PUBLIC LIBRARY: Disruptive patron’s privileges properly terminated… officer entitled to qualified immunity in investigating criminal trespass on library property… no showing of standard of care or that it was breached by library and officers reacting to banned patron’s aggressive conduct… Molloy.
Magistrate Lynch recommended that Defendants’ motions for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part. He determined that disputed material fact issues remained as to whether Officer Snavely negligently investigated Michael Spreadbury’s purported trespass on Bitterroot Public Library property, whether Officer Bruner-Murphy negligently investigated allegations that he was stalking the Library Director, and whether Library Chairman Robert Brophy negligently revoked his library privileges, and denied summary judgment on Spreadbury’s claims for punitives and injunctive relief relating to access to the Library. (It is important to note that Lynch did not find any defendant liable for negligence, contrary to Spreadbury’s assertions. When a judge denies one party’s motion for summary judgment, summary judgment is not automatically granted for the other party.) The Library and Hamilton filed objections and Spreadbury filed a response which appears to include objections to Lynch’s findings. The parties are entitled to de novo review of findings or recommendations to which they object and clear error review as to the rest.
A. Termination of library privileges. Spreadbury was not wrongfully deprived of his statutory and constitutional liberty interest in the right to use a public library. He intimidated Library staff and patrons after it refused his request to include a letter he had written to Pres. Obama in its collection. We all have a right to use our public libraries. Kreimer (3rd Cir. 1992). But the right is not unqualified. Id. One may be deprived of a liberty interest if afforded due process, and Spreadbury was granted adequate procedural protections. Pinnacle Armor (9th Cir. 2011). Lynch properly identified the Library as a limited public forum,
obligated only to permit the public to exercise rights that are consistent with the nature of the Library and consistent with the government’s intent in designating the Library as a public forum. Kreimer.
A public library may refuse service to anyone who willfully violates a library policy. MCA 22-1-311. The Library Operation Policy stated:
Patron behavior that becomes disruptive to other library users or staff or constitutes a public nuisance is not allowed and the person(s) will be asked to leave. The library reserves the right to refuse service to anyone not complying with established library policies.
Contrary to Spreadbury’s assertions, the policy does not state that the Library may only refuse service to a disruptive patron if it has previously asked him to leave. He willfully engaged in behavior that became disruptive. At least twice he confronted staff in an intimidating manner. His reference to the Unabomber in a letter to the director could reasonably be construed as threatening. Willfulness “does not require any intent to violate the law or injure another.” MCA 1-1-204(5). It is enough that he had a “purpose of willingness,” id., to confront staff and reference the Unabomber, and a reasonable person would see his behavior as disruptive. Accordingly, he violated a Library policy, and it could refuse service as long as it provided notice and opportunity to be heard. Hill (MD Pa. 2006). Based on repeated disruptive incidents that frightened staff, he was given written notice that he was banned and told why. He was afforded an opportunity to be heard. He emailed a member of the Board requesting permission to attend a meeting to argue that his rights should be restored, and he submitted a Reconsideration Request Form demand that his letter be accepted into the collection. The Library considered and denied his requests for reconsideration, and the Board supported the decisions. The ban furthered the government’s significant interest in maintaining the peaceful character of a library. Brown (US 1966) (a library is “a place dedicated to quiet, to knowledge, and to beauty”). The Library was not required to follow the specific procedures that Spreadbury believes it should have, and it provided sufficient process to protect his limited liberty interest. “Prohibiting disruptive behavior is perhaps the clearest and most direct way to achieve maximum Library use.” Kreimer. Spreadbury continued to engage in disruptive behavior, resulting in a criminal trespass charge, an order of protection that was affirmed by the Montana Supreme Court, and his nolo plea to felony intimidation.
