Reddick v. Lienhard

Filing 22

ORDER granting 10 Motion for Summary Judgment. This case stands CLOSED. Signed by Chief Judge J. Randal Hall on 06/27/2017. (pts)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OP GEORGIA STATESBORO DIVISION ADDISON REDDICK, * * Plaintiff, CIVIL ACTION NO, * v. CV 616-051 BENJAMIN LIENHARD, * * Defendant. 0 R D E R Before the Court in the captioned matter is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant;against Plaintiff's sole claim in the 1983. case, a false arrest claim under 42 U.S.C. § Upon consideration of the record evidence, the parties' briefs, and the relevant law, the motion for summary judgment (doc. 10) is GRANTED. I. On July 4, FACTUAL 2014, BACKGROUND Defendant Benjamin Lienhard, an Investigator with the Bulloch County Sheriff's Department, and other members of the county crime suppression team met with an informant who stated that he could |have Arizona Zeb Connell i i deliver Defendant heroin to planned the officers |in a sting to pose as a heroin buyer. operation. (Dep. of Benjamin Lienhard, Doc. 9-1, at 13-14, 17-19.) contacted Mr. Connell and told him what The informant kind of buyer (Defendant) would be in for their meeting. Mr. vehicle the (Id. at 14.) Connell changed the meeting place on that day two times before settling upon Parker's convenience store. Defendant space. drove to Parker's and parked (Id.) in a parking Thereafter, Mr. Connell and Plaintiff Addison Reddick pulled up in a white Honda Civic and parked a couple of spaces down from Defendant. (Id. at 14-15.) Although Mr. was driving the Civic, Plaintiff ownbd the vehicle. Addison Reddick, Doc. 13-1, at 23-24.) in, Defendant did not (Lienhard Dep. at 14.) know the Connell (Dep. of When the Civic pulled occupants' identities. Once Mr. Connell exited the vehicle, the other observing members of the crime suppression unit identified him.1 The officers followed Mr. store and confronted him. (Id. at 15.) Connell into the Meanwhile, Defendant approached the Civic, in which Plaintiff had remained. (Id.) Defendant identified himself to Plaintiff, was there, and asked basic questions. Plaintiff identified herself, explained why he (Id. at 15-16.) After Defendant recognized her name and knew that she had been previously convicted of possession 1 Plaintiff testified that she had gone first into the convenience store to use the restroom and then returned to the passenger seat before Mr. Connell left the vehicle. Dep. at 32-33.) (Reddick of cocaine.2 (Id. at 16, 63-64.) ! According to Plaintiff, Defendant informed her that she was going to jail for being a part of a drug sale. Dep. at 40.) (Reddick Plaintiff told the officers that she did not know anything about drug activity. (Id. at 45.) Nevertheless, after Plaintiff was detained in a patrol car, a police canine made a positive alert on the Honda Civic, presence of drugs. colleagues then (Lienhard Dep. ajt 16.) began searching jthe indicating the Defendant and his car. (Id.) While i searching, Defendant observed smalljpieces of a white, rocklike substance seated. on the floorboard (Id. at 17, 24 & Ex. 1.) crack cocaine to Defendant. (Id.) drug test on the substance. where Plaintiff had been The substance looked like Defendant performed a field The field test involved opening a vial containing certain chemicals, placing the substance in the vial, and observing whether the substance changed color. A color cocaine. change to blue Defendant indicated a positive followed these' result for steps and observed the substance turn blue inside the vial.j (IcL at 25, 41, 50 ("The j best of my recollection was that the substance turned blue i inside the vial that was emersed (sic) in liquid.").) 2 Plaintiff had been arrested in 2008, possession of cocaine. (Reddick Dep. at 8-9.) been involved in the investigation. Dep. at 62-64.) at age 17, for Defendant had (Id. at 9-10; Lienhard For her part, Plaintiff contends that the field drug test was not positive. She claims that she saw Defendant pick up a substance from inside the car and place it in a field test vial. She claims the vial did not change color and that she witnessed the officers (Reddick Dep. at throw the jvial 46-48.) The officers in nearby bushes. then came Plaintiff and asked her whose cocaine it was. (Id. over to at 47.) Plaintiff was placed under arrest and transported to the Bulloch County jail. Plaintiff retrieved the vial from the bushes after she bonded out of jail.!3 was retained by her parents attorney.4 (Id. at 49-50.) and (Id. at 49.) then turned over The vial to her Plaintiff contends that when the vial was retrieved from the bushes, there was no blue coloring in it. (Id. at 51.) Plaintiff insists that the substance pulled from the car was actually biscuit crumbs.5 (Id. at 35.) 3 The elapsed time between arrest and retrieval of the vial was about 36 hours. 4 (See Reddick Dep. at 53.) The vial was produced by Plaintiff's attorney at her deposition over two years later, at Which time it was examined and photographed. (Reddick Dep. at 48-49 & Ex. 1.) Plaintiff testified that when she retrieved the vial, it had more liquid in it and did not contain any blue droplets or flakes. (Id. at 49.) She testified that u [e] verything was still at the bottom of the vial," (Id. at 50.) Yet, an examination of the vial at deposition revealed a few blue droplets or flakes. (Idj i 5 Plaintiff remembers that two days prior to her arrest, she shared a biscuit with her dog in the car that she had just cleaned and that the dog made a mess on the floorboard. (Reddick Dep. at 35.) Defendant's report of investigation does not mention that he conducted a field test of any substance. 