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Claro v. City of Sulphur

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

December 16, 2019

JANIS CLARO, as next friend and Guardian of Lisa C. Schaapveld, an incapacitated person, Plaintiff,
CITY OF SULPHUR; MURRAY COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS; OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY; JACK LAFOUNTAIN, in his individual capacity; JAY MCCLURE, in his individual capacity; VERONICA MEDINA, in her individual capacity; WILLIAM ODOM, in his individual capacity; and DAVID SHORES, in his supervisory capacity, Defendants.


          "Steven P. Shreder United States Magistrate Judge

         This case arises out of an encounter between Lisa Schaapveld and officers with the City of Sulphur Police Department, the Murray County Sheriff's Office, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, among others. Due to a traumatic brain injury, Ms. Schaapveld has been found to be incapacitated and her aunt, Janis Claro, has been appointed as her guardian. The Plaintiff has named as Defendants the City of Sulphur, the Murray County Board of County Commissioners (representing the Murray County Sheriff's Office), the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (representing the Oklahoma Highway Patrol), Jack LaFountain in his individual capacity, Jay McClure in his individual capacity, Veronica Medina in her individual capacity, William Odom in his individual capacity, and David Shores in his supervisory capacity as Chief of the Sulphur Police Department. The Plaintiff has alleged claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as claims under Oklahoma state law. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Defendant Board's Motion and Brief for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 174]; Defendant Jay McClure's Motion and Brief for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 175]; Defendants City of Sulphur, David Shores, Jack LaFountain, Veronica Medina, and William Odoms' Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support [Docket No. 179]; and Defendant Oklahoma Department of Public Safety's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support [Docket No. 183] should all be GRANTED.

         I. Procedural History

         On October 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present case in this Court, alleging four causes of action against the various Defendants. The Plaintiff's first claim for relief is raised pursuant to Oklahoma state law as to the City of Sulphur, Murray County Board of County Commissioners, and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, as well as all of the individual officers, alleging negligence. The second claim for relief is raised pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as to Defendants Medina, LaFountain, Odom, and McClure, alleging unconstitutional use of excessive and unreasonable force. The third claim for relief is raised pursuant to § 1983 as to the City of Sulphur and Murray County Board of County Commissioners, alleging constitutional violations related to failure to train and supervise. Finally, the Plaintiff raises a supervisory liability claim pursuant to § 1983 as to Defendant Shores in his “supervisory” capacity, alleging constitutional violations related to failure to intervene and prevent the use of excessive force. The Court addresses these claims in turn.

         II. Law Applicable

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the record shows that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The moving party must show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986), with the evidence taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). However, “a party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . or . . . showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         III. Factual Background

         The undisputed facts reflect that Lisa Schaapveld lived in Sulphur, Oklahoma, and owned a dog grooming business called Supermutts. On January 30, 2015, Ms. Schaapveld was admitted to Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma in Ardmore, Oklahoma, with reports of suicidal thoughts, severe depression, paranoia, and hallucinations. She was discharged on February 2, 2015. Ms. Schaapveld was having a domestic argument with her partner, Angie Seeley, sometime on February 9, 2015. Ms. Seeley lost contact with Ms. Schaapveld and went to Supermutts to try to locate her, noting that Ms. Schaapveld's vehicle was parked in front of the shop. Still unable to make contact with Ms. Schaapveld, Ms. Seeley approached Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Tracey Laxton and asked him for help with Ms. Schaapveld. He and two other officers knocked on the door of the shop, and Ms. Schaapveld came within their view and told them she wanted to be left alone. Seeing no immediate cause for concern at that time, the officers left the store.

         Shortly thereafter, a 911 dispatcher answered a call at 2:56 p.m. that someone was inside the Supermutts with a gun. The first officer on the scene saw Ms. Schaapveld acting strangely and that she would not respond to him or open the locked door. He then went to the pawn shop located next door, where a man said he saw a woman with a gun who had said something about suicide. The officer then returned to Supermutts with another officer, at which time they observed Ms. Schaapveld with a revolver in her hand. They asked her to put the gun down, but she refused and made further suicidal statements, including that she was only coming out in a body bag.

