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Garcia v. City of New Hope

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 18, 2019

REUBEN J. GARCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW HOPE, OFFICER KAITLYN BAKER, in her individual and official capacities, OFFICER ANTHONY GUST, in his individual and official capacities, OFFICER ADAM JOHNSON, in his individual and official capacities, and OFFICER NADINE JACOBS, in her individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          NANCY E. BRASEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Reuben J. Garcia brought this suit against Officers Kaitlyn Baker, Anthony Gust, Adam Johnson, and Nadine Jacobs (together, “Defendant Officers”) and the City of New Hope (“City”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his constitutional rights in connection with a traffic stop. This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 27], and Plaintiff's Motion to Accept Supplemental Authority [ECF No. 57].[1] The Court grants Garcia's motion to accept supplemental authority. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 1, 2016, Garcia drove his vehicle by Sonnesyn Elementary School in the City of New Hope and twice interacted with Officer Baker. [ECF No. 51 (“Leyderman Decl.”) Ex. 1 (“Garcia Dep.”) at 20:3-7, 23:11-14, 32:17-21.] Baker was in front of the school that day because she periodically helped direct student traffic. (Leyderman Decl., Ex. 8 (“Baker Dep.”) at 27:17, 28:3-7, 46:19-21.) The facts surrounding Garcia's two interactions with Baker on that day are sharply disputed. Taken in the light most favorable to Garcia, they are as follows:

         The first time Garcia saw Baker standing near the school, he was driving the posted speed limit of 20 miles per hour when children were present. (Garcia Dep. at 30:16-18.) Baker believed that Garcia was going over the 20 miles per hour speed limit, and conditions were slippery. (Baker Dep. at 49:9-12.) Baker pointed her finger down, motioning him to stop or slow down, so Garcia stopped and rolled down his window to speak with her. (Garcia Dep. at 25:15-25.) Baker was “very angry, ” “very agitated, ” and “yelling” that Garcia needed to slow down. (Id.) Garcia told her that he was driving the speed limit, but she continued yelling at him, so he eventually drove off. (Id.) Baker did not issue Garcia a citation at that time. (Id.)

         Later, in the afternoon, Garcia drove his vehicle by the school again and saw Baker standing by her squad car. (Garcia Dep. at 32:17-21, 33:10-12, 24-26.) Garcia saw no children or crossing guards in the vicinity or near Baker. (Id. at 33:13-21.) As Garcia drove past Baker at 10 to 15 miles per hour, he extended his right hand out of his car window and raised his middle finger for several seconds as he drove past her. (Id. at 36:4-5; Baker Dep. at 62:14-24, 64:5.) Garcia also said something to Baker, but she could not hear it due to traffic noise. (Baker Dep. at 70:17-23.)

         Baker entered her squad car and followed Garcia. (Baker Dep. at 68:1-5.) She believed that she had reasonable suspicion to stop Garcia, and she intended to talk to him about his behavior during their two interactions. (Id. at 75:16-17, 82:17-21.) She thought their first interaction was “abnormal” because Garcia stopped near a crosswalk to argue with her about how fast he was driving. (Id. at 56:8, 10-12). She then became concerned when he came back to the school with children present and “continu[ed] to escalate the situation and reengage[] contact with [her].” (Id. at 64: 19-20, 23-25, 65:1-2.) In addition, Baker noted the license plate violation. (Id. at 43:19-23, 53:13-14, 54:17-18, 77:10-78:16; Leyderman Decl., Ex. 7 at 2-4.) While Baker was following Garcia, she dictated to herself, “driver drove by flipping me off [unintelligible] arguing about speed when the children were out during the school crossing.” (Leyderman Decl., Ex. 3 (“Baker Video”), 0:30-0:45; Baker Dep. at 80:5-24.) Baker did not know how Garcia would react during the stop, so called for backup from other officers. (Baker Dep. at 81:16-22.) Baker activated her emergency lights and pulled Garcia's vehicle over. (Garcia Dep. at 36:8-10.) Garcia stopped his car on the side of the road. (Id. at 45:3-14.) The stop was recorded by Garcia on his cell phone, Baker's squad car, and a second squad car.[2] The facts recorded in these videos are undisputed.

