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Rife v. Oklahoma Department of Public Safety

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 23, 2017

CLYDE ALLEN RIFE, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY; JOE JEFFERSON, State Trooper; CHAD DALE; JONATHON WILLIS; MCCURTAIN COUNTY JAIL TRUST, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 6:14-CV-00333-FHS)

          Daniel E. Smolen (Robert M. Blakemore, with him on the briefs), Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, PLLC, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Stephen L. Geries (Ammon J. Brisolara, with him on the brief), Collins Zorn & Wagner, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for McCurtain County Jail Trust, Chad Dale, and Jonathon Willis, Defendants-Appellees.

          Devan A. Pederson, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, and Joe Jefferson, Defendants-Appellees.

          Before LUCERO, McKAY, and BACHARACH, Circuit Judges.

          BACHARACH, Circuit Judge.

         This case began with the plaintiff, Mr. Clyde Rife, sitting on a motorcycle next to a road, unable to recall the date, the time, or even what he had been doing in a town he had just visited. When approached by a state trooper, Mr. Rife said that he was fine. Nonetheless, the trooper questioned Mr. Rife and concluded that he was intoxicated on pain medication and had been in a motorcycle accident. These conclusions led the trooper to arrest Mr. Rife for public intoxication. Authorities later learned that Mr. Rife had not been intoxicated; he had suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident.

         Mr. Rife ultimately sued the trooper and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, alleging in part that he had been wrongfully arrested. For this allegation, we ask: Did probable cause exist to arrest Mr. Rife? The district court said "yes, " and we agree.

         The rest of the case involves what happened after the arrest. After the arrest, the trooper drove Mr. Rife to jail. Along the way, Mr. Rife groaned and complained of pain in his heart and chest. Upon arriving at the jail, Mr. Rife was put in a holding cell. The scene was observed by a cellmate, who said that Mr. Rife had repeatedly complained about pain. Nonetheless, Mr. Rife was not provided medical attention.

         The lack of medical care led Mr. Rife to sue (1) the trooper, two jail officials, and the entity operating the jail for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs and (2) the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety for negligent failure to provide medical care. On these claims, we ask: Did the failure to provide medical attention constitute (1) deliberate indifference to Mr. Rife's serious medical needs or (2) negligence? The district court thought no one could reasonably infer either deliberate indifference or negligence. We disagree, concluding that both could be reasonably inferred from the evidence.

         These conclusions lead us to affirm in part, to reverse in part, and to remand for further proceedings.

         I. Mr. Rife's Claims

         Mr. Rife sued the trooper (Joe Jefferson), the two jail officials (Jonathon Willis and Chad Dale), the entity operating the jail (McCurtain County Jail Trust), and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.[1] With regard to the arrest, Mr. Rife makes two claims:

1. Trooper Jefferson is liable under § 1983 for arresting Mr. Rife without probable cause.
2. The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety incurs vicarious liability for the wrongful arrest under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act.[2]

         For the lack of medical attention after the arrest, Mr. Rife makes three claims:

1. Trooper Jefferson, Mr. Willis, and Mr. Dale are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.
2. The jail trust is liable under § 1983 for the deliberate indifference of jail employees.
3. The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is vicariously liable under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act for Trooper Jefferson's negligent failure to obtain medical attention.[3]

         During the lawsuit, Mr. Rife discovered that the jail trust had destroyed a videotape that showed him in the jail's booking area. According to Mr. Rife, the destruction of the videotape warranted spoliation sanctions consisting of denial of the summary judgment motions brought by Mr. Willis, Mr. Dale, and the jail trust.

         II. The District Court's Rulings

         The defendants moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment to each defendant.

         On the wrongful arrest claims, the district court granted summary judgment to Trooper Jefferson and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, concluding that probable cause existed for Mr. Rife's arrest.

         On the claims involving a failure to provide medical attention, the court granted summary judgment to all defendants, reasoning that the lack of medical attention had not resulted from deliberate indifference or negligence.

         In addition, the district court declined to sanction the jail trust, Mr. Willis, and Mr. Dale for destruction of the videotape, reasoning that Mr. Rife had failed to follow the proper procedure for requesting a spoliation sanction.

         III. Our Conclusions

         We affirm the district court's orders in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         On the wrongful arrest claims against Trooper Jefferson and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, we affirm, agreeing with the district court that probable cause existed for the arrest.

         On the deliberate indifference claims, we reverse: A reasonable factfinder could find facts supporting the deliberate indifference claims against Trooper Jefferson, Mr. Willis, Mr. Dale, and the jail trust. Thus, we reverse and remand for the district court to determine (1) whether Mr. Rife's rights were clearly established and (2) whether a reasonable factfinder could find a causal link between the jail trust's policies or customs and a constitutional violation.

         On the negligence claim against the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, we reverse, concluding that a genuine dispute of material fact exists on the reasonableness of Trooper Jefferson's failure to obtain medical attention.

         In addition, we affirm the district court's denial of spoliation sanctions, concluding that Mr. Rife forfeited his present argument and has failed to identify evidence of bad faith.

         IV. Standard of Review

         The district court concluded that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment. We review these conclusions de novo. Koch v. City of Del City, 660 F.3d 1228, 1237-38 (10th Cir. 2011). In applying de novo review, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Rife, resolving all factual disputes and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor. Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 411 (10th Cir. 2014).

