Zorich v. St. Louis Cnty., Case No. 4:17-CV-1522 PLC

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
PartiesANGELA ZORICH, Plaintiff, v. ST. LOUIS COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 4:17-CV-1522 PLC
Decision Date18 December 2018

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 4:17-CV-1522 PLC


December 18, 2018


This matter is before the Court1 on two motions for summary judgment: (1) a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Angela Zorich [ECF No. 53]; and (2) a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants St. Louis County ("County") and County police officers Robert Rinck, Corey Zavorka, John Pfanstiel, and Mike Fumagalli (collectively, "Defendants") [ECF No. 44].

Additionally, Plaintiff moves to strike, pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 56(e), (1) certain averments by each Defendant and another affiant, Jeffrey Young, on the ground they contain inadmissible hearsay; and (2) certain responses by Defendants to Plaintiff's statement of material facts, due to Defendants' alleged "failure to cite to any portion of the record or make any required showing to support their position." [ECF Nos. 85 & 94] Defendants oppose the motions to strike. [ECF No. 107]

I. Factual background2

Plaintiff's section 1983 action arises from the execution of a search warrant at her home

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in April 2014. [ECF No. 1] Plaintiff filed a nineteen-count complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County and four of its law enforcement officers in their individual capacities, claiming they violated her rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution when, among other things, the individual Defendants entered her home to execute a search warrant for municipal ordinance violations and killed her dog. For each of her sixteen § 1983 claims, Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees, expenses, and costs. For each of her three state law claims (Counts IV, VIII, and IX), Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory damages, punitive damages, expenses, and costs.

A. Alleged municipal code violations and preliminary inspection

In early 2014, Plaintiff lived in a single-family home with her husband, three adult sons,3 six-year-old daughter, and three dogs, including a pit bull named Kiya. At that time, Rinck was an officer with the St. Louis County Police Department's Problem Properties Unit ("PPU"). Plaintiff's neighbor, who was an investigator for Laclede Gas Company and an acquaintance of Rinck, had called the police department several times to complain about Plaintiff's dogs barking. On April 23, 2014, the neighbor called Rinck to inform him that the gas company had suspended Plaintiff's natural gas service.

Before visiting Plaintiff's residence, Rinck "ran" Plaintiff's address in the County's Crime Matrix program to determine whether any residents of the home had arrest/criminal histories or outstanding arrest warrants. Rinck's search revealed that Plaintiff's husband, Michael, and her three sons, Joseph, Zacariah, and Isaiah,4 had criminal histories, which included

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arrests for violent offenses, and that Plaintiff and her sons had outstanding arrest warrants. Rinck also reviewed a list of all calls for police service to Plaintiff's address, including a report that Plaintiff's pit bull attacked a neighbor's dog.

On Friday, April 25, 2014, Rinck and two problem property specialists from the County's Department of Public Works went to Plaintiff's house for the purpose of investigating whether the property was safe for occupancy. The County Police Department's other problem properties officer, Officer Rehagan, met Rinck and the property specialists at the residence. When Rinck knocked on the front door and loudly announced himself, the door opened inward. Someone inside the house slammed and locked the front door, and Rinck heard a male voice shout, "fuck you." Rinck knocked several more times, but no one answered the door.

Officer LaChance responded to Rinck's call for assistance and informed Rinck that he was familiar with the Zorich family. According to LaChance, residents of Plaintiff's house were "hostile and combative with the police."5 [ECF No. 54-1 at 5]. Rinck also spoke to one of Plaintiff's neighbors, who complained about Plaintiff's barking dogs and the "loud and offensive language and behavior of members of the Zorich family" and informed Rinck that an infant and a four- or five-year-old girl might reside there. [ECF No. 50-5 at ¶¶ 57, 59]. The neighbor allowed Rinck and the housing specialists to enter his backyard for the purpose of inspecting Plaintiff's property, and they observed that Plaintiff's deck "appeared to be in imminent danger of collapse[.]" [ECF No. 50-5 at ¶ 73] Rink also observed the lock on the natural gas meter. Before leaving the property, Rinck placed a problem properties notification sticker on Plaintiff's

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Later that day, Plaintiff "googled" the PPU and found a phone number, which she called. [ECF No. 54 at ¶ 38] The first woman Plaintiff spoke to informed her "there was no indication of any issues at her address in the computer" and directed her to an employee named Kim. [Id. at ¶ 39] Plaintiff left Kim two messages requesting return telephone calls. [Id. at ¶ 40]

