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McGuire v. Cooper

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

December 30, 2016

CORY COOPER, TIMOTHY F. DUNNING, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Douglas County, Nebraska, and DOUGLAS COUNTY, Defendants.


          Thomas D. Thalken United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on Megan McGuire's (McGuire) Motion to Compel Complaint Documents (Filing No. 57) and Second Motion to Compel Complaint Documents (Filing No. 61). McGuire seeks to compel discovery regarding complaints of sexual misconduct against law enforcement officers; improper use of in-car video systems; improper searches and seizures; and improper physical contact. McGuire filed indexes of evidence attached to the motions. Timothy F. Dunning, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Douglas County, Nebraska, and Douglas County (collectively Douglas County) filed briefs (Filing Nos. 62 and 65) and indexes of evidence (Filing Nos. 63 and 66) opposing the motions. McGuire filed briefs (Filing Nos. 64 and 69) and additional evidence either attached (Filing No. 64) or as a separate index (Filing No. 70). Cory Cooper (Cooper) did not participate in briefing.


         On February 10, 2013, then Douglas County Sheriff's Office (DCSO) Deputy Cooper sexually assaulted McGuire after placing her in the backseat of his patrol cruiser, which was parked at Zorinsky Lake Park. See Filing No. 1 - Complaint ¶¶ 8-26. Subsequently the DCSO and Omaha Police Department investigated the assault. Id. ¶ 29. McGuire alleges Cooper falsified police reports regarding his location; however, the patrol cruiser's GPS system confirmed he was at the park. Id. ¶ 30. On June 10, 2013, Cooper was charged with first-degree sexual assault and attempted tampering with evidence. Id. ¶ 32. On April 17, 2014, Cooper pleaded no contest to third degree assault and was sentenced to six months in jail. Id. ¶ 30. Based on the assault and surrounding events, McGuire filed this lawsuit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the defendants violated her constitutional rights. Id. at 1. Specifically, McGuire alleges four claims for relief. First, McGuire asserts the defendants violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure with malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference pursuant to DCSO policies or practices, including failure to adequately train, supervise, and control officers, and failure to adequately investigate, punish, and discipline prior instances of unconstitutional misconduct against citizens. Id. at 5-6. Second, McGuire alleges the defendants, motivated by gender animus, denied her equal protection of the law, causing her emotional distress and anguish. Id. at 6-7. Third, McGuire alleges the defendants abridged her right to due process by engaging in arbitrary government action depriving her of her liberty in a manner so malfeasant as to shock the conscience. Id. 7-8. Finally, McGuire seeks indemnification from Douglas County for any compensatory damages award against Cooper under Nebraska law. Id. at 8. After their motion to dismiss was denied, Douglas County filed an answer denying liability for McGuire's claims. See Filing No. 30 - Answer.

         McGuire seeks discovery from Douglas County regarding complaints of law enforcement officers' (1) improper use of in-car video systems; (2) improper searches and seizures; (3) improper physical contact; and (4) sexual misconduct, including misconduct by corrections officers. See Filing Nos. 57 and 61. McGuire contends Douglas County's responses to these types of complaints relates to her constitutional claims stemming from policies and practices resulting in systemic failures in officer training and supervision leading Cooper to abuse his power to assault her. See Filing No. 16 p. 1. More specifically, McGuire alleges that although Douglas County's written policy required male officers to use in-car video systems during stops involving female detainees, the evidence suggests no supervisor enforced the policy and Cooper violated the policy when he assaulted McGuire and another woman, in separate incidents. See Filing No. 57 - Motion p. 3. Similarly, McGuire states she has a “strong suspicion” Douglas County was on “clear notice that its officers had a pattern of violating constitutional rights, yet created a system to shield those officers from accountability.” Id. at 5. In support, McGuire asserts the evidence disclosed to date indicates Cooper snuck up on people in parked cars in public parks, sometimes resulting in searches. Id. Cooper was commended for this conduct, which he thought was appropriate an acceptable. Id.

         Douglas County denies the discovery requests are relevant and argues the requests are overly broad and unduly burdensome. See Filing No. 62 - Response p. 5, 7, and 12; Filing No. 65 - Second Response p. 10. Additionally, Douglas County argues the request for complaints of improper physical contact is vague and ambiguous. See Filing No. 62 - Response p. 12. Douglas County agrees evidence of a pattern of sexually assaultive misconduct amongst Sheriff Dunning's subordinates is relevant; Douglas County resists production of documents for personnel not subordinate to Sheriff Dunning or constitutional conduct dissimilar to that alleged in the complaint. See Filing No. 62 - Response p. 14; Filing No. 65 - Second Response p. 10.


         “Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). “Broad discovery is an important tool for the litigant, and so ‘[r]elevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.'” WWP, Inc. v. Wounded Warriors Family Support, Inc., 628 F.3d 1032, 1039 (8th Cir. 2011) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)). Accordingly, relevant information includes “any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). Mere speculation that information might be useful will not suffice; litigants seeking to compel discovery must describe with a reasonable degree of specificity the information they hope to obtain and its importance to their case. See Cervantes v. Time, Inc., 464 F.2d 986, 994 (8th Cir. 1972). Once the requesting party meets the threshold relevance burden, generally “[a]ll discovery requests are a burden on the party who must respond thereto. Unless the task of producing or answering is unusual, undue or extraordinary, the general rule requires the entity answering or producing the documents to bear that burden.” Continental Ill. Nat'l Bank & Trust Co. of Chicago v. Caton, 136 F.R.D. 682, 684-85 (D. Kan. 1991) (citation omitted). The court has authority to limit the scope of discovery. Roberts v. Shawnee Mission Ford, Inc., 352 F.3d 358, 361 (8th Cir. 2003).

         A. In-Car Video System Complaints

         McGuire seeks:

all documents that relate in any way to any complaint, charge, accusation, disciplinary proceeding by any supervisor at DCSO, from 2008 to 2013 that an officer, supervisor, or other employee of the DCSO improperly used any in-car video system, failed to use any in-car video system, or failed to save video evidence from any in-car video system.

         See Filing No. 57 - Ex. 1 Request for Production (Second Set) No. 2.

         McGuire contends Cooper's modus operandi of stopping women without using his in-car video system supports her request. See Filing No. 57 - Motion p. 3. Further, McGuire argues the discovery is relevant to whether Douglas County had notice of the officer's noncompliance with departmental policy of using the cameras and taking meaningful steps to train, supervise, and discipline officers regarding such ill-use. Id. Finally, McGuire argues Douglas County's practice of allowing the ill-use “caused . . . Cooper to believe he could get away with not using the in-car video and with sexually assaulting Plaintiff in his police vehicle.” Id. at 4.

         Douglas County seeks to limit the requests to sexual misconduct. See Filing No. 62 - Response p. 5-6. Douglas County argues failure to use an in-car video system does not, by itself, constitute a constitutional violation and would not provide notice of sexually abusive conduct. Id. at 6. Further Douglas County states, ‚Äúthere is no indication whatsoever that other alleged incidents involved any claim of sexual misconduct or other ...

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