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Baker v. Cannon

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

September 28, 2016




         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker's report and recommendation (“R&R”), ECF No. 42, that the court grant in part plaintiff Garland River Baker's (“Baker”) partial motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 33, and deny in part defendant Town of Turbeville (“Turbeville”), Town of Turbeville Police Chief David Jones (“Chief Jones”), and Town of Turbeville Police Lieutenant Grant Cannon's (“Cannon”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 29. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R, grants in part and denies in part Baker's motion for partial summary judgment, and denies in part Turbeville's motion for summary judgment. Additionally, the court adopts those portions of the R&R which are not inconsistent with this Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Garland River Baker brings this action against the above-captioned defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First Amendment right to Free Speech which allegedly occurred during his arrest pursuant to Turbeville Town Turbeville Ordinance 15-9 (“Turbeville Ordinance”). Baker additionally seeks a declaratory judgment that the Turbeville Ordinance is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to him pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201 et seq. Finally, Baker brings tort claims against the defendants under South Carolina law for abuse of criminal process, malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and respondeat superior. This matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. Specifically, Baker moves for partial summary judgment on the constitutionality of the Turbeville Ordinance and, to the extent the Turbeville Ordinance is unconstitutional, on his cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See ECF No. 33. Defendants Lieutenant Grant Cannon, Chief of Police David Jones, and the Town of Turbeville move for summary judgment on all of Baker's claims. See ECF No. 29.

         A. Factual Allegations

         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 short, Baker resides in Turbeville, South Carolina and was arrested by Chief Jones for the violation of the Turbeville Ordinance. ECF No. 42-1. The full text of the Turbeville Ordinance states that:

It shall be unlawful for any person or persons willfully to approach nearer than twenty (20) feet to any town employee for the purpose of interfering or stopping that employee from carrying out his/her duties.

ECF. No. 30.

         Baker's arrest was based on an incident between Baker and Cannon, a lieutenant with the Turbeville Police Department, on February 15, 2013. ECF No. 21 ¶ 13. Much of the encounter was captured on video from the dashboard camera, although the sound quality is poor and statements by the parties are difficult to hear. ECF No. 35-3. The video shows Cannon approaching a motorist and informing him of the reason for the traffic stop, and Baker walking up to the motorist's open window and having a discussion with him. Id. At this point, Cannon approached Baker to ask if he needs assistance and Baker refused, instead asking Cannon if the Turbeville town administrator had talked to him about speeding as per Baker's request and then requesting that Cannon come with him, ostensibly to Turbeville Town Hall. Id. Cannon then informed Baker that he needed to leave or he would be arrested, at which point Baker left. Id. Cannon did not arrest Baker for violating the Turbeville Ordinance.

         Cannon reported the incident to Chief Jones, ECF Nos. 29-2 ¶ 9; 29-3 ¶ 5, who reviewed the video from the dashboard camera and concluded that he had probable cause to charge Baker with violating the Turbeville Town Ordinance. ECF No. 29-3 ¶ 8. At no point did Chief Jones confer with Cannon on the decision to obtain an arrest warrant for Baker. Id. ¶ 23. Chief Jones arrested Baker on March 8, 2013. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Chief Jones then dismissed the warrant by asking the presiding judge to nolle prosse Baker's warrant, again without conferring with Cannon. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.

         B. Procedural History

         The magistrate judge's R&R recommends the following disposition of the parties' motions: (1) grant Baker's motion for partial summary judgment on the unconstitutionality of the Turbeville Ordinance facially and as applied to Baker; (2) deny Baker's motion as it pertains to Chief Jones and Cannon; (3) grant defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Baker's state law claims against all defendants and as to Baker's § 1983 claim against Cannon and Chief Jones; (4) deny defendants' motion as to Turbeville's § 1983 liability and as to the constitutionality of the Turbeville Ordinance facially and as applied to Baker.

         Turbeville filed timely objections to the R&R, ECF No. 43, and Baker filed a response, ECF No. 46, to which Turbeville replied, ECF No. 48. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.


         This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's report to which specific, written objections are made, and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendations contained in that report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The magistrate judge's recommendation does not carry presumptive weight, and it is the responsibility of this court to make a final determination. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). A party's failure to object may be treated as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant 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). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. The court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Id. at 255.

         “The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact.” Major v. Greenville Hous. Auth., No. 6:12-cv-183, 2012 WL 3000680, at *1 (D.S.C. Apr. 11, 2012). Nevertheless, “when a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The plain language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “[C]onclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion.” Major, 2012 WL 2000680, at *1.

         III. ...

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