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Truman v. Orem City

United States District Court, D. Utah

August 8, 2019

CONRAD TRUMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
OREM CITY, a Utah municipality; OREM CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, a division of Orem City; OREM CITY POLICE OFFICER THOMAS WALLACE, an individual; OREM CITY POLICE OFFICER WILLIAM CROOK, an individual; OREM CITY POLICE OFFICER ORLANDO RUIZ, an individual; OREM CITY POLICE OFFICER ART LOPEZ, an individual; OREM CITY POLICE OFFICER TODD FERRE, an individual; UTAH COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, a division of Utah County; DEPUTY UTAH COUNTY ATTORNEY CRAIG JOHNSON, an individual; OFFICERS JOHN/JANE DOE 110, individuals; and ATTORNEYS JOHN/JANE DOE 1-5, individuals, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TED STEWART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants City of Orem, Orem City Police Department, Officer Thomas Wallace, Officer William Crook, Officer Orlando Ruiz, Officer Art Lopez and Officer Todd Ferre (collectively, “Defendants”). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Conrad and Heidy Truman were at home together on September 30, 2012. No one else was in the home. At some point that evening, the couple began to quarrel and Heidy went into the bathroom and locked the door. Mr. Truman then picked the lock and followed her into the bathroom, but left after Heidy asked him to. Later, Mr. Truman was in the kitchen alone when he thought he heard the bathroom door open. A moment later he heard a “pop” sound. Heidy Truman was located toward the back of the house, near the bathroom doorway. She fell forward toward Mr. Truman onto the dining room floor. Rushing to help her, he quickly realized she was bleeding profusely from the side of her head and was struggling to breathe. He attempted CPR and then called 911.

         When police arrived at the scene, they found Mr. Truman covered in blood, intoxicated, and in shock. He had to be removed from Heidy Truman's body and threatened to kill the police officers if they did not save her life. Heidy was taken to the hospital, where she later died of her wounds.

         After a months-long investigation, police ultimately arrested Mr. Truman and charged him with his wife's murder. Mr. Truman was tried and convicted of murder and obstruction of justice. After trial, Mr. Truman, though new counsel, filed a number of motions with the state court. As a result of one of these motions, Mr. Truman was granted a new trial based on newly discovered evidence and was eventually acquitted.

         Mr. Truman brings the present § 1983 action against the police officers and prosecutors involved in his criminal prosecution, as well as Orem City, the Orem City Police Department, and the Utah County Attorney's Office (“UCAO”). Defendants Utah County Deputy Prosecutor Craig Johnson and the UCAO have been dismissed from the case. The remaining Defendants now seek summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining causes of action.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[1] In considering whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court determines whether a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party in the face of all the evidence presented.[2] The Court is required to construe all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[3]

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION

         Plaintiff alleges that Orem City police officers William Crook, Orlando Ruiz, Art Lopez, and Todd Ferre illegally detained and questioned him on the night of Heidy's death and into the next day. Plaintiff also alleges that he was not properly Mirandized and that he was held without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

         In moving for summary judgment, Defendants argue that this claim is barred by the statute of limitations. Both parties agree that the statute of limitations for a § 1983 action is a matter of state law, and that the term is four years under the applicable Utah law. However, the parties disagree about when the claim accrues.

         Defendants argue that the claim accrues after the action occurs. Therefore, because the alleged bad actions took place on September 30, 2012, and October 1, 2012, the statute of limitations began to run immediately and expired on October 1, 2016.

         Plaintiff argues that the statute of limitations should be tolled because his claim involves not only allegations of unlawful detention and interrogation, but also use of the acquired statements in his prosecution. Plaintiff therefore argues that the claim accrued on July 19, 2013, when charges were brought against him that relied on his illegally obtained statements.

         In Wallace v. Kato, [4] the United States Supreme Court considered when the statute of limitation in a § 1983 case should accrue where the plaintiff alleged unlawful arrest. The Court noted that “it is the standard rule that accrual occurs when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action, that is, when the plaintiff can file suit and obtain relief.”[5] In the case of a § 1983 claim based on an improper arrest, the statute of limitations begins to run when that unlawful detention ends.[6]

         The plaintiff in that case argued that his release from custody must be the date of accrual, because the “unlawful arrest led to the coerced confession, which was introduced at his trial, producing his conviction and incarceration.”[7] However, the Supreme Court noted that after the initial detention, a magistrate judge had ruled to bind over plaintiff for trial, thus ending any harm caused by the initial unlawful detention. “From that point on, any damages recoverable must be based on a malicious prosecution claim and on the wrongful use of judicial process rather than detention itself.”[8] With regard to the original arrest, “[t]he cause of action accrues even though the full extent of the injury is not then known or predictable.”[9] The Tenth Circuit has similarly held that “[c]laims arising out of police actions toward a criminal suspect, such as arrest, interrogation, or search and seizure, are presumed to have accrued when the actions actually occur.”[10]

