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Lightle v. Olson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 5, 2017

Tiffany M. Lightle, Plaintiff,
Officer Matthew Olson, Officer Katie Winckler, City of Maple Grove, Katie Jean Allen, and Brokea, Inc., d/b/a Pearle Vision Maple Grove, Defendants.

          Jordan S. Kushner, Esq., Law Office of Jordan S. Kushner, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

          Ryan M. Zipf, Esq., League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, MN, on behalf of Defendants Officer Matthew Olson, Officer Katie Winckler, and City of Maple Grove; Kyle S. Willems, Esq., Tewksbury & Kerfeld, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendants Katie Jean Allen and Brokea, Inc., d/b/a/ Pearle Vision Maple Grove.




         On March 9, 2017, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Motions for Summary Judgment of Defendants Katie Jean Allen and Brokea, Inc., d/b/a Pearle Vision Maple Grove's (“Pearle Vision”), and Defendants Officer Matthew Olson, Officer Katie Winckler, and City of Maple Grove (“Maple Grove”) [Docket Nos. 17, 27]. For the reasons set forth below, the Motions are granted.


         A. Events at the Store

         On December 21, 2014, Plaintiff Tiffany M. Lightle (“Lightle”), an African American, went with her son and mother to Pearle Vision in Maple Grove, Minnesota, to pick up replacement eyeglasses. Compl. [Docket No. 1-1] ¶ 8. While her son was being fitted for his new glasses, Lightle and her mother were “killing time.” Zipf Aff. [Docket No. 31] Ex. 1 (“Lightle Dep.”) at 19:4. They browsed the store's inventory trying on frames displayed throughout the store. Id. 18:17-19:25. The store was fairly busy; other customers were also browsing inventory, and Pearle Vision employees were restocking frames into display cases. Zipf Aff. Ex. 9 at 8-9.

         While they looked at glasses, Lightle alleges that a Pearle Vision employee gave her and her mother “dirty looks.” Lightle Dep. at 76:25-77:6. Lightle further alleges that this employee watched and followed them around the store. Id. 75:5-6. Lightle eventually discussed a pair of purple frames with a different employee and also spoke with other employees about sports and the weather. Id. 22:12-19; 71:11-25. Although Lightle was interested in the purple frames, she decided against them after learning that they would need to be refitted and placed on order, and that she would have to be re-examined due to insurance rules. Id. 71:20-25; 72:14-20; 74:3-17; 77:21-78:5. Once her son's glasses fitting was completed, Lightle spoke with an employee about when she could later return for an eye exam, and then Lightle, her son and mother left the store without incident. Id. 77:21-78:5; 79:10-16; 99:18-100:1.

         After Lightle left, three employees approached store manager Katie Jean Allen (“Allen”) to relay their suspicions that Lightle had stolen a pair of Tiffany & Co. (“Tiffany”) brand sunglasses. Carter Aff. [Docket No. 22] ¶ 3; Segura Aff. [Docket No. 24] ¶ 3. The employees relayed their observations that Lightle and her mother were suspiciously shuffling sunglasses back and forth in a section of the store where a pair of Tiffany sunglasses was found to be missing from the sunglasses display board. Carter Aff. ¶ 3; Segura Aff. ¶ 3.

         It is Pearle Vision's policy that the eyewear racks are always fully stocked. Hawley Aff. [Docket No. 23] ¶ 4. If a pair of glasses is sold, employees are specifically trained to immediately re-fill the now empty slot with new eyewear. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5. This policy is primarily for inventory control purposes, as it helps the store immediately determine if a theft has occurred. Id. ¶¶ 5, 6. Two of the employees who spoke with Allen recalled seeing an empty slot of Tiffany sunglasses in the display nearby where Lightle and her mother had been standing, and one specifically remembered that the display was completely full before Lightle and her mother approached the display. Carter Aff. ¶ 3; Segura Aff. ¶ 3. Pearle Vision reports all thefts to law enforcement if they have sufficient proof. Zipf Aff. Ex. 4 (“Allen Dep.”) at 99:18-100:1.[1]

         Based upon the reports of her employees, Allen made the decision to contact the Maple Grove Police Department to report a possible theft. Id. 75:17-19.

         B. Police Investigation at the Store

         Maple Grove Patrol Officer Katie Winckler (“Officer Winckler”) was dispatched to Pearle Vision in response to Allen's call. Zipf Aff. Ex. 3 (“Winckler Dep.”) at 17:13-16. Upon arriving at the store, Allen reported to Officer Winckler that two women had been suspiciously passing sunglasses back and forth and that after they left, a pair of Tiffany sunglasses valued at $450 was missing from the display case where the women had been standing. Id. 17:18-18:1; 22:23-25; 33:14-16; 37:25-38:4. Lightle was identified as one of the women through a Medica ID card she had used at the store. Id. 17:18-20. Officer Winckler asked Allen if she could view the store's surveillance video, but it was unavailable. Id. 22:2-13. According to Allen, it can take up to an hour-and-a-half to obtain the recorded video for a specific timeframe. Allen Dep. at 37:20-22.

         At Officer Winckler's direction, Allen completed and signed a citizen's arrest form, which included a statement explaining the incident:

At around 3:30 Sunday the 21st two women came in with a young boy to pick up MA glasses. The two women went to the eye glass display and passed frames back and forth. Their behavior gave the indication that they may be stealing. When they left the store 1 frame from our sun board was missing. I then called the police to report possible theft.

