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Tucker v. Shelton

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

November 20, 2017

Antonio Tucker, Plaintiff,
Jawarski Shelton and Laurens County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.


          Kevin F. McDonald Greenville, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment (doc. 33). The plaintiff, represented by counsel, was arrested for filing a false police report. The defendant Jawarski Shelton is an investigator with the Laurens County Sheriff's Office (“LCSO”). In his complaint (doc. 1), the plaintiff alleges a Fourth Amendment claim filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Inv. Shelton and state law claims of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the LCSO. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.


         In an incident report filed by responding LCSO Deputy Corporal Cook, on March 29, 2015, the plaintiff called 911 to report that his business partner Billy James Hayes had burst into his office and pointed a handgun and threatened him (docs. 33-2, pp. 7-8). The plaintiff told Cpl. Cook (and provided a written statement) that he and Hayes were in a relationship and that there was a history of physical violence between them. Hayes was interviewed at the scene, admitting that he burst into the office but denying that he had a gun. The office was equipped with a video camera, and according to Cpl. Cook's incident report, Inv. Shelton and another LCSO officer, Lt. Crain, reviewed a video recording of the incident: “Per Lt. Crain the footage displays a handgun in Hayes' possession around the time frame of the events described.” Hayes was then arrested and charged with pointing and presenting a firearm (id.).

         On April 20, 2015, the plaintiff signed a pre-printed form requesting the charge against Hayes be dismissed. The following statement is handwritten under the plaintiff's signature:

The defendant is my business partner (Hayes Ambulance Service). I will have to deal with him concerning business matters and continue our business association until the business is dissolved. I do not feel threatened by the defendant, although there have been previous verbal & physical threats; none involving weapons.

         (Doc. 33-2, p. 9). In a followup report dated May 12, 2015, Inv. Shelton reported having “learned of a video recording system in the building. The footage was reviewed and you could see Mr. Hayes actually carrying a handgun in his hand when he came around the corner where [the plaintiff] was located at” (doc. 40-2, p. 10). Later that month, on May 22, 2015, Inv. Shelton appeared before a local magistrate to swear out a warrant against the plaintiff, charging that “on or about March 29, 2015 in the County of Laurens, [the plaintiff] did knowingly and willfully file a false police report to the Laurens County Sheriff's Office in reference to pointing and presenting a firearm which is a felony” (doc. 33-2, p. 11). The plaintiff was arrested on the warrant on June 18, 2015, but the case was dismissed by the Laurens County Solicitor for lack of evidence on September 28, 2015 (doc. 33-2, p. 10).

         In support of his motion for summary judgment, Inv. Shelton provided his affidavit stating that he sought the warrant against the plaintiff based on the plaintiff's affidavit to the Solicitor “in which he indicates that he did not feel threatened by Hayes and that there had been previous verbal and physical threats but none involving weapons” (doc. 33-2, Shelton aff. ¶ 11).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 states, as to a party who has moved for summary judgment: “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As to the first of these determinations, a fact is deemed “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant 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; rather, he must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion. Id. at 248. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id.

         Fourth Amendment - False Arrest

         In the context of arrests, the Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . .” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Before an arrest warrant is issued, the Fourth Amendment requires a truthful factual showing in the affidavit used to establish probable cause. Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 165-66 (1978). Probable cause means that the “facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge [ ] are sufficient to warrant a prudent person . . . in believing . . . that the suspect has committed . . . an offense.” United States v. Williams, 10 F.3d 1070, 1073-74 (4th Cir. 1993). Intentional material omissions in the supporting affidavit may provide a basis to challenge the finding of probable cause of the resulting warrant. United States v. Colkley, 899 F.2d 297, 301-02 (4thCir. 1990); see also United States v. Stanert, 762 F.2d 775, 781 (9th Cir. 1985) (“by reporting less than the total story, an affiant can manipulate the inferences a magistrate will draw.”). “Where an officer knows, or has reason to know, that he has materially misled a magistrate on the basis for a finding of probable cause, . . . the shield of qualified immunity is lost.” Golino v. City of New Haven, 950 F.2d 864, 871 (2d Cir. 1991), cert. Denied, 505 U.S. 1221 (1992). However, negligent omissions will not undermine the affidavit. United States v. McCarty, 36 F.3d 1349, 1356 (5th Cir. 1994).

         Upon reviewing the affidavits and the supporting documents and video submitted by the parties, the undersigned finds that issues of material fact exist on the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving plaintiff, as this court must do when considering summary judgment, Inv. Shelton provided a sworn affidavit to the local magistrate that the plaintiff filed a false police report that Hayes pointed and presented a firearm at him. Inv. Shelton did so after comparing the plaintiff's two statements, the first to responding officers reporting Hayes' conduct with a gun (doc. 33-2, pp. 5-6), and the second to the Solicitor the following month, stating, “I do not feel threatened by the defendant [Hayes], although there have been previous verbal & physical threats; none involving weapons” (doc . 33-2, p. 9). While Inv. Shelton believes the second statement belies the first, as argued by the plaintiff, the statements are not necessarily inconsistent. The first statement indicates that on March 29th, the plaintiff felt threatened by Hayes's conduct with the gun: “I was locked in my office and armed with a Glock 23. I did this for my personal safety given Mr. Hayes' history of violence and physical altercations with me” (doc. 33-2, p. 5). The second statement, given on ...

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