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Smith v. City of Dalles

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 19, 2017

RONNIE SMITH, Plaintiff,
CITY OF DALLES, et al., Defendants.

          Jesse Merrithew, Levi Merrithew Horst PC Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Gerald L. Warren, Nicholas J. Naumes, Gerald L. Warren & Assocs., Of Attorneys for Defendants.


          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff filed this action pro se, alleging that the City of The Dalles (“the City”) and an unnamed police officer (“Doe”) falsely arrested and imprisoned, thereby violating his civil rights in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Plaintiff seeks damages only. The City moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the basis that Plaintiff's alleged injury is unripe because the criminal charges related to his arrest are still pending in the Municipal Court of the City of The Dalles. ECF 19. In the alternative, the City asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint based on the Younger[2] abstention doctrine. Plaintiff responds that his claim is ripe and that, even if Younger applies, the Court should stay, rather than dismiss, this action. Plaintiff thus moves to stay these proceedings until the criminal case against him in municipal court is resolved. ECF 27. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the City's motion to dismiss and grants Plaintiff's motion to stay.


         Plaintiff alleges that, at or near the end of May 2015, he went to a coffee shop. ECF 7 (Compl.) ¶ 5. After a moment, Plaintiff decided to leave because he did not see anybody there. Several minutes later, officer Doe approached Plaintiff and requested his name. After Plaintiff asked why Doe needed Plaintiff's name, Doe stated that someone had called to report a theft at the coffee shop. Doe then detained Plaintiff. Doe “counted the money that Plaintiff already had in his possession prior to the call.” Id. Doe told Plaintiff that someone had observed Plaintiff taking money from the coffee shop tip jar. Plaintiff alleges that $16 was reported stolen but that “the coffee tip jar was full of money at that time.” Id. Plaintiff was arrested and booked into jail until he was released the following day. Subsequently, Plaintiff alleges, “the charge got dropped.” Id.

         Plaintiff asserts that he was detained without probable cause, subjected to an illegal search, and falsely arrested and imprisoned. Plaintiff further asserts that the City has a policy, practice, and custom of training officers to falsely arrest and imprison citizens. On November 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit against the City and Doe for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging false arrest and false imprisonment in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Id.

         On March 3, 2017, the City filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. ECF 19. Along with its motion, the City submitted a declaration from defense counsel Nicholas Naumes. ECF 20. The City asks the Court to take judicial notice of three exhibits attached to Naumes's declaration.

         Exhibit One (ECF 20-1 at 1-4) consists of a complaint by the State of Oregon in the Municipal Court of the City of The Dalles. It is dated May 29, 2015, and signed by the City Prosecutor. It accuses Ronnie Scott Medinger, aka Ronnie Vance Smith, of Theft in the Third Degree in violation of Or. Rev. Stat. § 164.043. It states that Plaintiff, “on or about the date of May 28th, 2015, in the City of The Dalles, . . . did unlawfully and knowingly commit theft of property, of the total value of less than one hundred dollars, the property of Grinders Coffee Shop.” ECF 20-1 at 1. The exhibit's second page, dated May 28, 2015, lists June 16, 2015, as a continuance date and, next to that, states as the reason, “Plea - FTA.” It also states that Plaintiff was arraigned on May 29, 2015. Next to an entry entitled, “Bail Fixed at $, ” is a handwritten note that reads, “recog.” Id. at 2. The third page consists of an untitled, one-page form that lists Plaintiff's name (typewritten) and alias (handwritten), address, and charge. Below that information, under the heading, “General Conditions, ” the following typewritten statement appears: “I will appear in the Municipal Court for the State of Oregon on June 16TH 2015.” Id. at 3. Next to that appears the handwritten note, “-TA.” The form is dated and Plaintiff's name appears-typewritten but with an adjacent hand-drawn checkmark-on a line at the bottom, over the word “Defendant.” Id.

         Exhibit Two (ECF 20-1 at 5-6) is a complaint by The City of the Dalles against Plaintiff (here, under the Medinger alias only), dated July 28, 2015. It accuses Plaintiff of failure to appear on June 16, 2015, on a charge of theft in the third degree. Id. at 5. The second page of this exhibit is a form with the heading, “Court Action and Record.” Although there is a space on the form to indicate when and whether a “[w]arrant issued, ” that space is blank. Id. at 6.

         Exhibit Three (ECF 20-1 at 7-11) is a Multnomah County Register of Actions for Case No. 14-cr-21976, State v. Ronnie Scott Smith. This document indicates that Plaintiff (under yet another alias) was convicted in the Circuit Court for Multnomah County in August 2015 of several offenses unrelated to the instant matter. Id. at 7-8. There is a June 19, 2015, entry stating that a secret indictment was created that day. There is also a June 24, 2015, entry stating, “Warrant - Return of Service.” Id. at 9.

         The City argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction in this case because Plaintiff's claim is not ripe as long as the theft charges stemming from Plaintiff's arrest remain pending against him. According to the City, an arrest cannot be deemed “false” unless and until it is ultimately determined to have been illegal. Therefore, the City argues, Plaintiff has not yet suffered a justiciable injury because the validity of his arrest is contingent upon the resolution of his outstanding criminal charges. In the alternative, the City argues that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's complaint under the Younger abstention doctrine, which requires a federal court to abstain from considering a plaintiff's claim that may interfere with ongoing state proceedings.

         Plaintiff responds that both of the City's arguments are contradicted by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 393 (2007). According to Plaintiff, the Supreme Court held in Wallace that a cause of action under ยง 1983 for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment accrues, and thus is ripe, when the plaintiff's false imprisonment ends. In so holding, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that such a claim does not accrue until the criminal charges related to the allegedly unlawful arrest are adjudicated. Regarding abstention, Plaintiff ...

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