Lawrence v. Hansen et al
ORDER granting 44 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 5/25/2017. Certified copy sent via US Mail to Michael Lawrence to 4877 E. Donald Ave., Apt. C, Denver, CO 80222. (Stouch, L.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
MICHAEL LA WREN CE,
This cause comes before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment under
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [DE 44]. This matter has been fully briefed and
is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.
The events precipitating this case began with a traffic stop in Apex, North Carolina, on
September 24, 2012. Defendant, an Apex Police Department officer, stopped plaintiffs vehicle
because she observed that plaintiffs vehicle registration had expired 11 months before. [DE 4613 at if 4]. When defendant spoke with plaintiff and inquired regarding his· expired Colorado
registration, plaintiff told defendant that he had moved to North Carolina some months before
and had not renewed his registration in
nor registered his vehicle in North Carolina.
[DE 46-13 at ifif 5-8]. Defendant issued a citation to plaintiff for: (1) unlawfully operating a
motor vehicle that displayed a registration he knew to be expired, in violation ofN.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 20-111 (2), and (2) operating a motor vehicle without having registered the vehicle with the
North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, such vehicle being one required to be registered, in
violation ofN.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-111(1). [DE 46-13 at if 10 and pp. 5-9].
When defendant ran plaintiffs driver's license information through the NCIC database,
she discovered an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Plaintiff was a wanted person and the state
of Colorado had requested full extradition from participating states nationwide, should plaintiff
be apprehended. [DE 46-13 at ilil 11-12 and p. 8; DE 46-16]. Defendant confirmed the warrant
with The Town of Apex Emergency Communications Department. [DE 46-13 at ilil 13-14 and
Plaintiff admits that there was an outstanding Colorado warrant against him for probation
violations. [DE 4 at ii 8]. Consequently, defendant arrested plaintiff and took him to the Wake
County detention facility and disclosed the NCIC hit to Magistrate B. Nickels, who took copies
of the paperwork and used the NCIC information to complete the document entitled "Fugitive
Affidavit." [DE 46-13 at ii 15]. Magistrate B. Nickels then issued a Warrant for Arrest for
Fugitive for plaintiff and set plaintiffs bond for $200,000. [DE 46-1 O]. During a hearing the next
day, plaintiff refused extradition to Colorado. Id. Plaintiffs court-appointed defense counsel
moved for a reduction in his bond, which was denied. [DE 46-10 and 46-11]. '
A Waiver of Extradition signed by plaintiff in Colorado on August 18, 2010, as a
condition of his probation, was upheld, and the Wake County Superior Court issued an order that
plaintiff be turned over to agents of the state of Colorado. [DE 46-12]. Plaintiff states that he was
extradited to Denver County jail on or about November 9, 2012, where he was able to post bond
on or about November 11, 2012. [DE 4 at ilil 20-21]. Plaintiff, proceeding prose, then brought
the instant suit against defendant, the City of Apex Police Department, and John Letteney on
November 6, 2015, seeking damages arising out of alleged Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendment violations. [DE 4].
Defendant City of Apex Police Department filed a motion to dismiss on January 7, 2016,
[DE 18], which was granted by the Court on March 18, 2016. [DE 21]. On August 29, 2016, the
remaining defendants, John Letteney and defendant, filed a partial motion for judgment on the
pleadings, [DE 20], which was granted by the Court on December 21, 2016. [DE 32]. As a result
of that motion, all claims against defendant Letteney and all Eighth Amendment claims against
defendant were dismissed. Id
On February 27, 2017, defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment. [DE
44]. Plaintiff responded, [DE 51], and defendant filed a reply, [DE 55].
A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless there are no genuine issues
of material fact for trial and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue
of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If that burden has been met,
the non-moving party must then come forward and establish the specific material facts in dispute
to survive summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
588 (1986). In determining wh~ther a genuine issue of material fact exists for trial, a trial court
views the evidence and the inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). However, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in
support of the nonmoving party's position is not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary
judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). "A dispute is genuine if a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party ... and [a] fact is material if it
might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Libertarian Party of Virginia v.
Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Speculative
or conclusory allegations, however, will not suffice. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312
F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002).
In order to state a claim for violation of a constitutionally protected right under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, a plaintiff must allege "that some person has deprived him of a federal right ... [and]
that the person who has deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law."
Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part
that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
umeasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const. amend. IV.
In his complaint, plaintiff claims generally that Corporal Hansen lacked probable cause
for his arrest, caused a deprivation of his constitutional rights, and that her training was
insufficient. All challenges to the setting or amount of plaintiffs bail were dismissed by this
Court by its previous order dismissing all Eight Amendment claims made by plaintiff. Thus, the
only remaining claims are under the Fourth Amendments and concern whether defendant had
probable cause to justify the arrest of plaintiff and whether her conduct during that arrest in
filling out and presenting a Fugitive Affidavit before the Wake County Court violated plaintiffs
The temporary detention of a person during a vehicle stop constitutes a seizure for
purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996). "Because
a traffic stop is more analogous to an investigative detention than a custodial arrest, [courts] treat
a traffic stop, whether based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, under the standard set
·forth in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)." United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498, 506 (4th
Cir. 2011), as amended (Aug. 2, 2011). Under Terry, a court must examine a traffic stop on two
grounds-first, to determine whether it was justified at its inception and, second, to determine
whether the police officer's actions after the stop were reasonably related to the circumstances
which justified the stop. Id Generally, "the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where
the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred." Whren, 517 U.S.
at 8010. "Observation of any traffic violation, no matter how minor, gives an officer probable
cause to stop the driver." United States v. Jones, 364 F. App'x 834, 835 (4th Cir. 2010) (citation
An officer may also "stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the
officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity 'may be
afoot,' even if the officer lacks probable cause." United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989)
(quoting Terry; 392 U.S. at 30). "Reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than
probable cause not only in the sense that reasonable suspicion can be established with
information that is different in quantity or content than that required to establish probable cause,
but also in the sense that reasonable suspicion can arise from information that is less reliable than
that required to show probable cause." Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330 (1990). Whether an
officer had a reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot is an objective
inquiry which requires a court to consider the totality of the circumstances. Id at 8; United States
v. Branch, 537 F.3d 328, 337 (4th Cir. 2008).
Whether assessing whether the stop of plaintiff was justified under the reasonable
articulable suspicion standard or even under the more stringent probable cause standard, the
undisputed evidence clearly shows that defendant's stop of plaintiff was justified. Defendant
observed that the registration on plaintiffs license plate was almost a year out of date. When
defendant inquired about plaintiffs registration, plaintiff admitted that his Colorado registration
was almost a year out of date, and that he had moved to North Carolina, but had not attempted to
register his vehicle in North Carolina. It is unlawful in North Carolina to knowingly operate a
vehicle on the public highways that does not display a current registration plate and to knowingly
display a registration number plate that the operator knows is expired, and each offense
constitutes a Class 3 misdemeanor. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-111(1)-(2) (2016). Plaintiff has not
presented or established any evidence that his registration in Colorado or North Carolina was
current or that disputes what transpired at the traffic stop. Therefore, the undisputed facts show
that defendant was clearly justified in making a traffic stop of plaintiff.
Plaintiff next contends that defendant violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment
when she arrested him. The test to determine whether probable cause existed for a seizure is an
objective one, based on the totality of the circumstances. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, (1983);
see also Mazuz v. Maryland, 442 F.3d 217 (4th Cir. 2006) ("Whether a Fourth Amendment
violation has occurred turns on an objective assessment of the officer's actions in light of the
facts and circumstances confronting him at the time, and not on the officer's actual state of mind
at the time the challenged action was taken."). "If an officer has probable cause to believe that an
individual has committed even a very minor criminal offense in his presence, [she] may, without
violating the Fourth Amendment, arrest the offender." Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S.
318, 354 (2001). "An officer has probable cause for arrest when the facts and circumstances
within the officer's knowledge ... are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of
reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is
committing, or is about to commit an offense."' Wilson v. Kittoe, 337 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir.
2003) (quoting Pritchett v. Alford, 973 F.2d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 1992). "In evaluating objective
reasonableness, what the officer observed is highly relevant; [her] subjective beliefs are not."
Bostic v. Rodriguez, 667 F. Supp. 2d 591, 607 (E.D.N.C. 2009).
