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Seidel v. Crayton

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 19, 2017




         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants Cory Crayton, Pete Kassetas, and John Does 1-40's First Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. 26, filed April 13, 2016. The Court, having considered the Motion, briefs, relevant law and being otherwise fully informed, will GRANT IN PART Defendants' Motion.


         On September 10, 2013, Officer Cory Crayton of the New Mexico State Police (“NMSP”), in his marked patrol car, using his rear-facing radar, “clocked” Plaintiffs' SUV at 69 miles per hour in an area with a 55 miles per hour speed limit. Affidavit of Cory Crayton, Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 3. At approximately 7:25 a.m., Officer Crayton initiated a traffic stop of the SUV. Id. at ¶¶ 4-6; COBAN Recording of Traffic Stop, Doc. 28 at 1:02-1:35.

         Officer Crayton approached the passenger side of the vehicle, tapped on the window, and waited. Id.; Doc. 28 at 1:43-1:51. Officer Crayton opened the passenger door and introduced himself. Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 11; Doc. 28 at 1:50-1:54. According to Plaintiffs, as Officer Crayton opened the passenger's door, Mrs. Seidel was holding the door and trying to roll down the window. Doc. 32-1 at ¶ 5; Affidavit of Brenda Lee Seidel, Doc. 32-2 at ¶ 3. Mrs. Seidel claims she was “partially pulled” with the door and said, “don't open the door, ” after which Officer Crayton “struck [her] with his left hand.” Doc. 32-1 at ¶ 6; Doc. 32-2 at ¶¶ 4, 5.

         Defendants instead assert that the COBAN[1] recording of the incident “shows that Officer Crayton had both of his arms outside of the plaintiffs' vehicle when he was at the passenger-side door: Crayton used his right hand to try to open the door, while his left hand was on the vehicle itself.” Doc. 26 at ¶ 6. Defendants claim that Officer Crayton's arms remained outside the vehicle for the duration of the period the passenger door was open. Id. at .8.

         The COBAN recording of the incident shows that Officer Crayton approached the SUV, tapped on the window, waited for several seconds, and then placed his left hand or arm on the vehicle and used his right to open the passenger side door. Doc. 28 at 1:35-1:51. Before and while opening the door several buttons along Officer Crayton's left sleeve were visible to the camera; however, the exact placement of his left hand and arm was obscured by the SUV. Id. Mrs. Seidel protested, and Officer Crayton's arm moved such that the previously visible buttons became obscured by the vehicle, suggesting his left arm may have moved toward Mrs. Seidel. Id. at 1:51-1:54.

         During the brief moment that the door was open, Officer Crayton looked across the front seat and recognized the driver as Dr. Seidel. Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 12. Officer Crayton stated, “[i]n that split-second, Mr. Seidel looked right at me and in one sudden motion reached over and down towards his right hip as he quickly exited the vehicle. I could see a pistol in a holster on Mr. Seidel's right side. Given Mr. Seidel's sudden motion towards his gun and the manner in which he got out of the SUV to confront me, I believed Mr. Seidel intended to use his weapon and perceived him as a threat.” Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 13. Dr. Seidel exited his vehicle. Doc. 32-1 at ¶ 12. Officer Crayton “fled from [Seidel's] vehicle, pulled his gun out, pointed it at [Dr. Seidel], and made statements that led [Dr. Seidel] to believe that [Officer Crayton] was accusing [Dr. Seidel] of holding a firearm in [his] hand.” Id. at ¶ 7.

         After Dr. Seidel exited his car, Officer Crayton ordered him to put his gun down; Seidel pointed his finger at Officer Crayton. Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 17; Doc. 28 at 1:54-1:57. Officer Crayton again ordered Dr. Seidel to put his gun down and told Dr. Seidel that he was under arrest; however, Dr. Seidel did not comply and reentered his vehicle. Doc. 28 at 1:57-2:02. Officer Crayton called for backup and ordered Dr. Seidel to get out of the vehicle with his hands in the air; however, Dr. Seidel sat inside his vehicle with his left leg out and left foot on the ground. Doc. 28 at 1:57-2:13. Over the next few minutes, while Dr. Seidel sat inside of his vehicle, Officer Crayton repeatedly told Dr. Seidel to exit the vehicle, to put his gun down, and that he was under arrest. Doc. 28 at 2:13-4:20; Walter Seidel's Responses to Defendant Pete Kassetas' First Set of Requests for Admissions, Doc. 26-2 at Request No. 7, 11. Dr. Seidel did not comply. Doc. 28 at 4:20-5:52. Officer Crayton again ordered Dr. Seidel to exit his vehicle without his gun and get on the ground. Id. at 5:52-6:01. Dr. Seidel did not comply; instead, he said something to Officer Crayton and pointed at him. Id. at 5:56-6:02. For several more minutes, Dr. Seidel sat in his vehicle and did not obey Officer Crayton's prior orders. Id. at 6:03-10:01. While sitting in his car, Dr. Seidel called 911 for help in dealing with Officer Crayton. Amended Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights, Doc. 60 at ¶ 11.

