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Mglej v. Garfield County

United States District Court, D. Utah

January 10, 2019

MATTHEW T. MGLEJ, Plaintiff,
GARFIELD COUNTY et al., Defendant.


          Clark Waddoups Judge

         Before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment of Plaintiff Matthew Mglej's § 1983 action filed by Defendants Raymond Gardner and Garfield County.[1] (ECF No. 111.) Defendants contend the events at issue in this action did not violate Mr. Mglej's constitutional rights, and even if they did, Officer Gardner is entitled to qualified immunity. They also argue there was no policy or custom in place that creates a basis for county liability. The court heard oral argument on the matter on September 11, 2018. (ECF No. 146.) Having considered the briefing and oral argument, and otherwise being fully informed, the court now GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion for the reasons stated herein.


         In the summer of 2011, Plaintiff Matthew Mglej left his home in Oregon and headed by motorcycle across the American West toward Dallas, Texas. (Plaintiff's Response 3, ECF No. 132.) He was going to meet family he had never known. (Mglej Deposition 11: 12-23, ECF No. 132-5.) His plans were disrupted when he experienced mechanical problems outside of Boulder, Utah. (Plaintiff's Response 4, ECF No. 132.) Boulder is a rural town with about 200 residents. (Gardner Declaration ¶ 5, ECF No. 112.) His engine was “burping” and “cutting in and off, ” and he needed a tire repair. (Mglej Deposition 16: 18-22, 23: 14-16, ECF No. 132-5.s) He went into town and asked around for the mechanic and learned that Chuck Gurle was the only mechanic in town. (Id. at 23: 21-24: 20.) When Mr. Mglej could not find Mr. Gurle, he returned to town and eventually found another traveler with whom he camped for the night. (Id. at 25: 4-28: 15.)

         In Boulder, Mr. Mglej experienced a largely welcoming community where he waited for the local mechanic to repair his bike. Eventually Mr. Mglej found Mr. Gurle, who invited him to stay in his home while he repaired the bike, which required a tire to be shipped.[2] (Plaintiff's Opposition 11, ECF No. 132; Mglej Deposition 47: 12, ECF No. 132-5.) He spent his days socializing with staff and guests at the Boulder Exchange and the Burr Trail Grill and other local places where he felt the community “took [him] in.” (Mglej Deposition 42: 16-46: 21, ECF No. 132-5.). He “made a lot of friends” and “became very close to the community.” (Id. at 37: 13- 14.)

         But Mr. Mglej eventually came into contact with law enforcement. Mr. Mglej and Officer Raymond Gardner of the Garfield County Sheriff's Department tell markedly different accounts of their first interaction. Mr. Mglej testified in his deposition that he saw Officer Gardner several times and felt Gardner was “eyeing [him] down, like, who is this guy.” (Id. at 37: 18-25.) Then “at one point [Mglej] was driving [his] motorcycle and [he] was going to the Boulder Exchange, and [Gardner] pulled [him] over” for speeding, approximately five miles over the limit. (Id. at 38: 14-24.) Mr. Mglej testified that Gardner asked him who he was, where he was from, and why he was in town. (Id. at 39: 7-12.) Mr. Mglej also asserts that he gave Officer Gardner his ID card during this initial interaction. (Id. 54: 25-55: 1.) Mr. Mglej claims that Officer Gardner ultimately gave him a warning and let him go. (Id. at 39: 10-12.) Mr. Mglej reports this interaction occurred two or three days after he arrived in town. (Id.) Officer Gardner denies he ever pulled Mr. Mglej over for speeding. (Gardner Depo. 27: 24-25.)

         Officer Gardner states instead that one day in the summer of 2011, he “was pulled off on the side of the road, patrolling for speeding. (Gardner Affidavit ¶ 8, ECF No. 112.) While doing this, Mr. Mglej rode past . . . on his motorcycle.” (Id.) He “did not attempt to pull Mr. Mglej over, and [he] remained parked off on the side of the road. However, Mr. Mglej turned around and came back to voluntarily speak with” him. (Id.) Officer Gardner's statement is that Mr. Mglej wanted to know how fast he was going and that he “did not ask for [Mr. Mglej's] driver's license at that time, ” even though he thought “the interaction was strange, which alerted [his] suspicions about Mr. Mglej.” (Id. ¶ 9.)

