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Parkinson v. Sanderson

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 28, 2018




         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Michael Roy Parkinson, proceeding in forma pauperis, initiated this action in December 2015. (ECF No. 3). The operative Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) alleges several counts under § 1983 for constitutional violations by Murray City police officers-Steven Sanderson, Alex Huggard and Trent Pearson-arising out of a traffic stop on February 26, 2015 and a subsequent search of Mr. Parkinson's apartment on March 2, 2015. (ECF No. 20). Specifically, Mr. Parkinson alleges that (1) Officers Sanderson and Huggard violated the Fourth Amendment through their “illegal search and seizure” of him and his vehicle on February 26, (SAC at 5-23); (2) Officers Sanderson and Huggard used “illegal and excessive force” during the February 26 traffic stop in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights, (SAC at 24); (3) Officers Sanderson and Huggard's “illegal search and assault” on February 26 violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights, (SAC at 25); (4) the defendants violated the Fourth Amendment “through their illegal search and seizure” of his basement apartment on March 2, (SAC at 26-34); and (5) the defendants violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by “entrapping him” and “depriv[ing]” him of his “right to liberty.” (SAC at 35).

         On November 9, 2017, the defendants moved to dismiss all of Mr. Parkinson's claims. (ECF No. 34). First, they argue that the conduct at issue in this case-alleged illegal searches and use of excessive force-is properly evaluated under the Fourth Amendment, necessitating dismissal of his Eighth Amendment excessive force claim (Count II), Fourteenth Amendment illegal search and excessive force claim (Count III), and Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment entrapment and deprivation of liberty claim (Count V). As to Mr. Parkinson's Fourth Amendment claims, the defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity. The defendants further argue that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), also bars those claims because success in this case would necessarily imply the invalidity of Mr. Parkinson's state court convictions. See State v. Parkinson, No. 151902837 (Utah 3d Dist. Ct.). Finally, defendants argue that the remaining “fragments” of Mr. Parkinson's SAC fail to state a plausible claim for relief under Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).

         In his opposition, Mr. Parkinson withdrew his Eighth Amendment excessive force claim as well as the entrapment and deprivation of liberty claims he had asserted under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. (ECF No. 41 at 12). In his supplemental memorandum, Mr. Parkinson additionally conceded his Fourteenth Amendment illegal search and excessive force claim. (ECF No. 65 at 1 n.1). As a result, defendants are entitled to have those claims dismissed. Mr. Parkinson has not requested leave to amend these claims, and because the parties agree that the conduct of which Mr. Parkinson complains may be analyzed under the appropriate Fourth Amendment framework, [1] these dismissals are with prejudice.

         On June 22, 2018, Magistrate Judge Furse appointed pro bono counsel to assist Mr. Parkinson. (ECF No. 54). Mr. Parkinson subsequently sought and was granted leave to file a supplemental memorandum in opposition to the defendants' Motion to Dismiss, which he filed on September 5, 2018. (ECF No. 64). Defendants replied on September 12, 2018. (ECF No. 65).

         The net result of the initial and supplemental briefing is that three of Mr. Parkinson's claims remain pending, each of which alleges a violation of the Fourth Amendment: (1) a search-and-seizure claim premised on the February 26, 2016 traffic stop; (2) an excessive-force claim related to the February 26, 2015 traffic stop; and (3) an unlawful search claim premised on the March 2, 2015 search of Mr. Parkinson's apartment.[2]


         A. February 26, 2015 Traffic Stop

          Mr. Parkinson alleges that on February 26, 2015, a Jeep with “flashing lights” pulled him over. (SAC, ¶¶ 5-8, 13). Mr. Parkinson initially believed the flashing lights belonged to an emergency vehicle headed for the nearby hospital because he had “consciously and properly used all turn signal[s] and obeyed all traffic laws” as he drove. (SAC, ¶¶ 7, 12). Mr. Parkinson pulled over to let the vehicle pass, but then realized that the Jeep stopped behind him. (SAC, ¶¶ 9-10). He claims that he did not turn off the car and “left” the automatic transmission in neutral because it was a cold and snowy day and he had the heat running on high. (SAC, ¶¶ 10-11). Mr. Parkinson alleges that the driver of the Jeep, later identified as Office Sanderson, came up to his window and asked Mr. Parkinson if he knew why he pulled him over. (SAC, ¶¶ 14, 16). Mr. Parkinson replied that he did not know, and Officer Sanderson replied that he had not used his turn signal. (SAC, ¶¶ 17-18). Mr. Parkinson “asserts there never was a traffic violation because he used his turn signal properly at all relevant times.” (SAC, ¶ 21).

