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Linin v. Neff

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 7, 2017

REX LININ, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
TROOPER CHAMBERLIN NEFF, in his official and individual capacities, Defendant.

          Paul M. Warner Judge.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER CLARIFYING THIS COURT'S AUGUST 2, 2016 MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Judge Jill N. Parrish United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Rex Linin (“Linin”) asserts that his constitutional rights were violated when Trooper Chamberlin Neff (“Trooper Neff”) expanded the scope of a routine traffic stop to investigate Linin for driving under the influence. Linin alleges additional constitutional violations arising from his subsequent arrest for DUI and from Trooper Neff's impoundment and inventory search of his truck incident to that arrest. Linin seeks to vindicate his rights through claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion in Limine for the Exclusion of Irrelevant and Unduly Prejudicial Evidence (ECF No. 42) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 54). Both motions rely on the Court's August 2, 2016 Memorandum Decision and Order (the “prior Order”) in which the Court analyzed whether Trooper Neff was entitled to qualified immunity on summary judgment.

         After reviewing the pending motions, it is apparent that the Court must clarify the prior Order. The briefing leading up to the prior Order analyzed the qualified immunity defense for each of Trooper Neff's challenged actions as separate and discrete issues. That is, the parties did not engage in detailed analysis on how a genuine dispute of material fact surrounding events at the outset of Trooper Neff's encounter with Linin-such as whether Trooper Neff smelled alcohol-would impact the availability of qualified immunity. The Court therefore analyzed the availability of qualified immunity for each of Trooper Neff's challenged actions in isolation.

         But the availability of qualified immunity for each of the challenged actions cannot be viewed in isolation. Put simply, the dispute of material facts concerning whether Trooper Neff reasonably believed that there was reasonable suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation renders qualified immunity on both of Linin's claims unavailable on summary judgment. Accordingly, Trooper Neff is potentially liable for all damages that naturally flow from the alleged false arrest and unlawful search. In sum, Trooper Neff is not entitled to qualified immunity on summary judgment on the false arrest or unlawful search and seizure claims due to genuine disputes of material fact, and he is potentially liable for the damages that naturally flow from both claims.

         The Court clarifies its August 2, 2016 Order as set forth below. Because this Order moots the damages issues raised in Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 54) and Defendant's Motion in Limine for the Exclusion of Irrelevant and Unduly Prejudicial Evidence (ECF No. 42), the Court DENIES both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 16, 2014, at approximately 3:00 p.m., Linin was driving westbound on I-80 near Tooele, Utah. Linin, while driving in the right-hand lane, passed a parked emergency vehicle with flashing overhead emergency lights. Linin failed to move into the left-hand lane before passing the emergency vehicle, despite having the opportunity to do so. Trooper Neff, an enforcement officer with the Utah Highway Patrol (“UHP”), saw these events and pulled Linin over for violating Utah Code § 41-6A-904(2), which makes it illegal to fail to slow down and move into the left-hand lane to yield the right lane to a stationary emergency vehicle displaying lights.

         Upon approaching Linin's truck, Trooper Neff saw that Linin had a cracked windshield in violation of Utah Code § 41-6A-1635. Trooper Neff informed Linin of the reasons for the stop: (1) Linin failed to move into the left lane when he passed the stopped emergency vehicle, and (2) Linin had a cracked windshield. Trooper Neff did not observe any other violations or anything else in Linin's driving pattern that would justify a stop.

         Trooper Neff claims that while he was speaking with Linin he smelled alcohol coming from Linin's truck. But Trooper Neff did not mention the issue at the time and instead asked Linin to come to the patrol vehicle. Linin walked to the patrol vehicle in a normal fashion and exhibited no signs of impairment. While Linin sat in the vehicle, Trooper Neff checked Linin's driver's license and registration and asked Linin a few questions. Linin's speech was not slurred, but Trooper Neff claims that it was slow and deliberate. During this time, another officer had a dog sniff around Linin's truck. The dog did not alert to the presence of drugs.

         While in the patrol vehicle, Trooper Neff told Linin that he smelled alcohol coming from Linin and asked Linin if he had been drinking-Linin denied drinking. Trooper Neff also testified that Linin's eyes were watery and glassy, but Linin disputes this fact.

         Trooper Neff then asked Linin to perform a series of field sobriety tests. Trooper Neff first administered the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test on Linin. Linin visibly moved his head while attempting to perform the test. Trooper Neff claims that Linin exhibited six total clues of impairment, including a “lack of smooth pursuit, ” “nystagmus at maximum deviation, ” and “nystagmus prior to an onset of 45 degrees.” But Linin presents expert testimony that Trooper Neff improperly conducted the HGN test too quickly, did not perform the necessary number of passes of stimuli, and did not hold the stimuli in place long enough to establish nystagmus.