         Their next encounter occurred on August 8, 2011, around the time Mr. Mglej was preparing to leave town, and resulted in the alleged violation. After “about seven days” of being in Boulder, one day before his eventual arrest, Mr. Mglej's tire arrived, and Mr. Gurle installed it “right away.” (Id. at 47: 12-22.) The following day, around midday, Mr. Mglej “was completely packed, ” and he and Mr. Gurle were “saying [their] goodbyes” while “hanging out” playing music. (Id. at 51: 22-52: 11.) While this was going on, Officer Gardner came to the front door. (Id. at 52: 10-11.) “[H]e came and knocked on the door, and he was completely out of uniform or anything like that. It was very casual. It seemed like . . . it surprised Chuck.” (Id. at 52: 23- 25.) It was his day off, but he is the only officer in town, so Officer Gardner went to Mr. Gurle's house in civilian clothes for the purpose of investigating an alleged theft. (Id. at 35: 4-6, 36: 25- 37: 2.)

         Apparently, Officer Gardner had come to the Gurle's residence to follow up on a report from the Boulder Exchange, a local convenience store, that twenty dollars were missing from the till. (Plaintiff's Response Brief 6-7; ECF No. 132.) According to Officer Gardner, a female employee “had reported being made to feel uncomfortable by some of Mr. Mglej's comments. [And] this employee” reported “that when she had returned from using the restroom, money was missing from the cash register and [she] believed Mr. Mglej could have been responsible for its disappearance.” (Gardner Affidavit ¶ 11, ECF No. 112.) Dispatch, who first received the call from the Boulder Exchange, apparently reported to Officer Gardner that Mr. Mglej was loitering but did not provide a basis for the employee's belief or communicate that Mr. Mglej made the employee uncomfortable. (Gardner Affidavit ¶ 11, ECF No. 112; Gardner Deposition 30:9-11; 31: 16-21.)

         Following up on the call from Dispatch, Officer Gardner called the Boulder Exchange and asked about what happened. (Id. at 32: 1-3.) The employee who reported the incident told Officer Gardner that she did a “quick cursory check” of the till after briefly stepping outside and reported the apparently missing money, which “she thought” was twenty dollars. (Id. at 32: 10- 21, 33: 3.) She also described the person she believed to have committed the offense-she described a person who had been newly around town and who was staying with Mr. Gurle while having his bike repaired. (Id. at 33: 12-17.) Officer Gardner deduced that she was referring to Mr. Mglej. (Id. at 33: 18-21.) She did not indicate whether there were other patrons in the store at the time of the alleged theft. (Id. at 32-33.) She also reported that Mr. Mglej made “inappropriate comments” and that she felt uncomfortable. (Id. at 34: 11-19.) Mr. Mglej admits he was at the Boulder Exchange that morning but denies that the employee ever went outside while he was in the store. (Mglej Decl. ¶ 10; ECF No. 132-3.)

         According to Officer Gardner, the Gurle residence, where Officer Gardner went after calling the Boulder Exchange, is approximately an eighth of a mile from the Burr Trail Road, which is a county road off of Utah Highway 12. (Gardner Deposition 37: 19-38: 3.) The Gurles live in a single-wide trailer and park a fifth-wheel camper on the property. (Id. at 38: 8-12.) They do not own the property. (Id. at 39: 1-2.) According to Officer Gardner, the property where the residence and camper are parked is called Belnap Rental. (Id. at 39: 3-11.) Officer Gardner contends that Mr. Gurle “does do some business at, ” what he calls, Belnap Rental. (Id. at 39: 14- 15.) Mr. Gurle declares, however, that neither he nor his wife does any business from their home.[3] (Gurle Declaration ¶¶ 8-9, ECF No. 132-2.)

