United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
BRIAN D. CRANFORD, Plaintiff,
EDDIE KLUTTZ and REESE HELMS, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDR
OSTEEN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment. Defendants Eddie Kluttz
(“Defendant Kluttz”) and Reese Helms
(“Defendant Helms”) have moved for summary
judgment (Doc. 22), to which Plaintiff Brian Cranford has
responded (Doc. 31), and Defendants have replied (Doc. 36).
Plaintiff has also moved for summary judgment (Doc. 25), to
which Defendants have responded (Doc. 34), and Plaintiff has
replied (Doc. 37). This matter is now ripe for resolution.
For the reasons stated herein, this court will grant
Defendants' motion. Plaintiff's motion will be
Facts and Procedural Background
majority of the facts in this case are relatively undisputed,
as a large part of the activities at issue were either
videotaped or audiotaped. Two significant factual disputes
are present. The first factual dispute arises from the
question of whether Plaintiff's preaching involved a
general admonishment to the crowd as a whole when Plaintiff
used the terms “tramps, whores, and prostitutes”
or whether Plaintiff directed those comments to a specific
individual in the crowd. The second dispute relates to the
legal effect of Plaintiff's conviction in state district
court of the offense of Disorderly Conduct in violation of
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-288.4; the conviction was followed
by an acquittal of that offense in state superior court.
While the parties suggest different interpretations of the
evidence of the actions of Plaintiff, the principle issue is
whether Plaintiff has presented evidence sufficient to create
a material issue of fact as to whether the conviction in
state district court was obtained by fraud or unfair means.
This court finds there are sufficient undisputed facts to
render summary judgment determination appropriate.
own words, Plaintiff is a “Christian that take[s] a
Bible out on the street and just preach[es], ” which
some call “street preaching.” (Pl.'s Br. in
Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Br.”), Ex.
1, Excerpts from Dep. of Brian Douglas Cranford
(“Pl.'s Dep.”) (Doc. 26-2) at
According to Plaintiff, he engages in street preaching
“almost every afternoon, ” usually focusing on
“local towns” or “surrounding towns”
and that “then on the weekends, [he] usually
20, 2013, the Town of China Grove, North Carolina, held its
annual “Farmers Day Festival”
(“Festival”) and Plaintiff decided to preach
during the festival. (Pl.'s Br., Ex. 4, Pl.'s Resp.
to Defs.' First Set of Interrogs. (Doc. 26-5) at 3-4.)
Plaintiff alleges that, when he arrived at the Festival, he
received a “sheet of paper” or
“ordinance” detailing “festival
rules.” (Pl.'s Dep. (Doc. 26-2) at 9.) In his
deposition, Plaintiff explained that “[i]f you want to
pass out literature or to speak on anything open, you had to
have a booth. You had to be a vendor.” (Id.)
Plaintiff did not elect to proceed as a “vendor,
” instead choosing to stand “outside of the
barricade” to preach. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff
preached for over an hour before he was arrested.
preaching at the Festival, Plaintiff wore an audio recording
device under his shirt. (Id. at 7-8.) One of
Plaintiff's colleagues also filmed a video of some of the
events that transpired on July 20, 2013. (Id. at
began preaching at the 6:55 mark of the audio recording.
(Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ.
J. as to All Claims (“Defs.' Br.”) (Doc. 23),
Ex. 7, Audio recording filed manually (Audio Disc) at 6:55.)
At the 10:53 mark, Defendant Helms asked to talk to Plaintiff
before informing Plaintiff that “you're more than
welcome to be here, okay, but to be here, you have to
purchase a booth.” (Id. at 11:00-11:05.) Upon
Plaintiff's resistance, Defendant Helms read, from what
he later described as the “rules and regulations for
Farmers Day, ” the following:
Any person or group wishing to hand out materials or provide
information to the public must register with the town of
China Grove for a booth within the festival area. No person
or group will be allowed inside the festival area to approach
visitors with material, verbal, printed or otherwise, unless
they register with the town of China Grove.
