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Yocum v. State

United States District Court, D. Utah, Northern Division

February 2, 2017

SU-YI YOCUM, As. Y., Ad. Y., and Am. Y., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF UTAH, UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, ATTORNEY GENERAL SEAN REYES, WEBER COUNTY, WEBER COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, SHERIFF TERRY THOMPSON, SUMMIT COUNTY, SUMMIT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, SHERIFF JUSTIN MARTINEZ, SYRACUSE CITY, SYRACUSE POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF GARRET ATKIN, INVESTIGATOR RON BRIDGE, SPECIAL AGENT WEIR, SPECIAL AGENT PURDY, SPECIAL AGENT ZIMMERMAN, SPECIAL AGENT BAGGS, SPECIAL AGENT WHITE, SPECIAL AGENT RENFRO, SPECIAL AGENT WARE, SPECIAL AGENT CODY TRACY, SPECIAL AGENT RICHMOND, CAMERON HARTMAN, JESSICA FARNSWORTH, PATTY REED, ZACHARY SNOW, and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING SUMMIT COUNTY AND SYRACUSE CITY DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          CLARK WADDOUPS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss each of plaintiffs' three causes of action against Summit County, the Summit County Sheriff's Office, Detective Ron Bridge, Sheriff Justin Martinez (collectively the Summit County Defendants), and Syracuse City, the Syracuse Police Department, Chief Garret Atkin, and Special Agent Weir (collectively, the Syracuse Defendants). (Dkt. No. 6.) The court heard oral argument on the motion on February 1, 2017. For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS the motion and dismisses all claims against the Summit County Defendants and the Syracuse Defendants.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are the wife and three daughters of Jason Yocum, who was the subject of a search warrant related to child pornography charges executed on March 12, 2015 by a number of officers alleged to belong to several county and/or city agencies.

         Plaintiffs alleged that around August 4, 2014, Special Agent Richmond began investigating various IP addresses allegedly using “Peer to Peer” file sharing protocols and websites to share, download, and/or allegedly distribute child pornography. (Compl. ¶ 30, Dkt. No. 2.) During the course of the investigation, Richmond obtained information about an IP address originating in Syracuse, Utah involved with sharing child pornography over a “Peer to Peer” network. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) On March 11, 2015, Detective Bridge prepared an affidavit in support of a search warrant and obtained a search warrant for Mr. Yocum's residence. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34.)

         Plaintiffs allege that on March 12, 2015, numerous “[o]fficers entered forcibly pursuant to [the] search warrant. They threatened and otherwise pushed eight-year-old Am. Y., who answered the door, out of the way as they entered in combat gear with guns drawn.” (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.) “Officers threatened Su-Yi Yocum, As. Y., Ad. Y., and Am. Y. with firearms while multiple police officers yelled at them, pointed guns at them, [and] herded them into a single room where they were detained against their will.” (Id. at ¶ 38.) “Officers threatened Su-Yi with the loss of her children during this unreasonable search and seizure.” (Id. at ¶ 39.) “Investigator Bridge was recorded making the admission that he was sure that no female in the residence had committed a crime.” (Id. at ¶ 40.) Plaintiffs allege that their constitutional rights were violated because of the manner in which officers executed the search warrant. They also allege supervisory and municipal liability based on failure to train or supervise and/or fostering an institutional culture that supports constitutional rights violations.[1] The Summit County and Syracuse Defendants filed this motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and asserted a qualified immunity defense.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (internal punctuation omitted). “[M]ere labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not suffice; a plaintiff must offer specific factual allegations to support each claim.” Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir. 2011) (internal punctuation omitted).

         Furthermore, in a § 1983 case, such as this one, where defendants include a number of government agencies and actors sued in their individual capacities, “it is particularly important . . . that the complaint make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to provide each individual with fair notice as to the basis of the claims against him or her, as distinguished from the collective allegations against the state.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1249 (10th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in original).

         II. Qualified Immunity

         “Public officials are immune from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless they have violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” City & Cnty. of San Francisco v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). To overcome a qualified immunity defense, plaintiffs bear the burden to demonstrate on the facts alleged: “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right; and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.” Quinn v. Young, 780 F.3d 998, 1004 (10th Cir. 2015) (recognizing that the court may decide “which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances of a particular case.”). “Because qualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.” Glover v. Mabrey, 384 F. App'x 763, 767 (10th Cir. 2010). “The plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through his own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). At the motion to dismiss stage, “it is the defendant's conduct as alleged in the complaint that is scrutinized for objective legal reasonableness.” Duncan v. Hickenlooper, 631 F. App'x 664, 648 (10th Cir. 2015) (emphasis in original, internal quotation marks omitted).

         A. Summit County Sheriff's Office and Syracuse Police Department are not legal entities amenable to suit and should be dismissed

         Municipality subdivisions, such as its sheriff's office or police department, are not separate legal entities with the capacity to sue or be sued. Lindsey v. Thomson, 275 F. App'x 744, 746 (10th Cir. 2007) (affirming dismissal of § 1983 claims against police departments and county sheriff's department, entities with no apparent legal existence). Plaintiffs' reply acknowledges this reality. Accordingly, defendants Summit County Sheriff's Office and Syracuse Police Department are dismissed with prejudice.

         B. Unreasonable search, excessive force, and ...


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