Under this standard, defendant's subjective beliefs are not relevant to the consideration of
whether, objectively, she was justified in effecting a seizure of plaintiff. Again, the evidence
clearly shows that she was justified in doing so. Plaintiff had committed, and admitted to, a
traffic violation in defendant's presence. That alone is enough to justify the arrest of plaintiff,
because a warrantless arrest for even a minor traffic offense does not violate an arrestee's Fourth
Amendment rights. Atwater, 532 U.S. at 354. Moreover, defendant searched for plaintiffs
information in law enforcement electronic databases, which alerted defendant that plaintiff was a
wanted person in Colorado with full extradition back to that state and that a warrant existed for
his arrest. Plaintiff has conceded that a warrant was issued for his arrest in Colorado. Finally,
under the terms of the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, which was adopted by North Carolina
by N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 15A-721 et seq., North Carolina is required to comply with the demands of
other states to return to them persons charged there with felonies. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-722.
Any peace officer has the same authority to arrest a person subject to a warrant issued by another
state to seize and deliver him to the duly-authorized agent of the other state. N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 15A-728. Plaintiff has conceded that he was charged with a.crime in Colorado, that a facially-
valid warrant was issued for him in Colorado, and that he is the person referred to in the warrant.
For all of these reasons, defendant's arrest of plaintiff was clearly supported by probable cause
and justified under the Fourth Amendment.
Moreover, even should a violation of plaintiffs Fourth Amendment rights be found
during the stop or arrest, the evidence shows that that plaintiffs claims against defendant in her
individual capacity would be barred by qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields
government officials'1from liability so long as they could reasonably believe that their conduct
does not violate clearly established law. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); see
also Henry v. Purnell, 652 F .3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011) (en bane). It protects "all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341
(1986); see also Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658 (2012). A court employs a two-step procedure
for determining whether qualified immunity applies that "asks first whether a constitutional
violation occurred and second whether the right violated was clearly established." Melgar v.
Greene, 593 F.3d 348, 353 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001)). Again,
the facts are construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Id.
Plaintiff argues that, because defendant made several errors in filling out the Fugitive
Affidavit Form, that her actions amount to "plain incompetence" and were in violation of
established law. Plaintiff further argues that the mistaken information in the Fugitive Affidavit
caused his Fourth Amendment rights to be violated when bond was imposed at a high amount
and when he was held in jail until his extradition to Colorado. As to this second argument,
relating to the bond amount and his holding in jail, plaintiff has identified no authority
recognizing such a claim to be actionable under the Fourth Amendment, and his claims under the
Eighth Amendment for excessive bail have already been dismissed by prior order of this Court.
As to plaintiffs first argument, that defendant's actions were plainly incompetent and in
violation of established law, the Court finds that the evidence clearly shows that defendant is
entitled to qualified immunity.
As discussed above, defendant clearly had probable cause to arrest plaintiff, and there is
no evidence obviating this fact. Although several parts of the Fugitive Affidavit Form were filled
out incorrectly, defendant still had probable cause to arrest plaintiff for his traffic violation and
under N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 15A-733, which allows for the arrest of persons who have been charged
out-of-state with a crime and then fled, as well as those who "having been convicted of a crime
in that state and having escaped from confinement, or having broken the terms of his bail,
probation or parole, and is believed to be in this State." N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 15A-733. Plaintiff
admits that he was in violation of his parole and that an arrest warrant had been issued in
Colorado for that reason. Whether the defendant stated in the Fugitive Affidavit that the reason
for the arrest was plaintiffs underlying conviction committed in Colorado for attempt to
influence a public servant, forgery, and offering a false instrument, or whether the reason listed
for the arrest was plaintiffs probation violation, which was ordered by Colorado as a result of
the above conviction, either way the reason listed in the Fugitive Affidavit immaterial to
considering whether defendant had probable cause to arrest plaintiff. Plaintiff was a fugitive
under the plain terms ofN.C. Gen. Stat.§ 15A-733, and had also committed a crime within
defendant's presence. Any mistakes on the Fugitive Affidavit, because they did not obviate this
probable cause, are excused under qualified immunity which "gives government officials
breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments." Messerschmidt v. Millender, 565
U.S. 535, 553 (2012) (citing Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011)).
