United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
CHARLES WILLIAMS, individually, CHARLES WILLIAMS, as Parent and Next Best Friend of K.W., a minor, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF NORMAN, a political Subdivision, and GLENDA VASSAR, individually, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. CAUTHRON, United States District Judge
September 18, 2015, Norman police were dispatched to an
apartment in Norman, Oklahoma. When the first officer arrived
at the apartment, he knocked on the door and announced he was
with the Norman Police Department. He then heard a female
call for help. The officer opened the door and observed
Plaintiff, Charles Williams, on top of a female. The officer
ordered Plaintiff Williams to get off the female and
separated the two parties. He then began interviewing the
individuals. The officer observed that a television had been
knocked over and a chair in the kitchen had been knocked
second officer to arrive on the scene was Defendant Glenda
Vassar. As she was approaching the apartment, she could hear
the female screaming and crying. When she reached the front
door, she observed the female lying on the floor crying with
her shirt pulled down exposing her breast. Defendant Vassar
told the female to pull her shirt up and took her outside so
that they could talk. The female advised Vassar that she and
Plaintiff Williams had been dating and that she lived in the
apartment. The couple had had an argument and Plaintiff
Williams grabbed her from behind, pushed her to the floor,
and wrapped his arm around her throat and told her he could
kill her. The female stated she could not breathe and thought
she was going to pass out but that Plaintiff Williams let go
before she did. She stated she was struggling the entire time
and that Plaintiff Williams hit her in the face and in the
eye, with either his hand or a flashlight. The female then
stated they continued arguing and ended up in the living room
where Plaintiff Williams got her down again and used his
hands and started choking her and only stopped when the
police arrived at the scene.
Williams told a different story. He informed one of the other
officers that he and the female had been dating; that the
female had had too much drink earlier in the night; an
argument broke out; and that the female then began to destroy
things around the apartment and that the Plaintiff was on top
of her to keep her contained so she could not destroy
anything else while he called the police.
Vassar also interviewed Plaintiff K.W. K.W. stated that she
was sixteen years old and had lived with her dad (Plaintiff
Williams) for the last two to three months and that the
female had been living there for the last few weeks. K.W.
acknowledged that the female and her father had argued
earlier that night and that the female came into her room
asking her to call the police, that Plaintiff had wrapped his
arm around the female's arms and chest and dragged her
out of the room, where they fell into the kitchen table. K.W.
then saw Plaintiff drag the female into the living room,
straddle her and hold her face down. K.W. then went back into
her bedroom and closed the door. Following this
investigation, Defendant Vassar decided to place Plaintiff
under arrest for domestic abuse and he was arrested. In time,
the charges against Plaintiff Williams were dismissed.
Williams brought the present action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 alleging that the actions of Defendant Vassar
violated his constitutional rights and that the Defendant
City of Norman violated his constitutional rights by failing
to properly train or supervise its officers.
Plaintiffs also brought state law claims against
Defendant City pursuant to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort
Claims Act, arguing that it was negligent in its supervision,
training, and retention of the individual officers.
Defendants Vassar and City of Norman have filed Motions for
Summary Judgment, asserting the undisputed material facts
entitle them to judgment on the claims brought by Plaintiffs.
judgment is appropriate if the pleadings and affidavits show
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that,
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “[A] motion for summary judgment
should be granted only when the moving party has established
the absence of any genuine issue as to a material
fact.” Mustang Fuel Corp. v. Youngstown Sheet &
Tube Co., 561 F.2d 202, 204 (10th Cir. 1977). The movant
bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of
material fact requiring judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986). A fact is material if it is essential to the proper
disposition of the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If the movant carries
this initial burden, the nonmovant must then set forth
“specific facts” outside the pleadings and
admissible into evidence which would convince a rational
trier of fact to find for the nonmovant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).
These specific facts may be shown “by any of the kinds
of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the
mere pleadings themselves.” Celotex, 477 U.S.
at 324. Such evidentiary materials include affidavits,
deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits. Thomas v.
Wichita Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 968 F.2d 1022, 1024
(10th Cir. 1992). “The burden is not an onerous one for
the nonmoving party in each case, but does not at any point
shift from the nonmovant to the district court.”
Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 672
(10th Cir. 1998). All facts and reasonable inferences
therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
Vassar has raised qualified immunity as a defense to the
claims brought against her. According to Defendant Vassar,
Plaintiff Williams has failed to demonstrate any violation of
his constitutional rights and even if he has, those rights
were not clearly established. Plaintiff Williams defines the
constitutional right at issue as wrongful arrest without
probable cause. (Dkt. No. 34, p. 16.) Because Defendant Vassar has
raised the defense of qualified immunity, Plaintiff must
“produce facts ‘sufficient to show both that the
defendant's alleged conduct violated the law and that
that law was clearly established when the alleged violation
occurred.'” Bruning v. Pixler, 949 F.2d
352, 356 (10th Cir. 1991) (quoting Pueblo Neighborhood
Health Ctrs., Inc. v. Losavio, 847 F.2d 642, 646 (10th
Cir. 1988)). In order to state a claim for violation of the
Fourth Amendment in this instance, Plaintiff must offer some
evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that
Defendant Vassar's decision to arrest Plaintiff was not
based upon arguable probable cause. A defendant is entitled
to qualified immunity from a false arrest claim if there was
“arguable probable cause” to make an arrest.
Kaufman v. Higgs, 697 F.3d 1297, 1300 (10th Cir.
2012). “Arguable probable cause is another way of
saying that the officers' conclusions rest on an
objectively reasonable, even if mistaken, belief that
probable cause exists.” Stonecipher v. Valles,
759 F.3d 1134, 1141 (10th Cir. 2014). Thus, the question is,
were Defendant Vassar's actions objectively reasonable
even if mistaken. In arguing that Defendant Vassar did not
act reasonably, Plaintiff points only to his own statement of
the events occurring on the evening of the arrest. He argues
that Defendant Vassar's failure to give adequate credence
to his version rendered her actions unreasonable. However,
this is not the appropriate standard. See Delmonico v.
Capito, 356 F. App'x 144, 149 (10th Cir. 2009)
(noting that a witness's opinion does not necessarily
defeat probable cause). Indeed, the Tenth Circuit has noted
that law enforcement officials who reasonably but mistakenly
conclude that probable cause is present are entitled to
immunity. Romero v. Fay, 45 F.3d 1472, 1476 (10th
Cir. 1995). Here, even if the jury is to give full credence
to Plaintiff's version of the events, at best that
establishes that Defendant Vassar was mistaken in her belief
that probable cause existed to arrest Plaintiff. Given the
version of events given at the scene by the purported victim
and K.W., the decision to arrest was objectively reasonable.
Consequently, Defendant Vassar is entitled to qualified
immunity and she is entitled to judgment on Plaintiff's
claims against her.
CITY OF NORMAN
Williams' § 1983 claim against Defendant City of
Norman is based upon its alleged failure to train the
Defendants. Before the City can be liable for inadequate
training, the Plaintiff must show that the officers exceeded
constitutional limitations; the alleged constitutional
violation arose under circumstances that constitute a usual
and recurring situation with which police officers must deal;
inadequate training demonstrates a deliberate indifference on
the part of the City toward persons with whom a police
officer comes in contact; and there is a direct and causal
link between the constitutional deprivation and adequate
training. Allen v. Muskogee, Okla., 119 F.3d 837,
841-42 (10th Cir. 1997). Because the Court has determined
that Defendant Vassar did not violate Plaintiff's
constitutional rights, Plaintiff's § 1983 claim
against the City necessarily fails. See City of Los
Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986), and
Hinton v. City of Elwood, Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782
(10th Cir. 1993).
appear to bring three state law-based tort claims against
Defendants. First, that Defendant City was negligent in its
hiring, training, and retention of the officers; that
Williams' arrest was a false arrest; and that Defendants
were negligent. As Defendant City notes in its reply brief,
any negligence claim cannot stand, to the extent it is
premised upon the arrest of Defendant Williams. A claim for
false arrest is an intentional tort and therefore it cannot
give rise to a claim for negligence. See Broom v. Wilson
Paving & Excavating, Inc., 2015 OK 19, ¶ 32,
356 P.3d 617, 629. To the extent Plaintiff K.W. sought to
plead a negligence claim, she has simply failed to offer any
facts, evidence, or law to demonstrate the existence of a
claim that is recognized under the facts of this case. To the
extent Plaintiff Williams seeks to pursue his false arrest
claim against Defendant City of Norman, the Court's
determination that Defendant Vassar acted with probable cause
is fatal to that claim. See Christian v. State, 1985