United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant City of Tulsa's Motion for
Summary Judgment and Brief in Support (Dkt. # 88). Plaintiff
alleges that defendant violated his Fourteenth Amendment
right to due process in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Defendant asks the Court to grant summary judgment in its
favor, arguing that plaintiff has failed to show that his
constitutional rights were violated, and, even if plaintiff
suffered a constitutional deprivation, that plaintiff has
failed to show it was pursuant to a custom or policy of
defendant. Plaintiff responds that he has presented evidence
sufficient to sustain his § 1983 claim. Dkt. # 94, at
March 6, 1997, plaintiff was convicted in the District Court
of Tulsa County, Oklahoma of sexually abusing K.S., a minor
child. On March 21, 2014, the Court of Criminal Appeals of
the State of Oklahoma reversed plaintiff's conviction due
to ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Dkt. # 88-22, at
9-10. Plaintiff subsequently brought this suit under §
1983, alleging that the Tulsa Police Department (TPD), a
department of defendant, violated his Fourteenth Amendment
right to due process by conducting a “results oriented
investigation” that failed to investigate leads that
would have resulted in exculpatory evidence. Dkt. # 2, at 7.
Defendant now moves for summary judgment, arguing that
plaintiff has not presented evidence that his constitutional
rights were violated pursuant to a custom or policy of
defendant. Dkt. # 88, at 24.
judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is
appropriate where there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Kendall v. Watkins, 998
F.2d 848, 850 (10th Cir. 1993). The plain language of Rule
56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate
time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails
to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. “Summary judgment
procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural
shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules
as a whole, which are designed ‘to secure the just,
speedy, and inexpensive determination of every
action.'” Id. at 327 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its
opponent must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Where the record
taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to
find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine
issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.
v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)
(citations omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla
of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will
be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the [trier
of fact] could reasonably find for the plaintiff.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In essence, the inquiry
for the Court is “whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that the party must prevail as a
matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. In its review,
the Court construes the record in the light most favorable to
the party opposing summary judgment. Garratt v.
Walker, 164 F.3d 1249, 1251 (10th Cir. 1998).
1983 provides a claim for relief against state actors for
violation of a plaintiff's federal rights. Becker v.
Kroll, 494 F.3d 904, 914 (10th Cir. 2007). To state a
claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two
essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and
(2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person
acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins,
487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Anderson v. Suiters, 499
F.3d 1228, 1232-33 (10th Cir. 2007). When the defendant is a
municipal entity, the “under color of state law”
element requires that the constitutional deprivation occurred
pursuant to official policy or custom. See Monell v.
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment
because plaintiff has failed to establish either a
constitutional violation or a custom or policy that caused
the constitutional violation. The Court need not address
whether plaintiff suffered a constitutional deprivation
because plaintiff has failed to establish a custom or policy.
Thus, for the purpose of this decision, the Court will assume
that TPD's investigation violated plaintiff's
constitutional right to due process.
challenged practice may be deemed an official policy or
custom for § 1983 municipal-liability purposes if it is
a formally promulgated policy, a well-settled custom or
practice, a final decision by a municipal policymaker, or
deliberately indifferent training or supervision.”
Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police
Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 770 (10th Cir. 2013). Plaintiff
alleges that defendant had a well-settled custom of ignoring
exculpatory evidence and that defendant failed to train
and/or supervise its officers. Dkt. # 94, at 31. The Court
will address each allegation in turn.
widespread practice that is not officially authorized may
constitute a custom if it is “so permanent and well
settled as to constitute a ‘custom or usage' with
the force of law.” City of St. Louis v.
Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988) (quoting
Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
167-68 (1970)). Plaintiff alleges that defendant had a
pervasive, informal custom of “results oriented
investigations” that ignored exculpatory evidence. Dkt.
# 94, at 31. To support his claim, plaintiff relies on the
deposition testimony of Rex Berry, the TPD officer who
investigated his case. Berry testified that he did not follow
up on several lines of investigation that could have lead to
exculpatory evidence. Dkt. # 94-6, at 38-39, 56, 63. Berry
also stated that he conducted the investigation pursuant to
TPD's policies and procedures, and that no supervisor
ever objected to Berry's conduct in this investigation.
Id. at 7-10.
Bryson v. City of Okla. City, 627 F.3d 784 (10th
Cir. 2010), the Tenth Circuit addressed issues of municipal
liability similar to those in this case. Bryson was convicted
of a rape and kidnapping based in part on the testimony of a
forensic chemist employed by the Oklahoma City Police
Department who testified that DNA evidence found at the scene
of the crime implicated Bryson. Id. at 787. Later
testing found that the forensic chemist's lab results
indicated that the DNA found at the scene could not have come
from Bryson. Id. Bryson filed a § 1983 action
against the city and the forensic chemist, and the district
court granted the city's motion for summary judgment,
finding that the undisputed evidence did not support a
finding of municipal liability. Id. Bryson argued,
inter alia, that the city had a custom of
encouraging forensic chemists to manipulate evidence in order
to obtain convictions. Id. at 790. To support his
claim, Bryson cited to the testimony of a former Oklahoma
City police chief that “forensic chemists, like
everybody who is on the prosecution team, [will] testif[y] in
a way that is the most incriminating.” Id.
(alterations in original). Bryson also cited to the statement
of another forensic chemist who criticized the testimony of
the chemist involved in Bryson's case and asserted that
her behavior “persists and is condoned by much of the
criminal justice system in Oklahoma County.”
Id. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding that the
statements were not “sufficient to give rise to an
inference of a widespread City practice of fabricating
results and concealing evidence that was ‘so permanent
and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the
force of law.'” Id. at 791 (quoting
Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 127).
plaintiff has presented even less evidence of a custom than
the plaintiff in Bryson. Plaintiff relies entirely
on the statements of Berry that he was following TPD's
policies and procedures in this investigation and that no
supervisor reprimanded him over this case. In
Bryson, the Tenth Circuit explained that the other
chemist's statement about the false testimony being
condoned by the rest of the criminal justice system did not
establish a custom because the statement referred to only
that forensic chemist and did not suggest that other chemists
were giving similarly inaccurate testimony. Id.
Thus, under Bryson, a clear pattern of behavior of
one employee is not enough to establish a custom. Here, at
most the evidence shows that TPD condoned Berry's failure
to investigate exculpatory evidence in this case.
Berry's testimony does not even establish a custom within
his own investigations, let alone a widespread practice
across TPD that could constitute a well settled ...