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Miles v. Coleman

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 5, 2017

Bernard Miles, Plaintiff,
Michael Coleman, City of Brooklyn Center, Detective Lund, Detective Sonnenstahl, Detective Husarik, Detective Poidinger, Deputy Fleck, Lieutenant Dietzman, City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County, Defendants.


          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Dismissal and/or Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 29.) For the reasons addressed below, the Court grants Defendants' motion and dismisses the complaint.


         On or about February 1, 2011, Defendant Michael Coleman, who was employed as a peace officer by the City of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and assigned to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Violent Offender Task Force, prepared and signed an application for a search warrant and a supporting affidavit for the purpose of searching an apartment in Minneapolis (Apartment #2) for controlled substances and firearms. The five-page supporting affidavit describes a criminal investigation of Plaintiff Bernard Miles and another individual for alleged narcotics trafficking. The affidavit explains that a confidential reliable informant (CRI) who had known Miles for several years had recently seen Miles possessing crack cocaine and a firearm inside Apartment #2. The affidavit also states that a person who lives in the same apartment building had recently complained to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office about noise and people visiting and leaving Apartment #2 at all hours of the day and night.

         As relevant here, the affidavit includes the following statement about Miles's criminal history:

Your affiant has learned through a criminal history check that Miles was convicted on 09/06/1994 for Simple Robbery; arrested on 09/06/1995 for Robbery but was not prosecuted; convicted on 08/10/1998 for 2nd Degree Aggravated Robbery; convicted on 09/16/2003 for 2nd Degree Aggravated Robbery; convicted on 04/17/2007 for 1st Degree Aggravated Robbery.

         The affidavit also includes the following statement addressing the need for a nighttime search of Apartment #2:

A nighttime search outside the hours between 7:00 AM and 8:00 PM is necessary to prevent the loss, destruction or removal of the objects of the search or to protect the searchers or the public because:
The apartment (i.e. the subject of this search warrant) is occupied by the suspects. The CRI has observed at least one handgun inside of the apartment in the recent past. The apartment building is located adjacent to an elementary school. Your affiant believes that the residence can be more safely and effectively approached during nighttime hours so as to protect the safety of the Peace Officers executing the search warrant and to eliminate the presence of children coming, going, or occupying school property.

         A state court judge signed the search warrant on February 1, 2011, finding that probable cause existed to justify the search, that a nighttime search “is necessary to prevent the loss, destruction, or removal of the objects of said search, or to protect the searchers or the public, ” and that an unannounced search “is necessary to prevent the loss, destruction, or removal of the objects of said search and to protect the safety of the peace officers.” That same day, at 9:15 p.m., Officer Coleman and several other officers executed the search warrant and conducted an unannounced nighttime search of Apartment #2. Miles was not present when the law enforcement officers began their search, but he arrived a short time later. Among other things, the law enforcement officers recovered substances that they suspected to be cocaine and a loaded firearm with an obliterated serial number that was located in a lock box under the bed in Miles's bedroom. Officers transported Miles to the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center.

         On February 3, 2011, the State of Minnesota filed a criminal complaint in state court charging Miles with unlawful possession of a firearm and third-degree possession of a controlled substance, both of which are felony violations of Minnesota law. Miles subsequently moved to suppress the evidence obtained by the law enforcement officers during the search of Apartment #2. In a July 15, 2011 order, the state court granted Miles's motion and suppressed the evidence recovered from Apartment #2. The state court found that the robbery convictions described in Officer Coleman's affidavit supporting the search warrant application were incorrectly attributed to Miles. In actuality, Miles had no robbery convictions or other weapons-related convictions in his criminal history, and the robbery convictions referenced in the affidavit were attributable to a different individual. The state court expressly declined to find that this error was intentional, reckless, negligent, or the result of any bad faith on the part of Officer Coleman. The state court concluded that, even if this erroneous information were removed from the affidavit, probable cause would exist to support the search warrant and to justify the unannounced entry.

         The state court nonetheless concluded that, absent the erroneously included criminal history, the warrant application would not support a finding of reasonable suspicion necessary to justify the nighttime search authorization. The state court concluded that the search-warrant application failed to satisfy the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 626.14 (2016), which imposes restrictions on the execution of search warrants after 8:00 p.m. This defect, according to the state court, rendered the search unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Accordingly, the state court suppressed the evidence obtained during the search. The State of Minnesota subsequently dismissed the criminal complaint against Miles.