         In this case, the basis of Plaintiff's claim was known on October 1, 2012, when he was detained and questioned. Plaintiff may not pursue other harms under the same cause of action, even those that follow as natural consequences of the original harm. Therefore, the date of accrual is October 1, 2012, and the statute of limitations expired on October 1, 2016. Because Plaintiff filed his complaint on July 12, 2017, it is outside the statute of limitations and the Court will grant summary judgment on his first cause of action.

         B. SECOND THROUGH EIGHTH CAUSES OF ACTION

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff's second through eighth causes of action are barred by issue preclusion. These six separate causes of action include a wide array of allegations, including lack of probable cause for warrants and subpoenas (second cause of action), unlawful arrest (third cause of action), unlawful pretrial detention (fourth cause of action), malicious prosecution (fifth cause of action), manufacturing and fabricating evidence (sixth cause of action), lack of probable cause in criminal information (seventh cause of action), and unfairness of criminal trial (eighth cause of action).

         In Allen v. McCurry, [11] the United States Supreme Court found that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel apply to § 1983 actions.[12] The Court reasoned that “Congress has specifically required all federal courts to give preclusive effect to state-court judgments whenever the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged would do so.”[13] The Tenth Circuit follows Allen v. McCurry, in applying preclusion doctrines to § 1983 actions.[14] In doing so, it analyzes the preclusive effect of state court judgments under state law.[15]

         Under Utah law, “[i]ssue preclusion applies only when the following four elements are met”:

(i) the party against whom issue preclusion is asserted must have been a party to or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; (ii) the issue decided in the prior adjudication must be identical to the one presented in the instant action; (iii) the issue in the first action must have been completely, fully, and fairly litigated; and (iv) the first suit must have resulted in a final judgment on the merits.[16]

         In opposing summary judgment based on issue preclusion, Plaintiff asserts that 1) the state court's probable cause finding is not binding, 2) probable cause is properly a question for a jury, 3) he was refused an evidentiary hearing, and 4) the probable cause finding was “based solely upon the tainted information provided by Defendants.”[17] These arguments appear to only contest the third point of Utah's preclusion analysis, whether the probable cause issue was fully and fairly litigated in state court.

         Regarding Plaintiff's first argument, as discussed above, a state court's finding of probable cause finding may have preclusive effect in a § 1983 action. Regarding Plaintiff's second argument, Plaintiff does not identify, and the Court is unaware of, any case law that requires a probable cause finding to be made by a jury in order for it to have preclusive effect. Plaintiff's third and fourth arguments are addressed in greater detail below.

         Plaintiff asserts in his Amended Complaint that his “requests to quash the previous bindover or for a new preliminary hearing were opposed, almost summarily denied, and the state court relied upon the tainted evidence and the tainted probable cause findings made previously at the preliminary hearing.”[18]

         However, a review of the record does not suggest any reason for the Court to doubt the thoroughness or fairness of the state court's decisions. The state court issued a number of decisions in January 2017 relevant to the issues before the Court. In its Order on Defendant's Combined Motion for Bill of Particulars; Bar to Prosecution; and New Preliminary Hearing, the state court found that probable cause remained, even taking into account the various arguments made by Mr. Truman.[19] In its Order Denying Defendant's Renewal of Motions to Continue Trial; to Suppress Statements and Request for Pretrial Evidentiary Hearing; and Relating to Probable Cause Findings, the court stated: “The Court heard the evidence in this case at the preliminary hearing long ago and has noted the variety of evidence supporting probable cause.”[20]

         The state court also made specific findings related to the existence of probable cause in the warrant and supporting affidavits, which Mr. Truman argued were filled with inaccuracies and omitted critical information. The court stated:

The Court reviewed the affidavits and warrants issued by other district court judges in this matter[] and sees no reason to believe the warrants were not supported by affidavits showing probable cause. There were enough facts presented to show such things as a defendant covered in blood, giving a story that did not necessarily match what could be seen at the location of the alleged crime including no blood from the alleged victim in the area where defendant claims the sound of the pop came from, the defendant making threats, being evasive about a handgun and other details, the defendant making admissions and inconsistent statements, created probable cause a criminal homicide had been committed by defendant.[21]

         The court pointed to “additional unchallenged information in the warrants to support probable cause.”[22] The court also noted that Plaintiff failed to show that “the officers were providing information they knew or ...


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