         Mr. Parkinson alleges that Officer Sanderson “demanded” his personal information and that he complied with the request. (SAC, ¶¶ 23-24). Mr. Parkinson claims that Officer Sanderson then “disappeared” for twenty minutes, and during that time he “became concerned” about who pulled him over. (SAC, ¶¶ 25-27). During this period, Mr. Parkinson claims to have seen a second man, later identified as Detective Pearson, through the passenger window. (SAC, ¶ 26). He claims that he then looked over his shoulder and saw a third man, later identified as Officer Huggard. (SAC, ¶ 28). Mr. Parkinson became even more concerned in part because each man was wearing civilian clothing. (SAC, ¶¶ 28-29). He alleges that Officers Sanderson and Huggard then approached the driver's side door. (SAC, ¶ 30). Officer Huggard told Mr. Parkinson that he just got off the phone with his parole officer who is on the way, and told him that he needed to step out of the vehicle. (SAC, ¶ 31). Mr. Parkinson told Officer Huggard that he would wait for his parole officer. (SAC, ¶ 32). Mr. Parkinson alleges that Officer Huggard then told him: “You're gonna get out of the car or I'm going to [] yank you out!” (SAC, ¶ 44). Mr. Parkinson reiterated that he was going to wait for his parole officer because he did not know who the men were. (SAC, ¶ 45). Mr. Parkinson claims that his parole officer was not contacted. (SAC, ¶¶ 33- 34).

         After indicating he would wait for his parole officer, Mr. Parkinson claims that Officer Huggard said he worked for Murray city and told him to get out of the car. (SAC, ¶ 46). Mr. Parkinson alleges that at as Officer Huggard gave this command, he grabbed the driver's side door handle, and when he discovered the door was locked, unlocked it through the open window. (SAC, ¶¶ 47, 49). Mr. Parkinson asserts that he did not give Officer Huggard permission to open the door, and that Officer Huggard then entered his vehicle without consent. (SAC, ¶ 48, 50). Mr. Parkinson claims that Officer Huggard then “attacked” him by grabbing his left wrist and arm and “twisting” it “at a painfully sharp angle, ” which injured his left shoulder. (SAC, ¶¶ 51-53). He asserts that during this incident he put his hand on the gear shifter to avoid being dragged from the vehicle and that as Officer Huggard continued to yank on his shoulder, the shifter was pulled from neutral into drive. (SAC, ¶¶ 58-59). The vehicle did not move at that time since his foot was on the brake. (SAC, ¶ 60). He claims that Office Sanderson then “drove [sic] head first” into his vehicle, landing on Mr. Parkinson's legs, and forcefully tried to remove his hand from the gear shifter. (SAC, ¶¶ 61-62). Mr. Parkinson states that his right knee buckled and his foot slipped off the brake pedal, causing the vehicle to roll forward. (SAC, ¶¶ 63-64). He claims he could not do anything to stop the vehicle because of how Officers Huggard and Sanderson “attacked him” and held him down. (SAC, ¶ 66). According to Parkinson, Officer Sanderson then grabbed the steering wheel and began turning it, and the car ultimately crashed against the curb on the opposite side of the road, damaging the car and injuring his neck and lower back. (SAC, ¶¶ 68-69, 73-75).