         Additional police units began to arrive at approximately 7:34 a.m. Doc. 28 at 9:55-11:25; Affidavit of Steve Minner, Doc. 26-4 at ¶¶ 3-7. Dr. Seidel continued to disobey Officer Crayton's orders to get out of the car. Doc. 28 at 10:01-10:06. After other officers arrived, Dr. Seidel exited the vehicle, put his hands up, and addressed the officers while remaining close to his car. Id. at 11:40-12:01. Officer Crayton repeatedly ordered Dr. Seidel to get on the ground but Dr. Seidel refused to comply. Id. After several seconds, Dr. Seidel lowered his hands, pointed at something to the right of the camera, and reentered his vehicle. Id. at 11:57-12:01.

         Ruidoso Police Officer Dale Harrison then approached Dr. Seidel's vehicle. Doc. 26-1 at ¶¶ 21-22; Doc. 28 at 12:26-12:30; Doc. 49-1 at ¶ 11; Doc. 26-4 at ¶ 10. The two spoke for several minutes. Doc. 28 at 12:30-16:43. Dr. Seidel then got out of his vehicle, shut the driver's side door, and moved with Officer Harrison in the direction of the camera and the other officers. Id. at 16:43-16:57. Officer Crayton then ordered Dr. Seidel to put his hands on the police car. Id. at 16:57-17:00. Dr. Seidel said “No, ” and crossed his arms across his chest. Id.; Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 24; Doc. 26-2 at Request No. 1. Officer Crayton then “attempted to arrest and handcuff Walter Seidel-Seidel resisted by pulling away from Crayton and folding his arms.”[2] Doc. 26 at ¶ 20; Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 24; Doc. 28 at 17:00-17:02.

         “Walter Seidel grabbed onto the edge of the patrol car's hood and continued to resist as Officer Crayton tried to handcuff him. Crayton had to pry Seidel's fingers off the hood, and another officer helped Crayton secure Seidel in handcuffs. Crayton can be heard ordering Seidel to ‘Give me your left hand.' Seidel did not voluntarily submit to being handcuffed.”[3] Doc. 26 at ¶ 21 (citations to the record omitted); see Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 25; Doc. 26-2 at Request No. 5; Doc. 26-4 at ¶ 12; Doc. 28 at 17:06-17:08. Dr. Seidel was eventually handcuffed and arrested. Doc. 28 at 17:25-17:35. Mrs. Seidel was allowed to leave with the SUV. Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 26.

         After the arrest, Dr. Seidel was booked into the Lincoln County Detention Facility for Speeding, Assault on a Peace Officer, Resisting an Officer, and Unlawful Use of 911. Booking Report, Doc. 26-5 at 1. Officer Crayton filed a criminal complaint against Dr. Seidel for these offenses on September 20, 2013. Criminal Complaint, Doc. 26-6 at 1. Officer Crayton prepared a Probable Cause Statement and discussed the criminal charges with Assistant District Attorney (“ADA”) Elizabeth Williams from the Twelfth Judicial District Attorney's Office, who approved the charges.[4] Doc. 26-1 at ¶ 27; see also Doc. 26-6 at 2. On May 11, 2015 the District Attorney's Office filed an Amended Complaint against Dr. Seidel dropping the Assault and Unlawful Use of 911 Charges but retaining the Speeding and the Resisting, Evading or Obstructing an Officer Charges. Doc. 26-7 at 1-2.

         On August 19, 2015, Dr. Seidel entered into a Plea and Disposition Agreement with the State of New Mexico, wherein he pleaded no contest to the Speeding charge and the remaining charges were dismissed. Plea and Disposition Agreement, Doc. 26-8 at 1-2. On September 16, 2015, the Twelfth Judicial District Court for the State of New Mexico adjudicated Dr. Seidel guilty of Speeding. Judgment and Sentence, Doc. 26-9 at 1-3.