Winckler Dep. at 21:15-21; Ex. 1 at 10. Based upon the information she received from Allen, Officer Winckler decided to arrest Lightle for theft. Id. 24:19-25:11.

         Officer Winckler contacted Maple Grove Officer Matthew Olson (“Officer Olson”) to provide him the information Allen gave about the alleged theft. Id. 24:21-24; Zipf Aff. Ex. 5 (“Olson Dep.”) at 15:16-18; 16:2-6. In addition to relaying what Allen had stated, Officer Winckler told Officer Olson that she had enough information to arrest Lightle for theft. Winckler Dep. at 26:2-4. Officer Olson ran Lightle's license plate and identified a home address in Crystal, Minnesota. Olson Dep. at 18:1-10. Officer Olson next requested that a Crystal police officer check the address for Lightle's vehicle. Id. 18:14-19. Crystal Officer Jonathan Wilkes (“Officer Wilkes”) responded. Zipf Aff. Ex. 7 (“Wilkes Dep.”) at 11:11-15.

         C. Events at the Crystal Residence

         Officer Wilkes drove to the Crystal address and spoke with Lightle. Id. 13:8-12. Officer Wilkes told Lightle why he was there and requested that she wait in the back of his squad car. Lightle Dep. at 25:5-17; Wilkes Dep. at 13:8-2. Lightle complied.

         During her time in the back of Officer Wilkes' squad car, Lightle was not handcuffed and was permitted to use her cell phone. Lightle Dep. at 34:12-16. Lightle testified that she called Pearle Vision to see if there was some misunderstanding, but the conversation was abruptly terminated. Id. 25:19-26:1; 27:11-20. Shortly thereafter, Lightle claims Officer Wilkes handed her his phone with Officer Olson on the other end. Id. 27:20-22. According to Lightle, Officer Olson said that the surveillance video shows her stealing a pair of glasses. Id. 27:22-24. Lightle challenged that assertion because the Pearle Vision employee she spoke with by phone told her that the surveillance video was unavailable. Id. 27:24-28:2. Lightle asserts that Officer Olson then called her a liar and a thief, which was overheard by the father of her children, who was standing nearby. Id. 28:9; 43:23-44:7.

         Officer Wilkes does not recall allowing Lightle to use his phone to speak with Officer Olson. Wilkes Dep. at 14:20-15:1. Officer Olson denies speaking with Lightle on the telephone. Olson Dep. at 21:21-23. Lightle was in Officer Wilkes' squad car for 20 minutes before Officer Olson arrived.

         Upon arriving at the house, Officer Olson first spoke with Officer Wilkes and Lightle's mother before questioning Lightle about the missing glasses. Id. 24:10-17. Lightle admitted to recently being at Pearle Vision, but denied stealing a pair of glasses. Id. 25:7-13. Lightle answered all of Officer Olson's questions while continuing to deny stealing the glasses. Id. 30:23-31:4.

         Based on the totality of the circumstances, including the information he received from Officer Winckler, Officer Olson determined that he had sufficient information to charge Lightle with theft. Id. 31:9-19. Lightle was not taken into custody, but was rather issued a tab charge[2]to appear at a later court date. Id. 33:10-14. Olson's interaction with Lightle lasted approximately 30 minutes. Id. 30:16-22.

         D. Officer Olson Returns to the Store

         The next day, Officer Olson returned to Pearle Vision to secure a copy of the surveillance video. Id. 33:17-18. Officer Olson believed the video shows Lightle concealing a pair of glasses in her winter jacket prior to exiting the store. Id. 34:23-35:5; Olson Aff. [Docket No. 30] ¶¶ 2, 3.

         Sometime thereafter, Officer Olson completed a police report. Winckler Dep. at Ex. 1 at 4-6. The report includes what Allen reported to Officer Winckler, Officer Olson's interaction with Lightle at the Crystal house, Officer Olson's belief that the surveillance video shows Lightle stealing a pair of glasses, and the issuance of a tab charge for Lightle to appear at a later court date. Id.

         The theft charges against Lightle were eventually dropped. Olson Dep. at 35:19-36:1. The glasses were never recovered.

         E. The Lawsuit

         Approximately a year after the incident, Lightle filed this lawsuit in state court. The Complaint alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and false imprisonment, defamation, malicious prosecution, and negligence. Lightle's claims arise from her contention that she was arrested because of her race and without probable cause. Defendants removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and now move for summary judgment on all claims.


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment shall be rendered if there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. On a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Ludwig v. Anderson, 54 F.3d 465, 470 (8th Cir. 1995). However, the nonmoving party may not “rest on mere allegations or denials but must demonstrate on the record the existence of specific facts which create a genuine issue for trial.” Krenik v. Cty. of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995).

         If evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party has been presented, summary judgment is inappropriate. Id. However, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties is not sufficient by itself to deny summary judgment. . . . Instead, ‘the dispute must be outcome determinative under prevailing law.'” Get Away Club, Inc. v. Coleman, 969 F.2d 664, 666 (8th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). “[S]ummary judgment need not be denied merely to satisfy a litigant's speculative hope of finding some evidence that might tend to support a complaint.” Krenik, 47 F.3d at 959.

         B. Federal Law Claims

         1. ...

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