Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, Nos. 12–1086

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtMATHESON
Citation717 F.3d 760
PartiesMisti Lee SCHNEIDER, Plaintiff–Appellant/Cross–Appellee, v. The CITY OF GRAND JUNCTION POLICE DEPARTMENT, an agency of the City of Grand Junction; Bill Gardner; John Camper; William D. Baker; John A. Zen; Rick Dyer, Defendants–Appellees/Cross–Appellants, and John and Jane Does, 3–10, in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.
Decision Date05 June 2013
Docket Number12–1115.,Nos. 12–1086

717 F.3d 760

Misti Lee SCHNEIDER, Plaintiff–Appellant/Cross–Appellee,
v.
The CITY OF GRAND JUNCTION POLICE DEPARTMENT, an agency of the City of Grand Junction; Bill Gardner; John Camper; William D. Baker; John A. Zen; Rick Dyer, Defendants–Appellees/Cross–Appellants,
and
John and Jane Does, 3–10, in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.

Nos. 12–1086, 12–1115.

United States Court of Appeals,
Tenth Circuit.

June 5, 2013.


[717 F.3d 762]


Clayton E. Wire (Elizabeth A. Starrs and Elizabeth L. “Booka” Smith with him on the brief), of Starrs Mihm LLP, Denver, CO, for Plaintiff–Appellant/Cross–Appellee.

[717 F.3d 763]

Thomas S. Rice (Monica N. Kovaci with him on the brief), of Senter Goldfarb & Rice, L.L.C., Denver, CO, for Defendants–Appellees/Cross–Appellants.


Before KELLY, Circuit Judge, HOLLOWAY, Senior Circuit Judge, and MATHESON, Circuit Judge.

MATHESON, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Misti Lee Schneider alleged in her complaint that Glenn Coyne, a Grand Junction Police Department (“GJPD”) officer, responded to her 911 call about an altercation with her teenage son and, during a visit to her home late the next night, raped her. Shortly thereafter, Officer Coyne was arrested and fired, and a few days later committed suicide.

Ms. Schneider sued Officer Coyne's supervisors and the GJPD under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of her substantive due process right to bodily integrity. She alleged that inadequate hiring and training of Officer Coyne, inadequate investigation of a prior sexual assault complaint against him, and inadequate discipline and supervision of him caused her to be raped.

In district court, the defendants did not contest Ms. Schneider's allegations about Officer Coyne's conduct. They moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Officer Coyne did not act under color of state law and that Ms. Schneider could not prove, as § 1983 law requires, that they caused the rape or were deliberately indifferent to the risk that it would happen.

The district court denied summary judgment on the first ground, holding that a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Coyne acted under color of state law. It granted summary judgment on the second ground, concluding that Ms. Schneider could not prove essential facts to establish § 1983 liability. She appeals that ruling. The defendants cross-appeal the color of state law ruling.

The events alleged in this case are tragic, and Officer Coyne's alleged conduct was a terrible crime. The state cannot prosecute Officer Coyne because he is dead, and Ms. Schneider is left with suing his supervisors and employer. As explained below, to hold them liable for Officer Coyne's actions, she faces stringent proof requirements under § 1983 law, proof she is unable to muster. Although the police department's handling of Officer Coyne could and should have been better, we are bound to follow the law, apply it to the evidentiary record before us, and affirm the district court.

Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm the district court's decision in Ms. Schneider's appeal (No. 12–1086), and we dismiss the defendants' cross-appeal (No. 12–1115) as moot.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Factual History

We construe the facts underlying the grant of summary judgment in the light most favorable to Ms. Schneider as the non-moving party, Ribeau v. Katt, 681 F.3d 1190, 1194 (10th Cir.2012), and recount those facts as follows.

1. Officer Coyne's Response to Ms. Schneider's 911 Call

In the early evening of September 27, 2009, Ms. Schneider called 911 to report an altercation with her teenage son. Officer Coyne and another officer responded around 7:00 p.m. While at Ms. Schneider's home, they discovered that her son was making and detonating bombs and recording the explosions on his cell phone. Officer Coyne explained to Ms. Schneider that, far from a slap on the wrist for a teenage prank, her son could be facing very serious

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charges. Had her son been an adult, he said, the seriousness of his offense would be a class 4, falling somewhere between Charles Manson as a class 1 and the head of a methamphetamine ring as a class 6. Officer Coyne returned to the station, but he came back to Ms. Schneider's house two more times that night—first, at around 11:00 p.m., to collect more evidence; and second, around midnight, to return some property (his shift schedule was from 3:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m.).

