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Davidson v. Deschutes County

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 24, 2015

MARTIE DAVIDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DESCHUTES COUNTY, JOHN and CAREN BURTON, CHRIS KABER, and JENNIFER GASPARD, Defendants.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

THOMAS M. COFFIN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Martie Davidson bring this action asserting claims for malicious prosecution, libel/slander/defamation, and false arrest under federal and state law. Plaintiff also seeks a declaration that a policy of adding charges to indictments without probable cause is unconstitutional. Finally, plaintiff asserts a claim for punitive damages.

ALLEGATIONS

Defendants John Burton and Caren Burton left their dog Zoe at Deschutes Pet Lodge from July 24, 2009 until July 27, 2009. Plaintiff worked at the Pet Lodge.

On July 28, 2009, the Burtons took Zoe to the vet, but it does not appear that the vet suspected broken ribs at that time. On August 1, 2009, the Burtons took Zoe to an animal emergency center where x-rays revealed fractures of the eighth and ninth ribs and possible fracture of the seventh on the dog's left side. On August 3, 2009, Dr. Jodi Kettering determined that the injuries were consistent with being hit by a motor vehicle.

Zoe's conditioned worsened and on August 5, 2009, Kettering referred Zoe to Northwest Veterinary Specialists where x-rays revealed fractures of the sixth through eleventh ribs on the left side. Subsequent x-rays on August 6 and September 9, 2009, confirmed the diagnosis.

The Burtons accused the Deschutes Pet Lodge of causing the injuries to Zoe and allegedly embarked on a publicity campaign in an effort to get the County Sheriff to arrest someone at the Lodge. Defendant Deschutes County Sheriffs deputy Jennifer Gaspard interviewed a lodge employee who told her that he had seen plaintiff acting upset with Zoe by pulling on her leash. Gaspard then focused her investigation on plaintiff asking her to submit to a polygraph exam.

Defendant Oregon State Police Officer Chris Kaber performed the exam on October 29, 2009 and, along with Gaspard, allegedly coerced plaintiff into accepting responsibility for Zoe's injuries. Plaintiff admitted that a kennel door might have bumped Zoe when plaintiff brought her back from the exercise yard and Gaspard and Kaber allegedly coerced plaintiff into believing such "possible bump" was in fact the cause of Zoe's injuries. Gaspard arrested plaintiff on a charge of first degree animal abuse allegedly without probable cause.

Plaintiff alleges that Gaspard and Kaber either intentionally or recklessly gave false information to the Deschutes County District Attorney that plaintiff had confessed to causing Zoe's injuries for the sole purpose of persuading the District Attorney to prosecute plaintiff for crimes they knew she did not commit.

Plaintiff alleges that the District Attorney's office had a policy of deliberately charging more serious crimes than warranted to force a plea and when plaintiff did not plea to the original charges, the District Attorney increased the charges to aggravated animal abuse in an attempt to force plaintiff to forego her right to trial.

The Burtons continued their public campaign against plaintiff during the criminal prosecution allegedly libeling and slandering plaintiff.

By May 26, 2010, x-rays revealed Zoe had eight fractured ribs on her left side and three on her right. Zoe died around June 1, 2010 and nearly all of Zoe's ribs had fractures by that point. Plaintiff alleges no rational person could believe Zoe's injuries were caused by the actions to which plaintiff admitted.

After a four day trial, a jury acquitted plaintiff of all charges on January 11, 2013. Plaintiff alleges that the arrest and subsequent prosecution caused severe emotional distress as well as public humiliation. Plaintiff also alleges that the charges resulted in suspension from her job without pay. Ultimately, plaintiff alleges she had to leave central Oregon to find employment and peace of mind.

Plaintiff alleges three malicious prosecution claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, against Deschutes County asserting lack of probable cause to support the prosecution and/or that subsequent information dissipated probable cause. Plaintiff also seeks a declaratory judgment that Deschutes County's prosecution via added charges, unsupported by probable cause, to force waiver of a right to trial, is unconstitutional. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages against Deschutes County.

Plaintiff also alleges claims for malicious prosecution, and libel/slander/defamation against John and Caren Burton. Additionally, plaintiff alleges claims for violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and malicious prosecution against Chris Kaber and Jennifer Gaspard. Finally, plaintiff alleges a false arrest claim against Chris Kaber.

Defendants John and Caren Burton seek summary judgment as to this claims against them. Defendant Chris Kaber moves to dismiss and defendants Deschutes County and Jennifer Gaspard also move to dismiss.

DISCUSSION

A. John and Caren Burton's Motion for Summary ...


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