SMITH v. ELEY Civ. No. 86-C-0154G.
675 F.Supp. 1301 (1987)
Carlos SMITH, Plaintiff, v. D. Fred ELEY, et al., Defendants.
United States District Court, D. Utah, C.D.
December 29, 1987.
Brian Barnard, Salt Lake City, Utah, for plaintiff.
Jody K. Burnett, Robert C. Keller, Salt Lake City, Utah, for defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
J. THOMAS GREENE, District Judge.
This matter came before the court on October 9, 1987 pursuant to the Summit County defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Summit County Sheriff D. Fred Eley ("Eley"), and Summit County Deputy Sheriffs Joe Offret ("Offret") and Carey Yates ("Yates") were represented by Jody K. Burnett and Robert C. Keller. Carlos Smith was represented by Brian Barnard. The parties presented oral argument and submitted legal memoranda, after which the court took the matter under advisement. Being now fully advised, the court sets forth its Memorandum Decision and Order.
This lawsuit arises from the alleged abduction of Shannon Smith from the home and lawful custody of her father Carlos Smith. Carlos and Peggy Smith were divorced on June 16, 1983. The divorce decree awarded custody of the couple's son, Cody, to Carlos, and awarded custody of their daughter, Shannon, to Peggy. In January 1984, Peggy was experiencing personal and financial problems. She called Carlos and asked him to take care of Shannon for a period of time. Carlos agreed. In April or May of the same year, Peggy called Carlos and said she would like to retrieve Shannon. In response, on May 7,
On May 11, 1984, Peggy Smith came to Summit County to retrieve Shannon. Peggy somehow enlisted the help of deputy sheriffs Offret and Yates from the Summit County Sheriff's Office. The parties dispute whether Peggy knew that Carlos had been awarded temporary custody. However, it is undisputed that she did not advise the deputy sheriffs that Carlos had temporary custody of the children. Peggy apparently presented the deputy sheriffs with a divorce decree, valid on its face, granting her custody of Shannon.
Both officers accompanied Peggy to Carlos Smith's home. There is considerable dispute concerning the events occurring thereafter. Shannon Marie Smith, a 14-year old stepsister of Shannon Smith, was babysitting Shannon. Shannon Marie tried to advise Peggy, and the deputy sheriffs, that Carlos had been granted temporary custody but Shannon Marie was unable to locate the Order. The deputy sheriffs made some attempt to ascertain the validity of Shannon Marie's claim by telephoning the Summit County Attorney who was not available. Sometime thereafter Summit County Sheriff D. Fred Eley telephoned Offret and Yates at the Carlos Smith residence and conversed with them. Defendants contend that in this conversation Eley advised Offret and Yates that if there was no paper work directing them to act, they were not to interfere in the situation, and were only to keep the peace. Defendants contend they did just that and nothing more. Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that Eley directed his deputies to assist in removing Shannon, and that the deputy sheriffs' involvement was active and extensive. In particular, plaintiff contends that Offret and Yates announced to Shannon Marie that Peggy Smith could take Shannon and leave, and that Offret and Yates physically helped control Shannon and left the residence with Peggy. Since this matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment, the court must resolve all such disputes against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
1. Child Custody — Failure to State a Claim
Defendants' first line of argument in support of their motion for summary judgment is that a claim based on a child custody battle cannot be stated under § 1983. Defendants argue that matters involving family relationships are uniquely matters of state law outside federal jurisdiction, citing Wise v. Bravo,
Id. at 1332. This case, however, is not a custody dispute. The state has exercised
Although plaintiff couches his claim in terms of both substantive and procedural due process, it really sounds in procedural due process. Following the Wise analysis, it is clear that, had the State of Utah wished to do so, it could have awarded Peggy Smith custody of Shannon Smith without impermissibly infringing Carlos Smith's liberty interest guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, the State, as represented by the Summit County Sheriff, could approximately enforce such a custody order without violating the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 1336-38 (Seymour, J., concurring). Carlos Smith's complaint is not that his ex-wife impermissibly was given custody, but rather that she and state officials interfered with his custodial rights, without notice or hearing. The interest in maintaining a parent-child relationship has been found protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, see Trujillo,
2. "Mere Negligence" — Failure to State a Claim
Defendants' second line of argument is that the undisputed facts demonstrate that defendants at most were merely negligent in failing to determine the existence and validity of any temporary custody order granting plaintiff custody, and that defendants otherwise merely kept the peace at the scene and did not actually participate in the removal of Shannon Smith. Given these facts, which defendants contend are undisputed, defendants urge that plaintiffs' § 1983 claim must fail since, according to recent Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit precedents, no § 1983 claim may be based on mere negligence.