         We apply not only this standard of review but also the substantive burdens on the underlying issues. One such issue is qualified immunity, which is raised by Trooper Jefferson, Mr. Willis, and Mr. Dale. The threshold burden falls on the plaintiff, who must demonstrate that a reasonable factfinder could find facts supporting the violation of a constitutional right that had been clearly established at the time of the violation.[4] Id. If this burden is met, the defendant must show that (1) there are no genuine issues of material fact and (2) the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Koch, 660 F.3d at 1238.

         V. The Wrongful Arrest Claim Against Trooper Jefferson

         Invoking § 1983, Mr. Rife argues that Trooper Jefferson lacked probable cause, rendering the arrest a violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. According to Mr. Rife, the district court disregarded evidence supporting this claim. Trooper Jefferson counters that

. he had probable cause,
. any possible factual mistake would have been objectively reasonable, and
. the underlying right was not clearly established. The district court granted summary judgment to Trooper Jefferson, holding that he had probable cause to arrest Mr. Rife for public intoxication. We agree.

         A. The Interaction Between Mr. Rife and Trooper Jefferson

         Trooper Jefferson's police car had a dashcam, which captured almost the entire interaction between Mr. Rife and Trooper Jefferson.

         The dashcam begins with Trooper Jefferson checking on Mr. Rife, who was sitting on a motorcycle next to a road. Mr. Rife was confused with dried blood on his nose, and there were grass and grass stains on the motorcycle. Mr. Rife also had grass stains on his pants and shirt, indicating that he had been thrown from the motorcycle.

         Trooper Jefferson asked if Mr. Rife was okay, and Mr. Rife replied that he was fine. But Mr. Rife could not identify the day, approximate the time of day, or remember his social security number. He knew that he had been in Idabel, Oklahoma, earlier that day but could not remember what he had been doing there. His speech was slurred.

         The trooper suspected intoxication. Because the symptoms of head injuries and intoxication are similar, the trooper looked for signs of a head injury: unequal tracking of the pupils, unequal pupil size, and resting nystagmus. Mr. Rife did not exhibit these signs.

         Trooper Jefferson then performed a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which could reveal up to 6 clues of impairment. Trooper Jefferson's training stated that if a person exhibits 4 out of the 6 clues, there is an 80 percent chance of intoxication. Mr. Rife exhibited all 6 clues.

         To determine whether Mr. Rife was intoxicated, Trooper Jefferson conducted four additional tests. Mr. Rife failed these tests or was unable to complete them. Before one of the tests, Mr. Rife stated that he felt "floaty"; during another test, Mr. Rife lost his balance.

         These tests and observations led Trooper Jefferson to arrest Mr. Rife for public intoxication. Trooper Jefferson knew that Mr. Rife was not drunk but believed that he had taken too much pain medication. Many of Mr. Rife's symptoms were consistent with intoxication from pain medication, including constricted pupils, lethargy, nystagmus, dizziness, and feeling "floaty."

         At the time of arrest, Trooper Jefferson also knew that Mr. Rife had been in a motorcycle accident. Mr. Rife had repeatedly denied being in a motorcycle accident, but Trooper Jefferson said that Mr. Rife had obviously been in an accident.

         Though Trooper Jefferson knew that an accident had taken place, he did not believe that it had involved high speed or high impact. Trooper Jefferson reasoned that Mr. Rife did not have the type of visible injuries that would likely result from a high-speed or high-impact accident. For instance, Mr. Rife had no marks or scratches on his arms. Trooper Jefferson also noted that there was little damage to the motorcycle or saddlebags.

         Trooper Jefferson drove Mr. Rife to jail. During the drive, Mr. Rife said that his chest hurt and groaned in pain. A few minutes later, Mr. Rife stated that his heart hurt and again groaned.

         Trooper Jefferson acknowledges that at some point, Mr. Rife complained that he felt sick.

         B. The District Court's Alleged Discounting of Supporting Evidence Mr. Rife argues that the district court improperly discounted four evidentiary items:

1. Trooper Jefferson reported that the arrest had been for public intoxication under Okla. Stat. tit. 37, § 537, but this statute involves intoxication from alcohol rather than medication.
2. Trooper Jefferson knew that Mr. Rife was not under the influence of alcohol.
3. Trooper Jefferson knew that Mr. Rife had been in a motorcycle accident and that certain medical conditions could mimic the symptoms of intoxication. Although Trooper Jefferson ruled out a head injury, he did not rule out shock or other medical conditions.
4. Mr. Rife said that the only medication he had taken was for blood pressure.

         None of this evidence precludes the existence of probable cause.

         The first two evidentiary items are immaterial because probable cause need not be based on the statute mistakenly invoked by Trooper Jefferson. See Part V(D), below. Under Oklahoma law, Mr. Rife could be guilty of a crime if he had been publicly intoxicated on pain medication rather than alcohol. See Parts V(C)-(D), below.

         The third evidentiary item is immaterial because probable cause does not require police officers to rule out all innocent explanations for a suspect's behavior. See, e.g., Lingo v. City of Salem, 832 F.3d 953, 961 (9th Cir. 2016) ("It is decidedly not the officers' burden to 'rule out the possibility of innocent behavior' in order to establish probable cause." (quoting Ramirez v. City of Buena Park, 560 F.3d 1012, 1024 (9th Cir. 2009)); United States v. Reed, 220 F.3d 476, 478 (6th Cir. 2000) ("Officers are not required to rule out every possible explanation other than a suspect's illegal conduct before making an arrest."); United States v. Fama, 758 ...


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