         In September 2015, Miles commenced this action against Officer Coleman and six other law enforcement officers in their individual capacities (law enforcement officer defendants), as well as the City of Brooklyn Center and Hennepin County (municipal defendants).[1] Counts I through III of the complaint assert claims against the law enforcement officer defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of Miles's constitutional rights. Counts IV through VI assert state-law tort claims against all defendants. And Count VII alleges that the municipal defendants are liable to Miles for property damage caused during the search, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 626.74 (2016). Defendants have moved for either dismissal or summary judgment as to all claims.


         Defendants characterize their motion as a motion for “dismissal and/or summary judgment.” A complaint must be dismissed when it fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must allege sufficient facts such that, when accepted as true, a facially plausible claim to relief is stated. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). When determining whether the complaint states such a claim, a district court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Blankenship v. USA Truck, Inc., 601 F.3d 852, 853 (8th Cir. 2010). The factual allegations need not be detailed, but they must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007). The district court may consider exhibits attached to the complaint and documents that are necessarily embraced by the complaint without converting a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Mattes v. ABC Plastics, Inc., 323 F.3d 695, 697 n.4 (8th Cir. 2003).

         A motion must be treated as a motion for summary judgment, however, when matters outside the pleadings are presented to and considered by the district court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). Summary judgment is proper when the record before the district court establishes that there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact” and the moving party is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Windstream Corp. v. Da Gragnano, 757 F.3d 798, 802-03 (8th Cir. 2014). A nonmoving party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must cite “particular parts of materials in the record” that support the assertion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); accord Krenik v. Cty. of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). A 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, 47 F.3d at 957 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         I. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         As a threshold matter, Defendants assert that Miles's claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine implicates the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court addresses this issue first. See Mosby v. Ligon, 418 F.3d 927, 931 (8th Cir. 2005).

         “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that, ‘with the exception of habeas corpus petitions, lower federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over challenges to state court judgments.' ” Id. (quoting Ballinger v. Culotta, 322 F.3d 546, 548 (8th Cir. 2003)). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies only to cases brought by parties who received an unfavorable decision in state court and are “complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the [federal] district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine “applies only in limited circumstances, where a party in effect seeks to take an appeal of an unfavorable state-court decision to a lower federal court.” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 466 (2006) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Defendants argue that Miles's claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because Miles is seeking to “circumvent . . . and essentially appeal” the state court's July 2011 order granting Miles's motion to suppress evidence in the criminal case against him. But Defendants' reliance on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is misplaced, because Miles prevailed on his motion to suppress evidence in state court. Because Miles did not receive an unfavorable decision in state court and is not complaining of injuries caused by a state-court judgment, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not deprive this Court of subject-matter jurisdiction over Miles's claims. See Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284.

         II. Section 1983 Claims (Counts I - III)

         Counts I through III of Miles's complaint assert claims against the law enforcement officer defendants, in their individual capacities, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides, in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured . . . .

Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights; rather, a district court addressing a claim pursuant to Section 1983 must “identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

         The law enforcement officer defendants seek summary judgment on Miles's Section 1983 claims on the basis of qualified immunity. “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.” Messerschmidt v. Millender, 565 U.S. 535, 546 (2012) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). The qualified-immunity inquiry is two-fold: (1) whether the plaintiff has asserted facts that demonstrate the violation of a constitutional right and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged conduct. Winslow v. Smith, 696 F.3d 716, 731 (8th Cir. 2012). District courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236. “Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense for which the defendant carries the burden of proof. The plaintiff, however, must demonstrate that the law is clearly established.” Sparr v. Ward, 306 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir. 2002).

         When performing the qualified immunity analysis, a district court assesses the facts as they appeared to the state actors. Greiner v. City of Champlin, 27 F.3d 1346, 1354 (8th Cir. 1994). When determining whether a right is clearly established, the district court must determine whether a reasonable officer would know that the officer's conduct was unlawful in the circumstances presented. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236-42; accord Davis v. Hall, 375 F.3d 703, 712 (8th Cir. 2004) (“Officials are not liable for bad guesses in gray areas; they are liable for transgressing bright lines.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Qualified immunity provides law enforcement officers “breathing room” to exercise “reasonable but mistaken judgment[ ].” Messerschmidt, 565 U.S. at 546 (internal quotation marks omitted). As such, qualified immunity “protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “[W]hether an official protected by ...

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