Crowe v. County of San Diego, No. 99CV0241 R (RBB).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
Writing for the CourtRhoades
Citation359 F.Supp.2d 994
PartiesMichael CROWE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants. And Related Actions
Docket NumberNo. 99CV0241 R (RBB).
Decision Date28 February 2005
359 F.Supp.2d 994
Michael CROWE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants. And Related Actions
No. 99CV0241 R (RBB).
United States District Court, S.D. California.
February 28, 2005.

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Milton J. Silverman, JR., Law Offices of Milton Silverman, Robert J. Francavilla, Casey Gerry Reed and Schenk, Dennis A. Schoville, Schoville and Arnell, San Diego, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Guylyn Remmenga Cummins, Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton, San Diego, CA, for Intervenor.

Deborah Lynn Nash, George W. Brewster, JR., County of San Diego Office of County Counsel, Kenneth H. Moreno, Murchison and Cumming, Luther W. Horton, Horton and Ryan, San Diego, CA, Diana L. Field, Ferguson Praet and Sherman, Santa Ana, CA, Mark A. Waggoner, City of Escondido Office of the City Attorney, Escondido, CA, Richard J. Schneider, Daley and Heft, Solana Beach, CA, Hugh G. Radigan, Koester and Walker, Glendale, CA, for Defendants.

ORDER RE: SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS

RHOADES, District Judge.


INTRODUCTION

The tragic facts of this case arise out of the murder of young Stephanie Crowe in her home on the evening of January 20, 1998, and the ensuing investigation. Stephanie's murder was investigated by members of the Escondido Police Department, including defendants Mark Wrisley, Ralph Claytor, Barry Sweeney, and Phil Anderson (collectively, "defendants"), who bring the present motions for summary judgment. The investigation of Stephanie's death initially led to the arrest and indictment of Stephanie's brother, Michael Crowe, and his two friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser (collectively, "the boys"), all juveniles at the time. Prior to the boys' trial, evidence was discovered which resulted in the District Attorney dropping the charges against the boys without prejudice. The boys and their families then brought this civil action for damages for violation of their federal constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as for violation of state law. This court previously entered summary judgment on many of plaintiffs' claims. See Crowe v. County of San Diego, 303 F.Supp.2d 1050 (S.D.Cal.2004). Subsequent to the entry of that order, Richard Tuite was convicted of Stephanie's murder. This court is now confronted with a second round of motions for summary judgment filed by defendants Wrisley, Claytor,

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Sweeney and Anderson as to claims brought by Michael, his sister, Shannon, his parents, Cheryl and Stephen Crowe, and his grandmother, Judith Kennedy (collectively, "plaintiffs").

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

To provide context to this order, the court provides a brief account of the relevant facts. A more thorough presentation of the relevant factual background can be found in Crowe, 303 F.Supp.2d at 1058-1062.

On the night of January 20, 1998, the police received phone calls that Tuite, a transient, was bothering people in the vicinity of the Crowe residence. Tuite appeared drunk or high. One witness heard Tuite yell "I'm going to kill you you fucking bitch." Another witness saw Tuite spinning around in circles.

Between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. that night, Tuite entered one house after the occupant, Dannette Mogelinski, mistaking his knock for that of a neighbor, invited him in. Tuite repeatedly asked for Tracy. Mogelinski said she did not know Tracy. Tuite left but then opened the door and again asked for Tracy. Mogelinski again said she did not know Tracy, and Tuite left.

Around 9:28 p.m., Gary West, a neighbor of the Crowes, called police to report a transient who had knocked on his door and said he was looking for a girl. Escondido police officer Scott Walters, not a defendant in this action, was dispatched to the area. While investigating this call, Officer Walters drove up to the Crowe house. As he drove up, the door next to the garage door closed. He couldn't see who closed it. Officer Walters left the Crowe house and indicated in his log that the transient was "gone on arrival."

