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Sturdivant v. Dale

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

May 31, 2016

RETHA PIERCE STURDIVANT, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT DALE, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          THOMAS E. ROGERS, III, Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This action arises out of Plaintiff's arrest on December 25, 2007. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff alleges claims of false arrest, excessive force, and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. She further alleges state law claims for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, defamation, and civil conspiracy. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document # 105). All pretrial proceedings in this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(f), DSC. This Report and Recommendation is entered for review by the district judge.

         II. FACTS

         On December 25, 2007, Defendant Robert Dale, an officer with the Horry County Police Department, observed Plaintiff "swerving all over the road from lane to lane, causing vehicles to swerve out of the vehicle's path to keep from being struck." See Arrest Report (Ex. 1 to Def. Motion).[1] In Officer Dale's experience, this type of reckless driving often indicates that the person driving is intoxicated. See Dale Aff. ¶ 6. When Plaintiff stopped her van, she immediately got out of the car. See Arrest Video. She then leaned back into the car and appeared to be moving something around. Id . She then looked back at the police car, shut her door, and appeared to lock it. Id . Officer Dale averred that this behavior indicated to him that Plaintiff was probably hiding something in the van, and that this behavior, coupled with Plaintiff swerving on the road, often indicates that person is hiding either drugs or alcohol. See Dale Aff. ¶¶ 9-10. Officer Dale averred that his mindset during this traffic stop was that Plaintiff could be driving under the influence, carrying illegal drugs, or leaving the scene of some other crime. Id . at ¶ 11. When Officer Dale approached Plaintiff, he asked her why she was swerving all over the road. See Arrest Video. She responded that she did not mean to be swerving, and was just trying to get to a bathroom. Id . Officer Dale asked to see her driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. Id . Plaintiff turned toward the door of her van, and then turned back toward Officer Dale and began to walk past him, asking if she could use the restroom first. Id . Officer Dale responded that she was going to "stay right here, " but Plaintiff continued walking, stating that she had to use the restroom. Id . Officer Dale repeated that she was going to "stay right here, " pulled her by the arm back towards the van[2], and pinned her against the van. Id . He then handcuffed Plaintiff and placed her under arrest before escorting her to his patrol car. Id . He told her she could use the bathroom when she got to the jail. Id . Although outside the view of the camera, Officer Dale can be heard telling Plaintiff numerous times to "stop resisting, " "get in the car, " and "put your feet in [the car]." Id . Plaintiff can be heard repeatedly stating that she has to use the bathroom. Id.

         Officer Dale charged Plaintiff with reckless driving, failure to give proper signal, and resisting arrest. See Arrest Warrant for Resisting Arrest (Ex. 4 to Def. Motion); Traffic Tickets (Ex. 5 to Def. Motion). At the time of the arrest, Officer Dale did not know that Plaintiff was the Mayor of Atlantic Beach. Dale Aff. ¶ 16. A jury convicted Plaintiff of resisting arrest, and the South Carolina Court of Appeals upheld Plaintiff's conviction. See Sentencing Sheet (Ex. 6 to Def. Motion); Ct. App. Opinion (Ex. 7 to Def. Motion). Her tickets for reckless driving and failure to signal were dismissed by Officer Dale because Plaintiff had been arrested and later convicted of the resisting arrest charge. Dale Aff. ¶ 14.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that summary judgment is proper. Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Summary judgment is proper if the non-moving party fails to establish an essential element of any cause of action upon which the non-moving party has the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party has brought into question whether there is a genuine dispute for trial on a material element of the non-moving party's claims, the non-moving party bears the burden of coming forward with specific facts which show a genuine dispute for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The non-moving party must come forward with enough evidence, beyond a mere scintilla, upon which the fact finder could reasonably find for it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The facts and inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1011 (4th Cir. 1991). However, the non-moving party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, speculation, or conclusory allegations to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Barber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992). The evidence relied on must meet "the substantive evidentiary standard of proof that would apply at a trial on the merits." Mitchell v. Data General Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1993).

         To show that a genuine dispute of material fact exists, a party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Rather, the party must present evidence supporting his or her position by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); see also Cray Communications, Inc. v. Novatel Computer Systems, Inc., 33 F.3d 390 (4th Cir. 1994); Orsi v. Kickwood, 999 F.2d 86 (4th Cir. 1993); Local Rules 7.04, 7.05, D.S.C.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Plaintiff brings this action in part pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144, n. 3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979)). A legal action under § 1983 allows "a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief." City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707, 119 S.Ct. 1624, 143 L.Ed.2d 882 (1999). To be successful on a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988).

         1. False Arrest

         In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges that "Defendant did imprison and prosecute the Plaintiff maliciously and without probable cause." Compl. ¶ 14. Plaintiff entitles this cause of action "Violation of Fourth Amendment Prosecution." However, both parties address false arrest rather than malicious prosecution. The distinction between the two causes of action turns on whether the arrest at issue was warrantless or pursuant to a facially valid warrant. See Dorn v. Town of Prosperity, 375 Fed.Appx. 284, 286 (4th Cir. 2010). "As a general rule, an unlawful arrest pursuant to a warrant will be more closely analogous to the common law tort of malicious prosecution. An arrest warrant constitutes legal process, and it is the tort of malicious prosecution that permits damages for confinement pursuant to legal process. On the other hand, wrongful warrantless arrests typically resemble the tort ...


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