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Hudson v. Pinney

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

March 29, 2019




         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment (DE 83), filed pursuant to Federal Rule 56. This motion was fully briefed and thus the issues raised are ripe for decision. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is granted.


         On March 21, 2016, plaintiff, a state inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging defendants used excessive force against him during his arrest.[1] His claims survived frivolity review.[2] However, because plaintiff named John Doe defendants, the court directed him to amend his complaint to properly identify these individuals. The court directed to New Hanover County Attorney to assist plaintiff with this identification.

         The New Hanover County Attorney complied with this directive, but plaintiff was still unable to identify the John Doe defendants. Because he was unable to do so, plaintiff filed several motions requesting additional discovery. The court allowed these motions in part and denied them in part, appointing North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc. (“NCPLS”) for the limited purpose of assisting plaintiff in identifying the John Doe defendants. With NCPLS's assistance, plaintiff identified the John Doe defendants as Detectives J. Pinney, Green, Barnes, and Spencer. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint to reflect this identification.[3]

         Because plaintiff filed defendants' discovery responses with the court, apparently as argument in support of his claims, the record clearly indicates defendants provided plaintiff with ample discovery. Nonetheless, plaintiff filed numerous motions seeking additional discovery, as well as another motion to amend his complaint. The court denied these motions.[4]

         Defendants filed the instant motion on March 13, 2018, accompanied by a memorandum of law, statement of material facts, and appendix. Defendants appendix includes affidavits from each defendant, affidavit of third-party Jeffrey Rohena, and an exhibit detailing the discharge of Pinney's taser.

         Plaintiff's response in opposition is accompanied by a memorandum of law, statement of material facts, and appendix. Plaintiff's appendix contains his own affidavit[5], police reports related to plaintiff's arrest, a use of force report from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, an exhibit detailing the discharge of Pinney's taser, photographs and a hand drawn map of the neighborhood where plaintiff's arrest occurred, the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office's use of force policy, correspondence from NCPLS, a newspaper article covering plaintiff's arrest, and a return of service on the search warrant executed during plaintiff's arrest. Defendants filed a reply, and plaintiff filed a surreply.


         The facts viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff may be summarized as follows. On July 16, 2013, Rohena and Green intercepted a package at a FedEx Express in Wilmington, North Carolina, believing it to contain contraband. (Rohena Aff. (DE 86-1) ¶¶ 5-6). The package was addressed to Travis Angel at 905 N. 5th Street in Wilmington. (Id. ¶ 7). A subsequent canine search indicated the package contained narcotics. (Id. ¶ 8). Rohena then obtained a warrant to search the package. (Id. ¶ 9). The package contained 36.5 ounces of heroin. (Id.). Rohena and Green placed a monitored GPS and light sensor in the package and then re-sealed it. (Id. ¶ 10). Rohena then obtained an anticipatory search warrant for 905 N. 5th Street. (Id. ¶ 11).

         After obtaining the anticipatory search warrant, Rohena requested assistance from other detectives for conducting a controlled delivery of the package and in executing the anticipatory search warrant. (Id. ¶ 11). The detectives planned for Rohena to pose as a FedEx employee and deliver the package to Angel, while the other detectives secured the premises and detained any occupants. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13).

         Rohena drove a delivery van to 905 N. 5th Street with Green hidden in the back. (Id. ¶ 15). Barnes, Pinney, and Spencer established surveillance approximately one block away. (Spencer Aff. (DE 86-4) ¶ 6. Additional detectives took up positions at other nearby locations. (Rohena Aff. (DE 86-1) ¶ 15).

         When Rohena arrived at 905 N. 5th Street, he observed Angel and Rebecca Maxwell sitting on the front porch. (Id. ¶ 16). Green remained hidden in the van, listening in through a muted cellular phone. (Green Aff. (DE 86-2) ¶ 18). Rohena delivered the package to Angel, who took possession of it and took it inside the residence. (Rohena Aff. (DE 86-1) ¶ 17). Maxwell followed behind him. (Id.). Rohena then returned to the van, and notified the other detectives that the package had been delivered, accepted, and taken inside the residence. (Id. ¶ 18). Rohena then drove around the block, and parked in a discrete location to continue surveillance of the residence. (Id. ¶ 19).

         Approximately two minutes later, plaintiff and his son entered the residence. (Id. ¶ 20). A few seconds later, the GPS sensor indicated that the package was moving towards the rear of the residence. (Id. ¶ 21). Rohena then gave the order to execute the search warrant. (Id. ¶ 22).

         Rohena and other detectives entered the front door, performed a protective sweep, and then detained Angel, Maxwell, and plaintiff's son. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25). Meanwhile, other detectives, including all four defendants, flanked either side of the residence and proceeded to the backyard. (Id. ¶ 24). When the detectives arrived in the backyard, they saw plaintiff standing near a shed. (Green Aff. (DE 86-2) ¶ 24). Plaintiff was holding the heroin package under his left arm, and appeared to be trying to unlock the door to the shed. (Id.). The detectives identified themselves, and then ordered plaintiff to get down on the ground and show them his hands. (Id. ¶ 25). Plaintiff dropped the heroin package but did not comply with the detectives' orders. (Id. ΒΆΒΆ 25-27). The detectives approached, continuously ...

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