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Shimota v. Wegner

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 14, 2017

MICHELLE MACDONALD SHIMOTA, Plaintiff,
v.
BOB WEGNER, CHRISTOPHER MELTON, TIMOTHY GONDER, JON NAPPER, and DAKOTA COUNTY, Defendants.

          MICHAEL B. PADDEN, PADDEN & MCCOLLISTER PLLC, FOR PLAINTIFF.

          JEFFREY A. TIMMERMAN, DAKOTA COUNTY ATTORNEY FOR DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         On March 25, 2015, plaintiff Michelle MacDonald Shimota (“MacDonald”) commenced this action asserting a variety of constitutional and state law claims against numerous defendants stemming from her arrest and detention at the Dakota County Jail (the “Jail”) in September 2013. On May 29, 2016, the Court granted in part defendants' motions to dismiss, leaving three claims remaining against defendants Dakota County, Sergeant Christopher Melton, and Deputies Timothy Gonder, Jon Napper, and Bob Wegner (together “Defendants”).

         The remaining claims are a Fourteenth Amendment claim relating to the conditions of MacDonald's confinement at the Jail, a Fourth Amendment claim based on the search of MacDonald's digital camera, and a theft or unlawful taking claim based on the alleged loss of MacDonald's gold cross pendant. Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims and also move to strike the report and proffered testimony of Richard Lichten, a jail practice liability expert retained by MacDonald.

         Based on the undisputed facts, MacDonald's claims fail as a matter of law. First, the Fourteenth Amendment claim fails because defendants have demonstrated that the conditions of confinement furthered a legitimate government objective. Second, the Fourth Amendment claim fails on qualified immunity grounds as it was not clearly established that a warrant was required to search MacDonald's camera. Finally, MacDonald's civil theft claim fails as she has not established that any Defendant seized or possessed the pendant or acted with wrongful intent. As a result, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment and deny as moot Defendants' motion to strike.

         DISCUSSION

         I. FACTUAL HISTORY[1]

         A. Arrest

         On the morning of September 12, 2013, MacDonald, an attorney, appeared in a Dakota County Judicial Center courtroom to represent a client in a child custody hearing before Minnesota District Judge David Knutson. (Aff. of Christopher Melton (“Melton Aff.”), Ex. 1 (“Incident Report”) at 1, Mar. 2, 2017, Docket No. 95.) During a short recess, MacDonald photographed Deputy Gonder inside the courtroom on a digital camera. (Aff. of Jeffrey A. Timmerman (“Timmerman Aff.”), Ex. 1 (“MacDonald Dep.”) at 33:11-34:21, Mar. 2, 2017, Docket No. 92; id., Ex. 2 (“Gonder Dep.”) at 26:3-27:24.) Deputy Gonder told MacDonald she could not take photographs in the courtroom and then confiscated the camera and gave it to his superior, Sergeant Melton. (Incident Report at 1.)

         Sergeant Melton explained what had occurred to Judge Knutson and requested Judge Knutson's permission to search the camera. (Id. at 1-2; Timmerman Aff., Ex. 3 (“Melton Dep.”) at 35:4-12.) Judge Knutson gave permission, and both Sergeant Melton and Deputy Gonder viewed the contents of MacDonald's camera. (Melton Dep. at 35:4-36:11; Gonder Dep. at 82:20-83:17.) After Sergeant Melton observed the photograph MacDonald had taken of Deputy Gonder, he provided MacDonald with a copy of Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 4.01, which prohibits taking pictures in any courtroom except for official court record. (Incident Report at 2.) Sergeant Melton then told Judge Knutson that MacDonald was guilty of contempt of court under Minn. Stat. § 588.20 and that she would receive a ticket for the misdemeanor offense. (Id. at 2.)

         During a court recess that morning, Sergeant Melton approached MacDonald and asked her to accompany him so that he could issue her a ticket. (Melton Dep. at 16:5-12.) Because MacDonald declined to come with him, he told her that she was under arrest. (Id. at 16:5-12, 26:18-23.) Sergeant Melton and Deputy Gonder then escorted MacDonald to a “bailiff station holding area.” (Gonder Dep. 12:4-9.) Sergeant Melton explained to MacDonald “at least fifteen times that she would be released once she gave [him] her full name, date of birth, and address, ” but she refused to cooperate. (Incident Report at 3.)

         B. Initial Detention & Return to Court

         At the bailiff station, MacDonald surrendered her personal property, (Gonder Dep. at 79:7-18, 83:18-23; Timmerman Aff., Ex. 5 (“Napper Dep.”) at 20:6-9), and Deputy Napper photographed and inventoried it, (Aff. of Jon Napper (“Napper Aff.”) ¶ 2 & Ex. 1, Mar. 2, 2017, Docket No. 97). A Dakota County official then handcuffed and placed MacDonald in a holding cell. (MacDonald Dep. 59:9-16.)

         Shortly thereafter, the courtroom clerk requested that MacDonald return to the courtroom to continue the child custody trial. (Incident Report at 3.) When court resumed, Sergeant Melton reiterated that MacDonald would be issued a citation and released as soon as she provided her full legal name, address, and date of birth. (Id.) She still did not provide the information. (Id.) Thus, when court concluded, Sergeant Melton transported MacDonald to the jail to be booked for contempt of court and obstructing legal process. (Id.)

         C. Overnight Detention

         At the Jail, MacDonald did not respond to booking or medical screening questions. (MacDonald Dep. at 140:5-141:18.) As a result, Jail staff placed her in one of the Jail's negative-pressure rooms, (Aff. of Farrel Byrd (“Byrd Aff.”) ¶¶ 2-5, Mar. 2, 2017, Docket No. 94), which is a “single-occupant cell with a ventilation system that generates negative pressure to allow air to flow into, but not escape from, the room, ” (Aff. of Benjamin Verby (“Verby Aff.”) ¶ 3, Mar. 2, 2017, Docket No. 93). The following day, ...


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