         Trooper Neff then asked Linin to perform the nine-step walk and turn test. Prior to performing the test, Linin told Trooper Neff that he had a leg injury. Despite this, Trooper Neff asked Linin to perform the test. Trooper Neff claims that Linin demonstrated seven clues of impairment, including Linin's “inability to stand to the instructed position, ” and the fact that Linin “began the test early, ” “confused his left and right foot, ” “put his hands at the small of his back, ” “stepped off the line several times, ” “missed heel-to-toe several times, ” “performed an improper turn, ” and “drifted to the left.” Linin contests these results and presents expert testimony that an individual with a leg injury is ineligible to perform the nine-step walk and turn test.

         Following the nine-step walk and turn test, Trooper Neff invited Linin to sit on the bumper of the patrol vehicle because Linin was shaking. Linin claims that he was shaking because he “was so scared, just scared out of [his] mind.” Trooper Neff then had Linin perform the one-leg-stand test. Troop Neff claims that Linin displayed four clues of impairment, including the fact that Linin continued to shake, “raised his hands, hopped and swayed, [and] was unable to get past a four or five second count without putting his foot down.” Linin performed the test on both his injured and uninjured legs. Linin also contests the use of the one-leg-stand test and presents expert testimony that an individual with a leg injury is ineligible to perform the test.

         After administering the field sobriety tests, Trooper Neff asked Linin to blow into a portable breathalyzer. Linin declined to blow into the device, saying that his ex-wife, a lawyer, had warned him not to use a portable breathalyzer. Instead, Linin stated, “I'd rather take a blood test.”

         At this point, Trooper Neff arrested Linin for DUI, handcuffed him, and placed him in the patrol vehicle. Following the arrest, Trooper Neff searched Linin's truck, impounded it, and inventoried its contents. During the inventory search, there were five officers at the scene, several of whom later left to conduct patrols in other areas.

         While searching Linin's vehicle, Trooper Neff told the other officers, “[Now] that I got a DUI, [UHP administration] may get off my back.” Trooper Neff also admits that he searched Linin's vehicle to find contraband. Specifically, Trooper Neff testified that he was looking for “[a]lcohol, drugs, anything that would be illegal.” But there is no evidence that Trooper Neff found alcohol or contraband in Linin's truck. Trooper Neff did not testify that there was any other purpose for searching the truck.

         Trooper Neff took Linin to the UHP Tooele office where Linin agreed to submit to a blood test. Another officer attempted to obtain a blood sample but was unable to successfully draw Linin's blood. The record does not provide any reason as to why the officer was unable to obtain a blood sample from Linin or why he was not taken to a medical facility to obtain a sample.

         After the failed attempt to obtain a blood sample, Trooper Neff took Linin to the Tooele County Jail and booked him for DUI and failing to move over for an emergency vehicle. Linin claims that while at the Tooele County Jail, he took a breath test that showed a BAC of 0.00. Linin was released on bail several hours later.

         Linin was charged with violations of Utah Code § 41-6A-904(2), failing to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle; Utah Code § 41-6A-502, driving under the influence of alcohol; and Utah Code § 41-6A-1635, obstructed visibility due to a broken window. Linin hired an attorney to represent him on these charges. The charges against Linin were later dismissed.

         Linin brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Trooper Neff and UHP for (1) false arrest, (2) unlawful search and seizure, and (3) unlawful policy, practice, and/or custom of UHP. The Court dismissed Linin's claims against the UHP on the basis of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. On March 20, 2016, Trooper Neff filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that he was entitled to qualified immunity on the remaining claims.

         On August 2, 2016, the Court issued a Memorandum Decision and Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. In the Order, the Court held, in relevant part: (1) “[Trooper Neff] is not entitled to qualified immunity with regard to his reasonable suspicion determination and the expansion of the traffic stop's scope, ” and (2) “[Trooper Neff] is entitled to qualified immunity on his probable cause determination to arrest [Linin] for DUI as well as his actions in impounding and inventorying [Linin's vehicle].”

         Trooper Neff filed two motions that rely on the Court's holding that Trooper Neff is “entitled to qualified immunity on his probable cause determination to arrest Mr. Linin for DUI as well as his actions in impounding and inventorying [Mr. Linin's] vehicle.” The first motion is Defendant's Motion in Limine for Exclusion of Irrelevant and unduly Prejudicial Evidence (ECF No. 42), and the second motion is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on Damages (ECF No. 54). In preparing for the motions hearing scheduled on these motions, the Court became aware that it must clarify its prior Order.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Court, in its prior Order, analyzed the legal issues raised by Trooper Neff in isolation. As such, the Court did not consider the impact of an initial constitutional violation on Trooper Neff's qualified-immunity defense. Put another way, the Court assumed that Linin was not unlawfully seized when it held that Trooper Neff was entitled to qualified immunity for his arrest of Linin and his decision to impound and inventory Linin's truck incident to that arrest. However, as set forth below, Trooper Neff is not entitled to summary judgment on the issues of qualified immunity on Linin's false arrest and unlawful search and seizure claims because there is a genuine dispute as to whether he reasonably believed that there was reasonable suspicion to expand the scope of the traffic stop to a DUI investigation.[1]

         A. ...


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