(Id. at 15:29-15:47.) Following an argument with
Defendant Helms and another bystander regarding his First
Amendment rights in which Defendant Helms told Plaintiff that
if he did not move to the other side of the barricade he
would be arrested, Plaintiff moved outside the barricade
marking Festival grounds and resumed preaching. (Id.
the time period between Plaintiff moving to the other side of
the barricade and the span for which video footage exists,
Plaintiff preached and interacted with festival attendees.
(See id.) At multiple points, Plaintiff expressed a
continued willingness to enter the barricade and an
expectancy to “go to jail” as a result.
(Id. at 26:56, 27:30, 28:40, 32:35, 38:30.) At the
32:16 point, Plaintiff told a festivalgoer that
“there's video cameras all over [Defendants] right
now.” (Id.) Plaintiff also expressed that he
was “fixin' to cross the line here in a
minute.” (Id. at 32:27.)
the 45:28 mark, following a contentious exchange with a
specific festivalgoer, Defendant Helms approached Plaintiff
and said, “You're not gonna be
disrespectful.” (Id.) Plaintiff responded,
“Loud mouth rebellious ladies like this, she needs to
keep her mouth quiet.” (Id. at 46:06-46:15.)
Defendant Helms responded, “I'm gonna ask you one
more time - don't start causing issue with the people.
You can preach, but that has nothing to do with talking about
people.” (Id. at 46:15-46:30.) Plaintiff then
called the police officers “wicked, ” said
Defendant Helms was “digging a hole deeper for hisself
and deeper for hisself, ” and said to Defendant Helms,
“You're wicked as hell, you're gonna be on your
way to hell, officer.” (Id. at 47:58-48:07.)
Plaintiff later called Defendant Helms “a sinner”
and “wretched.” (Id. at 1:03:45.)
continued to accost individual festivalgoers. (Id.
at 57:58.) Plaintiff also said, “See I know most of you
people, you'd love nothing more to come punch a preacher
in his face. Oh, but you're not gonna do anything.”
(Id. at 58:54.)
exchange leading to Plaintiff's arrest occurs from
1:08:09 to 1:09:35. Plaintiff begins:
Oh, God's gonna judge you, wicked sinner - I'm
talking to you. All you ladies need to learn how to put on
some clothes, too. I'm talkin' to her. I'm
talkin' to your family members. And all of those ladies
over there. The Bible says that a woman should dress
modestly. See a lot of ladies out here dressed like tramps
and whores and prostitutes today. The Bible says you dress
modestly. Today all you ladies who's dressed half-nekkid
(Id.) Defendant Helms interrupted him, “Sir,
you cannot call people whores and prostitutes.”
Plaintiff immediately responded, “The Bible says it
calls ‘em whores and prostitutes.” (Id.)
Defendant Helms said, “If you say that one more time,
I'ma place you under arrest” and Plaintiff again
immediately responded, “You can't be whores and
prostitutes, you can't be.” (Id.)
video generally shows Plaintiff from behind, as it appears
the videographer was standing some distance behind Plaintiff.
The video shows Defendant Helms standing away and to the
front of Plaintiff, inside the barricade and beside a car. At
various times, as the camera pans from side to side, it
appears that one or more police officers may be standing to
Plaintiff's left, off the street and on the corner,
several feet away from Plaintiff.
much of the time Plaintiff was preaching, he was forceful but
did not appear to cause any fear in bystanders. An older
woman using a walker walked past Plaintiff and appeared to
pay him no attention. (Defs.' Br. (Doc. 23), Ex. 5,
videotaped recording filed manually (Video Disc) at 01:55.) A
young woman walked by and appeared to giggle after she passed
him. (Id. at 2:36.) However, in the preaching
preceding Plaintiff's arrest, his rhetoric, motions, and
mannerisms could be construed to be more directed toward
those standing and watching. Nevertheless, even assuming
there to be issues of fact as to the events preceding
Plaintiff's arrest, it does appear something occurred
immediately preceding Plaintiff's arrest causing officers
video, 14:42 marks the point where Plaintiff said, “Oh,
God's gonna judge you, wicked sinner.”