         When Officer Gardner arrived at the Gurles' home, he knocked and asked for Matt, Mr. Mglej's first name. (Gardner Deposition 39: 23-24; Gurle Declaration ¶ 13, ECF No. 132-2.) When Mr. Mglej came to the door, Officer Gardner asked if they could talk outside, away from the door. (Gardner Deposition 40: 9-13.) Mr. Mglej agreed, and the two began to talk outside the trailer.[4] (Id. at 40: 18-23.) The parties disagree about the nature of the area outside the Gurle residence where Officer Gardner and Mr. Mglej had this conversation. Officer Gardner describes the area as a parking lot. (Gardner Declaration ¶ 14, ECF No. 112.) Mr. Mglej describes “a front yard with hard-packed dirt where [the Gurles] keep a fire pit and several lawn chairs.” (Mglej Declaration ¶ 8, ECF No. 132-3.) Mr. Gurle's characterization of his residence echoes Mr. Mglej's description. (Gurle Declaration ¶ 7, ECF No. 132-2.)

         Officer Gardner told Mr. Mglej that he had received a complaint from the Boulder Exchange, and Mr. Mglej said he was not involved with the missing money. (Plaintiff's Response Brief 9, ECF No. 132.) Officer Gardner stated that, nonetheless, he needed to complete a report that required certain information from Mr. Mglej, specifically Mr. Mglej's full name, date of birth, driver's license information, and address. (Id. at 10; Gardner Deposition 44: 2-3.) Officer Gardner agreed in his deposition that he believes he asked for Mr. Mglej's Id. (Gardner Deposition 41: 15-19.)

         But Mr. Mglej did not believe Officer Gardner was entitled to this information, and he did not want to give it without first conferring with an attorney. (Id. at 43: 15-16; Mglej Deposition 54: 12-17.) Officer Gardner 's account is that he told Mr. Mglej he could talk with an attorney, but first he had to disclose his identity. (Gardner Deposition 43: 18-20.) And he did not first provide Mr. Mglej the opportunity to contact an attorney, because he “didn't have a reasonable expectation that [Mr. Mglej] knew of any attorney or had a phone number for an attorney or had worked for an attorney or had any kind of access to an attorney” because he was “on a road trip that eventually led him to Boulder, Utah.” (Id. at 44: 21-45: 3.) Instead, Officer Gardner warned Mr. Mglej that if he was unwilling to identify himself, he would be placed under arrest. (Id. at 45: 14-18; 45: 25-46: 4.) When Mr. Mglej did not answer, Officer Gardner arrested him, using handcuffs even though Officer Gardner concedes that Mr. Mglej was “cooperative physically” and did not behave in a physically threatening manner. (Plaintiff's Response 11, ECF No. 132; Gardner Deposition 46: 19-21, 47: 4-11.) He seated Mr. Mglej in the front seat of his patrol vehicle. (Gardner Deposition 52: 19-21.)

         Mr. Mglej's account of the pre-arrest encounter is that while Officer Gardner was asking for his information, Gardner was accusing him of taking the money. (Mglej Deposition 57: 3-9.) “Feel[ing] very uncomfortable, ” Mr. Mglej refused to answer Officer Gardner's questions without a lawyer and tried to call a lawyer but, when he reached for his phone, Officer Gardner said that if Mr. Mglej did not “put that phone down right now” he was going to “wrestle [Mr. Mglej] to the ground and tase [him].” (Mglej Deposition 58: 13-59: 4.) Mr. Mglej recalls that he was scared and that the next thing he knew he was in handcuffs and being put in the police car. (Id. at 60: 10-13.) Neither party suggests that Officer Gardner ever attempted to acquire a warrant before arresting Mr. Mglej.

