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Lawrence v. Hansen

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

May 25, 2017




         This cause comes before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [DE 44]. This matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.


         The events precipitating this case began with a traffic stop in Apex, North Carolina, on September 24, 2012. Defendant, an Apex Police Department officer, stopped plaintiffs vehicle because she observed that plaintiffs vehicle registration had expired 11 months before. [DE 46-13 at ¶ 4]. When defendant spoke with plaintiff and inquired regarding his expired Colorado registration, plaintiff told defendant that he had moved to North Carolina some months before and had not renewed his registration in Colorado, nor registered his vehicle in North Carolina. [DE 46-13 at ¶¶ 5-8]. Defendant issued a citation to plaintiff for: (1) unlawfully operating a motor vehicle that displayed a registration he knew to be expired, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-111(2), and (2) operating a motor vehicle without having registered the vehicle with the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, such vehicle being one required to be registered, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-111(1). [DE 46-13 at ¶ 10 and pp. 5-9].

         When defendant ran plaintiffs driver's license information through the NCIC database, she discovered an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Plaintiff was a wanted person and the state of Colorado had requested full extradition from participating states nationwide, should plaintiff be apprehended. [DE 46-13 at ¶¶ 11-12 and p. 8; DE 46-16]. Defendant confirmed the warrant with The Town of Apex Emergency Communications Department. [DE 46-13 at ¶¶ 13-14 and p. 8].

         Plaintiff admits that there was an outstanding Colorado warrant against him for probation violations. [DE 4 at ¶ 8]. Consequently, defendant arrested plaintiff and took him to the Wake County detention facility and disclosed the NCIC hit to Magistrate B. Nickels, who took copies of the paperwork and used the NCIC information to complete the document entitled "Fugitive Affidavit." [DE 46-13 at ¶ 15]. Magistrate B. Nickels then issued a Warrant for Arrest for Fugitive for plaintiff and set plaintiffs bond for $200, 000. [DE 46-10]. During a hearing the next day, plaintiff refused extradition to Colorado. Id. Plaintiffs court-appointed defense counsel moved for a reduction in his bond, which was denied. [DE 46-10 and 46-11]. ' A Waiver of Extradition signed by plaintiff in Colorado on August 18, 2010, as a condition of his probation, was upheld, and the Wake County Superior Court issued an order that plaintiff be turned over to agents of the state of Colorado. [DE 46-12]. Plaintiff states that he was extradited to Denver County jail on or about November 9, 2012, where he was able to post bond on or about November 11, 2012. [DE 4 at ¶¶ 20-21]. Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, then brought the instant suit against defendant, the City of Apex Police Department, and John Letteney on November 6, 2015, seeking damages arising out of alleged Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations. [DE4].

         Defendant City of Apex Police Department filed a motion to dismiss on January 7, 2016, [DE 18], which was granted by the Court on March 18, 2016. [DE 21]. On August 29, 2016, the remaining defendants, John Letteney and defendant, filed a partial motion for judgment on the pleadings, [DE 20], which was granted by the Court on December 21, 2016. [DE 32]. As a result of that motion, all claims against defendant Letteney and all Eighth Amendment claims against defendant were dismissed. Id.

         On February 27, 2017, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment. [DE 44], Plaintiff responded, [DE 51], and defendant filed a reply, [DE 55].


         A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless there are no genuine issues of material fact for trial and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If that burden has been met, the non-moving party must then come forward and establish the specific material facts in dispute to survive summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 588 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists for trial, a trial court views the evidence and the inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). However, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of the nonmoving party's position is not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). "A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party ... and [a] fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Libertarian Party of Virginia v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Speculative or conclusory allegations, however, will not suffice. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002).

         In order to state a claim for violation of a constitutionally protected right under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege "that some person has deprived him of a federal right. .. [and] that the person who has deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law." Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const, amend. IV.

         In his complaint, plaintiff claims generally that Corporal Hansen lacked probable cause for his arrest, caused a deprivation of his constitutional rights, and that her training was insufficient. All challenges to the setting or amount of plaintiff s bail were dismissed by this Court by its previous order dismissing all Eight Amendment claims made by plaintiff. Thus, the only remaining claims are under the Fourth Amendments and concern whether defendant had probable cause to justify the arrest of plaintiff and whether her conduct during that arrest in filling out and presenting a Fugitive Affidavit before the Wake County Court violated plaintiffs constitutional rights.

         The temporary detention of a person during a vehicle stop constitutes a seizure for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996). "Because a traffic stop is more analogous to an investigative detention than a custodial arrest, [courts] treat a traffic stop, whether based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, under the standard set forth in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)." United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498, 506 (4th Cir. 2011), as amended (Aug. 2, 2011). Under Terry, a court must examine a traffic stop on two grounds-first, to determine whether it was justified at its inception and, second, to determine whether the police officer's actions after the stop were reasonably related to the circumstances which justified the stop. Id. Generally, "the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred." Whren, 517 U.S. at 8010. "Observation of any traffic violation, no matter how minor, gives an officer probable cause to stop the driver." United States v. Jones, 364 F.App'x 834, 835 (4th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

         An officer may also "stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity 'may be afoot, ' even if the officer lacks probable cause." United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 30). "Reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause not only in the sense that reasonable suspicion can be established with information that is different in quantity or content than that required to establish probable cause, but also in the sense that reasonable suspicion can arise from information that is less reliable than that required to show probable cause." Alabama v. White,496 U.S. 325, 330 (1990). Whether an officer had a reasonable articulable suspicion ...

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