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Riggs v. Nye County

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 21, 2019

HOLLY RIGGS, E.R., and J.R., Plaintiffs
NYE COUNTY, et al., Defendants



         Plaintiff Holly Riggs was arrested for child neglect after leaving her two minor children, plaintiffs E.R. and J.R., in a splash pool for a few minutes while she went inside her house. She sues Nye County and several Nye County Sheriff's Office employees for various claims under federal and state law. She generally asserts that the defendants lacked probable cause to arrest her, disrupted familial relationships by arresting her while her daughter was in a perilous medical condition, and caused extreme emotional distress. Defendants Nye County, Sheriff Sharon Wehrly, Under Sheriff Brent Moody, Lieutenant Michael Eisenloffel, Sergeant Corey Fowles, and Deputy Richard Deutch move for summary judgment on all claims. The plaintiffs also move for summary judgment on all claims. I grant the defendants' motion and deny the plaintiffs' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arises out of an incident in September 2015 at Riggs' home in Pahrump. ECF No. 37-4 at 5-6. Riggs and her two children, E.R. and J.R., went in their backyard to play in a splash pool. Id. at 7. At the time, E.R. was 18 months old and J.R. was just about to turn four years old. Id. at 8. Riggs went back inside the house for a few minutes to check on a cake she was baking. Id. at 7, 8. The children remained by the pool. Id. at 7. Riggs went into the master bedroom and looked out the window to check on the children. Id. at 8. According to Riggs, she went to this particular window because it gave the best view to where the children were. Id.

         When Riggs looked out the window, she saw her son holding her daughter in the splash pool. Id. E.R.'s arms were limp and her head was rolled back. Id. Riggs knocked on the window and J.R. dropped E.R. into the water. Id. E.R. was not moving. Id. Riggs ran outside and asked her son what happened, and he said he did not know. Id. Riggs carried E.R. into the house and called 911. Id. at 8-9. While waiting for paramedics to arrive, Riggs pushed on E.R.'s stomach and swept food and vomit out of E.R.'s mouth. Id. at 9. E.R. regained consciousness and started breathing just before paramedics arrived. Id.

         In addition to the paramedics, Nye County Sheriff's Office personnel responded to the emergency call. ECF No. 37-2 at 5. First on the scene were Deputy James Brainard and Sergeant David Boruchowitz. Id. As they entered the home, they saw Riggs on the living room floor with her daughter. Id. at 6. While paramedics were attending to E.R., Boruchowitz spoke to J.R., who told him that Riggs was sleeping while the children were in the pool. Id. at 6. Boruchowitz notified Child Protective Services and Brainard notified the detective unit to follow up in case E.R.'s condition worsened. Id.

         Paramedics transferred E.R. to Desert View Hospital. Id. at 6. At the hospital, Riggs filled out a voluntary statement. Id. at 10. Defendants Corey Fowles and Michael Eisenloffel, both Detectives, arrived at the hospital to conduct a child neglect investigation. ECF No. 37-3 at 4-5. Fowles interviewed Riggs and she told him that she was baking a cake and heard the timer go off, so she left the children by the pool and went inside. Id. at 5. Riggs told Fowles that she was in the house up to three minutes. Id. at 22. Boruchowitz later told Fowles that J.R. had told him that Riggs was sleeping. Id. at 6, 22. Boruchowitz also told Fowles that Riggs told the fire department personnel that she was doing dishes at the time of the incident. Id. at 7, 22. Fowles also spoke to the emergency room physician, who told him that E.R. had an inflamed trachea and lungs due to water inhalation. Id. at 8, 22.

         Riggs' husband came to the hospital. ECF No. 37-4 at 13. He and Riggs arranged for some family friends to watch J.R. while they attended to E.R.'s situation. Id.

         E.R.'s oxygen level was low and her heart rate was high, so medical personnel told Riggs they wanted to take E.R. by ambulance to a hospital in Las Vegas. Id. When E.R.'s condition worsened, medical personnel intubated her and decided to fly her to Las Vegas by helicopter. Id.

         As Riggs and her husband were heading to the helicopter, Fowles and Eisenloffel questioned Riggs again. Id. at 14-15. After speaking with Riggs further, Eisenloffel decided to arrest her for child neglect. ECF Nos. 37-3 at 10; 37-8 at 8-9, 11. Fowles placed her into custody. ECF Nos. 37-3 at 11; ECF No. 37-4 at 15. Riggs' husband got on the helicopter and accompanied E.R. to the hospital in Las Vegas. ECF No. 37-4 at 16.

         Riggs spent approximately nine hours in jail. Id. During that time, her father-in-law retrieved J.R. from the family friends and bailed Riggs out of jail. Id. The three of them then went to Las Vegas. Id. E.R. fully recovered from the incident. Id. at 20. The district attorney's office later declined to prosecute Riggs. ECF No. 37-8 at 11.

         Based on these facts, the plaintiffs sue Nye County, Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly, Under Sheriff Brent Moody, Eisenloffel, Fowles, and Deputy Richard Deutch.[1] The plaintiffs assert a federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that all of the defendants violated (1) Riggs' Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure and (2) her and her children's Fourteenth Amendment rights to familial relationships.[2] They also assert against all defendants state law claims for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. Finally, they assert a negligent supervision and training claim against Wehrly and allege Nye County is vicariously liable for Wehrly's negligence.

         The defendants move for summary judgment on a variety of grounds, but mainly on the basis that the detectives had probable cause to arrest Riggs. They also assert they are entitled to qualified immunity for the federal claims and discretionary function immunity for the state law claims. The plaintiffs move for summary judgment as well, arguing the defendants lacked probable cause for the arrest, and the decision to arrest Riggs as her child was being airlifted to Las Vegas for medical treatment shocks the conscience.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows “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), (c). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts demonstrating there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 2000); Sonner v. Schwabe N. Am., Inc., 911 F.3d 989, 992 (9th Cir. 2018) (“To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must produce evidence of a genuine dispute of material fact that could satisfy its burden at ...

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