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Torres v. Ball

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

September 18, 2019

NATHAN BALL, et al., Defendants.


          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of pro se Plaintiff’s Complaint, (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. (Doc. No. 5).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff filed a civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while incarcerated at the Craven Correctional Institution.[1] He names as Defendants Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Nathan Ball, Deputy Dane R. Onderdonk, and Deputy Timothy R. Taylor in their individual capacities.

         Liberally construing the Complaint and accepting the allegations as true, Sergeant Ball stopped the vehicle Petitioner was driving while in a private driveway at 3:15AM on March 3, 2018. Defendant Ball stopped the vehicle without probable cause or a reasonable articulable suspicion and used excessive force by pointing a gun and yelling commands at Plaintiff. Defendant Ball’s use of force during the incident was “very much excessive” even though Plaintiff never posed an immediate threat of safety to officers or others and never actively resisted or attempted to evade arrest by flight. (Doc. No. 1 at 14). Defendant Ball had no grounds to believe Plaintiff committed a criminal offense or violated any traffic laws. Sergeant Ball then illegally searched Petitioner by reaching into his pockets that exceeded the scope of a pat-down for weapons and Plaintiff’s fiancee was also illegally searched. Plaintiff’s vehicle was illegally search by Defendants Onderdonk and Taylor. Plaintiff was then illegally arrested, illegally charged, and falsely imprisoned for 24 days. The false charges were dismissed on March 12, 2019, “per an illegal traffic stop.” (Doc. No. 1 at 14). Footage from Sergeant Ball’s body camera conflicts with Defendant Ball’s synopsis of the case and reveals perjury. The foregoing violated the United States and North Carolina Constitutions. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages.


         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “(i) frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In its frivolity review, a court must determine whether the Complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim “unless ‘after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff’s favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.’” Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         A pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (“Liberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where … there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.”). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to allege facts in his complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990). A pro se complaint must still contain sufficient facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (the Twombly plausibility standard applies to all federal civil complaints including those filed under § 1983). This “plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). He must articulate facts that, when accepted as true, demonstrate he has stated a claim entitling him to relief. Id.


         (1) Stop, Search, and Seizure

         The Fourth Amendment provides that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment levies on state governments the same restrictions that the Fourth Amendment imposes on the federal government. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 654-55 (1961). Because an arrest amounts to a Fourth Amendment seizure, probable cause is necessary for an arrest to be lawful. See Henderson v. Simms, 223 F.3d 267, 272 (4th Cir. 2000); see also Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307, 310-11 (1959). False arrest and false imprisonment are considered under a Fourth Amendment analysis.[2] See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. at 384, 387-88 (2007) (acknowledging that “Section 1983 provides a federal cause of action” for Fourth Amendment false arrest, and stating that “[f]alse arrest and false imprisonment overlap; the former is a species of the latter”); Brooks v. City of Winston–Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 183 (4th Cir. 1996); Green v. Maroules, 211 Fed.Appx. 159 (4th Cir. 2006); Rogers v. Pendleton, 249 F.3d 279, 294 (4th Cir. 2001) (“false arrest and false imprisonment claims … are essentially claims alleging seizure of the person in violation of the Fourth Amendment”).

         “A plaintiff’s allegations that police seized him pursuant to legal process that was not supported by probable cause and that the criminal proceedings terminated in his favor are sufficient to state a claim alleging that a seizure was violative of the Fourth Amendment.” Miller v. Prince George’s Cnty., 475 F.3d 621, 630 (4th Cir.2007) (internal quotations omitted). However, a facially valid arrest warrant provides the arresting officer with sufficient probable cause to arrest the individual identified in the warrant. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 143–44 (1979). Therefore, “[a] public official cannot be charged with false arrest when he arrests a defendant pursuant to a facially valid warrant.... Thus, we recognize implicitly that a claim for false arrest may be considered only when no arrest warrant has been obtained.” Porterfield v. Lott, 156 F.3d 563, 568 (4th Cir.1998) (citing Brooks v. City of Winston–Salem, 85 F.3d 178 (4th Cir.1996)).

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant Ball subjected him to an illegal traffic stop, search of his person, and arrest, and that Defendants Onderdonk and Taylor illegally searched the car he was driving. Plaintiff claims that the charges were dismissed after he spent 24 days in jail. Liberally construed, these allegations state a plausible § 1983 claim. However, to the extent that Plaintiff complains that his fiancee was also illegally stopped and searched, he lacks standing to seek relief on her behalf. See Hummer v. Dalton, 657 F.2d 621, 635-26 (4th Cir. 1981) (a prisoner cannot act as a “knight-errant” for others); Oxendine v. Williams, 509 F.2d 1405 (4th Cir. 1975) (“it is plain error to permit [an] imprisoned litigant who is unassisted by counsel to represent his fellow inmates in a class action.”).

         Plaintiff’s claims that Defendants Ball, Onderdonck, and Taylor illegally stopped, searched, and seized him will therefore be permitted to proceed, but the claims that ...

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