         As this situation developed, other law enforcement agencies also responded to the scene to assist the Sulphur Police Department (“SPD”), including the Murray County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”), the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (“OHP”), and, apparently, rangers from the National Park Service. All the responding officers worked together to set up a perimeter to keep civilians out of the area. SPD Officer Medina, one of the named Defendants, approached the building and began engaging Ms. Schaapveld with Captain Lafountain, also a named Defendant, who served as her assistant. Defendant Medina and Ms. Schaapveld spoke off and on for two hours, and Defendant Medina even arranged the delivery of a hamburger to Ms. Schaapveld during this time. Other officers, including Defendant Odom, another SPD officer, took a position on the other side of the building. Ms. Schaapveld was holding the gun the entire time, although it is disputed as to whether she “waived it around” or aimed it at anyone aside from herself.

         SPD Chief David Shores later arrived at the scene and took control as the officer in charge. Around 5:00 p.m., he approached Ms. Schaapveld and demanded that she put the gun down and come out, causing her to become agitated and leave the front of the store and the view of the officers. Upon returning to the front of the store, she refused to speak with Defendant Medina anymore, but eventually began a dialogue with OHP Trooper Laxton.[1] As part of their conversations, Ms. Schaapveld conveyed that she would come out if methamphetamine was provided.

         At some point after dark fell, Ms. Schaapveld turned off the lights in the front of the store and went to the rear of the store out of view of the officers, but returned to the front about thirty minutes later, turned on the lights, and began hanging a curtain or sheet to cover the north window in the store. This was the window through which Ms. Schaapveld had been communicating with various officers. She placed the gun down in order to cover the window, although it is disputed as to whether the gun was placed at her feet, or approximately ten feet away. While doing this, Trooper Laxton asked her to not cover up the window. Chief Shores, believing Ms. Schaapveld had been separated from the gun, ordered the SPD Special Response Team (“SRT”) to breach the door and secure the gun. The SRT, led by SPD Officer Jason Conyer attempted to use a t-post driver to break the door open three times, but was unsuccessful. While Officer Conyer unsuccessfully attempted to break the door down, Trooper Laxton attempted to distract Ms. Schaapveld from the officers trying to break the door down by breaking the north window. Defendant McClure, an MCSO Deputy, was standing near Trooper Laxton and the broken north window, and reached inside to move the curtain. Upon moving the curtain, Defendant McClure saw Ms. Schaapveld with the gun again in her hand, shot her while backing away (and presumably allowing the curtain to fall back into place), then moved the curtain again to see Ms. Schaapveld turning in the direction of officers positioned as the south window of the store. He fired a second and third time as he saw her turning toward the officers then back toward him. Plaintiff disputes whether Ms. Schaapveld was pointing the gun at the officers during this time, contending she was holding the gun in her hand not in a threatening manner but like a “scared little kid, ” but it is undisputed that the gun remained in her hand.

         While Defendant McClure was in position and shooting through the north window, Defendants Medina, LaFountain, and Odom had moved to the south window to see what was happening. All three fired their weapons through the south window, shattering it. Ms. Schaapveld was hit by bullets seven times, and twelve casings were recovered at the scene - four from Defendant McClure's service weapon and eight from the service weapons of Defendants Medina, Lafountain, and Odom. An OSBI investigation determined that Ms. Schappveld's gun contained eight bullets which had not been fired, and each round had at least one firing pin strike on it although testing found the gun operable and capable of firing. Ms. Schaapveld sustained seven different injuries as a result of the gunshots from the officers, including one gunshot to the forehead which caused a traumatic brain injury. Due to the traumatic brain injury, Ms. Schaapveld's aunt, Janis Claro, was appointed her legal guardian and has been named the Plaintiff in this case. Officer Conyer and Trooper Laxton were also struck by bullets or bullet fragments that were determined to be ricocheted bullets from other officers' guns, and were treated and released that evening.


         Negligence under the OGTCA (All Defendants).

