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Martin v. City of Burlington

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 28, 2017

CITY OF BURLINGTON, et al., Defendants.


          Thomas D. Schroeder United States District Judge

         Before the court is the motion of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and its employees, Adriana Marie Sposato and Mike Neil (collectively, “Wal-Mart Defendants”), to dismiss the claims against them by Plaintiff Anna Marie Martin. (Doc. 13.) Martin's claims stem from a case of mistaken identity following a shoplifting incident at a Wal-Mart store in Burlington, North Carolina. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant the motion with respect to Martin's federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and remand the action to Alamance County Superior Court for resolution of her remaining State law claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Martin's complaint, taken in the light most favorable to her as the non-moving party, alleges the following:

         On or about May 1, 2015, Wal-Mart initiated an incident investigation report with the Burlington Police Department (“BPD”) regarding an alleged misdemeanor larceny and hit-and-run at its store in Burlington, North Carolina. (Doc. 5 at 6.) Sposato, Wal-Mart's loss prevention officer, reported that the alleged perpetrator departed in a black 1996 Chevrolet pick-up truck bearing license plate number XWY-3938. (Id. at 3, 6.) Sposato also reported that this truck struck another car upon exiting the parking lot. (Id. at 6.)

         BPD Officer Karla A. Topete responded to the Wal-Mart report, reviewed the surveillance video, and printed several pictures provided by Wal-Mart to disseminate within the BPD. (Id. at 6-7.) The next day, May 2, BPD Officer Blake Johnson advised Topete that he recognized the suspect as Martin, whose vehicle he had stopped the week prior for an issue relating to its license plate. (Doc. 5 at 6-7.)

         On May 3, a BPD officer showed Martin's photograph to Sposato at Wal-Mart. (Id. at 7.) Sposato said she was “eighty percent sure” that the photograph identified the woman she encountered on May 1. (Id.) Topete and BPD Officer A. D. Jones then went to the apartment of Martin's son, but Martin was not present. (Id.) A neighbor told officers that Martin did not drive a black pick-up truck. (Id.) Upon learning that the police were looking for her, Martin called the BPD to ask if she could come to the station to speak with them. (Id.) Martin was told to stay where she was and that Topete and Jones would be returning. (Id.)

         When Topete and Jones returned, Martin opened the front door. (Id. at 8.) Martin denied the officers' request to enter her home, and she stepped outside to speak with them. (Id.) But before she could do so, the officers pushed their way into the apartment, threw Martin on the couch, and arrested her. (Id.) Topete and/or Jones searched other parts of the apartment while Martin, who denied any wrongdoing, was being placed in handcuffs. (Id.) Martin alleges that the officers did not have a search warrant and did not produce an arrest warrant at the time. (Id.) Topete and Jones took Martin into custody and transported her to the BPD headquarters; from there she was transported to Graham, North Carolina, where she was brought before a magistrate and subsequently released on bond. (Id.)

         By letters dated May 14 and June 8, 2015, Wal-Mart's counsel demanded that Martin pay civil restitution and damages to Wal-Mart. (Id. at 8-9.)

         On June 19, 2015, the criminal charges against Martin were dismissed by Assistant District Attorney Brooks Stone, who explained that the Wal-Mart employee claimed a mistaken identity. (Id. at 9.) Stone also noted on Martin's arrest warrant that she had been “mistakenly charged.” (Doc. 5-4 at 1.)

         Martin brought the present action in Alamance County Superior Court on April 21, 2016, advancing thirteen federal and State law claims.[1] (Doc. 1-1 at 13-23.) In addition to naming the Wal-Mart Defendants, the complaint named the BPD, BPD Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe, Topete, Jones, Johnson, the City of Burlington, Harold Owen (Burlington City Manager at the time), Hardin Watkins (current Burlington City Manager), and “Does 1-10” (collectively, “Burlington Defendants”). (Id. at 4.)

         All Defendants removed the action to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction over the § 1983 claim and supplemental jurisdiction over the State law claims. (Doc. 1 at 4.) All Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, but the Burlington Defendants accepted Martin's offer of judgment (Doc. 26), resolving her claims against them (Doc. 27). What remains for decision, therefore, is the Wal-Mart Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. 13.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. ...

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