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Earle E. v. West Valley City Police Department

United States District Court, D. Utah

January 22, 2019

EARLE E. aka EARL E. BRAMHALL, Plaintiff,
v.
WEST VALLEY CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, COLLEEN JACOBS, TRAVIS PEARCE, ROBERT BOBROWSKI, NICOLAS COOK, LAMONTE COX, BROCK HUDSON, JOSEPH MCCUEN, JERRY RANDALL, et al., Defendants.

          District Judge Dee Benson.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS THE COUNTY DEFENDANTS (ECF NO. 93)

          EVELYN J. FURSE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The Defendants Simarjit S. Gill, Melanie M. Serassio, Steven C. Gibbons, Nathanial J. Sanders, Robert N. Parrish, Nathan J. Evershed, Chou Chou Collins, Thomas V. Lopresto II, Craig Stanger, and Jared W. Rasband (collectively the “Movants”), move the Court[1] to dismiss Plaintiff Earl E. Bramhall's Complaint against them for failure to state a claim upon which this Court can grant relief. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss & Mem. in Support (“Mot. to Dismiss”), ECF No. 93.) The Movants argue Mr. Bramhall's Complaint does not comply with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rules”) because his Complaint fails “to sufficiently link individual defendants to the acts alleged in the Complaint.” (Id. at 1.) The Movants further assert Mr. Bramhall's Complaint fails to state a claim against them in their official capacities, or against the County, because he “failed to identify any custom or policy that guided the defendants' conduct and therefore violated [his] constitutional rights.” (Id.) Lastly, the Movants contend this Court should dismiss Mr. Bramhall's Complaint because absolute prosecutorial immunity shields them from suit. (Id. at 1-2.) Mr. Bramhall also names Ms. Christina P. Ortega, Gregory N. Febrache, and Jared N. Parrish as Defendants who worked as Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorneys and on his case. (Compl., ECF No. 4 at 2, 24, 27.) The Movants' arguments apply with equal force to these three Defendants. Thus, the undersigned refers to Ms. Ortega, Mr. Febrache, Mr. Jared N. Parrish, and the Movants collectively as the County Defendants. Having considered the parties' briefing and oral argument, the undersigned RECOMMENDS the District Judge DISMISS the County Defendants because Mr. Bramhall's Complaint fails to state a claim upon which this Court can grant relief as prosecutorial immunity protects them in their individual capacities, and the Complaint fails to allege a custom, policy, or practice that would make Salt Lake County liable for their actions in their official capacities.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 8, 2018, Mr. Bramhall, proceeding pro se in forma pauperis, filed a Complaint against thirty-five defendants, including the County Defendants. (See Compl., ECF No. 4.) Mr. Bramhall specifically pleads six causes of action against the County Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for allegedly (1) committing willful neglect of duty, infliction of judicial improprieties, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice, and violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, (2) violating the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, (3) excessive prosecutorial misconduct, cruel and unusual punishment, (4) threats of life imprisonment if he refused to accept over thirty (30) plea offers (5) psychological water boarding, and (6) committing arbitrariness actions by withholding exculpatory evidence. (Compl., ECF No. 4 at 2, 31-39.)

         In deciding a motion to dismiss the Court takes “as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in a complaint and view[s] the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009). A court may consider exhibits attached to a Complaint when evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Smith, 561 F.3d at 1098 (stating “[i]n evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts may consider not only the complaint itself, but also attached exhibits … and documents incorporated into the complaint by reference.”) (citations omitted).

         Mr. Bramhall's claims stem from a 2008 arrest and criminal prosecution for aggravated robbery and for making threats against life or property. (Compl., ECF No. 4 at 3, 6-8, 19, 22-28; see also Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office Jail Booking Record, Ex. C at 1, ECF No. 4-3.) Officers from the West Valley City Police Department suspected Mr. Bramhall of calling Cyprus Credit Union demanding $100, 000, telling the assistant bank manager he was a sharp shooter, and telling the manager he had a bomb within a seven-mile radius of the bank. (West Valley City Police Dep't CAD Master Call Table, Ex. O at 1-2, ECF No. 4-15; see also Compl., ECF No. 4 at 3, 6-8.) Mr. Bramhall spent fifty-three months and seventeen days in jail pretrial (Compl., ECF No. 4 at 21) only for a jury to find him not guilty (id. at 27).