         Instead of going directly to the county jail, some ninety miles away in Panguitch, Utah, Officer Gardner decided to first stop at his home to change out of his civilian clothes and into his uniform. (Gardner Deposition 51: 2-5; Plaintiff's Response 12; ECF No. 132.) Officer Gardner provided no information that the change was necessary, only that he “thought it best” given the length of the drive. (Id. at 51: 4.) While Officer Gardner went inside, Mr. Mglej sat in the car alone with the doors unlocked, limited only by a seat belt and his arms handcuffed in the front. (Id. at 52: 22-53:2, 53: 25-54: 4.) Officer Gardner's family was inside the home, but he did not fear Mr. Mglej would try to escape. (Id. at 54: 6-8, 60: 15-18.)

         During his deposition, Officer Gardner testified that he handcuffed Mr. Mglej “[p]er [Garfield County Sheriff's] department policy” that “whenever someone is placed under arrest, they are handcuffed.” (Id. 46: 22-25.) He further stated that he had no discretion in deciding whether to handcuff Mr. Mglej. (Id. 60: 16-21.) In January of 2018, Officer Gardner supplemented his declaration to inform the court that it is his “practice to handcuff everybody [he] arrest[s] and transport[s] to jail.” (Gardner Supplemental Declaration ¶ 1; ECF No. 137.) He has adopted this policy because he is “stationed so far away from any other law enforcement[5] and must transport persons a long distance to the jail, it is the safest practice for [him] to always handcuff persons [he] arrest[s].” (Id. ¶ 2.) He does this for his safety and the safety of the prisoner. (Id. ¶ 4.) And when he handcuffed Mr. Mglej, both upon the initial arrest and re-handcuffing after the incident in the garage, he did so “solely for safety reasons.” (Id. ¶ 7.)

         The Garfield County Sheriff's Department Policy related to handcuffing requires:[6] “Handcuffs . . . may be used only to restrain a person's hands to ensure officer safety.” (County Policy 306.4, ECF No. 132-6.) It “recommend[s]” handcuffs “for most arrest situations, ” but reserves discretion to the officer to decide whether the situation “warrants that degree of restraint.” (Id.) The Policy continues that “deputies should not conclude that in order to avoid risk every person should be handcuffed, regardless of the circumstances.” (Id.) It also makes clear that “[w]hen feasible, handcuffs should be double-locked to prevent tightening, which may cause undue discomfort or injury to the hands or wrists.” (Id.) Finally, “[h]andcuffs should be removed as soon as it is reasonable or after the person has been searched and safely confined within a detention facility.” (Id.)

         When Officer Gardner returned to his car, now in uniform, Mr. Mglej complained to him that the handcuffs were too tight. (Id. at 54:12-14.) Mr. Mglej contends he began complaining about the pain from the handcuffs almost immediately. (Plaintiff's Response 17, ECF No. 132.) When Officer Gardner noticed that Mr. Mglej's hands were red, he first tried to loosen them, but the cuffs malfunctioned and needed to be removed. (Gardner Deposition 54: 18-25, 55: 15- 56:1.) Not having the proper tools, Officer Gardner believed he had to improvise and took Mr. Mglej to his garage. (Id. at 57: 9-12; Gardner Affidavit ¶¶ 33-34.) Officer Gardner apparently made no attempt to call for help from other officers in the county nor did he attempt to find the proper tools in town. Instead, in his garage, Officer Gardner used Mr. Mglej's hands as a fulcrum and employed various tools in a trial-and-error fashion, including “hand drills, different prongs, different pliers, different screw drivers, and different presses.” (Mglej Deposition 75: 8-76: 18.) Eventually Officer Gardner put the handcuffs in a vice grip and worked them free of Mr. Mglej's wrists using two screwdrivers to pop them open in a manner that was extremely painful for Mr. Mglej. (Id. at 79: 6-80:10.) Officer Gardner stated that he did not know Mr. Mglej was in pain as he did not verbalize or otherwise express discomfort or pain. (Gardner Deposition 59: 6-11.) After removing the faulty handcuffs, Officer Gardner put new handcuffs on Mr. Mglej, returned to the car, and headed toward Panguitch. (Mglej Deposition 81: 3-5, 81: 25-82: 3.)