         Baker approached Garcia's vehicle from the passenger side. (Baker Video, 0:55- 1:01.) When Garcia asked, “What are you pulling me over for, ” Baker responded, “You drove by and you flicked me off, and I'm curious as to why you did that.” (Id. at 1:06- 1:11.) Garcia asked if what he did was against the law. (Id. at 1:11-1:17.) Baker responded, “There's a woman there with her children and the children are out on school patrol and you flicked me off, it's disorderly conduct, absolutely, disorderly conduct.” (Id. at 1:17- 1:25.) Garcia disagreed. (Id. at 1:26.) Baker requested Garcia's driver's license and insurance information twice; Garcia ignored her requests and ordered her to “get a supervisor here right now” because what she was doing was illegal. (Id. at 1:26-1:32, 1:36- 40; Leyderman Decl., Ex. 2 (“Garcia Video”), 0:26-0:50.) Baker told him it was disorderly conduct and Garcia continued to disagree with her, arguing about the First Amendment. (Baker Video, 1:40-1:50.) Baker asked Garcia for his driver's license four more times; he told her that he would do so, and said, “Don't shoot me. Don't shoot me.” (Id. at 1:52- 2:07; Garcia Video, 0:50-1:02.) Garcia again asked Baker for a supervisor, as well as her name and badge number, arguing that she was required to provide this information. (Baker Video, 2:05-2:13.) He asked Baker, “you're not gonna shoot me, are ya?”[3] (Id. at 2:15-2:16; Garcia Video, 1:13-1:14.) Baker responded that her information would be on the citation, and twice more ordered him to produce his driver's license. (Baker Video, 2:11-2:25.)

         The other Defendant Officers arrived on scene while Baker was standing by Garcia's passenger window. Officer Gust approached the vehicle on the driver's side. (2d Squad Video, 3:05; Baker Video, 2:22-2:27.) Garcia failed to provide his license despite being asked for it repeatedly and hollered, “also protected by the First Amendment.” Baker then walked quickly around the back of the vehicle to the driver's side, stating, “Get out of the f***ing car, get out of the car.” (Baker Video, 2:22-2:28; Garcia Video, 1:15- 1:20.) Baker opened the driver's side door and told Garcia to get out of the car. (Baker Video, 2:28-2:30.) As Garcia stepped out of the vehicle, Baker took hold of his bicep, told him to get up against the vehicle and put his hands behind his back, and guided him so that his chest was against the vehicle. (Id. at 2:30-2:35.) Baker took what appeared to be Garcia's wallet from his hand and it dropped to the ground. (Id. at 2:30-2:35.) Baker handcuffed Garcia behind his back. (Id. at 2:34-2:42.) Baker testified that she decided to remove Garcia from the vehicle because he was not having a rational conversation with her, and his questioning about whether she was going to shoot him raised suspicion and made her very uncomfortable. (Baker Dep. at 88:1-3, 89:10-15.)

         The Defendant Officers repeatedly asked Garcia if he had any weapons on him. (Baker Video, 2:43-2:53.) Garcia refused to answer, stating that he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. (Id. at 2:52-2:55; 2d Squad Video, 3:43-3:47.) Officers Baker, Gust, and Jacobs escorted Garcia to Baker's squad car, where Garcia admitted to having a boxcutter. (Baker Video, 3:00-3:24.) Baker told Garcia that he was “being detained, right now for disorderly conduct.” (Id. at 3:35-3:41.) Gust patted Garcia down and directed Garcia inside Baker's squad car. (2d Squad Video, 4:16-5:04.)

Once Garcia was in the squad car, Baker told the other Defendant Officers,
This morning, him and I got in a little - he stopped when I told him to slow down going through the crosswalk, the kids are on school patrol. He said, “I'm only going 25.” Well, it's 20. Drove by this afternoon and flicked me off. The kids are out, there's a mom there with a kid waiting at the corner…. He flicked me off, I got in my car…. Videotaping the whole time. “Don't shoot me, don't shoot me.” He wants a supervisor.

(Baker Video, 4:16-4:36; 2d Squad Video, 5:09-5:31.) Baker also told the other Defendant Officers that Garcia “wouldn't give [her] his I.D., that why he's taking a ‘timeout' for right now.” (Baker Video, 5:00-5:06.) Baker collected Garcia's wallet and other items from the ground, found his driver's license among them, and returned to her squad car. (Id. at 4:37-4:58, 5:06-6:00.)

