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Gherity v. Pfaff

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 1, 2016

David John Gherity, et al., Plaintiffs,
Jeffrey Pfaff, et al., Defendants.

          Paul Egtvedt, Egtvedt Law Firm, P.L.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiffs.

          Helen R. Brosnahan, Dakota County Attorney's Office, Hastings, Minnesota, for Defendants James Backstrom, Dakota County, and Dakota County Attorney's Office.

          Sarah E. Hargadon, Hennepin County Attorney's Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendant Hennepin Healthcare System, Inc.


          RICHARD H. KYLE United States District Judge


         This action arises out of a February 2014 fire at the apartment shared by Plaintiffs David Gherity and Joan Isabella in Burnsville, Minnesota. Isabella was injured and transferred for treatment to Hennepin Healthcare System, Inc., d/b/a Hennepin County Medical Center (“HCMC”). Once there, however, HCMC officials denied Gherity any access to (or information about) her; he was later charged by the Dakota County Attorney's Office with having started the fire and assaulting Isabella. After those charges were dropped, Gherity and Isabella commenced the instant action, asserting a slew of constitutional claims against the City of Burnsville and the Burnsville police officers involved in the matter; Dakota County, the Dakota County Attorney's Office, and James Backstrom, the Dakota County Attorney (collectively, the “Dakota County Defendants”); and HCMC. Presently before the Court are Motions to Dismiss by the Dakota County Defendants[1] and HCMC. For the reasons that follow, the Motions will be granted.


         The Amended Complaint alleges the following facts. On February 9, 2014, Gherity and Isabella, who had been dating for the prior ten years, were living together in an apartment in Burnsville. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15.) That morning, Gherity left for work while Isabella remained at the apartment to clean. (Id. ¶ 16.) She consumed alcohol and smoked throughout the day; eventually her blood-alcohol level reached 0.27 and she accidentally started a fire in the apartment, severely burning herself. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) Responding paramedics found her sitting on a sofa in heavy smoke, holding a coffee mug; she was in shock, confused, and struggled to follow commands. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) She was transported to HCMC for treatment. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         Gherity did not learn of the fire until later that evening, when he returned to the apartment from work. (Id. ¶ 27.) He called HCMC and spoke to “staff” about Isabella's condition, then went to see her. (Id. ¶ 31.) Once there, he provided medical information to the hospital about Isabella, but staff “decided [he] was ‘weird and kinda creepy' and had a ‘bad feeling' about him, ” and he was told he was barred from the hospital and would receive no information about Isabella's condition. (Id. at ¶¶ 32, 44.) Thereafter, HCMC denied Isabella access to a telephone, prevented her from having any contact with Gherity, and “moved her from room to room randomly.” (Id. ¶ 56.) The Amended Complaint alleges that in doing so, HCMC “acted in concert with” the Burnsville Police Department, which had “requested that HCMC assist it in preventing Gherity and [Isabella] from contacting each other.” (Id. ¶ 58; see also id. ¶ 59 (“HCMC knew of Gherity's and [Isabella's] relationship . . . and wanted to assist BPD in acting against Gherity.”).)

         Meanwhile, authorities undertook an investigation into the cause of the fire. But according to Gherity, that investigation was aimed at charging him with a crime despite it being “obvious” he was not responsible rather than finding out how the fire had actually started. He alleges that he had previous encounters with the Burnsville Police Department, including an earlier arrest and prosecution for assault for which he was ultimately acquitted. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.) He claims that the same officer involved in the earlier case (Defendant Max Yakovlev) also was involved in the investigation of the fire and told others that Gherity should be a suspect. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35, 37, 39, 45.) Ultimately, this biased investigation, according to Gherity, led another officer (Defendant Jeffrey Pfaff) to swear out a false “Statement of Probable Cause” that was submitted to the Dakota County Attorney's Office. (Id. ¶ 76.) The County Attorney's Office, after allegedly failing to “conduct a proper analysis or investigation of the facts or law of the case, ” then “recklessly or knowingly approved” a criminal complaint charging Gherity with first-degree assault and arson. (Id. ¶ 93.) He was arrested on April 2, 2014, but the charges against him were later dropped. (Id. ¶¶ 107, 118.)

         On March 31, 2016, Gherity and Isabella commenced the instant action against Pfaff, Yakovlev, the City of Burnsville, the Dakota County Defendants, and HCMC, among others, alleging a host of claims under the United States Constitution and state law. The Dakota County Defendants and HCMC moved to dismiss, and Plaintiffs then filed an Amended Complaint slightly altering their allegations but not the nature of their claims.[2] The Dakota County Defendants and HCMC have now moved to dismiss a second time. Their Motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.


         A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss only if it includes “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). A “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” will not suffice. Id. at 555; accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Nor will a complaint suffice if it “tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Instead, the plaintiff must set forth sufficient facts in his complaint to “nudge[] the[] claim[] across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a [party] has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In ...

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