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Sylvester v. Inman

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

July 9, 2019

PATRICK SHAWN SYLVESTER, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNIE INMAN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          OSTEEN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on Defendant Donnie Inman's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 11.) Pro se Plaintiff Patrick Sean Sylvester was arrested by Defendant, an officer with the Denton Police Department, on February 3, 2016, pursuant to a warrant for statutory rape, indecent liberties, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. (Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 2) at 1; Affidavit of Donnie Inman (“Inman Aff.”) (Doc. 11-1) ¶¶ 1, 6-7.) Plaintiff alleges that this arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights because Defendant lacked probable cause to make an arrest and because Defendant “assaulted” Plaintiff while conducting the arrest. (See Compl. (Doc. 2) at 1.) Plaintiff further alleges that, while imprisoned, he suffered injuries due to (1) the conditions of his confinement and (2) an assault by another inmate, allegedly caused by a correctional officer revealing information about the nature of Plaintiff's criminal charges. (Id.)

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment, (Doc. 11), submitted a memorandum in support of this motion, (Doc. 12), and attached an affidavit and other supporting documents. Plaintiff has not responded opposing the motion. Because this court finds that Plaintiff has failed to raise any genuine issue of material fact regarding whether his arrest was constitutional, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this court must determine whether there remains a “genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Once a defendant makes a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cty., 48 F.3d 810, 817 (4th Cir. 1995). “On summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam). If there is no genuine dispute about any fact material to the moving party's claim, then “the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         A factual dispute is genuine when “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); see also First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289-90 (1968) (stating that a dispute is not genuine for summary judgment purposes when one party rests solely on allegations in the pleadings and does not produce any evidence to refute alternative arguments). This court must look to substantive law to determine which facts are material - only those facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247.

         In addition, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 247-48. “[T]he non-moving party must do more than present a ‘scintilla' of evidence in its favor.” Sylvia Dev. Corp., 48 F.3d at 818. Ultimately, “there is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         II. LEGAL FRAMEWORK & ARGUMENTS

         Plaintiff claims a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.[1] The Fourth Amendment protects the right “to be secure . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV.

Whether [an] arrest was constitutionally valid depends . . . upon whether, at the moment the arrest was made, the officers had probable cause to make it - whether at that moment the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the petitioner had committed or was committing an offense.

Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964); see also Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164, 171 (2008) (“[W]hen an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime in his presence, the balancing of private and public interests is not in doubt. The arrest is constitutionally reasonable.”); Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 354 (2001).

         The default rule is that probable cause establishes constitutionality; the Supreme Court has recognized exceptions only when “searches or seizures [are] conducted in an extraordinary manner, unusually harmful to an individual's privacy or even physical interests.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 818 (1996). Such extreme cases include bodily penetration incident to arrest, which is evaluated under a more flexible balancing test. See Winston v. Lee, 470 U.S. 753, 760- 63 (1985) (surgery to remove bullet lodged inside arrestee); Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 758-59, 771 (1966) (extraction of blood to measure blood alcohol content). The Supreme Court has not, however, held that allegations of assault or excessive force alone abrogate the default probable-cause rule.

         The use of excessive force during an arrest violates the Fourth Amendment only when it is not objectively reasonable. In other words, “the question is whether the officers' actions are ‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). Relevant factors include “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. at 396.

         An officer is shielded by qualified immunity “as long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 243-44 (2009) (“An officer conducting a search is entitled to qualified ...


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