United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
ORDER, MEMORANDUM OPINION, AND RECOMMENDATION OF
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
ELIZABETH PEAKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
a pro se civil rights action filed under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 by Plaintiff James Jeter Jr Young, an inmate in
the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. His central
allegations in this case are that Defendant B. Ferguson, a
police officer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, improperly
searched his person before discovering a bag of heroin in
Plaintiff's pants. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. #28] which Plaintiff opposes. Plaintiff also
filed his own Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #31], as well
as an earlier Motion [Doc. #26] seeking the appointment of
counsel. The Court will now address all three pending
motions. As set out below, the Court concludes that the prior
denial of Plaintiff's motion to suppress in his state
criminal case precludes Plaintiff from now bringing his
claims here challenging that same search.
Allegations and Facts
Complaint makes only sparse factual allegations. Plaintiff
claims that Defendant searched him during a traffic stop on a
ramp to an interstate highway in Winston- Salem at
approximately 9:30 p.m. on March 24, 2017. (Complaint [Doc.
#2] § IV.) Plaintiff states that Defendant justified the
search of Plaintiff's person by stating that he smelled
the odor of burnt marijuana coming from Plaintiff.
(Id., Attach.) He alleges that Defendant ordered him
out of the vehicle he was driving, ordered him to leave his
cellular telephones in the seat, and grasped Plaintiff's
right arm as he stepped out of the vehicle. (Id.)
Plaintiff contends that Defendant then put Plaintiff's
hands on the hood in “frisk position” before
asking whether he had smoked marijuana or been around anyone
smoking it. (Id.) When Plaintiff stated that he had
not, Defendant then asked if Plaintiff minded if he checked.
(Id.) Plaintiff replied, “NO!” and
Defendant then began to frisk him. (Id.) Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant ordered him to spread his legs further
and then began to “cuff and grasp [Plaintiff's]
genitals.” (Id.) Plaintiff objected and
attempted to turn around, but Plaintiff prevented him by
leaning into his lower back. (Id.) Defendant then
allegedly began to “explore [Plaintiff's] buttock
area with his hand by squeezing sliding and clinching between
his anal area.” (Id.) Plaintiff contends that
Defendant had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion
justifying a search of Plaintiff's person, that Plaintiff
did not willingly consent to any search, and that, if he did
consent, he did not consent to a search of his genitals and
buttocks.(Id.) Therefore, he concludes that
the search of his person violated his rights under the
constitutions of both the United States and the State of
North Carolina. (Id. § II(B).) Based on this
contention, he sues Defendant in his individual capacity
seeking damages in the amount of $250, 000. (Id.
§§ I(B), VI.)
support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant filed
an Affidavit (Defendant's Brief [Doc. #29], Attach. 2)
with supporting exhibits. In that document, Defendant
recounts his version of events. He states that he arrived on
the scene of the traffic stop involving the vehicle Plaintiff
was driving and, a few moments later, engaged Plaintiff in
conversation through an open window of the vehicle.
(Id. ¶ 6-7.) However, he then smelled the odor
of burnt marijuana coming from the driver's side of the
vehicle. (Id. ¶ 7.) Defendant asked Plaintiff
if he had smoked any marijuana and Plaintiff replied that he
had not. (Id. ¶ 8.) Having been informed by
another officer that he had consent to search the vehicle,
Defendant asked Plaintiff to step out. (Id.)
Defendant states that he then asked Plaintiff if he minded
Defendant searching his person for drugs or other items and
that Plaintiff answered, “‘No.'”
then searched Plaintiff's person. As he neared
Plaintiff's buttocks area, he noticed Plaintiff clinching
his buttocks together, as if to keep something from falling.
(Id. ¶ 9.) Defendant alleges that he then felt
a hard object in the area of Plaintiff's buttocks that
Defendant knew was not part of Plaintiff's body.
