Guffey v. State

Decision Date15 November 1984
Docket NumberNo. 49875-0,49875-0
PartiesMicheal J. GUFFEY and Sandra L. Guffey, Appellants, v. The STATE of Washington, the Washington State Patrol, and "John Doe" Lopez, Individually and as Husband and Wife and the Marital Community Comprised thereof, Jointly and Severally; Respondents.
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Frederick Frohmader, Tacoma, for appellants.

Kenneth Eikenberry, Atty. Gen., Virginia Binns, Asst. Atty. Gen., Seattle, for respondents.


Plaintiffs, Micheal J. Guffey and Sandra L. Guffey, husband and wife, appeal the trial court's dismissal of their lawsuit at the close of plaintiffs' case. We affirm.

Plaintiffs sued the State, the State Patrol and an individual State Patrol Trooper. Their original claim was based on the tort of outrage. Later it was amended to include assault, false arrest and false imprisonment.

The claims were based upon the stopping of plaintiffs' vehicle for a statutorily authorized inspection of driver's license, vehicle registration and equipment. Two troopers, one of whom was defendant Lopez, set up a "spot check" operation on a road in Pierce County. The troopers would stop only as many vehicles as they could check at any one time. When inspections were completed for stopped vehicles and their drivers, the troopers would stop the next approaching vehicles. This was done in daylight with marked patrol cars parked on the shoulder of the road.

Plaintiffs' vehicle became the "next one in line" and was stopped. Trooper Lopez explained to the driver, plaintiff husband, the purpose of the stop and requested his driver's license and vehicle registration. The driver's license was expired. Trooper Lopez went to his patrol car, parked to the front of plaintiffs' vehicle, to write a citation and run a radio check on plaintiff, Micheal J. Guffey. The driver's license described a 6 foot white male, blue eyes, brown hair, weight 180 pounds, date of birth April 7, 1952, in the name of Micheal Jack Guffey. The Tacoma patrol radio office immediately advised that there was a Pierce County felony warrant outstanding with $50,000 bail, for Marvin J. Guffey, date of birth February 25, 1951, with the exact same physical characteristics listed on the driver's license produced by plaintiff husband.

Based upon his training and experience Trooper Lopez concluded that the driver might be the wanted felon. He approached plaintiffs' vehicle, drew his revolver, pointed it at plaintiff husband and ordered him out of the vehicle. Once plaintiff husband complied, the trooper reholstered his revolver and conducted a pat-down search, which revealed no weapons. Inquiry to plaintiff husband revealed that the warrant was for his brother. After plaintiff wife confirmed this explanation, the trooper allowed plaintiffs to leave.

The trial court ruled: (1) that there was no proof of the tort of outrage; (2) that there was proof of assault and false imprisonment unless the trooper's actions were privileged; (3) that the applicable statutes were unconstitutional; (4) that the trooper's actions were reasonable and in good faith reliance upon the statutes and State Patrol procedures, and (5) that the State had immunity in the exercise of discretionary authority.

First, did the trial court err in dismissing the claim based on the tort of outrage? No. The elements are set out in Grimsby v. Samson, 85 Wash.2d 52, 530 P.2d 291 (1975). The conduct must be "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." (Italics omitted.) Grimsby, 85 Wash.2d at 59, 530 P.2d 291, citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 (1965). We agree with the trial court that these facts do not "come anywhere near" the elements outlined in Grimsby. The trooper was performing his duties pursuant to statute and did so in a reasonable manner under the circumstances. While plaintiffs assign error to taking this issue from the jury, they present no argument; indeed, they do not even cite Grimsby. There was no error in dismissing this claim.

Second, are spot checks of the nature employed here constitutional? The response to this question determines the validity of the initial stop and bears on the lawfulness of the trooper's subsequent conduct.

Spot checks are authorized by RCW 46.64.060 and .070 which provide:

The purpose of RCW 46.64.060 and 46.64.070 is to provide for the exercise of the police power of this state to protect the health and safety of its citizens by assuring that only qualified drivers and vehicles which meet minimum equipment standards shall operate upon the highways of this state.