39-40 & Ex. that he cocaine. 1.) However, conducted the (Lienhard Dep. at Defendant testified at deposition test (Id. at 27-28, 41.) with the vial after the test. and that it was positive for He could not recall what he did (Id. at 45.) Defendant further testified that it is his agency's practice to "dispose of" the field test vial, typically in a trash can. In addition to the field test, (Id. at 45-48.) Defendant collected a sample of the white substance on the floor board as evidence. (Id. at 51-52 & Ex. 5.) The Georgia Bureau of Investigation i ultimately determined, however, that the collected substance was not a controlled substance. II. (Id., SUMMARY JUDGMENT Ex. 6.) STANDARD The Court should grant summary judgment only if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. i Civ. P. 56(c). outcome of the Facts are "material": if they could affect the suit under Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, the governing substantive Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 law. (1986). The Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and must draw "all justifiable inferences in [its] favor," United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1J128, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (internal punctuation and citations omitted). The moving party has the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on file, motion. the basis for the Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). How to carry this burden depends on; who bears the burden of proof at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993) . at trial, If the movant bears the burden of proof that party "must show that, elements of its case, ... no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." the other hand, on all the essential Four Parcels, 941 F.2d at 1438. On if the non-movant has the burden of proof at trial, the movant may carry the initial burden in one of two ways--by negating an essential element of the non-movant's case or by showing that there is no jevidence to prove a fact necessary to the non-movant's case. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc. , 929 F.2d 604, 606-08 (11th Cir. 1991) (explaining Adickes v. and Celotex Corp. v. S.H. Kress & Co., Catrett, 398 U.S. 477 U.S. 317 144 (1986*)). evaluate the non-movant's response (1970) Before the Court can in opposition, it must first consider whether the movant has met its initial burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Jones v. City of Columbus, 120 F.3d 248, 254 (11th Cir. 1997) curiam). A mere conclusory statement that the cannot meet the burden at trial is F.2d at (per non-movant insufficient. Clark, 929 608. If--and only if--the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment only by *demonstrat[ing] that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. Again, how to carry this burden depends on who bears the burden of proof at trial. If the movant has the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment only by coming forward with evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. If the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must tailor its response to the method by which the movant carries its initial burden. If the movant presents evidence affirmatively negating a material fact, the non-movant "must respond with evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial on the material fact sought to be negated." Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. If the movant shows an absence of evidence on a material fact, the non-movant must evidence that was either show that the record contains "overlooked or ignored" by the movant or "come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1116-17. The non-movant cannot carry its burden by relying on the pleadings or by repeating conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. See Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, J1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981). i Rather, the non-movant must respond by affidavits or as otherwise provided by Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Clerk has given Plaintiff notice of the summary i judgment motion and the summary judgment rules, of the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and of the consequences of default. (Doc. 12.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, i 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam) , are satisfied. The time for filing materials in opposition has ejxpired, and the motion is ripe for consideration. III. LEGAL ANALYSIS i The sole claim in Plaintiff's complaint is a claim for violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure, i.e., false arrest.6 Through his motion for summary judgment, Defendant contends he is 6 Section 1983 creates a federal remedy for the deprivation of rights, privileges orI immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the Unitejd States by a person or persons acting under color of law.; Wideman v. Shallowford Community Hqsp.. Inc., 826 F.2d 1030, 1032 (11th Cir. 1987). There is no dispute that Deputy Lienhard was acting under color of state law. entitled to therefore, qualified the Court immunity on Plaintiff's should grant claim, summary judgment and in his favor. "Qualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials sued in their individual capacities if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory j or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Grider v. City of Auburn, Ala., 618 F.3d 124 0, 1254 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982) and Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, (alteration and internal 1346 (11th Cir. 2002)) quotation marks omitted). "Qualified immunity from suit is intended to allow government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the litigation, fear of protecting personal from suit liability all but or the harassing plainly incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal law." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, " [o]fficials are not liable for bad guesses in gray areas; they are liable for transgressing bright lines." Robinson v. Payton. No. 14-1962, 2015 WL 3937653, at *3 (8th Cir. June 29, 2015) (citing Davis v. Hall, 375 F.3d 703, 712 (8th Cir. 2004) ) . To receive qualified immunity, the government official must first prove that he was acting within his discretionary authority. 2003) Gonzalez v. Reno, (citing Vinvard, 325 F.3d 1228, 311 F.3d at 1234 1346) . (11th Cir. Here, Plaintiff does not dispute that Defendant was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority during the arrest. The burden now shifts to Plaintiff to show that qualified immunity is not appropriate. 1303 Gray ex rel. Alexander v. Bostic, 458 F.3d 1295, (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Lumley v. City of Dade City, Fla. , 327 F.3d 1186, 1194 (11th Cir. I2003)). Courts utilize a two-part frkmework to evaluate the qualified immunity defense. First,; as a threshold inquiry, the Court addresses whether the plaintiff's allegations, true, establish a constitutional violation. 533 U.S. light 194, most 201 (2001). favorable to If the facts, the Saucier v. Katz, construed in the plaintiff, constitutional right has been violated, show that An a then the Court asks whether the right violated was clearly established.7 A. if Id. Constitutional Violation arrest without probable cause Amendment. violates E.g., Kinasland v. City! of Miami, 1232 (11th Cir. 2004). the Fourth 382 F.3d 1220, Even so, an officer can avail himself of the qualified immunity doctrine if he had arguable probable 7 This Court has the flexibility to first consider whether a right was clearly established constitutional right was violated. before determining if a See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). However, the facts of the present case are best suited for the traditional Saucier analysis. 10 cause for the arrest. 1271, 1283 (11th Cir. Ala. , 608 F.3d 724, Id. (citing Jones v. Cannon, 174 F.3d 1999)); Brown v. 734 (11th Cir. City of Huntsville, 2010) (for qualified immunity to apply, a defendant "need not have actual probable cause, but only 'arguable' probablejcause") . "The standard for arguable probable cause is whether a reasonable officer in the same circumstances and possessing i the same knowledge as the officer! in question could have I reasonably believed that probable cause existed in the light of well-established law." 1160 (11th Cir. 1994). officers to make Eubanks v. F.3d 1157, reasonable mistakes with regard to the without being held personally Bradley v. Tucker, 2015 WL 64944, at *8 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 5, 2015) (11th Cir. 40 "This standard permits law enforcement existence of probable cause liable." Gerwen, (citing Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 579 1990) ) . In this case, Defendant arrested Plaintiff for possession i of cocaine. Thus, in order for probable cause to arguably exist, Defendant must have reasonably believed that Plaintiff possessed cocaine. The undisputed facts show that Defendant knew the following at the time of Plaintiff's arrest: (1) that Plaintiff arrived at the store with a suspected drug dealer; (2) that Plaintiff had been arrested previously for possession of cocaine; (3) that the police canine alerted to her car 11 indicating the presence of a controlled substance; that there were small pieces of a white, and (4) rock-like substance on the floorboard where Plaintiff haci been seated. Defendant would add that he also field tested! the white substance and determined that it disputed because of was cocaine. This fact, however, is Plaintiff's testimony that she did not observe "the vial change colors." (Reddick Dep. at 47.) The fact that she observed Defendant simply throw the vial in the bushes, which she later retrieved, could also be evidence of a negative test result in the minds of reasonable jurors.8 The question then is whether a reasonable officer in Defendant's position at the time of arrest, knowing all of the undisputed facts but also knowing that the field test was negative for cocaine, had arguable Iprobable cause to arrest Plaintiff. There can be no doubt that if .conclusively positive, probable cause existed. the test was Also, without any field test, an officer would have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for possession of cocaine.' Yet, what of the officer 8 The fact that it is common practice to dispose of the vials negates this inference. So too does the presence of blue droplets or flakes in the vial at deposition. Nevertheless, condition of little can be conclusively learned from the the vial upon retrieval 36 hours later and certainly not two years later at deposition. Indeed, whether or not the vial contained "blue" is immaterial to the present inquiry as the Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, which is that the vial was thrown in the bushes and did not indicate a positive test result. 