The next day, September 28, Officer Coyne called Ms. Schneider with some questions for his investigation. She asked him to update her on the case, telling him that she was very concerned. Officer Coyne said he was aware that she was having issues with her son, and he offered to stop by and check on him later. Ms. Schneider accepted the offer. She and Officer Coyne exchanged calls multiple times throughout the day, and she spoke with him once more in an after-dinner conversation about her son.

2. Officer Coyne's Rape of Ms. Schneider

Although Officer Coyne was scheduled to work until 1:00 a.m. on September 29, he signed off-duty at 11:49 p.m. on September 28. He then went to Ms. Schneider's house.1 She was awake and packing for a move; the doors were unlocked and open. Wearing a sweatshirt with his uniform pants and boots, but not wearing a badge or carrying a weapon, Officer Coyne entered the house without knocking or asking permission. He startled Ms. Schneider because she was not expecting him to visit that night. He began talking with her about her son and the case investigation.

Then Officer Coyne made the conversation more personal, mentioning her estranged husband. Further, he made remarks to the effect of “ ‘you never want to talk about the police because they have so many connections' or ‘know so many people,’ ” Aplt.App., Vol. 3 at 307, and “how he was ‘doing [Ms. Schneider's] son a favor,’ or ‘doing [her] a favor with [her] son,’ ” id. at 308.2 He next overpowered Ms. Schneider and raped her multiple times. Before leaving, he told her, “ ‘[N]obody can know about this. My wife can't know about this. You do not want to mess with my life.’ ” Id. at 310. Ms. Schneider interpreted these remarks as a threat of retaliation, either against her or through her son's case.

Despite feeling threatened, Ms. Schneider reported the rape later that same day. The Mesa County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”) began an investigation, and a

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medical examination corroborated that she had suffered trauma. Officer Coyne was arrested on October 1, 2009, and his employment with GJPD was terminated. He was released on bond, and within days he committed suicide.

3. Previous Complaints Against Officer Coyne for Sexual Assault

The attack on Ms. Schneider was the third incident in which Officer Coyne was alleged to have had improper sexual contact with a woman whom he met while working in law enforcement. One complaint was known to GJPD before the attack on Ms. Schneider, but the other was not.

a. The January 10, 2007 A.L. Complaint

The complaint that was unknown to GJPD concerned Officer Coyne's actions when he was working for MCSO and just before he started working for GJPD. On January 10, 2007, A.L.3 complained to MCSO that on January 8, 2007, Officer Coyne sexually abused her during a nighttime drug raid at her house. The written report of A.L.'s complaint states that all of the men in the house were arrested, but A.L. and her mother were not. During these events, Officer Coyne searched A.L. three times. The first two times were pat-downs, during which Officer Coyne rubbed and groped A.L. in her crotch area. A.L. lifted her blouse to avoid her breasts being touched. The third time, A.L. was in her bedroom. Officer Coyne came in alone, said he wanted to search her again, and told her to pull down her pants and underwear. Then another officer came in and told Officer Coyne it was time to go.

GJPD learned about A.L.'s complaint only after the assault on Ms. Schneider. GJPD's hiring background check on Officer Coyne was completed in December 2006 and was not updated through his January 15, 2007 start date. The A.L. incident occurred during this interim period. No one at MCSO informed GJPD about A.L.'s complaint until after Ms. Schneider reported her assault on September 29, 2009.

b. The December 28, 2008 V.W. Complaint

The complaint that was known to GJPD occurred nearly two years into Officer Coyne's employment at GJPD. V.W. reported on December 28, 2008, that she had met Officer Coyne when she sought police assistance in November 2008 because she was intoxicated and hallucinating. She contacted him on December 19 and agreed to his suggestion that he visit her at home when he was off-duty. He came to her home on that same day. They engaged in consensual sex, but he allegedly took the encounter beyond her consent and sexually assaulted her.

After receiving V.W.'s complaint, GJPD put Officer Coyne on administrative leave. MCSO conducted a criminal investigation. The district attorney declined to bring charges because the evidence was equivocal. According to the deputy district attorney, V.W. was not a reliable witness, she admitted that the encounter began consensually, and the medical evidence was inconclusive. Further, in addition to asserting that all the activities were consensual, Officer Coyne passed a polygraph test to that effect. GJPD subsequently conducted an internal investigation, which was kept confidential. As a result of the

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internal investigation, which also determined that proof of sexual assault was inconclusive, Police Chief William Gardner placed Officer Coyne on probation for at least six months and cut his pay, and Deputy Chief John Zen issued him a written notice of discipline.

After the V.W. investigation, Officer Coyne was transferred to a new supervisor, Sergeant William Baker, who was told that Officer Coyne was on probation. When Sergeant Baker asked his commander why Officer Coyne had been on administrative leave, he was told that the matter was...

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