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Gary Dental, Bales and Brady Towing West, LLC v. City of Salem/Salem Police Department

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 2, 2015

GARY DENTAL, BALES AND BRADY TOWING WEST, LLC, BRADLEY KELLEY, AND TIMOTHY HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SALEM/SALEM POLICE DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ANDREW ROBERTS, MARK KEAGLE, BENJAMIN RUDDELL, GERRIT ROELOF, TYSON HODGES, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This suit involves claims for various constitutional and tort law violations stemming from an allegedly wrongful arrest and prosecution of two employees of a towing service, Messrs. Kelley and Hall. The two were arrested for state law charges of "obstructing governmental or judicial administration, " in violation of ORS 162.235, when they refused to release three unmarked police cars they had towed for being illegally parked. Plaintiffs contend essentially that the arrest was unconstitutional and negligent because the officers lacked probable cause.

Before me are two motions to dismiss under Rule 12. First is a motion by Defendant Tyson Hodges [61], a DEA Agent who was present during the incident but did not actually arrest the Plaintiffs. Second is a motion made by the United States [62], as the employer of Agent Hodges. Unless otherwise noted, all facts are those alleged in Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint ("FAC") [54]. For the reasons that follow, both motions are GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

This case begins in a parking lot in an industrial neighborhood in Northeast Salem. In January of 2012, local business owner Randy Layne observed several vehicles parked in his lot without permission. The lot was marked to indicate it was for private parking and that unauthorized vehicles would be towed. On January 26, Layne left a note on one of the vehicles, which he later found crumpled on the ground. When he saw the cars parked there again the next day, Layne spoke with one of the Defendants, who did not identify himself as a police officer, refused to move the cars, and responded with expletives. Layne called the owner of the parking lot who then called a towing service to have the vehicles removed.

I. The Parties

Plaintiffs in this suit are the towing service, Bales and Brady Towing West ("BBW"), BBW's owner and operator, Gary Dental, and the two BBW employees who actually towed the cars and were subsequently arrested and prosecuted - Bradley Kelley and Timothy Hall.

Defendants are officers who made the arrest or were present during various parts of the incident.[1] They were all apparently members of an inter-agency narcotics task force operated by the Salem Police Department ("SPD"), the Keizer PD, and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"). The United States and the City of Salem are also Defendants.

II. The Incident and Arrest

Plaintiffs Kelley and Hall towed the three unmarked police cars from the lot where they were unlawfully parked and brought them to the BBW impound lot. (According to the City of Salem Defendants' Answer [58], the officers had been executing a search warrant, and upon its completion returned to find several of their cars had been towed.)

Officer Roelof, along with a non-defendant KPD Officer Johnson, [2] drove to the BBW impound lot, identified themselves as police officers, identified the three unmarked police vehicles that had been towed, and requested their release. Mr. Kelley called BBW dispatch, and informed Officer Roelof that, pursuant to BBW policy and a City of Salem Ordinance, some proof of ownership was required to obtain release of the vehicles.[3] Because Roelof did not have any such proof, Kelley refused to release the cars. Kelley did, however, allow Roelof to retrieve a bag from one of the cars that contained Roelof's personal identifying information. The officers left, telling Kelley that their supervisor would be there shortly with everything they needed.

Later, five officers arrived at the BBW impound yard. The group was composed of Defendants Roberts, Ruddell, and Hodges, Officer Johnson, and one other unidentified non-defendant officer. Three of the officers were plainclothes; two were in police uniforms. Defendant Roberts demanded Kelley and Hall release the vehicles, saying they were part of an ongoing investigation. When Hall demanded proof of ownership, Defendant Roberts showed his badge and told Kelley and Hall that that was all the identification that was needed.

Hall made another call to BBW Dispatch to decide how to proceed. Dispatch put Hall on hold to try and reach Mr. Dental, the owner of BBW.[4] During this time, Officer Roberts told Kelley and Hall that they needed to release the vehicles immediately or they would be arrested. Rather than continue to wait, Roberts placed both Kelley and Hall under arrest. Plaintiffs say they were not informed of the charges against them.

The officers took Kelley and Hall's keys and used them to open the gate to the impound lot and retrieve their vehicles without authorization. When the officers had retrieved the cars, they locked the gate to the impound yard, but did not lock the door to the BBW office, leaving it open and unattended. Kelley and Hall were placed in the back of a patrol car.[5] Officer Ruddell later transported them to the Polk County Jail.

Kelley and Hall spent approximately six hours in jail, until Mr. Dental arrived and paid approximately $750 bail for each of them to be released. The Polk County Attorney's Office prosecuted the obstruction charges under ORS 162.235.[6] (Plaintiffs allege that this was at the continued behest of Defendants). Dental continued to pay Kelley and Hall their hourly wages for all time they were in jail, meeting with their attorneys, and in court proceedings related to this incident. Approximately one year later, the case went to trial. The jury deliberated for roughly fifteen minutes, and Kelley and Hall were acquitted of the obstruction charges.

III. The First Amended Complaint

Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint ("FAC") [54] brings claims for civil rights violations against Agent Hodges under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), and against the individual SPD officers under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. Plaintiffs also claim malicious prosecution, negligence, and intentional ...


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