         Mr. Bramhall alleges the County Defendants committed prosecutorial misconduct and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment when they prosecuted him for approximately nine years for a crime they knew he did not commit. (Id. at 22, 36, 38.) He specifically alleges Simarjit S. Gill, and all of the County Defendants, violated his Fifth Amendment rights by failing to indict him before a grand jury. (Id. at 34.) He further alleges Mr. Gill colluded with all of the district attorneys on the case to continue to prosecute him despite the lack of any evidence linking him to the crime and despite his attempts to inform Mr. Gill that he did not commit the alleged crime. (Id. at 22-23.)

         Deputy District Attorney Robert Parrish undertook “every possible measure to strong-arm, manipulate [him], into taking many plea offers, regardless of [his] innocence of the crimes.” (Id. at 19, 24.) Mr. Parrish denied Mr. Bramhall his rights to a quick and speedy trial and committed “psychological waterboarding” by subjecting him to multiple psychological evaluations. (Id. at 24-25.) Mr. Parrish attempted to convince the psychologist that Mr. Bramhall lacked competency to stand trial and filed a motion to have Mr. Bramhall civilly committed. (Id. at 25.) Mr. Bramhall alleges Mr. Parrish also committed prosecutorial misconduct when Mr. Parrish allowed a witness, despite Mr. Bramhall's counsel's protestation, to remain in court during his preliminary hearing. (Id.) As the primary district attorney on the case, Mr. Parrish allegedly subjected Mr. Bramhall to more than thirty-six (36) court appearances, and he made multiple attempts to deny him a quick and speedy trial by subjecting him to multiple competency evaluations. (Id.) In 2011, then Attorney General Mark Shurtleff allegedly informed Mr. Parrish that Mr. Parrish had failed to follow proper procedure with respect to one of Mr. Bramhall's mental health evaluations. (Id. at 25-26; Ex. L, ECF No. 4-12.) Mr. Parrish ignored the Attorney General's information and continued to prosecute Mr. Bramhall until Mr. Sanders replaced him on the case. (Compl., ECF No. 4 at 26.) Mr. Bramhall alleges Mr. Parrish “kept [him] incarcerated in the Salt Lake Jail for a period of 53 months 17 day's without a trial.” (Id. at 25.)

         Mr. Bramhall alleges all of the County Defendants violated his right to a speedy trial and “made every attempt to not have trial, ” by subjecting him to numerous psychological evaluations and threatening him with prison time if he failed to accept one of their numerous plea offers. (Id. at 36.) Moreover, the County Defendants had “irrefutable proof [he] was innocent of all charges, ” but they nonetheless continued to attempt to pressure him into accepting plea offers. (Id. at 36-37.) Mr. Bramhall further alleges the County Defendants not only knew of his innocence but “were also aware of the fact of another person committing the same crime while the plaintiff [was] totally restrained.” (Id. at 38.) The County Defendants withheld exculpatory evidence that “would have exonerated [him] of any involvement pertaining to the crimes [he] was charged with.” (Id.)

         Mr. Bramhall alleges the remaining County Defendants each appeared in at least one of his criminal hearings; they all refused to allow him to have a trial, and they “continued to offer [him] many plea bargain offers, regardless of [his] very obvious innocence.” (Id. at 24, 27.) All of the County Defendants committed “arbitrariness actions” when they “willfully” withheld “very exculpatory evidence[, ] … which would have exonerated [him] of any involvement pertaining to the crimes [he] was charged with.” (Id. at 38.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court construes pro se pleadings liberally and holds them “to a less stringent standard.” Smith, 561 F.3d at 1096 (quoting Garrett v. Selby, Connor, Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation omitted in original)). However, the Court cannot act as an advocate for pro se litigants who must comply with the fundamental requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991); Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007) (“[T]his court has repeatedly insisted that pro se parties follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.”) (quoting Garrett, 425 F.3d at 840). 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). Pro se plaintiffs' claims should survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “despite the 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.” Smith, 561 F.3d at 1096 (quoting Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110). However, “the court cannot take on the responsibility of serving as the litigant's attorney in constructing arguments and searching the record.” Garrett, 425 F.3d at 840; see also Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1175 (10th Cir. 1997) (noting court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a [pro se] plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.”).

         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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007)). “‘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)). “[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, ...


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