United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Aiken United States District Judge.
action, plaintiff Alvin Johns asserts various claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as state-law negligence
and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.
Defendants, the City of Eugene ("the City") and
Eugene Police Department Officers Yolanda
Anderson and Bryan Inman, move for summary judgment
on all claims against them. For the reasons set forth below,
defendants' motion is denied as to plaintiffs Fourth
Amendment claim against the individual officers, denied as to
the vicarious-liability negligence claim against the City,
and granted in all other respects.
rules of construction apply when evaluating summary judgment
motions: (1) all reasonable doubts as to the existence of
genuine issues of material fact should be resolved against
the moving party and (2) all inferences to be drawn from the
underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. T. W. Elec, Serv., Inc. v. Pac.
Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir.
1987). As such, this section is stated in the light most
favorable to plaintiff, with all questions of material fact
resolved in his favor.
evening of August 3, 2014, Betsy Jean Castleton appeared at
plaintiffs home with a strong odor of alcohol on her breath
and insisted on seeing plaintiffs adult son, Alvin Johns II
("Mr. Johns II"), who was her friend and coworker.
Given the time of night and Ms. Castleton's intoxicated
state, plaintiff refused to allow her inside his home.
Despite plaintiffs repeated requests, Ms, Castleton refused
to leave. Plaintiff grabbed a metal baseball bat, pointed it
at Ms. Castleton's chest, and told her, once again, to
leave the premises. At some point, Ms. Castleton fell down
backwards, landing on her own cell phone. Awoken by the
commotion, Mr. Johns II emerged from the house to see Ms.
Castleton lying on the porch screaming "bloody
murder" at his father, who was standing over her with a
baseball bat. Miller Decl. Ex. 2 at 4, Aug. 22, 2017. Ms.
Castleton and Mr. Johns II both began yelling at plaintiff,
threatening to beat him up and send him to the hospital.
Plaintiff retreated into the house and locked his door.
inside, plaintiff phoned 911 for assistance. According to the
transcript of that call filed in support of the City's
motion for summary judgment, plaintiff reported that he was
inside the house and that Mr. Johns II and Ms. Castleton were
outside, yelling at him and threatening him. The 911 operator
could hear people yelling in the background. When the 911
operator asked him if there were any weapons involved in the
altercation, plaintiff immediately stated that he had a
officers were dispatched to the scene: defendant Officers
Anderson and Inman, and non-defendant Officers Kyle Evans and
Robert Rosales. By the time the officers arrived, Mr.
Johns II and Ms. Castleton had left the area. Plaintiff met
the officers in front of his house and identified himself as
"the one who called." Id., As plaintiff
began to explain what had happened, Mr. Johns II returned to
the vicinity. As Mr. Johns II approached, he became extremely
agitated and started yelling at plaintiff. The officers
directed plaintiff to go back into his house in order to
separate the two men.
to Officer Anderson's investigation report, Mr. Johns II
stated that he was angry because plaintiff had hit Ms.
Castleton with a baseball bat. Officer Anderson then spoke to
Ms, Castleton. Ms. Castleton stated that she had gone to the
house to check on Mr. Johns II and that she was worried
because Mr. Johns II told her that his father beat him. She
asserted that she had gone to the door and asked to see Mr.
Johns II, but that plaintiff had told her to come back the
next day. She further stated that about thirty seconds after
the door closed, she decided she wanted to leave a message
for Mr. Johns II, and that when she knocked on the door a
second time, plaintiff appeared in the doorway with a
baseball bat in his hand. She reported that plaintiff
"put the bat to [her expletive] throat" and told
her to get off the porch. Anderson Deck Ex. 1 at 3. She then
alleged that plaintiff pushed the baseball bat against her
throat with enough force that she fell to the ground,
dropping her cell phone beside her on the porch. Ms.
Castleton stated that she told plaintiff she was going to
call the police, at which point plaintiff "went psycho
the [expletive] on [her] phone" and began smashing it
with the baseball bat. Id. She told Officer Anderson
that when she attempted to reach for the phone, plaintiff
raised the bat over his head and swung at her. Ms. Castleton
stated that plaintiff missed four times because she scurried
out of the way, but hit her "one good time" with
the bat. Id. at 4.
report states that Officer Anderson "did not see any
redness or swelling" on Ms. Castleton's chest or
throat (despite Ms. Castleton's statements that her chest
and throat hurt the most) but that she did observe "a
bump, red marks and swelling on the right side of her
back." Id. Officer Anderson smelled a strong
odor of alcohol on Ms. Castleton's breath. Photographs
taken by the officers show a cell phone with a shattered
screen and a welt on Ms. Castleton's back. The officers
did not test the phone see if it was still operable. When Ms.
