United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Jerome C. Newkirk, Plaintiffs,
James B. Enzor, individually and as an officer of the South Carolina Highway Patrol and the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, Defendants.
RICHARD MARK GERGEL, District Judge.
Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, alleging that Defendants, an officer of the South Carolina Highway Patrol and the South Carolina Department of Public Safety are liable for constitutional violations and certain torts during a traffic stop on October 14, 2012. Defendants each filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on November 25, 2014 (Dkt. No. 64) and December 1, 2014 (Dkt. No. 65). Plaintiff filed a Response to both motions on December 18, 2014 (Dkt. No. 74), and Defendants filed a Reply on January 5, 2015 (Dkt. No. 75). The case is now before this Court on the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of the Magistrate Judge, submitted April 8, 2015 (Dkt. No. 80), which recommends that Defendant Enzor's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 64) be granted in part and denied in part, and that Defendant South Carolina Department of Public Safety ("SCDPS")'s Motion be granted (Dkt. No. 65). Defendant Enzor filed objections to the R&R on May 7, 2015 (Dkt. No. 86). Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R on May 7, 2015 (Dkt. No. 86), and Defendant SCDPS filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections on May 26, 2015. For the reasons stated herein, the Court ADOPTS the R&R except as to pages 23-33 ("SCDPS's Motion for Summary Judgment"), GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Motion for Summary Judgment as to Defendant SCDPS, and GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Motion for Summary Judgment as to Defendant Enzor.
The R&R ably recites the relevant facts, and it is unnecessary to review the details of the complaint, depositions, and arrest reports that constitute the factual record to this point. In brief, Plaintiff was a passenger in a car driven by his wife, Catherine Newkirk, on Interstate 95, when Ms. Newkirk was pulled over by Defendant Enzor for exceeding the speed limit in a work zone. After disputing the ticket and arguing that she had been pulled over because of racial discrimination, not speeding, Ms. Newkirk was removed to the side of the road and arrested. Mr. Newkirk, who remained in or just to the side of the Newkirks' vehicle while speaking to his wife and the officer, was also arrested by Enzor. Much of the encounter was captured visually by Enzor's dash cam, although the sound quality is poor and statements by the parties are difficult to hear. (Dkt. Nos. 64-2; 64-3; 64-4). Both of the Newkirks filed suit against Enzor and SCDPS, and both cases were removed to this Court by Defendants. ( See Dkt. No. 1; Civil Action No. 4:13-cv-1635). Both complaints allege that both Defendants are liable for violation of the Plaintiffs' constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Newkirk also brought five claims against SCDPS, arguing that SCDPS is vicariously liable for negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness; intentional infliction of emotional distress; malicious prosecution; false imprisonment; and directly liable for negligent supervision and training of Enzor. As the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was voluntarily dismissed in the summary judgment pleadings, the R&R addressed the constitutional allegations against Enzor and the four remaining tort claims against SCDPS.
A. Legal Standard
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which specific objection is made. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). To the extent Petitioner fails to point to a specific error in the R & R and simply makes conclusory objections, the Court need not conduct a de novo review. Smith v. Washington Mut. Bank FA, 308 Fed.Appx. 707, 708 (4th Cir. 2009) ("The court need not conduct de novo review... when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.'") (quoting Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982)).
Summary judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment should be granted "only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party." HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross, 101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
Once the moving party has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, "[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a mere scintilla of evidence'" in support of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSX Transp., Inc., 190 F.3d 285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).
The Court has carefully reviewed the R&R, the full administrative record in this matter, and the relevant authorities. The Court finds that the Magistrate Judge ably and promptly summarized the factual and legal issues and appropriately recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be denied as to the claim against Defendant Enzor and granted as to one of the claims against SCDPS. Defendant Enzor and Plaintiff have both filed objections to the R&R arguing that the Magistrate Judge's erred; Defendant SCDPS filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections.
1. Claims Against Defendant Enzor
As an initial matter, Enzor's objections "incorporate by reference all of the arguments raised and legal authority cited in Defendant Eznor's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 64-1) into this response." (Dkt. No. 86 at 2). To the extent Defendant fails to point to a specific error in the R&R and simply makes conclusory objections, the Court need not conduct a de novo review. Smith v. Washington Mut. Bank FA, 308 Fed.Appx. 707, 708 (4th Cir. 2009) ("The court need not conduct de novo review... when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.'") (quoting Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982)). Finding no clear error in the Magistrate Judge's probable cause analysis, the Court therefore adopts the R&R on that issue without further comment. The Court also adopts the Magistrate Judge's reasoning as to Enzor's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit against him in his official capacity.
Enzor's objections focus on the issue of qualified immunity, which is available where a reasonable officer could have believed that arresting the plaintiff was lawful in light of clearly established law and the information the officers possessed. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987). Specifically, his position is that although in general the right to be free of unconstitutional arrest is well established, the "circumstances of the particular case" and the "specific context" should guide the Court in determining whether qualified immunity is applicable. (Dkt. No. 86 at 2-3). However, Defendant's argument (that Plaintiff "interjected himself" in the arrest and that Enzor was "forced... to divert ...