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Hooper v. Jackson County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

July 23, 2014



MARK D. CLARKE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Dennis Hooper, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, asserts claims against the defendants for violations of his civil rights. This matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment (#42) filed by the defendants, Jackson County Sheriffs Office, and Sheriff Mike Winters, and Deputy David Penkava. Plaintiff has additionally filed a motion to compel (#47) and a motion strike (#55). For the reasons below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Plaintiffs motion to strike (#55) is DENIED. The Court defers ruling on Plaintiffs motion to compel (#47).


On August 16, 2011, Plaintiff Dennis Hooper was operating his vehicle on a highway near Rogue River, Oregon, when Jackson County Sheriffs Deputy Penkava initiated a traffic stop. Plaintiff claims that Deputy Penkava refused to tell Plaintiff the reason for the stop, instead asking Plaintiff for his license, registration, and proof of insurance. Plaintiff claims he provided valid proof of all three. Deputy Penkava nevertheless issued Plaintiff three citations for failure to have the requested documents, and he then impounded Plaintiffs vehicle. Plaintiff claims that he was acquitted of all three citations, and he attempted to be reimbursed by JCSO for the towing and impound costs and fees, but his requests were denied.

Deputy Penkava claims that he had reasonable suspicion to initiate the August 16 traffic stop with Plaintiff. He claims that his prior encounters with Plaintiff, including a traffic citation issued on January 29, 2009 for operating a motor vehicle without a valid Oregon driver's license, gave him cause to believe that Plaintiff continued to drive without a proper driver's license. Plaintiff disputes that Deputy Penkava was involved with any previous traffic citations or encounters, except a domestic violence incident in early 2009.

After initiating the stop on August 16, 2011, Deputy Penkava became aware that there was a warrant for Plaintiffs arrest in Linn County, Oregon, relating to a charge for driving with a suspended license. Deputy Penkava then issued him the three citations, placed him under arrest pursuant to the warrant, and impounded his vehicle.


Summary judgment shall be granted when the record shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material of fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Devereaux v. Abbey , 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). The court cannot weigh the evidence or determine the truth but may only determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact. Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Welles , 279 F.3d 796, 800 (9th Cir. 2002). An issue of fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248..

When a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the opposing party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id . at 250. Conclusory allegations, unsupported by factual material, are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Taylor v. List , 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opposing party must, by affidavit or as otherwise provided by Rule 56, designate specific facts which show there is a genuine issue for trial. Devereaux , 263 F.3d at 1076. In assessing whether a party has met its burden, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Allen v. City of Los Angeles , 66 F.3d 1052, 1056 (9th Cir. 1995).


I. Defendant Deputy Penkava is not entitled to summary judgment

"The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures' by the Government, and its protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that fall short of traditional arrest." United States v. Arvizu , 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (citing United States v. Cortez , 449 U.S. 411, 417 (1981); Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 9 (1968)). Such investigatory stops are justified by "reasonable suspicion" that criminal activity may be afoot. Arvizu , 534 U.S. at 273; see also United States v. Sokolow , 490 U.S. 1, 7, 1 (1989); Cortez , 449 U.S. at 417. "[T]he Fourth Amendment's proper function is to constrain, not against all intrusions... but against intrusions which are not justified in the circumstances, or which are made in an improper manner." Schmerber v. California , 384 U.S. 757, 768 (1966). The "touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness. The Fourth Amendment does not proscribe all state-initiated searches and seizures; it merely proscribes those which are unreasonable." Florida v. Jimeno , 500 U.S. 248, 250 (1991) (citations omitted).

The Supreme Court has held that if officers have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation occurred, officers may conduct a traffic stop even if the stop serves some other purpose. United States v. Willis , 431 F.3d 709, 715 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Whren v. United States , 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996). Thus, "[s]ubjective intentions [oflaw enforcement officers] play no role in ordinary, probable-cause Fourth Amendment analysis." Whren , 517 U.S. at 813.

In this case, the question is whether or not it was reasonable for an officer to rely on information that Plaintiffs license was suspended two and a half years prior to the incident in question. Deputy Penkava has submitted a declaration stating that he "recognized Hooper and his residence from multiple previous encounters." Penkava states that, prior to the August 16, 2011 encounter, he "had stopped and issued citations to Hooper on various occasions." The only specific occasion he references, however, is the incident in which he "cited Hooper for operating a motor vehicle without a valid Oregon driver's license on January 29. 2009." While reasonable suspicion is a relatively low bar, the Court ...

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