         The Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that law enforcement officers from the City of Sulphur (the Sulphur Police Department), the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (Oklahoma Highway Patrol (“OHP”), and the Murray County Sheriff's Office, who were all acting within the scope of their authority and under color of law, owed Ms. Schaapveld a duty of reasonable care, which was breached by their actions on February 9, 2015, resulting in negligence and recklessness. All Defendants contend that they are immune from suit under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (“OGTCA”), and that even if they are not entitled to immunity, their actions were objectively reasonable, which is the required standard of care. Under the OGTCA, “[i]n no instance shall an employee of the state or political subdivision acting within the scope of his [or her] employment be named as defendant with the exception that suits based on the conduct of resident physicians and interns[.]” 51 Okla. Stat. § 163(C). As Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that each individual defendant was acting within the scope of their employment, see Docket No. 2, pp. 2-3, 13, ¶¶ 7-12, 85, each of the individual defendants are entitled to summary judgment on this claim. See Burns v. Holcombe, 2010 WL 2756954, at *11 (E.D. Okla. July 12, 2010) (“In light of the Plaintiff's admission these individual Defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, the clear language of the GTCA and recent case law evidencing the immunity from suit provided to individual employees of a government agency or political subdivision acting within the scope of his/her employment, this Court finds Defendants [] are entitled to summary judgment on the tort claim[ of] negligence.”). See also Shephard v. CompSource Oklahoma, 2009 OK 25, ¶ 20, 209 P.3d 288, 294 (“The Legislature has provided immunity for the state employees acting within the scope of their employment.”).

         As to the governmental Defendants, under Oklahoma law, “the GTCA is the exclusive remedy for an injured plaintiff to recover against a governmental entity in tort. Subject only to the GTCA's specific limitations and exceptions, governmental immunity is waived under the GTCA.” Tuffy's, Inc. v. City of Oklahoma City, 2009 OK 4, ¶ 7, 212 P.3d 1158, 1163. Furthermore, “[t]he doctrine of respondeat superior is applicable under the GTCA. Under the theory of respondeat superior, one acts within the scope of employment if engaged in work assigned, or if doing that which is proper, necessary and usual to accomplish the work assigned, or doing that which is customary within the particular trade or business.” Id. See also Ice v. Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Dep't of Consumer Credit, 2017 WL 2351008, at *2 (W.D. Okla. May 30, 2017) (“The GTCA authorizes suit against the State or its departments based on conduct of employees ‘acting within the scope of their employment,' that is, ‘in good faith within the duties of the employee's office or employment.'”) (emphasis added), quoting 51 Okla. Stat. §§ 152(12) & 153(A). The Oklahoma Supreme Court reminds litigants that, “We have consistently held that a municipality is liable for the tortious acts of police officers committed within the scope of employment as defined by the GTCA.” Tuffy's, 2009 OK ¶ 20, 212 P.3d at 1167.

         “In order to state a claim for negligence, a litigant must show the existence of a duty on the part of the defendant to protect plaintiff from injury, a breach of the duty, and an injury to plaintiff proximately resulting from the breach.” Id. at ¶ 21, 212 P.3d at 1167. In the special category of police officers making an arrest, the standard of care is that he is required “to use only such force in making an arrest as a reasonably prudent police officer would use in light of the objective circumstances confronting the officer at the time of the arrest.” Morales v. City of Oklahoma City ex rel. Oklahoma City Police Dept., 2010 OK 9, ¶ 26, 230 P.3d 869, 880. As relevant to this case, “[u]nder circumstances where a law enforcement officer has allegedly used excessive force while attempting to take custody of an armed, suicidal individual, the Tenth Circuit has held that [51 Okla. Stat.] § 155(6) immunizes the political subdivision from liability.” Hodge v. Keene, 2013 WL 372460, at *10 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 30, 2013), citing Myers v. Oklahoma County Bd. of County Commissioners, 151 F.3d 1313, 1321 (10th Cir. 1998) (“In this case [] we are concerned with an act committed by law enforcement personnel while attempting to take an individual - Mr. Myers - into protective custody. . . . [E]ven if the officers had committed the alleged torts, the County would be immune[.]”), and Samuel v. City of Broken Arrow, 506 Fed.Appx. 751, 756 (10th Cir. 2012) (“Garrett was seeking to protect the Samuels and the bystanders, including ‘to protect [Nathan Samuel] from harming [him]self or others' rather than attempting to arrest him or otherwise carry out a law enforcement function. Because Garrett's use of force was ‘[]related to the method of providing police protection to the public' rather than to a law enforcement activity such as arresting a suspect, we conclude that the City is entitled to immunity from tort liability under §155(6).”), citing, inter alia, Schmidt v. Grady County, Okla., 1997 OK 92, ¶¶ 2, 15, 943 P.2d 595, 596, 598. Accordingly, the political subdivisions named in this case-The City of Sulphur, the Murry County Board of County Commissioners, and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety-are likewise entitled to immunity under the OGTCA.

         Excessive force pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 (Medina, ...

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