The only exception which would allow suit in the case of alleged "plain incompetence"
where an arrest warrant has issued is if "it is obvious that no reasonably competent officer would
have concluded that a warrant should issue." Id. at 547 (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335,
341 (1986)). Again, defendant issued the Fugitive Affidavit Form, which was approved by a
reviewing magistrate, under circumstances in which a reasonable officer would conclude that
there was probable cause to support the arrest.
Moreover, officers complying with a demand for extradition are subject to an additional
presumption of good faith and exemption from liability, if the officer is relying upon faciallyvalid extradition paperwork, even if an extradited fugitive's extradition rights were violated.
Godfrey v. Washington Cty., VA, Sheriff, Civil Action No. 7:06-cv-00187, 2007 WL 2405728 at
*5-6 (W.D. Va. 2Q07). Plaintiff, whose claims are based upon the manner in which the Fugitive
Affidavit was completed, has not established that defendant violated clearly established law
regarding his extradition rights. Instead, defendant had an objectively reasonable basis to believe
that plaintiff had a Colorado warrant outstanding for his arrest, and that she was required to
detain him so that his extradition to Colorado could be achieved. All of plaintiffs arguments that
defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity are unavailing.
Because the evidence shows that the stop and arrest were not objectively unreasonable,
and were supported by probable cause for a variety of reasons, defendant is entitled to qualified
immunity in her individual capacity as plaintiff cannot establish that a violation of his Fourth
Amendment rights occurred. Defendant's actions were objectively reasonable in light of clearly
established legal principles, Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, and plaintiffs conclusory assertions that
defendant actions were intentionally malicious or "imbecilic" are not supported by the evidence
and entitled to little weight. Summary judgment in defendants' favor is therefore appropriate on
plaintiffs Fourth Amendment claims against d_efendant in her individual capacity.
Plaintiff also brought claims against defendant in her official capacity. When a plaintiff
names a government official in her official capacity, the plaintiff is seeking to recover
compensatory damages form the government body itself. Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72
(1985); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). There is no respondeat superior liability
under§ 1983; rather, in order to hold a municipality liable for a violation of a person's
constitutional rights, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the City was aware of the constitutional
violation and either "participated in, or otherwise condoned, it." Love-Lane v. Martin, 355 F.3d
766, 783 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Monell v. Dep 't ofSoc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)).
Municipal liability only results "when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether
made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official
policy, inflicts the injury." Monell 436 U.S. at 694. Liability exists only when the municipality
and its officials take action under an official policy that violates another individual's
constitutional rights, and "[t]he challenged policy or custom cannot merely be the abstract one of
violating citizens' constitutional rights." Carter v. Morris, 164 F.3d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1999).
Instead, "rigorous standards of culpability and causation must be applied to ensure that the
municipality is not held liable solely for the actions of its employee." Id. Additionally, one
incident alone is not enough to allege or establish liability on the part of a municipality for a
violation of constitutional rights. Wellington v. Daniels, 717 F.2d 932, 936 (4th Cir. 1983).
Instead, a history or pattern of widespread abuse must typically be shown. Id.
Plaintiffs claims against defendant in her official capacity fail for several reasons. First,
as discussed above, defendant did not violate plaintiffs constitutional rights, and so there can be
no municipal liability in fact, even should the government body that supervised defendant be
found to have had an unconstitutional policy, practice or custom. Heller v. City of Los Angeles,
475 U.S. 796 (1986); see also Belcher v. Oliver, 898 F.2d 32, 36 (4th Cir. 1990). Second, there is
not a single piece of evidence in the record demonstrating that there was a custom or practice of
violating constitutional rights by the supervising governmental body that was "widespread,
pervasive, and so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of
law." Greensboro Fire Fighters v. City a/Greensboro, 64 F.3d 962, 966 (4th Cir. 1995).
Plaintiffs conclusory allegations defendant's training was insufficient is not established by any
evidence, and custom or practice may not arise out of a single incident. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691;
Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823 (1985). Therefore, summary judgment in defendant's
favor on plaintiffs official capacity claims is warranted.
In sum, the undisputed evidence in this matter demonstrates that summary judgment in
defendant's favor is merited for all of plaintiffs claims. Therefore, defendant's motion for
summary judgment will be granted and this matter will be closed.
For the foregoing reasons, defendant's motion for summary judgment [DE 44] is
GRANTED. The Clerk is DIRECTED to close the case.
SO ORDERED, this Uday of May, 2017.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JU
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