Plaintiff called the number again the following Monday, April 28, 2014, and spoke to someone who instructed her to call either Rehagan or Rinck directly. [Id. at ¶ 41] Plaintiff first called Rehagan, who informed her that the PPU needed to inspect the interior of her house because they had received an anonymous report that her electricity and gas were off. [Id. at ¶42-43; ECF No. 85-27 at 4]. Plaintiff replied that only her gas was off and, when Rehagan insisted that her electricity was off, Plaintiff said "That's bullshit," and Rehagan terminated the call. [ECF No. 85-27 at 4] Plaintiff called Rehagan back to apologize, and Rehagan advised her to call Rinck. [Id.; ECF No. 54 at ¶ 44]

Plaintiff then called Rinck, who informed Plaintiff that he was investigating her home for lack of gas service and that someone in her house had said "fuck you" to him. Rinck did not mention the condition of the exterior deck. [ECF No. 54 at ¶¶ 45-47] When Rinck advised Plaintiff that he wished to "meet at the property and conduct an inspection," she responded, "Well, I'll have to talk to my husband." [ECF No. 50 at ¶ 56] Rinck told Plaintiff that "the investigation would continue." [Id. at ¶ 59]

B. Administrative search warrant

The next morning, Rinck and a Public Works inspector went to the St. Louis County

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Counselor's office to request an administrative search warrant.6 There, Rinck met with an assistant County counselor, explained "the need for the warrant, and the purpose behind the need for an interior inspection," and stated that he spoke to Plaintiff the day before and "she did not give consent to inspect." [ECF No. 50-5 at ¶¶ 92, 97]

The assistant County counselor advised Rinck that there was probable cause to obtain a search warrant and she completed a warrant application. The assistant County counselor also prepared a probable cause affidavit for Rinck, in which Rinck attested that: Plaintiff's property posed a "serious and imminent risk to any person on or about the premises because of numerous serious violations creating a public nuisance which needs to be abated as soon as possible to avoid any danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the community and anyone on or near the premises." [ECF No. 50-24] Rinck stated that he believed the property was "being used in violation of St. Louis County Revised Ordinance, and/or [was] creating a public nuisance," for the following reasons:

1. St. Louis County has received complaints from citizens concerning code violations, animal control violations, and possible over occupancy of the property.
2. St. Louis County Police Problem Property Unit has responded to the property to investigate the complaints and were [sic] denied entry for inspection.
3. St. Louis County Police officers have confirmed that the gas service is disconnected to the property since March 2014.
4. Limited observation has indicated a potentially dangerous deck located at the rear of the residence which is in imminent danger of collapse. This creates a life safety threat for the residence [sic] or anyone on or upon the property.
5. St. Louis County Police have been informed that a minor child is residing at the residence.
6. Inspection of the interior of the property is necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the occupants and nearby residents.

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Rinck presented the application, affidavit, and search warrant to a St. Louis County municipal judge, who signed the administrative warrant ("Warrant"). [ECF No. 54 at ¶ 68] The Warrant authorized Rinck to search Plaintiff's property for violations "of St. Louis County Revised Ordinance Chapters 1110 (Property Maintenance Code), 1102 (Electrical), 1103 (Plumbing), 1108 (Mechanical), and/or a public nuisance . . . ." [ECF No. 50-26 at 1 (emphasis original)]

C. Search of Plaintiff's house

Upon obtaining the Warrant, Rinck contacted Pfanstiel, a Tactical Operations Unit ("TAC") supervisor, and requested he execute the Warrant. Approximately one hour after obtaining the Warrant, Rink met Pfanstiel and other TAC officers at a park close to Plaintiff's house. Rinck informed the TAC officers that residents of Plaintiff's home had histories of violent behavior, including numerous assaults and one armed robbery, and that someone inside Plaintiff's house had slammed the door and shouted "fuck you" at him several days earlier. Rinck also told the officers about the many complaints the police department received about Plaintiff's dogs, including a report that her pit bull attacked another dog. Rinck did not mention the telephone conversation that he and Plaintiff had the previous day.

Because Fumagalli was the "team leader" and Zavorka was the "point person,"7 they reviewed the Warrant and drove by Plaintiff's property with Rinck in preparation for execution of the...

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