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Pierson v. Storey County

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 5, 2015

ERIC PIERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
STOREY COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

ORDER (Defs.' Motion for Summary Judgment - dkt. no. 37)

MIRANDA M. DU, District Judge.

I. SUMMARY

Before the Court is Defendants Storey County, Greg Hess, Laura Grant, and Jim Miller's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). (Dkt. no. 37.) For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted.

II. BACKGROUND

The background facts are recounted in the Court's Order granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, which resulted in dismissal of all but two claims for malicious prosecution under federal and state law. (Dkt. no. 36.) While the Amended Complaint is scant on the facts, the Court gathers the following facts relating to Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claims.[1]

Plaintiff Eric Pierson ran for a Commissioner seat on the Board of County Commissioners for Storey County, but failed to win. (Dkt. no. 3 ¶ 8.) The Amended Complaint does not provide the date of the election, although Plaintiff's deposition testimony referred to the 2006 election. (Dkt. no. 37-1, Exh. 1, at 19.) During the campaign, Plaintiff expressed his disagreement with Defendant Greg Hess, who was a Commissioner at the time, and Defendant Jim Miller, who was Storey County's Sheriff at the time, on a number of issues, including alleged corruption in County government and residential development in northern Storey County. (Dkt. no. 3 ¶ 8.)

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was arrested on December 24, 2007, and the charges remained pending until the state court dismissed them in January 2012. ( Id. ¶ 14.) The Complaint does not allege who arrested him, on what charges, or any other relevant details. Defendants' Motion offers these details. On December 24, 2007, the Storey County District Attorney's Office filed a Criminal Complaint against Plaintiff for two felony counts of sexual assault in violation of NRS § 200.366 and one felony count of battery with the intent to commit a sexual assault in violation of NRS § 200.400(4)(b). (Dkt. no. 37-1, Exh. 10.) The allegations in support of the Criminal Complaint involved Plaintiff's alleged conduct directed at his former spouse of more than ten years, Robertina Pierson Brown.

Plaintiff and Ms. Brown separated on July 4, 2007. (Dkt. no. 37-1, Exh. 1, at 4-6.) Two days later, Ms. Brown obtained a temporary protective order against Plaintiff for domestic violence from the Justice Court of Virginia Township. ( Id.; dkt. no. 37-1, Exh. 2, at 21.) On July 10, 2007, Ms. Brown filed a report against Plaintiff with the Storey County Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office"), claiming that Plaintiff had pointed a loaded firearm at her during previous fights and requesting that the firearm be removed by the Sheriff's Office for safekeeping. ( Id., Exh. 2, at 29.) On August 21, 2007, Ms. Brown filed a written statement with the Sheriff's Office wherein she claimed to have been subjected to acts of domestic violence by Plaintiff in the past year, including an alleged rape in May 2007. ( Id., Exh. 5, at 37.) The Sheriff's Office responded and conducted an investigation, including interviewing Ms. Brown and her sister and reviewing Ms. Brown's medical records. ( Id., Exh. 5, at 34-38.) The Sheriff's Office referred the case to the Storey County District Attorney's Office ("DA's Office") with a request that a criminal complaint be initiated. ( Id., Exh. 5, at 36) On September 18, 2007, the Storey County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution requesting that the criminal prosecution of Plaintiff be referred to the Nevada Attorney Generals' Office due to a conflict of interest created by a personal relationship between Plaintiff and the Storey County District Attorney. ( Id., Exh. 7.) The Nevada Attorney General's Office declined, citing a lack of resources. ( Id., Exh. 8.)

