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Murphy v. City of Tulsa

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

May 12, 2017

MICHELLE DAWN MURPHY, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF TULSA, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          GREGORY K. FRIZZELL, JUDGE.

         Before the court is the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by plaintiff Michelle Dawn Murphy (“Murphy”) [Doc. #92]. In her First Amended Complaint, Murphy alleges she was wrongfully convicted for the murder of her infant son. Her conviction was vacated by an agreed order entered in state district court in 2014. She served twenty years of a sentence of life without parole.

         Murphy now asserts a claim for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her right to a fair trial under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on seven (7) enumerated grounds, and of her right not to incriminate herself under the Fifth Amendment.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), “[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.” A motion for summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. The rule “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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). 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 one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986).

         Analysis

         Murphy moves for partial summary judgment for two stated purposes: “First, to preclude the City from ‘retrying' [Murphy] for murder.” [Doc. #92, p. 6]. “Second, to find that [Murphy] may present her claim of a coerced confession.” [Id.]. Upon consideration of the briefs and authorities submitted, the court concludes the motion must be denied for the following reasons.

         As an initial matter, Murphy has not identified any claims or defenses, or elements of claims or defenses, on which she seeks summary judgment. Thus, Murphy has failed to satisfy the threshold requirement contained in Rule 56(a). See Stormo v. City of Sioux Falls, 2016 WL 7391980, *12 (D.S.D. Dec. 21, 2016) (plaintiff “does not identify any claims or defenses in his motion for summary judgment” and “seeks summary judgment on factual and legal ‘issues' that are inappropriate to decide on summary judgment.”); Sec. and Exchange Comm. v. Capital Holdings, L.L.C., 2006 WL 1660541, *1 (D. Colo. June 12, 2006) (movant “has failed to even identify any of the claims or defenses as to which he seeks summary judgment, much less set forth the elements of any such claim or defense or the party who bears the burden of proof.”); Medeiros v. City and County of Honolulu, 2013 WL 12139152, *4 (D. Haw. Apr. 19, 2013) (“[t]he motion does not . . . discuss how . . . [the findings of an administrative review board] would entitle Plaintiff to judgment as a matter of law as to a particular claim or portion thereof.”).

         Because Murphy has not identified the claims or defenses on which she seeks summary judgment, the court is left to make what it believes to be reasonable inferences as to the defenses subject to the motion. It appears that Murphy's first request for partial summary judgment-to preclude the City from “retrying” Murphy for murder-is meant to address the following defense in the City's Amended Answer: “Irrespective of any alleged wrongdoing, sufficient evidence was admitted at trial that would sustain the conviction of Plaintiff on the charges of which she was convicted.” [Doc. #84, p. 47, ¶ 13]. If that be the case, Murphy has not met her burden under Rule 56. No court has held there was insufficient evidence to sustain Murphy's conviction. The state court judge who vacated her conviction entered a Journal Entry of Dismissal, in which he found that Murphy had made a prima facie showing of actual innocence for the purposes of initiating a claim under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (“OGTCA”). [See Doc. #92-19, p. 1]. Murphy's motion relies on that finding. However, under Oklahoma law, the state court judge's finding was not a final determination of Murphy's actual innocence, much less a conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to sustain Murphy's conviction. As the Oklahoma Supreme Court explained in Courtney v. State, 307 P.3d 337, 341 (Okla. 2013):

While the Legislature does require clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence to pursue a claim [under the OGTCA], we do not believe that the Legislature intended the court to make a final adjudication of actual innocence at this stage. When viewed in the context of the larger tort claims process, it appears the Legislature intended the court to act as gatekeeper. The gatekeeper role of the court is to determine whether the petitioner had made a prima facie case of innocence.

         Thus, the state judge's finding that Murphy had made a prima facie showing of actual innocence does not entitle Murphy to summary judgment on the City's defense that there was sufficient evidence to sustain her conviction.

         As to Murphy's second request-that the court find she “may present her claim of a coerced confession”-she again identifies no claim or defense, or part of a claim or defense, on which she seeks summary judgment. However, the court notes the City asserts as a defense that “[t]he doctrine of collateral estoppel/issue preclusion bars liability against the City[, ]” a defense that if meritorious would preclude relitigation of the trial court's decision that Murphy's confession was voluntary.

         Murphy challenged the voluntariness of her confession in a Jackson v. Denno[1] hearing prior to her trial. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the trial court determined that the confession was voluntarily given and admissible. Murphy appealed her conviction and raised the voluntariness of her confession before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. The appeals court found no error in the trial court's determination that the confession was voluntary.

         Federal courts give preclusive effect to state court judgments whenever the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged would do so. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96 (1980) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1738). Accordingly, Oklahoma's law of issue preclusion applies in evaluating the preclusive effect of a state court adjudication. To establish issue preclusion, a party must prove: 1) that the party against whom it is being asserted was either a party to or a privy of a party to the prior action; 2) that the issue subject to preclusion has actually been adjudicated in the prior case; 3) that the adjudicated issue was necessary and essential to the outcome of that prior case; and 4) the party against whom it is interposed had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the ...


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