         While in the squad car, Baker explained to Garcia that he was being detained for disorderly conduct, and then for not giving her his driver's license. (Baker Video, 6:45- 6:50.) Garcia remained inside the car for approximately seven minutes while Baker prepared his citation for disorderly conduct and the license plate violation. (Id. at 5:54- 11:18; 2d Squad Video, 5:02-12:10; Leyderman Decl., Ex. 5.) Garcia told Baker that the officers were “corrupt, ” “entirely unprofessional, ” and “dangerous, ” and that his detention violated the First Amendment. (Baker Video, 5:59-6:20, 7:15-20, 9:20, 10:00- 10:44.) Officer Gust let Garcia out of the squad car and removed the handcuffs. (2d Squad Video, 12:10-13:27.) Officer Jacobs testified that Garcia walked back towards his vehicle, told the officers to “f*** off, ” and extended both of his middle fingers in the air. (Leyderman Decl., Ex. 15 (“Jacobs Dep.”) at 28:6-11.) Garcia entered his vehicle and drove away. (Id.) At no time did Garcia indicate that he was in any pain during the video recordings.

         In her police incident report, Baker summarized her two interactions with Garcia before the stop and listed the license plate violation and disorderly conduct offenses. (Leyderman Decl., Ex. 7 at 2-4.) The report states, “I explained that I stopped him for ‘flicking me off'.” (Id. at 3.) It also notes Baker's observation of a plastic cover and frame on Garcia's license plate. (Id. at 4.) During her deposition, Baker testified that if Garcia had not gestured at her with his middle finger during their second interaction, she would not have pulled him over. (Baker Dep. at 64:6-9.) She testified that she would not have stopped Garcia if he had done everything else but had not extended his middle finger that day, (id. at 105:3-14), but also testified that she would have stopped Garcia even if he had not gestured at her, (id. at 106:1-9), and that she was unsure as to whether she would have stopped Garcia if he had not gestured at her, (id. at 106:20-107:7). Baker testified that citizens have raised their middle fingers at her before and she had not stopped any of them for doing so, and that she would not respond with violence against a citizen who did so. (Id. at 84:10-24, 85:12-15.)

         Baker testified that she noticed that Garcia's rear license plate had a plastic cover during her first interaction with Garcia, and also observed the plate violation when she followed him in her squad car. (Id. at 43:19-23, 53:13-14, 54:17-18, 77:10-78:16.) Officer Jacobs testified that she saw a plastic cover with a frame over the rear license plate as she approached Garcia's vehicle, and that it was an equipment violation. (Jacobs Dep. at 52:17-54:9.) Garcia denies that he had a cover over his license plates, or a frame over his license plates that covered any letters, numbers, tabs, stickers, or the name of the state of origin during his interactions with Baker. (Garcia Decl., ¶3.)

         Garcia hired an attorney in connection with the citation charges. On the advice of counsel, Garcia took a defensive driving course and wrote an apology letter to Baker, both in exchange for dismissal of the criminal charges. (Garcia Dep. at 56:3-23, 57:2-4; Leyderman Decl., Exs. 9, 10.) Garcia testified that if his criminal attorney had not required additional payment, he would have rejected the prosecutor's offer and taken the case to trial. (Garcia Dep. at 112:1-7.)

         On the same day he entered the agreement to suspend prosecution, Garcia filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Baker, complaining that he was unlawfully stopped and prosecuted for extending his middle finger at her. (Leyderman Decl., Exs. 10, 11.) A month later, New Hope's Chief of Police notified Garcia that his complaint against Baker was not sustained, and that the “traffic stop was justified.” (Id., Ex. 12.)

         Garcia then filed suit against the Defendants in Minnesota state court alleging: First Amendment violation and retaliation by Baker and the City (Counts 1 and 3); Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure and excessive force violations by all Defendants (Count 2); assault and malicious prosecution by Baker and the City (Counts 4 and 6); and battery against all Defendants (Counts 5). [ECF No. 1-1 (“Compl.”).] Garcia claims to have suffered stress, fear, shame, humiliation and loss of freedom and liberty as a result of the Defendants' actions. (Garcia Dep. at 79:11-13, 85:5-18.) He alleges physical injury to his right wrist due to the handcuffing, which required medical treatment and took approximately two months to resolve, and that he was subjected to a wrongful criminal prosecution and incurred $1, 600 in attorney's fees. (Id. at 76:2-15, 110:11.) The Defendants removed the case to federal court. On October 29, 2018, they filed this instant motion for summary judgment.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Standard of Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute of fact is “genuine” if a factfinder could reasonably determine the issue in the non-moving party's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from those facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, the nonmoving party “may not rest upon allegations, but must produce probative evidence sufficient to demonstrate a genuine issue [of material fact] for trial.” Davenport v. Univ. of Ark. Bd. of Trs., 553 F.3d 1110, 1113 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing Anders ...


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