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Hurley v. Lovett

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

February 13, 2018

Bernard A. Hurley, Plaintiff,
v.
Lt. Jamison Lovett, Robbie Byrd, and Dyar Archibald, Defendants.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Lt. Jamison Lovett and Sgt. Dyar Archibald (doc. 48). The plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Greenwood County Detention Center and is proceeding pro se. The defendants are officers with the Greenwood Police Department. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants illegally searched him and his vehicle and that they improperly seized his vehicle as forfeiture for drug charges. Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983, and submit findings and recommendations to the district court.

         Defendants Lt. Lovett and Sgt. Archibald filed their motion for summary judgment on November 17, 2017 (doc. 48). By order filed that same day, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the plaintiff was advised of the summary judgment procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to the motion (doc. 50). When the plaintiff did not file a timely response, the undersigned issued another order on January 1, 2018, giving the plaintiff through January 22, 2018, to file his response and again advising the plaintiff of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond (doc. 65). The plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the defendants' motion on January 18, 2018 (doc. 67), and the defendants filed a reply on January 31, 2018 (doc. 81).

         FACTS PRESENTED

         The plaintiff alleges that in September 2015 he was visiting a residence in Greenwood County when officers arrived to conduct a search. He informed officers that he did not live there, but he was searched anyway (doc. 1, comp. at 2). Officers found drugs behind a washing machine and in other parts of the house and arrested the plaintiff on drug charges. He was then asked about a vehicle in the driveway and confirmed it belonged to him. Officers towed the vehicle, then searched it without a warrant, discovering more drugs. The plaintiff further alleges that the officers later told him they were taking his car because it contained drugs (id. at 2-3). In response to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff states that he was forced to sign away his truck and that he should get it back because the drug charges against him were later “threw out” (doc. 67).

         The defendants deny violating the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights, as they were executing a valid search warrant for the residence when they encountered him. Sgt. Archibald states that, while executing the search, he observed the plaintiff in the bathroom “leaning over the washing machine as if he were concealing something behind it” (doc. 48-2, Archibald aff. ¶ 6). During the search, officers found assorted drugs in the residence, including some behind the washing machine. Two other individuals in the residence advised officers that the plaintiff was the only person in the bathroom when the police arrived (id. ¶¶ 7-8). A search of the plaintiff revealed a set of scales and cash, and the plaintiff then admitted that the drugs found were his, and he was arrested (id. ¶ 12). Officers seized his vehicle, which was parked outside the residence, and had it towed. An inventory search of the impounded vehicle produced a quantity of cocaine (doc. 48-5 at 1). Based on the results of the search, a local magistrate issued arrest warrants against the plaintiff for drug trafficking and possession (doc. 48-4, Lovett aff. ¶ 12). Lt. Lovett states that the day after the arrest, the plaintiff met with him and another officer and provided a recorded statement admitting that the drugs recovered in the search belonged to him (doc. 81-1, Lovett supp. aff. ¶ 3; doc. 81-2). He was subsequently released on bond. According to Lt. Lovett, the plaintiff later came to the police department and indicated his willingness to cooperate with the Drug Enforcement Unit in exchange for assistance with his pending drug charges. He also signed a consent order of forfeiture releasing his interest in the vehicle (doc. 81-1, Lovett supp. aff. ¶ 5). The defendants provide a copy of the consent order with their motion for summary judgment, bearing the plaintiff's signature dated November 10, 2015 (doc. 48-9). They further argue that the plaintiff's characterization of his drug charges being “thrown out” as misleading, since they were dismissed due to his agreed cooperation as an informant, rather than a lack of probable cause. Lt. Lovett states that the plaintiff's informant efforts were productive until he was arrested again in December 2016 on new drug charges, for which bond was denied (doc. 81-1, Lovett supp. aff. ¶¶ 6 -10). The plaintiff filed his complaint here the following month.

         APPLICABLE LAW AND ANALYSIS

         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 Claims

         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.” “Because arrests are ‘seizures' of ‘persons, ' they must be reasonable under the circumstances.” District of Columbia v. Wesby, No. 15-1385, 2018 WL 491521, at *6 (U.S. Jan. 22, 2018) (citing Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585 (1980)). A warrantless arrest is reasonable if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect committed a crime in the officer's presence. Id. (citing Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 354 (2001)).

         To the extent the plaintiff contends that the defendants were not authorized to search him, this contention is meritless. The defendants have shown, and the plaintiff does not contest, that they were executing a lawful search warrant for the residence when they encountered the plaintiff inside. Sgt. Archibald saw the plaintiff bending over the washing machine as if he were trying to hide something behind it, where officers later found drugs. Others in the house told officers that the plaintiff was the only one in the bathroom before the police arrived. Sgt. Archibald's observation, the finding of drugs, and the information from other witnesses was sufficient to establish probable cause for the plaintiff's arrest, and his warrantless search and seizure was reasonable under the circumstances.

         The plaintiff further complains that the defendants searched his car without a warrant. However, the record is clear that upon his arrest, the plaintiff's car was towed from the residence he was visiting and impounded by the arresting authorities. Police frequently perform inventory searches when they detain suspects or automobiles. See United States v. Caldwell, No. 3:17-cr-40-MOC-DSC, 2018 WL 491782, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Jan. 19, 2018). Inventory searches “serve to protect an owner's property while it is in the custody of the police, to insure against claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and to guard the police from danger.” Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 372 (1987). As the plaintiff was arrested and his vehicle impounded, the warrantless inventory search of the vehicle was reasonable. In any event, the defendants clearly had probable cause to search the plaintiff's vehicle in the driveway, given the same factors that established probable cause for the plaintiff's arrest addressed herein, and the plaintiff's admission that the vehicle belonged to him. As argued by the defendants, the search of a vehicle believed to be involved in the transportation of contraband “is not unreasonable if based on facts that would justify the issuance of a warrant, even though a warrant has not actually been obtained.” United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 809 (1983). Accordingly, the defendants did not violate the plaintiff's constitutional rights in searching his vehicle without a warrant.

         Seizure / ...


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