         Once the vehicle hit the curb, Officers Huggard and Sanderson let go of the steering wheel and Mr. Parkinson's arm, and Mr. Parkinson regained control of the vehicle and ultimately parked the car about fifteen yards away in the first vacant parking stall. (SAC, ¶¶ 82-85). He claims he then entered the hospital to be around other people since he feared for his life. (SAC, ¶ 86-87). Mr. Parkinson further alleges that after he entered the hospital, Officers Huggard and Sanderson “searched and seized his vehicle without his permission” or the permission of his mother, who owned the car. (SAC, ¶¶ 94.5, 94.6).

         Mr. Parkinson claims that as a result of the “search and assault” on February 26, 2015, he “sustained lasting physical injuries and ongoing pain and suffering, ” he was “illegally arrested” on March 2, 2015, he was subsequently charged and convicted of two counts of aggravated assault on an officer in violation of Utah Code § 76-5-102.4(4), and one count of not stopping on the command of an officer in violation of Utah Code § 41-6a-210, his vehicle suffered severe damage, he lost his $60, 000 a year job, he has now been wrongfully incarcerated for years, and he suffered and continues to suffer from emotional distress. (SAC, ¶¶ 88-94).

         B. March 2, 2015 Apartment Search

          Mr. Parkinson rented the basement apartment in his mother's home. (SAC, ¶¶ 99-100). The basement apartment had a separate entrance at the rear of the house and a separate door connecting it to the upstairs kitchen. (SAC, ¶¶ 101-02). He claims that the door to the kitchen had a lock which remained locked at all times unless he opened it “for a specific reason, ” and that his mother “did not have permission or the authority” to go into the apartment without his express consent. (SAC, ¶¶ 103-04).

         Mr. Parkinson alleges that he arrived at his home on March 2, 2015 at approximately 8:30 a.m. and spoke to his mother who informed him that a Murray City police officer, later identified as Detective Pearson, was “there at the house over the weekend looking for [him], and aggressively harassing her, ” and conveyed that she “was very concerned and scared.” (SAC, ¶¶ 98, 105-07). Mr. Parkinson decided that he needed to go speak to his parole officer about the matter, and claims that as he was leaving, a uniformed officer “confronted” him, handcuffed him, and placed him in a police vehicle. (SAC, ¶¶ 108-11). The police officers searched Mr. Parkinson before placing him in the police vehicle, and confiscated his wallet and cell phone. (SAC, ¶¶ 112-13). Mr. Parkinson claims that he watched as the officers counted the money from his wallet and overheard an officer say “We need some drugs to go with this money, go search his basement apartment.” (SAC, ¶ 115). Mr. Parkinson asserts that Officer Huggard ordered Detective Pearson to search his basement apartment. (SAC, ¶¶ 118-19). Mr. Parkinson states that he did not give consent to Detective Pearson to enter his apartment, and that Detective Pearson did not have probable cause to enter the apartment. (SAC, ¶¶ 119-21).

         Mr. Parkinson asserts that Detective Pearson entered his basement apartment alone, entered the bathroom alone, and exited the bathroom alone several minutes later with evidence allegedly discovered in the bathroom. (SAC, ¶¶ 125-27). Mr. Parkinson further asserts that, on information and belief, Detective Pearson “planted the alleged evidence he found” in the bathroom in an attempt to build a case against Mr. Parkinson to justify the defendants' actions on February 26, 2015. (SAC, ¶ 127).


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hogan v. Winder, 762 F.3d 1096, 1104 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and views the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Garling, 849 F.3d 1289, 1292 (10th Cir. 2017). However, the court need not accept the plaintiff's conclusory allegations as true. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). “[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) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A complaint survives only if it “‘states a plausible claim for relief, '” though courts recognize that “[t]he nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context.” SAC at 1214-15 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         While a court must construe the filings of a pro se plaintiff “liberally” and hold them “to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110, a pro se plaintiff still must “‘follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.'” Garrett v. Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Nielsen v. Price, 17 F.3d 1276, 1277 (10th Cir. 1994)). Thus, a pro se “plaintiff still has ‘the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.'” Jenkins v. Currier, 514 F.3d 1030, 1032 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110). While the court must make some allowances for “the [pro se] plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, his confusion of various legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements[, ]” Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110, “the court cannot take on the responsibility of serving ...

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