Warnick v. Cooley, 17-4065

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Citation895 F.3d 746
Docket NumberNo. 17-4065,17-4065
Parties Silvan WARNICK, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. Bradford COOLEY; Robin Wilkins; Ethan Rampton; Mark Knighton ; Jeffrey Hall, Defendants–Appellees.
Decision Date09 July 2018

895 F.3d 746

Silvan WARNICK, Plaintiff–Appellant,
Bradford COOLEY; Robin Wilkins; Ethan Rampton; Mark Knighton ; Jeffrey Hall, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 17-4065

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit.

FILED July 9, 2018

Mark L. Shurtleff, (Steven A. Christensen, Christensen, Young & Associates, PLLC, with him on the opening brief), Shurtleff Law Firm, PC, Sandy, Utah, for Appellant.

Jennifer Bailey, Deputy District Attorney (Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney, and David Quealy, Deputy District Attorney, with her on the brief), Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Appellees.

Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, LUCERO, and HARTZ, Circuit Judges.

TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

Silvan Warnick brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 malicious prosecution case and a number of state law tort claims against several Salt Lake County prosecutors and investigators. He claims he was falsely accused of tampering with evidence that led to the filing of criminal charges against him that were later dismissed.

895 F.3d 749

The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and Warnick appealed. We affirm. Like the district court, we find that absolute prosecutorial immunity precludes Warnick from suing the prosecutors for filing charges, and that Warnick has failed to plead the rest of his allegations with sufficient factual specificity.

I. Background

We take all facts from Warnick’s complaint, accepting them as true for purposes of our de novo review. Brown v. Montoya , 662 F.3d 1152, 1162 (10th Cir. 2011).

Silvan Warnick served as a constable in Salt Lake County. A constable is the local vernacular for a county peace officer. Daniel Herboldsheimer worked for Warnick as a deputy constable. On August 24, 2011, Herboldsheimer was serving as bailiff for the South Salt Lake City Justice Court when a criminal defendant attempted to flee. Herboldsheimer pursued, and eventually both Herboldsheimer and Scott Hansen, another deputy constable, apprehended the defendant.

After the fact, Herboldsheimer filed an incident report describing what had happened. According to the complaint, Warnick told Herboldsheimer that his report did not comport with county policy because it contained hearsay observations from others, and not Herboldsheimer’s direct observations. In particular, Herboldsheimer’s report made incorrect statements about Hansen’s use of force to subdue the fleeing defendant.

A. The Charges

This case concerns what happened next. As Warnick alleges, Herboldsheimer took offense to Warnick’s rebuke. Soon afterward, Herboldsheimer contacted the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office and falsely complained that Silvan Warnick and his staff member, Alanna Warnick (Silvan Warnick’s wife), had instructed him to falsify his incident report. In addition, Herboldsheimer told the prosecutors that Warnick had made changes to his report—something he took to be falsification.

Three prosecutors were later tasked with investigating this complaint: Bradford Cooley, Ethan Rampton, and Jeffrey Hall. Prosecutor Hall also asked Robin Wilkins and Mark Knighton—investigators for the County—to look into Herboldsheimer’s complaint. Warnick contends the prosecutors and investigators together conducted an inadequate investigation even though they had a duty to investigate. He also claims they "encourage[d]" Herboldsheimer to provide "false information." App. 9 ¶ 26. All the parties involved "knew or should have known that the information provided by ... Herboldsheimer was false and that Plaintiff Silvan Warnick had not committed a crime." Id.

All the while knowing of Warnick’s innocence, the prosecutors and investigators "conspired to file charges" against him. Id. ¶ 27. And, in fact, the prosecutors did bring charges—twice. Prosecutor Cooley first brought charges for witness and evidence tampering against both Silvan and Alanna Warnick. At this first hearing on March 13, 2012, the court dismissed one of the charges against Silvan Warnick for a reason unrelated to the merits, and Prosecutor Cooley moved to dismiss the other charge voluntarily. Warnick alleges Prosecutor Cooley moved to dismiss the charge because he "suspected that the Judge would dismiss that charge as well, because there was insufficient evidence to support the State’s burden of proof." Id. 11 ¶ 33. As for Alanna Warnick—office manager and wife to Silvan Warnick—the court dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause.

895 F.3d 750

Some time later, the prosecutors again brought the same witness and evidence tampering charges against Silvan Warnick. At the probable cause hearing for this second round of charges, the court dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause.

Though both charges were ultimately dismissed, Warnick did not go unscathed. Because of those charges, Warnick contends he lost his position as a constable and his reputation was damaged within the law enforcement community.

B. The Lawsuit

Silvan Warnick then sued Herboldsheimer, the prosecutors, and the investigators in the District of Utah.1 He sought relief for (1) malicious prosecution under § 1983, 2 (2) conspiracy to violate his constitutional rights under § 1985, (3) malicious prosecution under state law, (4) negligence, (5) conspiracy, (6) defamation, (7) negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (8) interference with contractual relations.

The defendants moved to dismiss, but instead of filing a response—and without leave of court—Warnick simply filed an amended complaint. The defendants moved to strike. The court agreed Warnick had not complied with the rules for amending, but let his amended complaint stand. Believing the new complaint did not sufficiently shore up the prior complaint’s problems, the defendants renewed their motion to dismiss for substantially the same reasons.

The magistrate judge assigned to this case recommended the district court dismiss the case, but did not specify whether it recommended the court do so with or without prejudice. Warnick filed a brief objecting to this recommendation. He asked the district court to deny the motion to dismiss, and also hedged with an alternative request: should the district court agree with the magistrate judge and dismiss his claims, Warnick asked for the court to do so without prejudice so that he could amend his complaint.

The district court agreed with most of the magistrate judge’s reasoning and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.3 The court did not, however, grant Warnick’s request for leave to amend, instead dismissing his claims with prejudice.

II. Analysis

Warnick appeals the district court’s decision granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Alternatively, he asks us to instruct the district court to grant him leave to amend.

A. The Motion to Dismiss

We review a district court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) de novo. Ledbetter v. City of Topeka , 318 F.3d 1183, 1187 (10th Cir. 2003). In so doing, we accept all of Warnick’s well-pleaded allegations as true and view them in the light most favorable to

895 F.3d 751

Warnick. See Colby v. Herrick , 849 F.3d 1273, 1279 (10th Cir. 2017).

But before we accept Warnick’s allegations as true, they must be well-pleaded allegations. Determining whether a complaint contains well-pleaded facts sufficient to state a claim is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). The court must determine whether the plaintiff has pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," not just "conceivable." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Though a complaint need not provide "detailed factual allegations," it must give just enough factual detail to provide "fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957) ). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" do not count as well-pleaded facts. Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. If, in the end, a plaintiff’s "well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct," the complaint fails to state a claim. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.4

With this standard in mind, we turn to Warnick’s various claims.

1. The § 1983 Claims

Warnick brought § 1983 claims against both the county prosecutors and the investigators.

We begin with Warnick’s allegations against the prosecutors. He claims the prosecutors violated his constitutional rights by (1) filing charges based on "frivolous, scurrilous, and...

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