B. Qualified immunity of officers. Spreadbury disputes Lynch’s finding that Snavely, who investigated him for trespassing on Library property, is entitled to qualified immunity. He insists that there is a clearly established constitutional right not to be investigated for trespass on public property. However, there is no clearly established right to be free from investigation, and the trespass charge was not clearly precluded under Montana law. There is no constitutional right not to be investigated by law enforcement for suspected violations of the law. O’Brien (US 1984). Spreadbury argues that it is not a violation for a member of the public to be on public land even if he has been banned from the property. Even assuming there is a right not to be investigated for noncriminal conduct, it is not clearly established under Montana law that criminal trespass is inapplicable on public land. A person commits criminal trespass if the person knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in or upon the premises of another. MCA 45-6-203(1). “Property of another” includes real property “in which a person other than the offender has an interest that the offender has no authority to defeat or impair, even though the offender may have an interest in the property.” MCA 45-2-101(62). The privilege to enter on the premises of another “may be revoked at any time by personal communication of notice by the landowner or other authorized person.” 45-6-201(1). And a library is authorized to restrict access to patrons if procedural protections are observed. Kreimer. Spreadbury entered on public library property — in which other members of the public also have an interest that he has no authority to defeat or impair — after his privilege had been properly revoked. This satisfies the definition of criminal trespass. In Blakely (Mont. 1979), which held that criminal trespass had not occurred where the property was open to the public, the defendant had not been banned for violating rules of the agency responsible for it. Thus neither case law nor the criminal trespass statute clearly establishes that a criminal trespass charge is not applicable on public land. Snavely is thus entitled to qualified immunity for his decision to investigate Spreadbury for trespass. For these reasons, and for the reasons discussed by Lynch, all the City officers are entitled to qualified immunity.
C. Malicious prosecution. Spreadbury fails to provide any reason to reject Lynch’s conclusion that probable cause for the trespassing charge existed as a matter of law, negating the 3rd element of a malicious prosecution claim. Plouffe (Mont. 2002).
D. Negligent & intentional infliction of emotional distress. Spreadbury gives no reason to reject Lynch’s reasoning and points to no evidence that would support this claim, but merely re-alleges that “stress caused permanent impairment” of his health, and failed to make the threshold showing that his emotional distress is “serious or “severe.” Jacobsen (Mont. 2009).
A. Negligence. Spreadbury alleges that Snavely and Bruner-Murphy acted negligently in investigating and preparing police reports as to accusations that he was criminally trespassing on Library property and stalking the director. He alleges that Snavely should have known that it is not illegal for a member of the public to be on public property and that Bruner-Murphy should have known that he did not commit the crime of stalking in part because he has never met the alleged victim. He also alleges that the Board acted negligently in revoking his right to use the Library. He alleges that Brophy should have known that he was never asked to leave the Library and did not willfully violate any Library policies, and that Brophy ignored his request for reconsideration. Lynch recommended denying summary judgment as to these claims. He found that the municipal Defendants (the Library, City of Hamilton, Brophy, Trista Smith, Nansu Roddy, Jerry Steele, Snavely, and Bruner-Murphy) failed to address breach, causation, and damages, and he rejected their argument that they did not owe Spreadbury a duty under the public duty doctrine. He predicted that the MSC would not apply the public duty doctrine when a government agent “is not merely performing a general duty to protect citizens from private harms but is instead acting affirmatively towards a plaintiff and is, him or herself, the injurious force that caused harm to the plaintiff.” He also predicted that the MSC would conclude that the public duty doctrine “does not protect a law enforcement officer from liability for harm caused by a negligent criminal investigation as to the subject of the investigation.” Assuming, without deciding, that Lynch is correct that the municipal Defendants owed Spreadbury a duty, the facts do not establish what that duty is or if it was breached. These claims involve a sort of professional malpractice, requiring a jury to decide what a reasonable Library board or police officer would do in each situation. There is no expert testimony to establish what duty an officer owes in investigating or reporting on a call for assistance or what duty a library owes in revoking a patron’s library privileges. The City and Library are also entitled to summary judgment as to breach. The evidence underlying the negligence claims is the same as that underlying the constitutional claims. It was discussed in the City’s and Library’s summary judgment briefing and laid out in their statement of undisputed facts. Spreadbury fails to raise a genuine dispute over any material fact in his response. In their objections before this Court, the City and Library explained how the facts demonstrate that they did not breach a duty, if they have one. Spreadbury had the opportunity to counter but failed to do so. Accordingly, the issue of breach has been fully briefed and is properly before the Court.
