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LARRY and TORI REINLASODER v.THE CITY OF BILLINGS and JACQUELYN GREWELL
Case Number: 2020MT 5N
Judge: JIM RICE
Court: SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
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Larry Reinlasoder (Reinlasoder) was issued three citations for keeping a
“potentially dangerous animal” in violation of the City of Billings (City or Billings)
Municipal Code, § 4-405. City Animal Control Officers cited Reinlasoder after his Great
Dane, in three separate incidents, allegedly killed two small dogs and injured another at a
Billings dog park. Following issuance of the citations, Deputy City Attorney Jacquelyn
Grewell (Grewell) prosecuted the case. At the request of Grewell, the Billings Municipal
Court issued a subpoena to the Animal Clinic of Billings,requiring production of “any and
all veterinary care records, including any and all billing and payment records associated
with veterinary care, on all dogs owned by Larry Reinlasoder treated at your facility.”
Following a jury trial on the citations, Reinlasoder was acquitted of all three charges on
February 19, 2016.
¶3 On February 20, 2016, Reinlasoder put the City on notice of a potential lawsuit
arising from prosecution of the citations, and he and Tori Reinlasoder then initiated this
action, asserting claims of negligence, abuse of process, defamation, intimidation under
§ 27-1-1503(2), MCA, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, and state constitutional claims.
The City moved for summary judgment on all claims, and a hearing was held on
January 23, 2019. The District Court granted summary judgment to the City on the basis
of immunity, concluding Grewell and the City were entitled to prosecutorial immunity
because Grewell acted within the scope of traditional prosecutorial functions while
prosecuting the citations. Reinlasodersappeal.
¶4 The only issue we address is whether the District Court erred by granting summary
judgment to Grewell and the City, and dismissed all claims brought in the action, on the
basis of prosecutorial immunity.
¶5 “We review a district court’s summary judgment ruling de novo. Summary
judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The evidence, as well as all justifiable
inferences drawn from it, must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Once the moving party has met its burden of establishing an absence of genuine issues of
material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, the non-moving party must
present material and substantial evidence, rather than mere conclusory or speculative
statements.” Renenger v. State, 2018 MT 228, ¶ 6, 392 Mont. 495, 426 P.3d 559(internal
¶6 Reinlasoders argue that Grewell, and the City, are not entitled to the benefit of
prosecutorial immunity because Grewell acted outside her prosecutorial role when she
initiated issuanceof thesubpoena duces tecum for the veterinary records ofReinlasoder’s
pets. Defendants reply that Grewell’s action was properly within the course and scope of
prosecution ofthe charges,rendering it susceptible to prosecutorial immunity that extends
to the Cityas well. “A criminal prosecutor is ‘absolutely immune from civil liability’ when
performing traditional functions of an advocate, ‘regardless of negligence or lack of
probable cause.’” Renenger,¶ 10 (quotingRosenthal v. Cnty. of Madison, 2007 MT 277,
¶¶29-30, 339 Mont. 419, 170 P.3d 493). “To determine whether a prosecutor. . .is entitled
to immunity, courts look to the ‘nature of the function performed.’” Renenger, ¶ 10
(quoting Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 127, 118 S. Ct. 502, 508 (1997)). This
functional analysis must consider “whether the prosecutor’s conduct was quasi-judicial
rather than an emotional analysis of whether the prosecutor had malice.” Rosenthal, ¶ 30
(citing Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 429-30, 96 S. Ct. 984, 994 (1976)). While
prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity when acting in the traditional prosecutorial
role as an advocate,Renenger, ¶ 10,a prosecutor acting as an administrator or investigator
is entitled only to qualified immunity. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273-74, 113
S. Ct. 2606, 2615-16 (1993).
¶7 After the citations were issued, Grewell was tasked with prosecuting the case and
presenting it at trial. Grewell sought to marshal evidence for trial by requesting the
issuance of a subpoena for Reinlasoder’s pets’ veterinary records pursuant to statutory
authority. “[T]he prosecuting attorney, the defendant, or the defendant’s attorney” may
request the issuance of a subpoena. Section 46-15-101(1), MCA. “A subpoena may
command the person to whom it is directed to produce the books, papers, documents, or
other objects designated in the subpoena.” Section 46-15-106(1), MCA. This is a tool of
advocacy initiated, here, by the prosecutor, which must be issued by the clerk of court,
subject to quashing or modifying by the court. Section 46-15-101(1), (3), MCA. As such,
initiation of a subpoena is a traditional prosecutorial act. SeeTorres v. Goddard, 793 F.3d
1046, 1053-54 (9th Cir. 2015) (a prosecutor is “entitled to absolute immunity when
procuring a search warrant, when the warrant ‘sought evidence to prosecute the crimes
charged in the indictment.’ Because the prosecutor obtained the warrant to ‘marshal
evidence for trial,’ he was performing a ‘traditional function of an advocate for the
[s]tate.’ . . . [I]n order for the warrants to be issued, the attorney for the state was first
required to make that determination, prepare a warrant with a supporting factual affidavit
and seek issuance of the warrant by a judge.”). Here, Grewell is entitled to absolute
immunity because her actions were authorized by statute, within the traditional role of a
prosecutor in marshalling evidence for trial, and imbued by judicial process involving
issuance by the clerk of court. Section 46-15-106(1), MCA; § 46-15-101, MCA;
Rosenthal, ¶ 29 (“[m]aintaining criminal charges are among the many duties of a
prosecutor,” and are part of “the quasi-judicial function.”).
¶8 Reinlasoders also argue that prosecutorial immunity does not extend to other,
non-prosecutorial employees, such as the animal control officers who issued the citations,
and thus does not protect the City from liability arising from their conduct. In response,
the City asserts this is a new argument that was not properly raised or preserved in the
District Court, and should not be considered. Our review of the record confirmsthe City’s
position. Although referencing the animal control officers’ investigation and issuance of
the citations, Reinlasoders did not raise this claim of liability in their pleadings or their
briefing and summary judgment arguments before the District Court. Consequently, we
decline to address the claim. And, concurring with the District Court’s analysis, because
our determination regarding prosecutorial immunity is dispositive, Reinlasoders’discovery
motions and attorney fee requests are mooted, and need not be addressed.
¶9 We have determined to decide this case pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c) of our
Internal Operating Rules, which provides for memorandumopinions. This appeal presents
no constitutional issues, no issues of first impression, and does not establish new precedent
or modify existing precedent. In the opinion of the Court, the case presents a question
controlled by settled law or by the clear application of applicable standards of review.