(Id. at 14:42.) As he said that phrase, Plaintiff
extended his right arm parallel to the ground and pointed
using his index finger in the direction of a group of people
inside the Festival. (Id.) Plaintiff raised his
finger and pointed again as he said “talkin' to
her” at the 14:50 mark. (Id.) Plaintiff then
said “talkin' to your family.” (Id.
at 14:51.) Plaintiff then pointed again with his left arm and
index finger in the same general direction as he said,
“And all of those ladies over there . . . the Bible
says that a woman should dress modestly.” (Id.
at 14:54-14:49.) One second later in the video, beginning at
14:50, Plaintiff continued, “see a lot of ladies out
here dressin' like tramps and whores and
point, Defendant Helms's daughter and wife turned and
spoke to him. (Id. at 15:07.) Defendant Helms then
spoke into his radio briefly before approaching Plaintiff.
(Id. at 15:25.) When Defendant Helms reached
Plaintiff, Defendant Helms said, “You cannot call
[inaudible] ‘whores and prostitutes.'”
(Id. at 15:30.) Defendant Helms then arrested
Plaintiff following the exchange detailed above.
(Id. at 15:40.)
deposition, Defendant Helms testified that he arrested
Plaintiff for “disorderly conduct.” (Defs.'
Br., Ex. 6, Excerpts from Dep. of Reese Helms (“Helms
Dep.”) (Doc. 23-6) at 15.) On the same date as
Plaintiff's arrest, July 20, 2013, Defendant Helms then
brought Plaintiff before Magistrate G.L. Jones, who issued a
“Warrant for Arrest.” (Id., Ex. 9,
Arrest Warrant for Brian Douglas Cranford, Disorderly
Conduct, GS 14-288.4, Case number 13-CR-054457 (“Arrest
Warrant”) (Doc. 23-8) at 2.)
Arrest Warrant says the following:
I, the undersigned, find that there is probable cause to
believe that on or about the date of offense shown and in the
county named above the defendant named above unlawfully and
willfully did intentionally cause a public disturbance at
PARK ST AND MAIN ST (CHINA GROVE FARMERS DAY), by making
utterances and using abusive language, intended and plainly
likely to provoke immediate retaliation and thereby cause a
breach of the peace. The acts of the defendant were directed
toward HEAVEN LEE HELMS AND OTHER UNNAMED FEMALE PERSONS and
consisted of THE DEFENDANT SHOUTING TO THE VICTIMS THAT THEY
WERE WHORES AND PROSTITUTES, MAKING REFERENCE TO THE WAY THEY
(Id.) The Arrest Warrant specifies the
“Offense in Violation of G.S.” as
“14-288.4.” (Id.) N.C. Gen. Stat. §
14-288.4 provides that “[d]isorderly conduct is a
public disturbance intentionally caused by any person who . .
. Makes or uses any utterance, gesture, display or abusive
language which is intended and plainly likely to provoke
violent retaliation and thereby cause a breach of the
peace.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-288.4(a)(2).
January 29, 2014, the Honorable Marshall Bickett found
Plaintiff guilty of the charged offense in North Carolina
district court. Plaintiff was represented by counsel in the
district court. On January 15, 2015, following an appeal to
Superior Court for a trial de novo, a jury found Plaintiff
not guilty of the same charged offense. (Defs.' Br. (Doc.
23) at 9; Pl.'s Dep. (Doc. 23-4) at 11.)
brings a total of three claims alleging violations of his
constitutional rights. (Complaint (“Compl.”)
(Doc. 1) at 13-18.) Plaintiff's first claim alleges that
Defendants violated his First Amendment “right to
Freedom of Speech” by arresting him. (Id.
¶¶ 102-10.) Plaintiff's second claim alleges
that Defendants violated his First Amendment right to free
exercise of religion by arresting him. (Id.
