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Smith v. Stuteville

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 18, 2014

William G. Smith, Plaintiff,
v.
David Stuteville, individually and in his official capacity as an Osawatomie Police Officer; Mike Stiles, in his official capacity as Chief of Police of Osawatomie, Kansas; and City of Osawatomie, Kansas, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM, District Judge.

Plaintiff William G. Smith filed suit against defendants alleging claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Kansas state law arising out of Officer Stuteville's warrantless entry into plaintiff's residence. This matter is presently before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint (doc. 4) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). As will be explained, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Background

Defendants' motion to dismiss is based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In analyzing that motion, the court accepts as true "all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and view[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Burnett v. Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007))). Consistent with this standard, the following well-pleaded allegations, taken from plaintiff's complaint, are accepted as true for purposes of defendants' motion.

On February 12, 2013, Officer Stuteville, dressed in an Osawatomie police uniform and driving a marked Osawatomie police vehicle, came to plaintiff's residence in Osawatomie around 3:00pm. Plaintiff asserts that Officer Stuteville informed plaintiff that he was investigating a "1099 complaint" on behalf of an individual named John Snyder and that Officer Stuteville "pushed his way" into plaintiff's residence without a warrant, without probable cause, without exigent circumstances and without plaintiff's consent. Mr. Snyder is a former Osawatomie Police Officer and the son-in-law of plaintiff's former spouse. According to plaintiff, Officer Stuteville made comments during the encounter indicating that he was personal friends with Mr. Snyder. Once he was inside plaintiff's home, Officer Stuteville intimidated and interrogated plaintiff over his role in a former business relationship with Mr. Snyder and he repeatedly requested specific information from plaintiff regarding that relationship. Plaintiff further alleges that, on another occasion just prior to this incident, Officer Stuteville had stopped by plaintiff's residence and advised plaintiff that he had taken someone out into the woods and "beat a confession out of them."

A few days following Officer Stuteville's entry into plaintiff's home, plaintiff met with Don Cawby, the City Manager of Osawatomie, seeking to obtain a copy of any complaint that Mr. Snyder may have filed with the police department and to lodge a complaint about Officer Stuteville's conduct. According to plaintiff, Mr. Cawby advised plaintiff that it was "routine" for the City, on behalf of the IRS, to investigate issues concerning 1099s.

Discussion

In his complaint, plaintiff asserts a claim against Officer Stuteville, in his individual and official capacities, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments based on Officer Stuteville's warrantless entry into plaintiff's residence; claims against Chief Stiles in his official capacity and the City under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the City's customs, policies and practices that purportedly caused the violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights, including the City's purported failure to adequately train or supervise its police officers; and a state law claim against Officer Stuteville for trespass. Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. As explained below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Qualified Immunity

Officer Stuteville first asks this court to dismiss plaintiff's § 1983 claim against Officer Stuteville in his individual capacity because he is entitled to qualified immunity. To survive a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts that show-when taken as true-that the defendant plausibly violated his constitutional rights, which were clearly established at the time of violation. Schwartz v. Booker, 702 F.3d 573, 579 (10th Cir. 2012). The court first determines if the complaint sufficiently alleges the violation of a constitutional right. See id.

While Officer Stuteville concedes that plaintiff has alleged the violation of a constitutional right-namely, the right to be free from a warrantless entry into his home- Officer Stuteville nonetheless contends that dismissal is warranted because plaintiff has failed to provide sufficient facts regarding his own conduct or words "before or during the encounter with Officer Stuteville." According to Officer Stuteville, plaintiff's "conclusory" allegations that Officer Stuteville entered plaintiff's home without a warrant, without probable cause, without consent and in the absence of exigent circumstances are not sufficient to state a claim for an alleged violation of plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. The court disagrees. Plaintiff has alleged that Officer Stuteville forced his way into plaintiff's home for the purpose of harassing and intimidating plaintiff about a prior business relationship with Officer Stuteville's personal friend. Assuming the truth of this allegation, it is reasonable to infer that Officer Stuteville entered plaintiff's home without probable cause, without consent and in the absence of exigent circumstances. Officer Stuteville does not suggest the existence of any particular facts concerning plaintiff's own conduct or words before or during the encounter that might have any bearing on whether Officer Stuteville violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from a warrantless search of his home. Plaintiff, then, has sufficiently alleged a constitutional violation. Reeves v. Churchich, 484 F.3d 1244, 1258 (10th Cir. 2007) ("Because the home is accorded the full range of Fourth Amendment protections, it is beyond question that an unconsented police entry into a residential unit, be it a house, apartment, or hotel or motel room, constitutes a search under Katz. "); Specht v. Jensen, 832 F.2d 1516, 1522-23 (10th Cir. 1987) (Fourth Amendment violation occurs when police engage in warrantless search and no exception to the warrant requirement applies).

Even if Officer Stuteville engaged in constitutionally impermissible conduct, immunity will still shield him from suit so long as his conduct did not violate clearly established constitutional rights. Schwartz, 702 F.3d at 587. "Ordinarily, in order for the law to be clearly established, there must be a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or the clearly established weight of authority from other courts must have found the law to be as the plaintiff maintains." Id. This means that the "contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Id. at 588 (citation omitted). In the motion to dismiss, Officer Stuteville summarily argues that the facts set forth in the complaint "do not establish that every reasonable officer in Officer Stuteville's position would know that his or her actions violation plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right." The court disagrees. For many years, case law in the Tenth Circuit and the established weight of authority has clearly established the right to be free from a warrantless entry of the home under the facts alleged by plaintiff. Trask v. Franco, 446 F.3d 1036, 1043 (10th Cir. 2006) (law regarding warrantless residential search clearly established) (citing Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 748-49 (1984)).

For the foregoing reasons, on the record presently presented, Officer Stuteville is not ...


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