1. The Library. There is no evidence to suggest that the Library owed any duty toward Spreadbury. The undisputed facts demonstrate that he engaged in multiple confrontations with staff, and after he had been banned, with staff and patrons. He requested that it maintain a letter he had written to Obama in its collection. The first time his request was refused by a staff member he became animated and “a bit scary.” The staff member reported the incident to the director. Spreadbury then wrote to the director again demanding that his letter be placed in the collection, making a veiled reference to the Unabomber:
Let me remind you both that in 1995 a “personal letter” was published and available at national libraries which advocated violence, and condoned murder. The letter ended up being from Lincoln, Montana.
The director again denied his request and explained that his letter is not authoritative or objective and that other avenues are available to voice his opinions. 2 days later he confronted another staff person. This time his “tirade” was so frightening that the staff member had to be allowed to go home to calm down, and she reported the incident to police. Another staff member who witnessed this “tirade” agreed that his conduct was “despicable” or “pitiful.” Although Spreadbury insists that this behavior was not disruptive, it objectively disrupted the staff’s ability to do their work and their sense of safety. The director decided to terminate his privileges in accordance with the policy and MCA 22-1-311. Spreadbury has not raised any material fact suggesting that the Library acted negligently. His only arguments concern legality of the Library’s process, which is addressed in the discussions of due process above and in Lynch’s findings & recommendations.
2. Officer Snavely. Spreadbury was notified by letter 6/11/09 that he was no longer allowed in the Library building or on the grounds. He was seen in the gazebo 8/20 and the director reported that he was trespassing. Snavely spoke with Spreadbury, warned him not to return to the Library, and took a report. Spreadbury voluntarily left. Later that day he met with Snavely at City Hall and was again warned not to return to the Library. He returned that day, ultimately confronting a patron, Ms. Cassens, demanding to know if she had talked with police and her name and phone number. (Cassens reported that he may have stayed on the sidewalk during the confrontation). He yelled at her, making her and 2 witnesses nervous. He left but returned with a video camera and began filming Cassens. When she reported the incident to staff, the director again called police. Snavely interviewed Cassens, 2 witnesses, and the director, and prepared another report. No evidence suggests that the interviews were conducted negligently or that Snavely misrepresented or omitted anything he saw or learned. He clearly explained that Spreadbury had been banned from the Library. Again, Spreadbury’s argument is purely legal — he insists that Snavely “should have known” that it is not possible to criminally trespass on public property. However, it is not clear under Montana law that criminal trespass is inapplicable on public land, and no evidence suggests that Snavely interfered with the Prosecutor’s independent judgment in deciding to press charges.
3. Officer Bruner-Murphy. The director contacted the PD to make a complaint that Spreadbury was “stalking” her. She described his conduct to Bruner-Murphy and provided several documents representing the conduct. Bruner-Murphy explained the procedure for filing for an order of protection and prepared a report based on the interview and documents. No evidence suggests that he misrepresented or omitted anything, no charges were ever filed as to this report, and Spreadbury has alleged no damages relating to the investigation. Because the undisputed facts do not establish the relevant standard of care or that it was breached, the municipal Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as to each of Spreadbury’s negligence claims.
B. Punitives/injunctive relief. Because all of Spreadbury’s claims against the municipal Defendants fail, he is not entitled to injunctive relief or punitives.
Lynch’s findings & recommendations are adopted in part and rejected in part based on additional briefing. All claims against the municipal Defendants are dismissed with prejudice.
Michael Spreadbury, Hamilton, pro se; Natasha Jones, Thomas Leonard, Tracey Johnson, and William Crowley (Boone Karlberg), Missoula, for Defendants.
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