         Neither Dr. Seidel nor Mrs. Seidel sought or received any medical treatment as a result of the incident on September 10, 2013. Walter Seidel's Responses to Cory Crayton's First Set of Requests for Admissions, Doc. 26-10 at Request No. 1; Brenda Seidel's Responses to Cory Crayton's First Set of Requests for Admissions, Doc. 26-11 at Request No. 1. Dr. Seidel did not seek any psychological or mental health treatment as a result of the incident and does not contend that he suffered physical, bodily, or psychological injury, or any other medical damages in this lawsuit as a result of the incident. Doc. 26-10 at Request No. 2; Walter Seidel's Supplemental Responses to Cory Crayton's First Set of Interrogatories, Doc. 26-12 at Interrogatory No. 22.

         Plaintiffs bring suit with six counts against Defendants. Count I is a claim of Battery asserted against Officer Crayton under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. Amended Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights, Doc. 60 at 5-6. Count II is a claim of Malicious Prosecution asserted by Dr. Seidel against Officer Crayton under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. Id. at 6. Count III is an excessive force claim under Article II, Section 10 of the Constitution of the State of New Mexico asserted against Officer Crayton under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. Id. at 6-7. Count IV is a claim of Negligence asserted against Chief Kassetas and Does for failing to supervise, train, and control Officer Crayton. Id. at 7. Count V is a claim of a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution right to be free from excessive force and to be free from arrest and prosecution for crimes without probable cause asserted against Officer Crayton under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 7-8. Count VI is a claim of Failure to Train, Supervise, and Control asserted against Chief Kassetas and Does under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 8-9.


         Defendants seek summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity for all claims. The Court will grant the motion in part by granting Summary Judgment for Defendants on Plaintiffs' federal law claims and will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims.

         I. Qualified Immunity

         When a defendant invokes the protection of qualified immunity the plaintiff bears the “heavy two-part burden” of establishing that “the defendant's actions violated a [federal] constitutional or statutory right” and that the right in question “was clearly established at the time of the defendant's unlawful conduct.” Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124, 1128 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court may elect “which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). If the plaintiff meets his burden under this framework, the Court then proceeds with its ordinary summary judgment analysis and the burden reverts to the defendant to demonstrate that no genuine dispute of material fact exists that would defeat its claim for qualified immunity. See, e.g., Woodward v. City of Worland, 977 F.2d 1392, 1396-97 (10th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).

         II. Unlawful Arrest

         A. Legal Standard

         The qualified immunity analysis for unlawful arrest consists of two prongs: (1) whether the officers had probable cause to arrest the § 1983 plaintiff, and (2) if probable cause is lacking, the court determines whether the § 1983 plaintiff's rights were clearly established by asking whether the officers “arguably had probable cause.” Kaufman v. Higgs, 697 F.3d. 1297, 1300 (10th Cir. 2012). Where arrest itself is undisputed and there was no warrant, a violation of the Fourth Amendment occurs if the arrest is not supported by probable cause. See Fogarty v. Gallegos, 523 F.3d 1147, 1156 (10th Cir. 2008).

         The first prong, whether the officer had probable cause, is assessed “under an objective standard of reasonableness.” Quinn v. Young, 780 F.3d 998, 1006 (10th Cir. 2015). The Court asks “whether ‘the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed.'” Fogarty, 523 F.3d at 1156 (quoting United States v. Edwards, 242 F.3d 928, 933. (10th Cir. 2001)). The “officer's subjective reason for arrest is irrelevant, and it does not matter whether the arrestee was later charged with a crime.” Id. Under Tenth Circuit precedent, “[p]robable cause exists if facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge and of which he or she has reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to lead a prudent person to believe that the arrestee has committed or is committing an offense.” Romero v. Fay, 45 F.3d 1472, 1476 (10th Cir. 1995).

         Under the second prong of qualified immunity, a § 1983 plaintiff bears the burden of showing the law was clearly established by showing that “it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that probable cause was lacking under the circumstances.” Kaufman, 697 F.3d at 1300 (quoting Koch v. City of Del City, 690 F.3d 1228, 1241 (10th Cir. 2011)). If there was “arguable probable cause” for the arrest, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Id. (citing Cortez v. McCauly, 478 F.3d 1108, 1121 (10th Cir. 2007) (en banc)).

         B. Probable Cause to ...

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