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Whitlock v. Greenlee

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 3, 2014

JAMES SMITH WHITLOCK III, Plaintiff,
v.
JARED GREENLEE, Defendant.

ORDER

CATHERINE C. EAGLES, District Judge.

The Opinion and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge was filed in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and, on December 3, 2013, was served on the parties in this action. (Doc. 64.) The defendant, Officer Jared Greenlee, objected to part of the Recommendation. (Doc. 68.)

The Court has reviewed the portions of the Magistrate Judge's Opinion to which objection was made and has made a de novo determination which is in accord with the Opinion. The Court therefore adopts the Recommendation.

Officer Greenlee contends that he had probable cause to search the trunk of plaintiff James Whitlock, seize Mr. Whitlock's gun, and arrest Mr. Whitlock because he had reason to believe Mr. Whitlock had consumed alcohol and therefore it was illegal for him to possess a firearm.[1] In the alternative, he contends he is entitled to qualified immunity because his belief that Mr. Whitlock had consumed alcohol was reasonable. Certainly if the fact-finder believes Officer Greenlee's testimony that he smelled alcohol, that Mr. Whitlock admitted he had been drinking, and that Mr. Whitlock had slurred speech, (Doc. 46 at ¶ 6), then Officer Greenlee had probable cause to search the vehicle and had probable cause to arrest Mr. Whitlock upon finding the gun. However, if the jury does not believe this testimony and instead credits Mr. Whitlock's account of events, [2] then Officer Greenlee did not have probable cause because he did not have reason to believe Mr. Whitlock had consumed alcohol, nor was his belief objectively reasonable.

Officer Greenlee essentially argues that for qualified immunity purposes his conduct should be evaluated under an "objectively reasonable" standard that gives full credence to his version of events. This is not an accurate statement of the law. Officer Greenlee is not entitled to have his version of the facts believed at summary judgment when Mr. Whitlock has presented direct evidence to the contrary. See Meyers v. Baltimore County, Md., 713 F.3d 723, 730 (4th Cir. 2013)(noting that the plaintiff's version of the facts applies at summary judgment on qualified immunity issue).

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 45), is GRANTED IN PART as to the plaintiff's state tort claims for false imprisonment and trespass (third and fourth claims for relief set forth in the Amended Complaint, Doc. 39) and DENIED IN PART as to the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment unlawful search and seizure claims (first and second claims for relief).

The Court will enter an order shortly concerning a trial date.


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