Castleton told the officers she needed her phone, they gave
it back to her without asking why she needed a demolished
phone. Officer Anderson stated in her deposition that an
examination of plaintiffs bat revealed "sparkles, like
little glass particles" on the end, but that fact is not
documented in either the investigation report or the probable
cause affidavit. Michaels Decl. Ex. 1 at 7. The bat was not
seized as evidence and no photos of it appear in the summary
judgment record. The officers did not examine the porch,
which is constructed of soft fir wood, for evidence that it
had been hit with a bat.
Anderson and Inman then went into the home to talk to
plaintiff. Plaintiff admitted to using the baseball bat to
"direct" Ms. Castleton off the porch by pointing
the bat at her chest. Id. He denied making any
physical contact with Ms. Castleton and denied smashing her
cell phone. When Officer Anderson asked how Ms. Castleton
ended up on the ground, plaintiff responded, "[s]he fell
from being drunk I guess." Id. In his
deposition, plaintiff stated that the officers asked him
several times to explain what happened. It appears that
plaintiff became frustrated with the officers' repeated
questions and asked them "if I did [smash her phone]
what it if was on my property[?]" Anderson Decl. Ex. 1
at 4. When the officers asked if that was an admission that
he had in fact smashed the phone, plaintiff reiterated his
denial and said they were "twisting [his] words"
and that he "didn't see a phone." Id.
At some point, Officer Inman suddenly "called
[plaintiff] an [expletive] liar and bum rushe[d him] from
approximately 8 feet away and grab[bed plaintiff] like [he]
was about to hit his coworkers." Miller Decl. Ex. 2 at
officers believed Ms. Castleton, a white woman, rather than
plaintiff, a black man, and arrested plaintiff. Plaintiff was
charged by information with menacing and criminal mischief in
the second degree, both misdemeanors. Plaintiff remained in
custody for three days and because his release agreement
forbade him from being within a mile of Ms. Castleton, the
City forced plaintiff out of his home. In order to comply
with the terms of his release, plaintiff rented a room in a
hotel for twenty -three days at a cost of approximately $1,
350. The terms of the release agreement also prevented
plaintiff from visiting a doctor in San Francisco and taking
a long-planned trip to see a football game in Seattle.
months later, an Assistant District Attorney
("ADA") took the case to the grand jury to consider
the addition of a felony charge. Through Ms. Castleton's
testimony, the ADA learned that Ms. Castleton had continued
to use her phone after the attack. Ms. Castleton also
described the attack in a way that was not consistent with
the evidence documenting her injuries. The ADA pulled the
case from the grand jury and dismissed all charges.
filed this civil rights action in May 2016. On February 15,
2017, I denied defendants' motion to dismiss. Johns
v. City of Eugene, 2017 WL 663092 (D. Or, Feb. 15,
2017). Defendants now move for summary judgment on all
judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Id.; Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the
moving party shows the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and
identify facts which show a genuine issue for trial.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. "Summary judgment is
inappropriate if reasonable jurors, drawing all inferences in
favor of the nonmoving party, could return a verdict in the
nonmoving party's favor." Diaz v. Eagle Produce
Ltd. P'ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008).
move for summary judgment on plaintiffs claim that the
individual officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
Defendants argue that plaintiffs claim fails because, on the
undisputed facts, a reasonable officer could conclude that
there was probable cause to arrest plaintiff for several
crimes including assault, harassment, criminal mischief, and
menacing. Defendants also assert that the officers are
entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff responds that the
truth of the "undisputed" facts submitted by
defendants is at issue, and that inconsistencies between Ms.
Castleton's story and the available physical evidence
triggered defendants' duty to investigate further before
Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures[.]" U.S.
Const, amend. IV. "[A]n arrest is lawful . ., only if it
is accompanied by probable cause to believe that the arrestee
has committed, or is committing, an offense." Conner
v. Heiman, 672 F.3d 1126, 1132 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation
and quotation marks omitted).
cause to arrest exists when officers have knowledge or
reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to lead a
person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has
been or is being committed by the person being
arrested." United States v. Lopez, 482 F.3d
1067, 1072 (9th Cir. 2007). "Whether probable cause
exists depends 'on the totality of facts[.]'"
Sialoi v. City of San Diego, 823 F.3d 1223, 1232
(9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Lopez, 482 F.3d at 1073).
