United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
C. Mullen United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court upon the additional briefing
solely about the claims for trespass and malicious
prosecution against the Defendants in their individual
capacities asked for by the Court in its March 30, 2017
Order. Pursuant to that Order, the Defendants submitted a
Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 186); Plaintiffs submitted a response
(Doc. No. 189); and the Defendants submitted a reply (Doc.
No. 191). The Court has reviewed these filings and this
matter is now ripe for disposition.
Mead (“Plaintiff”) has alleged several causes of
action against Defendants stemming from the investigation
into the murder of Lucy Johnson and the eventual charging of
Plaintiff with the murder. Some causes of action were
dismissed pursuant to this Court's Order on November 1,
2013. (Doc. No. 90). Defendants Gaston County and officers,
in their official capacities, then moved to dismiss all state
tort claims pursuant to governmental immunity. (Doc. No.
117). Thereafter, Defendants moved for summary judgment on
all remaining claims, inclusive of any state tort claims
against the officers and all federal claims. (Doc. No. 141).
On January 25, 2016, the Court entered an Order granting
Defendants' motion to dismiss and summary judgment. (Doc.
No. 177). Plaintiff timely appealed. (Doc. No. 180). The
Court of Appeals remanded the matter so this Court could
address Defendants' entitlement, in their individual
capacities, to public official/officer immunity for all of
Plaintiff's alleged state tort claims (Trespass by Public
Officer (Fourth Claim) and Malicious Prosecution (Fifth
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
“The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence”
in support of the non-movant's position is not sufficient
to establish a genuine dispute. Id. at 252. A
material fact affects the outcome of the suit under the
applicable substantive law. See Id. at 248. When
determining whether a dispute is genuine or a fact is
material, courts are required to view the facts and draw
reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the
party opposing the summary judgment motion. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The Court “may
not make credibility determinations or weigh the
evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Unsupported speculation,
however, is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary
judgment. Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv.
Co., 80 F.3d 954, 960 (4th Cir. 1996).
the state tort claims of malicious prosecution and trespass
by a public officer are barred if probable cause existed as
the public official would be shielded by immunity.
Williams v. City of Jacksonville Police Dep't,
599 S.E.2d 422, 430 ( N.C. App. 2004). So the relevant issue
is whether there was probable cause for the Defendant's
arrest of the Plaintiff. See Beeson v. Palombo, 727
S.E.2d 343, 346 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2012) disc. review
denied, 732 S.E.2d 352 ( N.C. 2012) (“If probable
cause existed for the issuance of the arrest warrants, then
defendants would be shielded by public official
important to note that the Court has previously found there
was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for the murder of Lucy
Johnson in its analysis of the § 1983 claims. (Doc No.
177 at 16). The Plaintiffs ask the Court to reconsider its
previous finding of probable cause for the arrest of the
Plaintiff and find that there was in fact not probable cause
in that instance. The Court declines to relitigate this issue
for the reasons set forth below.
Williams, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held
that a probable cause determination in the Federal Court
translated to a probable cause finding in for state tort
claims due to the doctrine of collateral estoppel.
Under state law, a cause of action in tort will lie for false
imprisonment, based upon the 'illegal restraint of
one's person against his will.' A false arrest, i.e.,
one without proper legal authority, is one means of
committing a false imprisonment."…Probable cause
is an absolute bar to a claim for false arrest. …
In the prior federal court action, Judge Fox ruled that
Officer … had probable cause to detain plaintiff
because "plaintiff admittedly drove his vehicle in
excess of the speed limit." Further, Judge Fox ruled
that defendants did not unreasonably expand the permissible
scope of the stop. As probable cause is an absolute bar to
plaintiff's claim, he is collaterally estopped from
relitigating this issue. Plaintiff's claim for false
arrest fails. ... The trial court erred in failing to grant
summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of false arrest.
Williams, 165 N.C.App. at 596 (citations omitted).
officials sued in their individual capacity are entitled to
public official immunity from claims in tort unless their
"conduct is malicious, corrupt, or outside the scope of
official authority." Epps v. Duke Univ., Inc.,
122 N.C.App. 198, 205, 468 S.E.2d 846, 852 (1996). Defendants
as police officers are public officials who enjoy absolute
immunity from personal liability for discretionary acts done
without corruption or malice. Schlossberg v. Goins,
141 N.CApp. 436, 445-46, 540 S.E.2d 49, 56 (2000) (citing
Jones v. Kearns, 120 N.C.App. 301, 305-06, 462
S.E.2d 245, 247-48 (1995)), disc. review denied, 355
N.C. 215, 560 S.E.2d 136, 137 (2002).
Court has previously determined that probable cause existed
in this instance in its analysis of the § 1983 claims
and this probable cause determination carries over in the
Court's analysis of state tort claims. Consequently, the
Defendants are entitled to public official immunity regarding
both the plaintiffs trespass claim and malicious prosecution
claim as Plaintiffs arrest was supported by probable cause.
THEREFORE ORDERED that summary judgment is granted in the
Defendants' favor on the remaining state tort claims of
trespass and malicious prosecution. The ...