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Smith v. Tilley

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

January 17, 2019

BRIAN TIMOTHY SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC V. TILLEY, in his Official Capacity as Sheriff of Perquimans County and Individually; PRESTON WARD, Individually; and JAMES FOWDEN, Individually, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION

          James E. Gates, United States Magistrate Judge

         This case comes before the court on the motion for partial summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, by defendants, Eric V. Tilley ("Sheriff Tilley"), Preston Ward ("Ward"), and James Fowden ("Fowden") (collectively "defendants") (D.E. 28). Plaintiff Brian Timothy Smith ("plaintiff) opposes the motion. The motion has been briefed and is ripe for adjudication. The motion was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a memorandum and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). See 9 Apr. 2018 Public D.E. For the reasons set forth below, it will be recommended that the motion be allowed.

         BACKGROUND

         This case, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arises out of plaintiff s 16 April 2014 arrest.

         Specifically, on 30 August 2010, a representative from East Coast Equipment, LLC, ("East Coast Equipment") reported to the Perquimans County (North Carolina) Sheriffs Office that a John Deere X530 riding lawnmower still in its shipping crate, valued at $6, 4000.00 and with the serial number MOX53A053964, was missing from its inventory. Defs.' L. R. 56.1(a)(1) Stmt. (of Undisputed Facts) (D.E. 29) ¶ 1; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L. R. 56.1(a)(1) Stmt. (of Undisputed Facts) (D.E. 33) ¶ 1.

         In mid-April of 2014, the Perquimans County Sheriffs Office received information from the Pasquotank County Sheriffs Office that two stolen jet ski trailers were located on plaintiffs property. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2. Sheriff Tilley, the Sheriff of Perquimans County, accompanied officers to recover the jet ski trailers from plaintiffs property. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2.

         Thereafter, Sheriff Tilley was informed by a Pasquotank County Sheriffs Investigator that a Pasquotank County Deputy, who happened to be plaintiffs stepson, Chris Terry, provided information that plaintiff might be in possession of a stolen John Deere lawnmower. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3. Deputy Terry reported that a few years earlier while living with plaintiff he recalled waking up one morning and seeing a John Deere riding lawnmower, still in its shipping crate, in plaintiffs yard which had not been there the night before. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3.

         Sheriff Tilley relayed this information to Ward, a Perquimans County Sheriffs Investigator, and instructed Ward to go to plaintiffs property to speak to him about the lawnmower. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 4; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 4. On 16 April 2014, Ward and Fowden, a Perquimans County Sheriffs Deputy, went to plaintiffs home, but nobody was there. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5. Ward and Fowden saw a John Deere lawnmower on plaintiffs property, took photos of it, and later contacted East Coast Equipment for information about the lawnmower. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5; Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Ward confirmed that the lawnmower on the plaintiffs property was the same one reported stolen by East Coast Equipment. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. If 6. Later that same day, Sheriff Tilley and Ward returned to plaintiffs property and seized the lawnmower without a warrant or with consent from plaintiff. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 7; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 7; Aff. of Brian Timothy Smith (D.E. 32-1) ¶ 6; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 12.

         Following the seizure of the lawnmower, Ward requested that plaintiff come to the Perquimans County Sheriffs Office in order for Ward and another deputy, Deputy Guy Cayton, to question him about his possession of the lawnmower. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. f 8; Smith Aff. ¶ 7; Am. Compl. If 13. It is disputed by the parties whether plaintiff confessed to or denied having stolen the lawnmower during this questioning, but for purposes of this motion, it is presumed that plaintiff did not confess. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8 n. 1; Smith Aff. ¶ 7. Immediately following this questioning, Ward appeared before a magistrate to apply for a warrant for plaintiffs arrest and the magistrate issued a warrant for the felony offenses of larceny, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-72(a), and possession of the lawnmower, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-71.1. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9 (disputing portions of this paragraph but not the fact that a warrant was applied for and issued); Arrest Warrant (comprising p. 2 of D.E. 30-6). Plaintiff was placed under arrest by Deputy Cayton. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 10; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 10. A grand jury later indicted plaintiff on the same charges on 14 July 2014. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 11; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. If 11; Am. Compl. If 18.

         On 20 July 2015, the Superior Court of Perquimans County allowed plaintiffs motion to suppress information pertaining to the search of his property and seizure of the lawnmower occurring on 16 April 2014. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13; Am. Compl. ¶ 20. The charges against plaintiff were later dismissed. Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 14; Pl's Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 14; Am. Compl. ¶ 20.

         In his amended complaint, plaintiff asserted seven claims, but voluntarily dismissed two claims[1] (D.E. 20), leaving five claims for: (1) unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Sheriff Tilley, Ward, and Fowden in their individual capacity (first claim) (¶¶ 22-28); (2) unlawful arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment (second claim) (¶¶ 29-37) against Sheriff Tilley, Ward, and Fowden individually; (3) punitive damages against Ward and Sheriff Tilley in their individual capacities (fourth claim) (¶¶ 47-51); (4) unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Sheriff Tilley in his official capacity (fifth claim) (¶¶ 52-57); and (5) unlawful arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment (sixth claim) (¶¶ 58-65) against Sheriff Tilley in his official capacity.

         The instant motion seeks summary judgment on plaintiffs second and sixth claims, both of which, as indicated, are for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

         APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure should be granted "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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In analyzing whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, all facts and inferences drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Design Resources, Inc. v. Leather Industries of America, 789 F.3d 495, 500 (4th Cir. 2015); Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 958 (4th Cir. 1996).

         The burden is on the moving party to establish the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the movant meets its burden, then the nonmoving party must provide the court with specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial in order to survive summary judgment. Id. at 323. The nonmoving party is not permitted to rest on conclusory allegations or denials, and a "mere scintilla of evidence" is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).

         Rule 56 directs that a "party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). "The summary judgment inquiry thus scrutinizes the plaintiffs case to determine whether the plaintiff has proffered sufficient proof, in the form of admissible evidence, that could carry the burden of proof of his claim at trial." Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1315-16 (4th Cir. 1993).

         II. FOURTH ...


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