As defendants note, in Daniels v. Williams,
The second reason defendants' argument must be rejected is that defendant's reading of Daniels and Davidson would bring these cases into direct conflict with the Supreme Court's cases dealing with qualified immunity. Defendants would have the court read Daniels to exclude any claim where the state actor was merely negligent in any aspect of his conduct without regard to whether he acted intentionally in depriving plaintiff of a civil right. The Supreme Court cases dealing with qualified immunity, as distinguished from the initial determination of constitutional violation, plainly hold that state officials must be objectively reasonable in determining whether their actions comport with clearly established law. Anderson v. Creighton, ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987); Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
In this case, defendants contend that they did not know that plaintiff had been granted custody of Shannon Smith, and that at most they failed to exercise due care in determining the existence and validity of any temporary custody order. Since the officers were "merely negligent" in this regard, defendants contend that no claim is stated under the requirements of Daniels and Davidson. However, those cases deal with lack of due care which itself is alleged to infringe some interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. In such circumstances, Daniels and Davidson concluded that a negligent act which causes unintended injury does not deprive one of life, liberty or property under the Due Process Clause. Daniels, 106 S.Ct. at 665. The allegation in this case, however, is that the defendants intended to deprive plaintiff of custody of his child after conducting a negligent investigation. An officer's negligence in ascertaining the lawfulness of his conduct is not usually relevant to whether a violation of some constitutional right occurred,
Third, defendants' argument also must be rejected because defendants' view of the undisputed facts in this case is not supported in the record currently before the court. Plaintiff has pointed to evidence tending to show that defendants actively were involved in the removal of Shannon
3. Sheriff Eley—"Affirmative Link"
Defendants next contend that summary judgment in favor of Sheriff Eley is appropriate because he was not present at the scene, and the plaintiffs cannot establish any "affirmative link," between Eley's conduct and the plaintiff's claimed deprivation. The law of the Tenth Circuit in this regard is clear. A supervisor may be liable under § 1983 for "causing" a deprivation of a constitutional right. To be so liable, however, there must be an affirmative link between the conduct of the supervisor and the deprivation alleged. Rizzo v. Goode,
As noted above, on a motion for summary judgment the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. From this perspective it is clear that material issues of fact exist with respect to Eley's conduct under the first theory. Plaintiff has presented evidence tending to show that Eley directed the officers to assist in the removal of Shannon Smith. Deposition of Shannon Marie Smith, at 16-17. Plaintiff's position under the second theory is more difficult. In Oklahoma City v. Tuttle,
4. Qualified Immunity
Finally, defendants claim summary judgment should be granted in this case because the defendant sheriffs are entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law under Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
In Schaefer v. Wilcock,
In this case, plaintiff asserts that the actions of Eley, Offret and Yates violated his clearly established liberty interest in maintaining a parent-child relationship and his right to procedural due process. In support of this assertion plaintiff cites Wise v. Bravo,
Having concluded that the rights plaintiff asserts are and were clearly established at the time the incidents in question occurred, the court must now determine whether the contours of the rights were sufficiently clear that the defendants reasonably should have known that their conduct was unlawful. The court notes preliminarily that there are material issues of fact regarding the conduct of the deputy sheriffs at the scene. The defendants contend their actions consisted merely of keeping the peace. Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends the sheriffs were actively engaged in changing custody from Carlos to Peggy, even after they learned that Carlos had custody of Shannon under claim of right. As the court has noted, on a motion for summary judgment, such disputes must be resolved against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
Assuming the very doubtful proposition that county sheriffs should assist in the enforcement of valid custody orders, absent express direction from the court, this court concludes that a reasonable officer must know he may not assist a parent in obtaining custody in violation of a court order. In fact, Utah has made custodial
For the reasons aforesaid, defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied. This Memorandum Decision and Order will suffice as the court's final action on this motion; no further Order need be prepared by counsel.
- No Cases Found