¶¶ 111-24.) Plaintiff's third claim alleges
that Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment by arresting
him without probable cause. (Id. ¶¶
each claim, Plaintiff requests relief in the form of damages
compensating him for the allegedly wrongful deprivation of
his rights, paid bail, attorneys' fees for defending his
criminal prosecution, mental distress, reputational damage,
and other harms. (Id. ¶¶ 110, 124, 135.)
In addition to money damages, Plaintiff requests relief in
the form of an injunction preventing Defendants “and
all persons acting in concert . . . from enforcing the Code
in the manner [Defendants] enforced it against this
Plaintiff.” (Id. at 19.)
the description of claims under free speech and free exercise
of religion as set forth above, the summary judgment briefing
presents a serious issue with respect to the nature of the
free exercise claims brought by Plaintiff in his Complaint.
Specifically, the issue is whether Plaintiff's Complaint
only alleges claims based upon an interference with or
retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights as a
result of Plaintiff's arrest or whether Plaintiff has
also asserted a claim based upon an unconstitutional prior
restraint through the Festival Rules. As explained in full
below, after supplemental briefing and oral arguments on this
issue, this court finds that the claims relating to the
Festival Rules are not properly before this court, and that,
even if considered, these claims are all subject to dismissal
on the record before this court.
judgment is appropriate where an examination of the
pleadings, affidavits, and other proper discovery materials
before the court demonstrates that no genuine issue of
material facts exists, thus entitling the moving party to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The
moving party bears the burden of initially demonstrating the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.
moving party has met that burden, then the nonmoving party
must persuade the court that a genuine issue remains for
trial. However, this requires “more than simply
show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts”; the “nonmoving party must come
forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
586-87 (1986) (citations and footnote omitted) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). In considering a motion for summary
judgment, the court is not to weigh the evidence, but rather
must determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to a
material issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 250 (1986).
the court must ensure that the facts it considers can be
“presented in a form that would be admissible in
evidence” and that any affidavits or evidence used to
support or oppose a motion are “made on personal
knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in
evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent
to testify on the matters stated.” See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2), (4).
court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party, drawing inferences favorable to that party
if such inferences are reasonable. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255. However, there must be more than a factual
dispute; the fact in question must be material, and the
dispute must be genuine. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c);
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is only
“genuine” if “the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
argue that this court should grant their Motion for Summary
Judgment because they “are entitled to qualified
immunity on each of Plaintiff's constitutional
claims.” (Defs.' Br. (Doc. 23) at 10-21.)
Plaintiff responds that Defendants are not entitled to
immunity because the magistrate's issuance of an arrest
warrant and Plaintiff's conviction were “obtained
by unfair means, namely, false information.” (Pl.'s
Br. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.
(“Pl.'s Opp'n Br.”) (Doc. 31) at 27.)
determining whether a defendant is entitled to qualified
immunity, [this court] must decide (1) whether the defendant
has violated a constitutional right of the plaintiff and (2)
whether that right was clearly established at the time of the
alleged misconduct.” Ross v. Early, 746 F.3d
546, 560 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Bland v. Roberts,
730 F.3d 368, 391 (4th Cir. 2013)); see also Maney v.
Garrison, 681 F. App'x 210, 224 (4th Cir. 2017).
Courts “have discretion to decide which of those
questions to address first ‘in light of the
circumstances in the particular case at hand.' In many
cases it is beneficial to determine first whether the facts
establish a violation of the Constitution.”
Maney, 681 F. App'x at 215 (quoting Pearson
v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)) (citing
Estate of Armstrong ex rel. Armstrong v. Vill. of
Pinehurst, 810 F.3d 892, 899-900 (4th Cir. 2016)).
“A defendant is entitled to qualified immunity if the
answer to either question is ‘no.'”
