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Shurtleff v. Gill

United States District Court, D. Utah

December 12, 2019

MARK L. SHURTLEFF, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SIM GILL, et al., Defendants,

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING COUNTY DEFENDANTS AND FEDERAL DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          Clark Waddoups United States District Judge

         Before the court are motions to dismiss filed by defendants Salt Lake County, Sam Gill, and the Salt Lake County District Attorney Office (the “County Defendants”); and the United States of America, the FBI, the Salt Lake Public Corruption Task Force (“SLPCTF”), Agent Pickens, Agent Isakson, and Agent Nesbitt (the “Federal Defendants” and together with the County Defendants, the “Defendants”). (ECF Nos. 36 and 37). For the reasons stated herein, both motions to dismiss are GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 8, 2018, Plaintiffs Mark Shurtleff, M'Liss Marler Shurtleff, Thomas James Shurtleff, and Adrianna Carolina Shurtleff filed a Complaint (ECF No. 2) against the State of Utah, Utah Department of Public Safety, and Utah State Bureau of Investigation (the “State Defendants”); the County Defendants; and the Federal Defendants, in which they allege that the defendants, individually and in concert, violated their constitutional rights through the investigation, search and seizure, and prosecution of Mark Shurtleff. Specifically, Plaintiffs' Complaint asserted five claims against the defendants: 1) violation of rights under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971); 2) a general 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim; 3) a § 1983 excessive force claim; 4) a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim; and 5) a § 1983 claim for deliberately indifferent policies. On July 27, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a First Amend Complaint (ECF No. 3) that reasserted the same five claims but offered significantly more background and allegations in support of the same.[1]

         Each of the defendants separately moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' action-the State Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on October 23, 2018 (ECF No. 33), and the County Defendants and Federal Defendants filed motions on November 26, 2018 (ECF Nos. 36 & 37). Each motion was fully briefed, and the court heard arguments on the same on July 10, 2019. At that hearing, and at the Plaintiffs' concession, the court granted the State Defendants' motion to dismiss, and the State Defendants were thereafter dismissed with prejudice. (ECF No. 68).[2]Both the County Defendants and Federal Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' action on the bases that their claims were, among other things, untimely and “non-cognizable based on the doctrines of absolute or qualified immunity.” (See ECF No. 36, at 2; ECF No. 37, at 8-20).

         At oral argument, the court found that Plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden of establishing that qualified immunity does not bar their claims. Although the court recognized that this failure provided it with sufficient basis to grant the motions to dismiss, it gave Plaintiffs one “last shot” to respond to defendants' arguments and properly plead their case. (See ECF No. 77 at 51:11-58:11). To that end, the court granted Plaintiffs leave to file a supplemental response to the defendants' motions to dismiss, which Plaintiffs filed on September 16, 2019. (ECF No. 75). The County Defendants thereafter filed their supplemental reply brief in support of their motion to dismiss on November 15, 2019 (ECF No. 82), and the Federal Defendants filed their corresponding brief on November 18, 2019 (ECF No. 85). The motions to dismiss are therefore fully briefed and argued and are ripe for decision.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint asserts five claims. The first asserts that the Federal Defendants violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Plaintiffs' other four claims arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and are asserted against both the Federal Defendants and the County Defendants. The Defendants have moved to dismiss each claim.

         A. Plaintiffs' claims against the Salt Lake County District Attorney Office fail.

         The Salt Lake County District Attorney Office is named as one of the County Defendants. Because the Salt Lake County District Attorney Office is not a separate legal entity that is distinct from Salt Lake County, it cannot be sued. See Gonzalez-Lopez v. Cache Cty. Corr. Facility, No. 1:10-cv-19, 2010 WL 1071389, at *2 (D. Utah Mar. 22, 2010) (“[S]ubordinate agencies of counties are not separate legal entities with capacity to sue or be sued.” (citing Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.1992))). As such “the Court construes [Plaintiffs'] claims against [the Salt Lake County District Attorney Office] as claims against [Salt Lake] County itself” and therefore DISMISSES Plaintiffs' claims asserted against the Salt Lake County District Attorney Office. See id.

         B. Plaintiffs' first claim against defendants the United States of America, the FBI, and the SLPCTF is dismissed.

         Plaintiffs' first claim arises under Bivens and is asserted against the Federal Defendants. “Bivens was a landmark decision holding that plaintiffs may sue federal officials in their individual capacities for damages for Fourth Amendment violations, even in the absence of an express statutory cause of action analogous to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Simmat v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 413 F.3d 1225, 1231 (10th Cir. 2005) (emphasis added). Because such claims only lie against federal officials in their individual capacities, they “cannot be asserted directly against the United States, federal officials in their official capacities or federal agencies.” Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1099 (10th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). As such, Plaintiffs' first claim against the United States of America, the FBI, and the SLPCTF is DISMISSED.

         C. Plaintiffs' second, third, fourth, and fifth claims against the Federal Defendants are dismissed.

         It is unclear whether Plaintiffs' second, third, fourth, and fifth claims, which each arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, are asserted against the Federal Defendants. To the extent they are, those claims fail as a matter of law, as § 1983 “applies to actions by state and local entities, not to the federal government.” Belhomme v. Widnall, 127 F.3d 1214, 1217 (10th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). As such, to the extent that ...


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