(Id.) He claims that Plaintiff
“flinched” at this point, leading him to attempt
to handcuff Plaintiff as Plaintiff reached for the area where
Defendant felt the hard object. (Id.) After other
officers helped him handcuff Plaintiff, a bag of what later
turned out to be heroin fell out of the left leg of
Plaintiff's pants. (Id.) Defendant asked
Plaintiff if he had any other contraband, at which point
Plaintiff stated that he did not, but that he had a digital
scale. (Id. ¶ 10.) He then shook his right leg
and the scale fell out of his pants on that side.
(Id.) Plaintiff later pled guilty to possession and
trafficking of heroin. (Id. ¶ 15.)
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material
fact exists. Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1011
(4th Cir. 1991). A genuine issue of fact exists if the
evidence presented could lead a reasonable fact-finder to
return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255
(1986). A court considering a motion for summary judgment
must view all facts and draw all reasonable inferences from
the evidence before it in a light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Id. The proponent of summary
judgment “bears the initial burden of pointing to the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Temkin v. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d
716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). If the movant
carries this burden, then the burden “shifts to the
non-moving party to come forward with facts sufficient to
create a triable issue of fact.” Id. at 718-19
(citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).
Claims Under the United States Constitution
noted above, Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated his
rights under the United States Constitution by frisking him
without proper justification, without consent, and/or outside
the bounds of any justification or consent. Defendant's
primary argument in response is that these claims are barred
by the doctrine of collateral estoppel because Plaintiff
already litigated these issues and lost on them at a
suppression hearing in his state court criminal proceedings.
federal courts have traditionally adhered to the related
doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel.”
Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980).
“Under collateral estoppel, once a court has decided an
issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision
may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a
different cause of action involving a party to the first
case.” Id. (citing Montana v. United
States, 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979)). This applies not only
to decisions by other federal courts, but also decisions from
the state courts. In fact, “Congress has specifically
required all federal courts to give preclusive effect to
state-court judgments whenever the courts of the State from
which the judgments emerged would do so.” Id.
at 96. The doctrine also extends to actions under §
1983, id. at 104-05, and, specifically, to decisions
made by state courts in deciding suppression issues during
state criminal cases, Gray v. Farley, 13
F.3d 142, 146 (4th Cir. 1993) (“A suppression hearing
in an earlier state criminal trial collaterally estops the
relitigation of the same issues in a § 1983 action if
the elements of collateral estoppel are met.”).
the decision upon which Defendant seeks to rely came from the
courts of North Carolina, this Court must look to North
Carolina law to determine whether or not Plaintiff is
collaterally estopped from asserting his claims in this case.
North Carolina law holds that defensive collateral estoppel
applies where “the issue in question was identical to
an issue actually litigated and necessary to the judgment,
that the prior action resulted in a final judgment on the
merits, and that the present parties are the same as, or in
privity with, the parties to the earlier action.”
Sartin v. Macik, 535 F.3d 284, 288 (4th Cir. 2008)
(citing Thomas M. McInnis & Assocs., Inc. v.
Hall, 318 N.C. 421, 349 S.E.2d 552, 556-57 (1986)).
Also, “North Carolina courts have abandoned the final
requirement of ‘mutuality of estoppel' for the
defensive use of collateral estoppel, so long as the party
seeking to reopen the issue ‘had a full and fair
opportunity to litigate' the matter in the previous
those principles to the present case, the transcript of
Plaintiff's suppression hearing in state court reveals
that Plaintiff clearly litigated as part of his suppression
hearing the questions of whether there was a sufficient
constitutional basis for the frisk of his person, whether he
gave valid consent for the frisk, and whether the subsequent
frisk by Defendant was unreasonable in scope or beyond the
bounds of any consent. His attorney specifically argued that
both probable cause and exigent circumstances were required
for the search that occurred. (Defendant's Brief, Attach.
3 at 57-59.) He also argued that Plaintiff did not validly
consent to the search. (Id. at 61-62, ...