While probable cause does not require law enforcement
officers to support their seizure with "certainty or
even a preponderance of the evidence, " officers must be
able to conclude that there is a "fair probability"
that the defendant committed a crime, United States v.
Gourde, 440 F.3d 1065, 1069 (9th Cir. 2006), and
"may not disregard facts tending to dissipate probable
cause, " Sialoi, 823 F.3d at 1232. Finally,
while law enforcement officers do not need "conclusive
evidence of guilt" to support seizures with probable
cause, "mere suspicion, common rumor, or even strong
reason to suspect" a plaintiff engaged in criminal
conduct are not enough to establish probable cause.
Ramirez v. City of Buena Park, 560 F.3d 1012, 1023
(9th Cir. 2009) (citation and quotation marks omitted);
Harper v. City of L.A., 533 F.3d 1010, 1022 (9th
Cir. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
assert probable cause supported plaintiffs arrest for several
crimes. As evidence supporting probable cause, defendants
focus on the fact that Ms. Castleton described being
threatened with a bat and that she was able to show a fresh
welt on her body and a shattered phone screen to the officers
at the scene. Because arrests based on probable cause only
require a "fair probability" that an offense has
been committed by the arrestee under the totality of the
circumstances, defendants argue that there was probable cause
to arrest plaintiff.
contends that his arrest was on mere suspicion, in violation
of his Fourth Amendment Rights. He argues that the probable
cause affidavit omits multiple relevant facts. In particular,
plaintiff points to the facts that (1) he was not intoxicated
at the time of the incident, whereas Ms. Castleton was; (2)
Officer Anderson could not see any redness or swelling on Ms.
Castleton's chest or throat area, undermining Ms.
Castleton's report that she was hit in the chest so hard
she fell down; (3) Ms. Castleton's cell phone was intact
and operable after alleged repeated blows by a metal bat; (4)
the swelling on Ms. Castleton's back and damage to her
phone were more consistent with plaintiffs contention that
she fell than with Ms, Castleton's allegation that
plaintiff struck her and the phone with a bat; (5) the
officers should have suspected that Ms. Castleton was not
telling the truth about the bat hitting her phone because she
asked to have the phone back, suggesting that she knew it
remained operable; and (6) plaintiff, not Ms. Castleton, was
the person who had called 911. Plaintiff argues that the
officers ignored these facts, all of which tended to
dissipate probable cause, and failed in their basic duty to
investigate evidence before making an arrest.
all the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, I
conclude that there remain issues of material fact as to
plaintiffs Fourth Amendment claim.
support their probable cause argument, defendants largely
rely on Ms. Castleton's statements and physical evidence
observed by the officers. The allegedly corroborating
physical evidence, however, is not sufficient to definitively
establish probable cause. I begin by addressing the
allegation that plaintiff attacked Ms. Castleton with a bat,
Considering Ms. Castleton's report that she was hit so
hard in the chest that she fell down and it hurt the most in
the chest area, the absence of any redness or swelling on
that part of her body could permit a jury to conclude that
defendants should have questioned Ms. Castleton's version
I consider the allegation that plaintiff smashed Ms.
Castleton's phone. Here, the fact that her phone was
still operable and intact after violent blows could support
the conclusion that the officers should have known the screen
was shattered in some other way-for example, as plaintiff
suggested, as a result of Ms. Castleton falling down due to
intoxication. And even though the officers would not know
from visually inspecting the phone that it remained operable,
a jury could conclude either that they should have tested the
phone right away, or that Ms. Castleton's statement that
she needed the phone back undermined her story because it
suggested she knew the phone was still working. Moreover,
although glass shards on the end of the bat clearly would
have corroborated Ms. Castleton's story, a jury could
question Officer Anderson's veracity regarding her
examination of the bat because the officers did not take the
bat into evidence and there is no documentation of visible
glass on the bat in the investigatory report or probable
could conclude that these inconsistencies between Ms.
Castleton's statement and the physical evidence triggered
the officers' duty to investigate further. Had such an
investigation been conducted, the officers might have learned
from Mr. Johns II that Ms. Castleton's phone "always
had a broken screen." Michaels Decl. Ex. 7 at 2. They
might have examined the soft fir wood of the deck and found
no evidence that plaintiff had hit the wood when he missed
these evidentiary inconsistencies must be considered together
with the fact that Ms. Castleton was intoxicated while
plaintiff was sober, that plaintiff summoned the police to
his house, and that plaintiff readily admitted to using a
baseball bat to get Ms. Castleton to leave (though not in the
way she alleged). Collectively, the evidence gives rise to