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Jr Fruitts v. Union County

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 4, 2015

UNION COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL H. SIMON, District Judge.

United States Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan issued Findings and Recommendation ("F&R") in this case on January 21, 2015. Dkt. 23. Judge Sullivan recommended that Defendants'[1] motion to dismiss (Dkt. 12) be granted because Plaintiffs' Section 1983[2] claims are barred by the rule articulated in Heck v. Humphreys [3] and, even if not barred, fail on the merits because Defendants' alleged conduct does not rise to the level of a violation of substantive due process. Judge Sullivan further recommended that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state-law claims after dismissing Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims.

Under the Federal Magistrates Act ("Act"), the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). If a party files objections to a magistrate's findings and recommendations, "the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

For those portions of a magistrate's findings and recommendations to which neither party has objected, the Act does not prescribe any standard of review. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 152 (1985) ("There is no indication that Congress, in enacting [the Act], intended to require a district judge to review a magistrate's report to which no objections are filed."); United States. v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (holding that the court must review de novo magistrate's findings and recommendations if objection is made, "but not otherwise"). Although in the absence of objections no review is required, the Act "does not preclude further review by the district judge[] sua sponte ... under a de novo or any other standard." Thomas, 474 U.S. at 154. Indeed, the Advisory Committee Notes to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) recommend that "[w]hen no timely objection is filed, " the Court review the magistrate's recommendations for "clear error on the face of the record."

Plaintiffs timely filed an objection (Dkt. 25), to which Defendants responded. Dkt. 27. Plaintiffs object to Judge Sullivan's conclusion that the Heck rule bars Plaintiffs' claims and that Plaintiffs' claims fail on the merits if not barred. Plaintiffs also move for a stay of these proceedings pending a related state court criminal appeal. The Court considers these issues de novo.

Plaintiffs did not object to Judge Sullivan's findings and recommendation taking judicial notice of the amended criminal judgment entered against Plaintiff JR Fruitts in state court or the recommendation that the Court decline to accept supplemental jurisdiction of Plaintiffs' statelaw claims. These issues are reviewed for clear error. None being found, these portions of the F&R are adopted.

A. The Application of the Heck Rule and Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay

" Heck bars a § 1983 action only if the action's success will necessarily imply the invalidity of a state court's judgment." Thornton v. Brown, 757 F.3d 834, 845 (9th Cir. 2013) (emphasis in original). "[A] claim does not necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction or sentence under Heck unless its success will inevitably call into question the state court judgment that led to the plaintiff's custody." Id. at 843 (quotation marks and citation omitted).

Plaintiffs argue that, contrary to Judge Sullivan's findings, if Plaintiffs were successful on their Section 1983 claim it would not necessarily imply that Mr. Fruitts' criminal conviction for criminally negligent homicide was wrongful. Plaintiffs argue that Mr. Fruitts can be criminally negligent by deviating from the standard of care of a reasonable person by failing to be aware of a risk and causing the death of Mr. John Rysdam, and that Defendants can also be negligent in causing that risk and thereby causing harm to Plaintiffs. In addition, Plaintiffs assert that they mistakenly informed Judge Sullivan that the information regarding the County and its employees' alleged misconduct and negligence was presented to the jury in the underlying state criminal case, a fact that Judge Sullivan expressly relied on in reaching her conclusions (F&R at 17-18), when, in fact, the state court trial judge excluded that evidence in limine. Plaintiffs offer with their objections the declaration of Mr. Fruitts' criminal defense attorney, Robert Moon, attesting to this fact. Defendants respond that the Court should not consider this new evidence.

Plaintiffs also seek a stay of these proceedings until the state court of appeals addresses Mr. Fruitts' allegations of error by the trial court, including precluding the evidence of the alleged misconduct by Defendants. Plaintiffs note that if Mr. Fruitts' criminal conviction is reversed on appeal then the Heck rule will no longer be applicable, but the statute of limitations will have run on Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim. Defendants object to the motion to stay as untimely and waived.

The Magistrate's Act permits a court to "receive further evidence" at its discretion. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Howell, 231 F.3d 615, 621 (9th Cir. 2000) (concluding that a district court "has discretion, but is not required" to consider new evidence). Here, the Court exercises its discretion to consider the new evidence because Plaintiffs provided Judge Sullivan with mistaken information and seek to rectify that mistake.

The Court concludes, however, that it need not reach the issue of whether Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim is barred by the Heck rule because even assuming it is not, Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim fails on the merits, as found by Judge Sullivan. Thus, the Court does not adopt the portion of the F&R finding that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by Heck and Plaintiffs' motion to stay is denied as moot.

B. Consideration Plaintiffs' Section 1983 Claim on the Merits

The Court considers the merits of Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims de novo. Plaintiffs allege a Section 1983 claim against the individually-named employees based on an alleged violation of substantive due process and a Monell[4] claim against Union County. The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs filed before Judge Sullivan, the F&R, Plaintiffs' objections, and Defendants' response. ...

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