Williams v. Hall, No. 5:11-CV-279-D, 2013 WL
3200512, at *3 (E.D. N.C. June 24, 2013) (first citing
Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 663 (2012); then
citing Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236). “The
protection of qualified immunity applies regardless of
whether the government official's error is a mistake of
law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions
of law and fact.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231
(internal quotation marks omitted).
[A] defendant cannot be said to have violated a clearly
established right unless the right's contours were
sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in the
defendant's shoes would have understood that he was
violating it. . . . “[E]xisting precedent must have
placed the statutory or constitutional question”
confronted by the official “beyond debate.”
Plumhoff v. Rickard, 572 U.S.___, ___, 134 S.Ct.
2012, 2023 (2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563
U.S. 731, 741 (2011)). “When deciding whether a right
is clearly established, we ask ‘whether it would be
clear to a reasonable official that his conduct was unlawful
in the situation he confronted.'” Occupy
Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 124 (4th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 534 (4th
brings three constitutional claims, but each of
Plaintiff's claims rests upon his contention that
Defendant Helms arrested him without probable cause. It may
be that the audio and video leave some facts subject to a
dispute. Nevertheless, Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment is based primarily upon undisputed facts: (1)
Plaintiff was arrested and charged with a violation of N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 14-288.4; (2) upon appearance before a
state magistrate, a warrant was issued for Plaintiff's
arrest, charging that offense; and (3) Plaintiff was
convicted in state district court following a bench trial of
a violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-288.4.
Festival Rules and Unconstitutional Time and Place
outset, this court finds it necessary to determine whether
the Festival Rules in question are properly before the court.
Plaintiff dedicates a significant portion of his briefing to
arguing that the Festival Rules requiring Plaintiff to remain
behind the barricade or purchase a booth as a vendor placed
an unconstitutional restraint on speech for which Defendants
are liable. (See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. 26) at 9-20;
Pl.'s Opp'n Br. (Doc. 31) at 8-13.) Plaintiff argues
that Defendant Helms's act of advising Plaintiff of those
Rules and then requiring that Plaintiff move outside the
Festival barricade infringed Plaintiff's First Amendment
rights. (See id.) Defendants object to this argument
and claim, arguing that:
Plaintiff alleges in his Motion for Summary Judgment that the
Town's Festival Regulations, as applied to him, violated
his free speech rights and free exercise rights under the
First Amendment. See Doc. 26, pp. 9-20. However,
Plaintiff's Complaint shows that he alleged only that
Defendants' enforcement of N.C. G.S. § 14-288.4
violated his First Amendment rights. See Doc. 1,
¶¶ 2, 28, 29, 39, 70-82, 84, 89, 92, 95, 99, 100,
105, 108, 113, 115, 121, 122, and Prayer for Relief.
(Defs.' Resp. in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
(“Defs.' Resp. in Opp'n”) (Doc. 34) at 25
(footnote omitted).) Defendants contend any issues with
respect to the Festival Rules are not properly before the
court. (Id. at 2.) This court agrees with Defendants
that the Complaint does not allege a claim based upon the
Festival Rules as an unconstitutional prior restraint, either
time or place, of speech.
confusing nature of Plaintiff's claims begins with the
use of the term “Code” in the Complaint and the
apparent limitation of the claims to injury and damages
arising solely from enforcement of the “Code.” In
his Complaint, Plaintiff identifies only N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 14-288.4 as the relevant “Code” provision
by which he was deprived of his constitutional rights. (Doc.
1 at 1) (“This action challenges the interpretation and
enforcement (as-applied challenge) of North Carolina General
Statutes, § 14-288.4 (hereinafter
‘Code')”.) N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-288.4 is
a criminal statute and very different from any rules of the
Festival. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-288.4 is clearly not the
source of any rule of the Festival requiring Plaintiff, and
others distributing information, to register as a vendor.
identification of the relevant “Code” provision
in his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges a number of actions
arising from and related to enforcement of the
“Code.” Plaintiff's Complaint alleges
Plaintiff was exercising his rights outsidethe
Festival and in ...