         About half an hour into the two-hour drive to Panguitch, Officer Gardner received a phone call from the Boulder Exchange employee who had reported the missing money.[7] (Id. 82: 4-17.) She was calling to tell him that after “a more thorough examination of the till was made . . . the money was accounted for.” (Gardner Deposition 63: 20-22.) Officer Gardner did not, however, release Mr. Mglej upon receipt of the phone call. (Id. at 64: 12-18.) Instead he continued on to the Garfield County Jail where he referred to a Utah Code book, completed a “no warrant fact sheet, ” and booked Mr. Mglej under two separate offenses: obstructing justice and failure to disclose identity.[8] (Id. at 64: 18-65: 9, 67: 10-21.)

         According to Mr. Mglej, Officer Gardner did not know what charge he intended to book Mr. Mglej under until he got to the jail. (Mglej Deposition 86: 3-11.) Mr. Mglej alleges that when an officer at the jail asked what Mr. Mglej was being booked for, Officer Gardner responded, “I don't know. Let me look in the book. I'm sure I can find something.” (Id. at 86: 5- 6.) Officer Gardner contradicts Mr. Mglej's testimony. He says he knew at the time he decided to continue on to the jail after receiving the second call from the Boulder Exchange that he had arrested Mr. Mglej for failure to disclose identity and that delays in the booking process resulted from Mr. Mglej's continued refusal to answer questions.[9] (Gardner Affidavit ¶¶ 40, 43.) This was the first time Officer Gardner had ever arrested anyone with a failure to disclose identity. (Gardner Deposition 62: 6-8.)

         The following day, August 9, 2011, Judge Russell Bulkley issued a Magistrate's Order that approved Officer Gardner's Statement of Probable Cause for a Warrantless Arrest and set bail for $1, 000, reflecting $500 for failure to disclose identity and $500 for obstruction of justice. (Probable Cause Statement and Order, ECF No. 112-1.) But Officer Gardner's statement, upon which the magistrate concluded probable cause existed, did not assert any facts that would show Mr. Mglej was arrested at a public place, nor did the statement provide any facts that would demonstrate the obstruction of justice. (Id.)

         Mr. Mglej's account of the conditions in jail include taunts by jailers, deprivation of food he could safely eat, and incarceration alongside troubled inmates who harassed him. He told the guards he had a dairy allergy; nevertheless, the guards fed him a sandwich of cheese and mayonnaise and then proceeded to include dairy in each of his remaining meals while in custody. (Mglej Declaration ¶ 15.) He also says that he “was housed with another inmate who apparently suffered from schizophrenia and alcoholism. The guards refused to give the inmate his medication and he started behaving erratically and aggressively toward [Mr. Mglej], ” causing him “intense mental and emotional anguish.” (Id.)

         Although bail was set on August 9, 2011, and Mr. Mglej immediately asked for his wallet so he could pay bail, the guards refused to give him his wallet until two days later on August 11. (Mglej Declaration ¶ 14.) At that time, they retrieved his wallet, and Mr. Mglej paid his bail by credit card. (Id.; Bail Payments, ECF No. 111-1.) Defendants provide no explanation for the two-day delay in Mr. Mglej's bail payment and release, although he apparently had the means to pay bail immediately. When Mr. Mglej was finally permitted to pay bail, he was released but not provided any transportation from Panguitch to Boulder. (Mglej Declaration ¶ 16.) Instead he “had to hitchhike back to Boulder. When [he] arrived [he] found that [his] bike had been vandalized by joyriders and that [his] possessions, including a digital camera, GPS, and video camera, had been stolen.” (Id.)

         Eventually all charges against Mr. Mglej were dropped (Mglej Deposition 100: 15-101: 9). But he contends he sustained damages from the arrest and initial prosecution. He was deprived of his liberty for several days. His damages also include lost property as previously detailed but also physical damage to his arms resulting from the handcuffing. He describes lasting “burning pain and numbness in [his] fingers that radiated up [his] arm to the elbow. (Mglej Declaration ¶ 17.) He has also “experienced significant emotional distress as a result of this ordeal. [He] suffer[s] from Asperger's Disorder, anxiety, and PTSD. . . . ...

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