Stephanie was found dead by Judith Kennedy around 6:30 a.m. on January 21, 1998. An autopsy determined that Stephanie was stabbed numerous times with a knife with a 5-6 inch blade. Police questioned all of the members of the Crowe household on January 21, 1998. Michael was questioned several times.

On January 22, 1998, Escondido Police Detectives Lanigan and Naranjo, not defendants in this case, went to the Treadway residence to speak with Joshua. The detectives saw a knife in plain view on top of a couch in the living room.

Michael was arrested for Stephanie's murder on January 23, 1998.

On January 26, 1998 Detective Han obtained a search warrant for the Treadway residence. Probable cause for the warrant was predicated upon the fact that Michael had been arrested for the murder, Michael had stated that Joshua was his best friend, Michael had called Joshua from the police station on the morning of the murder, and a knife meeting the description of the murder weapon had been seen at the Treadway residence.

On January 27, 1998, prior to the execution of the search warrant for the Treadway residence, Aaron's mother alerted police to the fact that a knife with a 4-5 inch blade which belonged to her son was missing from his collection. Based on this information, Detective Han sought and obtained a warrant to search the Houser residence. Defendants also questioned Aaron that same day.

The warrants for the Treadway and Houser residences were executed on the evening of January 27, 1998. While the warrant for the Treadway residence was being executed, Joshua was being questioned by police. During his questioning, the search of the Treadway residence revealed two knives under his bed. One had a 5½ inch blade, and the other had a 6 inch blade. Joshua was then arrested for stealing Aaron's knife. After being read his

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Miranda rights, Joshua admitted taking the knife from Aaron, but denied any involvement in Stephanie's death. However, over the course of further questioning, Joshua changed his story. He told defendants that he had gotten the knife from Aaron and that Aaron had told him it was the knife used to kill Stephanie. Joshua was allowed to go home after the questioning.

Joshua was questioned again on February 10, 1998. This time, Joshua gave what appeared to be a detailed account of the events leading up to the murder and stated that he had acted as a lookout while Aaron and Michael committed the murder. Joshua's confession, which was ruled voluntary by the state court trial judge, suggested that Michael killed Stephanie because he did not like her. At some point during the questioning, Joshua was arrested for Stephanie's murder.1

On the morning of February 11, 1998, defendant Claytor obtained search warrants for Aaron's residence and school locker. Those warrants were executed on the morning of February 11 by defendants Sweeney and Anderson.

Aaron was arrested on February 11, 1998, and questioned for a second time. Aaron did not admit involvement in Stephanie's murder. However, during this questioning, Aaron explained how he would kill Stephanie if he was going to kill her.2

In late May 1998, the grand jury issued indictments against the boys. Prior to the boys' trial, drops of Stephanie's blood were found on Tuite's sweatshirt. The charges against the boys were dismissed without prejudice, and this action followed.

ANALYSIS

I. The General Law of Qualified Immunity

Because the resolution of the current motions hinges in large part on the proper application of the doctrine of qualified immunity, the court begins by setting forth the relevant law regarding the general application of that doctrine.

Qualified immunity is immunity from suit, not simply immunity from liability. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). Thus, it must be determined at the earliest possible stage of the litigation. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S.Ct. 534, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991) (per curiam). The requirement that qualified immunity be determined at the earliest possible stage of the litigation "calls upon courts, not juries, to settle the ultimate questions of qualified immunity." Johnson v. County of Los Angeles, 340 F.3d 787, 791 (9th Cir.2003); see also Lindsey v. Shalmy, 29 F.3d 1382, 1384 (9th Cir.1994) ("The question of immunity is not to be `routinely place[d]... in the hands of the jury.'") (quoting Hunter, 502 U.S. at 227, 112 S.Ct. 534). Otherwise, qualified immunity would rarely be decided until after trial, which defeats the purpose of having qualified immunity from suit.

Whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity is a two-part inquiry. The first step is to ask: "Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?" Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). In Saucier, the Supreme Court disapproved

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of the Ninth Circuit's former practice of denying summary judgment "any time a material issue of fact remains" because such a practice "could undermine the goal of qualified immunity to `avoid excessive disruption of government and permit the resolution of many insubstantial claims on summary judgment.'" Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151 (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)).

As the First Circuit noted in Riverdale Mills Corp. v. Pimpare, 392 F.3d 55, 61-62 (1st Cir.2004), given that Saucier involved a motion for summary judgment, the Court in Saucier created an ambiguity regarding a plaintiff's evidentiary burden when qualified immunity is raised in the summary judgment context by stating that courts must "determine whether, on the facts alleged, a constitutional violation could be found...." Saucier, 533 U.S. at...

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6 practice notes
  • Whittaker v. County of Lawrence, Civil Action No. 04-1092.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • 7 Diciembre 2009
    ...2007); J.D. Partnership v. Berlin Township Board of Trustees, 412 F.Supp.2d 772, 779 (S.D.Ohio 2005); Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F.Supp.2d 994, 1030-1031 (S.D.Cal.2005); Johnson v. Herman, 132 F.Supp.2d 1130, 1141 Before addressing the merits of the Plaintiffs' substantive due proces......
  • Crowe v. County of San Diego, No. 05-55467.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 14 Enero 2010
    ...the claims pending against them. The district court granted those motions, in part, on February 28, 2005. Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F.Supp.2d 994 (S.D.Cal. 2005) ("Crowe The Crowes and the Housers appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment, on qualified immunity grounds, ......
  • McConkie v. Nichols, No. CIV. 04-91-B-W.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • 13 Octubre 2005
    ...of proper criticism, but they are not actionable under the Fifth Amendment's due process clause"); Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F.Supp.2d 994, 1034 (S.D.Cal.2005)(summary judgment motion granted as "although defendants employed a `good cop/bad cop' approach during some of the interview......
  • Schwarz v. Lassen Cnty. ex rel. Lassen Cnty. Jail, No. 2:10-CV-03048-MCE-CMK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • 23 Septiembre 2013
    ...her parents' claims based on the loss of her society and companionship necessarily fail as well."); Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F. Supp. 2d 994, 1039 (S.D. Cal. 2005)).Page 11 Whether conduct "shocks the conscience" may be decided by the court on a motion for summary judgment. Kim, 20......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Whittaker v. County of Lawrence, Civil Action No. 04-1092.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • 7 Diciembre 2009
    ...2007); J.D. Partnership v. Berlin Township Board of Trustees, 412 F.Supp.2d 772, 779 (S.D.Ohio 2005); Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F.Supp.2d 994, 1030-1031 (S.D.Cal.2005); Johnson v. Herman, 132 F.Supp.2d 1130, 1141 Before addressing the merits of the Plaintiffs' substantive due proces......
  • Crowe v. County of San Diego, No. 05-55467.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 14 Enero 2010
    ...the claims pending against them. The district court granted those motions, in part, on February 28, 2005. Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F.Supp.2d 994 (S.D.Cal. 2005) ("Crowe The Crowes and the Housers appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment, on qualified immunity grounds, ......
  • McConkie v. Nichols, No. CIV. 04-91-B-W.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • 13 Octubre 2005
    ...of proper criticism, but they are not actionable under the Fifth Amendment's due process clause"); Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F.Supp.2d 994, 1034 (S.D.Cal.2005)(summary judgment motion granted as "although defendants employed a `good cop/bad cop' approach during some of the interview......
  • Schwarz v. Lassen Cnty. ex rel. Lassen Cnty. Jail, No. 2:10-CV-03048-MCE-CMK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • 23 Septiembre 2013
    ...her parents' claims based on the loss of her society and companionship necessarily fail as well."); Crowe v. County of San Diego, 359 F. Supp. 2d 994, 1039 (S.D. Cal. 2005)).Page 11 Whether conduct "shocks the conscience" may be decided by the court on a motion for summary judgment. Kim, 20......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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