interpreted by a trained officer. Cortez, 449 U.S. at 418. But the articulated facts supporting reasonable suspicion must be more than mere subjective impressions of a particular officer. Nicacio v. U.S. INS, 797 F.2d 700, 705 (9th Cir. 1985). Permissible deductions or rational ...

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