On December 21, 2007, Ms. Brown provided another statement to the Sheriff's Office in which she alleged that she had been raped by Plaintiff on June 1, 2007. ( Id., Exh. 9, at 48-52.) Again, the Sheriff's Office conducted an investigation, including interviewing Ms. Brown and her friend Sandra Nicholson. ( Id., Exh. 9, at 48-52.) Three days later, on December 24, 2007, the DA's Office filed a Criminal Complaint against Plaintiff ("Criminal Case"). ( Id., Exh. 10.) Defendant Laura Grant ("Special Prosecutor") was appointed as a Special Prosecutor to prosecute Plaintiff. ( Id., Exh. 1, at 16.) The preliminary hearing occurred over the course of two days in February and March 2008. ( Id., Exh. 1, at 17.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and had the opportunity to present evidence and to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, including Ms. Brown. ( Id., Exh. 1, at 9-10.) The presiding justice of the peace concluded there was probable cause to bind Plaintiff over for trial on all charges. ( Id., Exh. 1, at 10, 57.)

One of the issues raised in Criminal Case involved Plaintiff's request for an order for independent psychological evaluation of Ms. Brown. ( Id., Exh. 13.) In April 2009, the presiding district court judge denied the request without prejudice based on a finding that Plaintiff failed to produce evidence that Ms. Brown's "mental or emotional state may have affected her veracity." ( Id., Exh. 13.) Several months later, in August 2009, the court granted Plaintiff's request, finding that Plaintiff offered information from a physician, "including his opinion to a reasonable psychiatric certainty[, ] that Ms. Brown's mental or emotional state may have affected her veracity." ( Id., Exh. 14.) The district court further ordered the prosecution to provide the physician who was to examine Ms. Brown with "all relevant records impacting Ms. Brown's medical and psychiatric status." ( Id., Exh. 14.) The Special Prosecutor represented to Plaintiff's counsel in the Criminal Case that all relevant medical documents had been produced, but that she could not advise Ms. Brown to waive her right to privacy by consenting to disclose her medical and psychological records. ( Id., Exh. 15.)

The Special Prosecutor's position that the prosecution's discovery obligation extended only to documents in its possession and that the prosecution could not advise Ms. Brown to waive her right to privacy, as well as Ms. Brown's refusal to provide the medical release, became the subject of considerable dispute in the Criminal Case. ( Id., Exhs. 17, 18.) The dispute apparently led Plaintiff to file a motion to dismiss, which the state court denied. ( Id., Exh. 17.) Plaintiff then sought a petition for writ of mandamus from the Nevada Supreme Court to prohibit the district court from proceeding to trial or, in the alternative, to dismiss the charges. ( Id., Exh. 18.) The Nevada Supreme Court denied the petition. ( Id.) About two weeks before trial, on January 31, 2012, the state court granted Plaintiff's motion, entitled "Motion in Limine Re: Testimony Violates Confrontation and Due Process Clause."[2] ( Id., Exh. 19.) In that order, the district court precluded the prosecution from offering any testimony from Ms. Brown. The court dismissed the Criminal Complaint, citing the following reason: "in light of the State's acknowledgment that it has no case without the testimony of the alleged victim, this matter cannot continue to trial, and accordingly the action against Mr. Pierson is dismissed, with prejudice." ( Id.)

III. LEGAL STANDARD

The purpose of summary judgment is to avoid unnecessary trials when there is no dispute as to the facts before the court. Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994). Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits "show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). An issue is "genuine" if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact-finder could find for the nonmoving party and a dispute is "material" if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, however, summary judgment is not appropriate. Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995). "The amount of evidence necessary to raise a genuine issue of material fact is enough to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.'" Aydin Corp. v. Loral Corp., 718 F.2d 897, 902 (9th Cir. 1983) (quoting First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)). In evaluating a summary judgment motion, a court views all facts and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Kaiser Cement Corp. v. Fishbach & Moore, Inc., 793 F.2d 1100, 1103 (9th Cir. 1986).

The moving party bears the burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Zoslaw v. MCA Distrib. Corp., 693 F.2d 870, 883 (9th Cir. 1982). "In order to carry its burden of production, the moving party must either produce evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or defense or show that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). Once the moving party satisfies Rule 56's requirements, the burden shifts to the party resisting the motion to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party "may not rely on denials in the pleadings but must produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that the dispute exists, " Bhan v. NME Hosps., Inc., 929 F.2d 1404, 1409 (9th Cir. 1991), and "must do more than simply show that there is ...


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