RCW 46.64.060.

To carry out the purpose of RCW 46.64.060 and 46.64.070, officers of the Washington state patrol are hereby empowered during daylight hours and while using plainly marked state patrol vehicles to require the driver of any motor vehicle being operated on any highway of this state to stop and display his or her driver's license and/or to submit the motor vehicle being driven by such person to an inspection and test to ascertain whether such vehicle complies with the minimum equipment requirements prescribed by chapter 46.37 RCW, as now or hereafter amended. No criminal citation shall be issued for a period of ten days after giving a warning ticket pointing out the defect.

RCW 46.64.070, in part.

Plaintiffs' constitutional challenge is based on Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979). Prouse involved a purely random nighttime stop of a single vehicle at the complete discretion of the officer. After a lengthy analysis of what it considered applicable Fourth Amendment principles and precedent, the Court concluded:

Accordingly, we hold that except in those situations in which there is at least articulable and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is unlicensed or that an automobile is not registered, or that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for violation of law, stopping an automobile and detaining the driver in order to check his driver's license and the registration of the automobile are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. This holding does not preclude the State of Delaware or other States from developing methods for spot checks that involve less intrusion or that do not involve the unconstrained exercise of discretion. Questioning of all oncoming traffic at roadblock-type stops is one possible alternative. We hold only that persons in automobiles on public roadways may not for that reason alone have their travel and privacy interfered with at the unbridled discretion of police officers.

(Footnote omitted. Italics ours.) Prouse, 440 U.S. at 663, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660. On its face our statute appears to vest unconstrained discretion in the officer to stop any vehicle during daylight hours while using plainly marked patrol cars. The State argues that the discretion of the troopers is constrained in that the purpose of the stop is limited to checking the driver's license and checking statutorily prescribed equipment requirements. That is what the court found to be unreasonable in Prouse. The State's argument lacks merit. The statute itself poses serious constitutional questions under Prouse.

The State next contends that State Patrol procedures contain constitutionally adequate restraints to meet the requirements of Prouse. The difficulty is that there is no proof in this record as to what those procedures are. The trooper's conclusionary testimony is the only evidence that the stop was in accordance with State Patrol procedures. The procedures, presumably in writing, were not in evidence. We do not know when they were adopted, by whom, under what authority or what they contain. The issue of whether a police agency can adopt administrative procedures to meet constitutional standards is not raised or briefed. There is no public filing, such as in the Washington Administrative Code, as to methods of adoption, implementation or modification of such procedures. There is no evidence of who decides to implement spot checks or of the required neutral criteria governing selection and conduct of checks. Constitutional requirements cannot be met by such inadequate proof.

Given the deficiency in this record, we cannot and do not pass upon the constitutional issue, particularly since this case can be determined on an alternative nonconstitutional ground. We turn instead to the issue of whether the state trooper is protected by a qualified immunity from liability for false arrest, false imprisonment and assault.

The trial court ruled that there was proof of false imprisonment, and assault, unless the trooper's actions were privileged. In Bender v. Seattle, 99 Wash.2d 582, 591, 664 P.2d 492 (1983) we stated "[t]he gist of an action for false arrest or false imprisonment is the unlawful violation of a person's right of personal liberty or the restraint of that person without legal authority ...". An assault occurs when there is an attempt to unlawfully use force or inflict bodily injury on another, accompanied by the apparent present ability to give effect to the attempt if not prevented. Peasley v. Puget Sound Tug & Barge Co., 13 Wash.2d 485, 125 P.2d 681 (1942); Coleman v. Department of Empl. Sec., 25 Wash.App. 405, 607 P.2d 1231 (1980). An assault also occurs when there is an illegal arrest. State v. Rousseau, 40 Wash.2d 92, 95, 241 P.2d 447 (1952).

In determining the liability of the trooper under each of the claims set forth above, we initially examine the evolution in Washington of a qualified immunity for officers in various circumstances. Secondly, we establish an additional narrow immunity defense under specified conditions. Finally, we determine whether the trooper in the present case should be protected by this immunity.

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