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Waters v. Madson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 14, 2017

Charles Waters and Anita Waters, Plaintiffs,
B. Madson, Alyssa Newbury, City of Coon Rapids, Menard, Inc., Tom Hawley, and Emily Kirchner, Defendants.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. For the following reasons, the Motions are granted.


         On March 27, 2016, Plaintiffs Charles Waters and his wife, Anita Waters, went to the Coon Rapids store of Defendant Menard, Inc., to exchange a saw that they had purchased. (Am. Compl. (Docket No. 28) ¶ 31.) Mr. Waters returned his saw in the store and was directed to pick up his new saw from the Menard's lumberyard behind the store. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) Plaintiffs do not dispute the existence of signs at the entrance and exit of the Menard's lumberyard, informing patrons that vehicles are subject to inspection when they leave the lumberyard. Rather, they allege that they did not see any sign. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 49-50.)

         Mr. Waters drove his vehicle into the lumberyard behind the Menard's store with Mrs. Waters in the passenger seat. (Id. ¶ 39.) A Menard's employee opened their trunk and put the new saw inside, and they then proceeded to the lumberyard exit gate. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 44, 49, 59.) Mr. Waters's video recording[1] clearly shows a sign at the exit gate regarding vehicle inspections. (Id. Ex. A. at 30:19.)

         At the exit gate, an attendant directed Mr. Waters to open his trunk for inspection, citing the signs. (Id. ¶ 61, Ex. A. at 30:58-31:02.) Mr. Waters refused because he believed that he was “under no legal obligation” to open his trunk. (Id. ¶ 62, Ex. A at 31:02-:40.) The gate attendant requested the presence of a Menard's manager. (Id. Ex. A at 31:59-32:04.) Mr. Waters called the police, claiming that Menard's was unlawfully detaining him. (Id. ¶¶ 68, 70-72, Ex. A at 33:10-:16.)

         Defendant Coon Rapids Police Officers Alyssa Smith[2] and Emily Kirchner responded to the call. (Id. ¶ 72.) Officer Smith approached the Menard's manager first, who told her that Menard's needed to verify the purchases in Plaintiffs' trunk before they could leave and that Mr. Waters believed he was being unlawfully detained. (Id. Ex. A at 38:02-:14.) Officer Smith then approached Mr. Waters and directed him to let the Menard's employees verify the purchases in his trunk. (Id. at 38:14-:37.) Mr. Waters refused again, and Officer Smith then asked Mr. Waters for his identification, which he refused to provide because he said he was “not currently driving.” (Id. at 38:38-:59.) Officer Smith directed Mr. Waters to exit his vehicle and informed him that she had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity because he would not open his trunk and “could very well have stolen property.” (Id. ¶ 79, Ex. A at 39:17-:30.)

         At this point, Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Waters exited his vehicle, Officers Smith and Kirchner pat-searched him, and he returned to his vehicle. (Id. ¶¶ 80-83.) They also allege that the officers directed him to exit his vehicle a second time, and after he exited the vehicle this time, the officers handcuffed him and put him in a squad car without pat-searching him. (Id. ¶¶ 88-89.) The record before the Court belies Plaintiffs' allegations.

         Menard's security footage and Officer Smith's dash cam video clearly establish that Mr. Waters only exited his vehicle once after Officers Smith and Kirchner directed him to do so. (Am. Compl. Ex. A at 38:57-41:13; Stuart Decl. Ex. D at 11:35-15:15; Zipf Aff. Ex. 2 at 14:25:26-:26:00.) After Mr. Waters exited his vehicle, Officer Kirchner searched him for weapons, handcuffed him, and escorted him to a squad car. (Stuart Decl. Ex. D at 13:52-15:15.)

         Officer Smith then returned to Plaintiffs' vehicle and asked Mrs. Waters to identify Mr. Waters. (Am. Compl. Ex. A at 46:14-49:29.) Mrs. Waters identified Mr. Waters for Officer Smith and informed the officers that her husband has a form of autism. (Id. at 46:25, 47:57-49:27.) Officer Smith requested that Mrs. Waters comply with the Menard's policy by letting them verify the product that Mr. Waters purchased. (Id. at 47:00-:08, 47:40-:55.) And while Officer Smith was talking to Mrs. Waters, Sergeant B. Madson arrived on scene. (Id. at 47:00.)