12 who conducts Here, the a field test Court focuses who testified Defendant, that yields that used to help suspected narcotic result? the use of a field test (See Lienhard Dep. at 9.) build is (Id.) jWhile the field test can probable sent to cause, the ultimately, crime lab for every testing "regardless of whether it tests positive or negative." at 10.) is the decision of whether to arrest is not solely based on a field test. be negative on the uncontravened testimony of within the officer's discretion. More importantly, a (Id. Accordingly, even if the field test proved negative, a reasonable officer could still arrest a suspect if he has probable cause to do so in the absence of the field test. That is, a negative result in a field test does not negate the other elements of an officer's probable cause to arrest.9 j Upon these facts, even assuming that Defendant's field test yielded a negative result for cocaine, a reasonable officer in his position at the time of arrest still could have believed that Plaintiff presence at a drug possessed transaction, cocaine based upon her her prior history with cocaine, the canine alert, and the presence of what appeared to be crack cocaine on the floorboard. 9 Thus, Defendant had The Court notes that there was absolutely no evidence that Defendant acted with any maljice or bad faith toward Plaintiff. j 13 arguable probable cause for the arrest, and the arrest did not violate the Fourth Amendment. B. Clearly Established Law If no constitutional right wasjviolated, the Court need not address whether the defendant violated clearly established law. do Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Nevertheless, the Court will so. There are three ways in which a plaintiff can show that a right is clearly indistinguishable constitutional established: facts right; (2) within the Constitution, establishes a "(1) clearly a broad statute, constitutional case law with establishing statement the of principle or case law that clearly right; or (3) conduct so egregious that a constitutional right was clearly violated, even in the total absence of case law." Palm Beach, Fla. , 561 F.3d 1288, Lewis v. Citv of W. 1291-92 (11th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). In this case, Plaintiff does hot cite any case law in which an officer was found to have made a false arrest under materially similar circumstances.10 j Terrell v. Smith, 668 See F.3d 1244, 1256 (11th Cir. 2012) ("[P]laintiffs may establish 10 officer Plaintiff would need to present case law in which an was found to have violated the Fourth Amendment despite the fact that he had probable cause to arrest but for a negative field test. 14 that the right was clearly established by pointing to a 'materially similar case' decided by the Supreme Court, this Court, or the [State] Supreme Court."). In fact, Plaintiff does not address the "clearly established" prong of qualified immunity in brief even though the burden rests with her to show the defense is inappropriate. The Court then assumes that Plaintiff is relying upon the general proposition that an arrest without probable cause is unconstitutional. The Supreme Couijt, however, has recently reiterated longstanding "the established law' principle should not be defined generality.'" White v. Paulv, 552 (2017). 1341, 1015 1350 'clearly 'at a high level of U.S. , 137 S. Ct. 548, Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has made clear that "obvious clarity" cases are rare. 999, that (11th Cir. n.18 2011); (11th Cir. Coffin v. Brandau, 642 F.3d Rodriguez v. 2002) ("We Farrell, very 280 F.3d occasionally encounter the exceptional case in which a defendant officer's acts are so egregious that preexisting, fact-specific precedent was not necessary to give clear warning to every reasonable . . . officer that what the defendant officer was doing must be 'unreasonable' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."). The critical inquiry for this Court is whether the law provided this Defendant "fair warning" conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. 15 See that his Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002), cited in, e.g., McClish v. Nugent, 483 F.3d 1231, 1248 (11th Cir. 2007)!; Coffin v. Brandau, 642 F.3d at 1013-14 (stating that the touchstone of the clearly established inquiry is whether the unlawfulness of the conduct would be apparent to a reasonable officer) . Court determines that it is not In this case, the obviously clear that a negative field test for the presence of cocaine will negate the other elements of a probable cause determination for a drug possession arrest to the point that the arrest violates the Fourth Amendment. That is, Plaintiff has not shown that her arrest went well beyond anything that a reasonable officer would have considered reasonable under the circumstances. ! i IV. Upon the judgment (doc. foregoing, 10) CONCLUSION Defendant's is GRANTED. motion Accordingly, for summary the Clerk is directed to ENTER JUDGMENT in favor of Defendant, TERMINATE any remaining motions and deadlines; and CLOSE this case. ORDER ENTERED at Augusta, Georgia, this <Z>{ I day of June, 2017. J.^RAltBAL HAL]/ CHIEF JUDGE UNITE© STATES DISTRICT COURT DUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA 16

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