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Pyle v. Woods

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 1, 2017

RYAN PYLE and MARLON JONES, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
JAMES WOODS; KELVYN CULLIMORE; COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Defendants - Appellees. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF UTAH; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF COLORADO; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF KANSAS; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW MEXICO; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF OKLAHOMA; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF WYOMING; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, Amici Curiae.

         APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH (D.C. NOS. 2:15-CV-00143-TC & 2:15-CV-00278-TS)

          Scott Michelman, Public Citizen Litigation Group, Washington, D.C. (Taylor B. Ayres, Ayres Law Firm, Draper, Utah; Scott C. Borison, Legg Law Firm LLC, San Mateo, California; and Scott L. Nelson, Public Citizen Litigation Group, Washington, D.C., with him on the briefs), for Appellants.

          J. Michael Hansen, Nelson Jones, PLLC, Sandy, Utah (David C. Richards and Sarah Elizabeth Spencer, Christensen & Jensen, P.C., Salt Lake City, Utah, with him on the brief), for Appellees.

          Nathan Freed Wessler, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York, New York; Leah Farrell and John Mejia, ACLU of Utah Foundation, Inc., Salt Lake City Utah; Mark Silverstein and Sara R. Neel, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, Denver, Colorado; Stephen Douglas Bonney, ACLU Foundation of Kansas, Overland Park, Kansas; Alexandra Freedman Smith, ACLU of New Mexico Foundation, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Brady R. Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Courtney A. Bowie, American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming, Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the brief for Amici Curiae in support of Appellants.

          Before BRISCOE, MURPHY, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

          MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

         I. Introduction

         After Detective James Woods accessed a state database containing the prescription drug records of Plaintiffs Ryan Pyle and Marlon Jones, Pyle and Jones brought separate lawsuits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, each challenging Defendants' conduct as violative of the Fourth Amendment and the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"). In both suits, the district court dismissed the claims against Defendant Woods, concluding Woods was entitled to qualified immunity because the law governing warrantless access to prescription drug information by law enforcement was not clearly established. The district court also dismissed the FCRA claims because Defendants' actions fit within an exemption set out in the Act.

         In Jones's suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against the city of Cottonwood Heights with prejudice because Jones's complaint failed to state a claim for municipal liability plausible on its face. In Pyle's suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against Cottonwood Heights without prejudice, concluding Pyle failed to notify the Utah Attorney General of those claims as required by Rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Pyle and Jones each appealed. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm the district court's judgments.[1]

          II. Factual Background

         The Utah Controlled Substance Database (the "Database") was created in 1995 pursuant to the Utah Controlled Substance Database Act (the "Database Act"). Utah Code Ann. §§ 58-37f-101, -201. The Database is administered by the Utah Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing ("DOPL") and contains data "regarding every prescription for a controlled substance dispensed in the state [of Utah] to any individual other than an inpatient in a licensed health care facility." Id. § 201(5). At the time of the events giving rise to this appeal, the Database Act permitted "local law enforcement authorities" to access the Database without a warrant.[2] Id. § 58-37f-301(2)(i) (2013).

         Defendant James Woods is a detective in the Cottonwood Heights Police Department. In April 2013, Woods was informed by Utah's Unified Fire Authority ("UFA") that medications, including opioids and sedatives, were missing from several UFA ambulances. Detective Woods received a list of 480 UFA employees with access to the ambulances from Robbie Russo, the Cottonwood Heights Chief of Police. Russo had obtained the list from Defendant Kelvyn Cullimore, the Mayor of Cottonwood Heights. Detective Woods accessed the Database and searched the prescription drug records of 480 UFA employees in an effort to "develop suspect leads of those who have the appearance of Opioid dependencies." Consistent with Utah law at the time, Woods did not obtain a search warrant before accessing the Database. Based on the information Woods obtained from the Database search, he developed suspicions about Plaintiffs Pyle and Jones. Neither Plaintiff, however, was ever prosecuted for the thefts from the ambulances.

         Pyle and Jones filed separate, but substantially similar, suits against Detective Woods, Mayor Cullimore, and the city of Cottonwood Heights, alleging, inter alia, violations of their Fourth Amendment rights because Woods did not obtain a search warrant before accessing the Database. Plaintiffs also alleged violations of the FCRA. Defendants filed motions to dismiss both matters, [3] arguing, inter alia, (1) Plaintiffs' constitutional rights were not violated, (2) the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, and (3) the FCRA does not prohibit a search of the Database under the facts at issue.

         Defendants' motion to dismiss was granted in the Pyle matter. As to Pyle's Fourth Amendment claims against Woods and Cullimore, the district court concluded those defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because the law on the constitutionality of a warrantless search of the Database was not clearly established. The court dismissed Pyle's municipal liability claim against the city of Cottonwood Heights without prejudice, concluding the claim implicated the constitutionality of the Database Act and Pyle failed to notify the Utah Attorney General of the claim, as required by Rule 5.1(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Finally, the district court dismissed the FCRA claim because Defendants' conduct fell within an exception to the definition of "consumer report."

         Defendants' motion to dismiss Jones's lawsuit was also granted. As in the Pyle matter, the district court concluded Detective Woods and Mayor Cullimore were entitled to qualified immunity because the constitutional right at issue was not clearly established. The court dismissed the municipal liability claim against the city of Cottonwood Heights on the ground that Jones did not identify any municipal policy or show a link between a policy or custom and any injury caused by the alleged ...


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