         Officer Smith spoke with Sergeant Madson, and when she returned to Mrs. Waters, she renewed her request that Mrs. Waters comply with the Menard's policy. (Id. at 50:46-51:28.) Specifically, she stated, “Would you be willing to open the trunk for these gentlemen because that's the only issue holding us up here . . . .” (Id.) She also stated, “It'd be doing us a huge favor if you could just bring that invoice and step out with these guys and pop the trunk for us, and we'll chalk it up to [Mr. Waters] having a bad day.” (Id.) Mrs. Waters complied; she exited the vehicle, gave the invoice to the Menard's employees, and opened her trunk. (Id. at 51:29-59.) The Menard's employees verified the purchase and inspected Plaintiffs' trunk, and the police officers released Mr. Waters. (Id.) Mr. Waters also received a trespass warning, excluding him from the Coon Rapids Menard's store for one year. (Id. ¶ 118.)

         Before Plaintiffs left the lumberyard, Mr. Waters requested the names and badge numbers of all officers present. (Id. ¶ 129.) Mr. Waters approached Sergeant Madson in order to obtain his badge number. (Zipf Aff. Ex. 2 at 14:40:43.) The dash cam video shows Mr. Waters was within reaching distance of Sergeant Madson. (Id.) Sergeant Madson placed his hands on Mr. Waters, turned Mr. Waters away from him, and pushed Mr. Waters in the direction of Mr. Waters's car. (Id. at 14:40:43-:45.) Plaintiffs left the Menard's lumberyard in their vehicle. (Id. at 14:41:26.) The entire encounter with law enforcement lasted about 20 minutes.

         Mr. Waters filed a written complaint with the Coon Rapids Police Department on March 30, 2016. (Id. ¶ 132.) The Amended Complaint alleges that Captain Thomas Hawley refused Mr. Waters's request to accept the written complaint by email. (Id. ¶¶ 137-38.) Nevertheless, attached to the Amended Complaint is a letter from the Coon Rapids Chief of Police Brad Wise, informing Mr. Waters that the formal complaint was reviewed and that he believed the police officers acted lawfully. (Id. Ex. F.) The formal complaint was closed. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs filed a 19-claim Amended Complaint on July 16, 2017. Claims I, II, III, IV, VI, IX, XVI, and XVII allege that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' First and Fourth Amendment rights. (Id. ¶¶ 160-63, 165, 169, 179-80.) Claim VII alleges that the City violated Plaintiffs' First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. ¶¶ 166-67). Claims V and VIII allege that Defendants discriminated against Mr. Waters based on his perceived political beliefs and based on his disabilities. (Id. ¶¶ 164, 168.) Claims X, XI, and XVIII are false imprisonment claims. (Id. ¶¶ 170-74, 184.) Claim XII is for battery, Claim XIII is for defamation, Claim XIV is for common-law trespass, Claim XV is for invasion of privacy, and Claim XIX is for negligence. (Id. ¶¶ 175-78, 185-86.) Defendants move for dismissal or summary judgment on all claims, arguing that Plaintiffs have failed to state any claim on which relief can be granted.


         When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court assumes the allegations in the Amended Complaint to be true and construes all reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986). The Court need not accept as true wholly conclusory allegations, Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir. 1999), or legal conclusions that the plaintiff draws from the facts pled. Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).

         A complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” to survive a motion to dismiss. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” will not pass muster under Twombly. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). This standard “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         A. Fourth Amendment Claims

         Plaintiffs argue that the City seized Mr. Waters (Claim III) and Mrs. Waters (Claim VI), and searched Plaintiffs' vehicle (Claim XVI) in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They also contend that Menard's unlawfully seized them and searched their vehicle under color of state law (Claim XVII). The City argues that it is entitled to immunity against Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims, and Menard's contends that it is not a state actor subject to a § 1983 claim under the Fourth Amendment.

         Qualified immunity shields a police officer from a lawsuit if a reasonable officer could have believed that the police officer's conduct was “lawful, in light of clearly established law and the information the [police] officers possessed.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641 (1987)). In other words, the plaintiff must first “make out a violation of a constitutional right.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009) (citations omitted). A government official is then entitled to qualified immunity only if “the right at issue was ‘clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct.” Id. Clearly established law “turns on the ‘objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time it was taken.'” Id. at 244 (quoting Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614 (1999)). “[T]he clearly established law must be ‘particularized' to the facts of the case.” White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (quoting Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640).

         1. Claims III and VI: Seizure

         A police officer may “conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)). “Reasonable suspicion is a lower threshold than probable cause, and it requires considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence.” United States v. Carpenter, 462 F.3d 981, 986 (8th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). Put into the context of qualified immunity, the City need only show, under the totality of the circumstances, that “a reasonable officer could have believed that he had a reasonable suspicion; in other words, if he had arguable reasonable suspicion.” De La Rosa v. White, 852 F.3d 740, 745-46 (8th Cir. 2017). Police officers ...

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