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Palmer v. Santanna

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

March 27, 2018

Dominick J. Palmer and Paiden Palmer, Plaintiffs,
Nicholas Santanna and Town of Summerville, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Dominick J. Palmer and Paiden Palmer's objections to United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker's Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF Nos. 46 & 44). For the reasons stated herein, the Court adopts the R & R, denies Defendants' motion to strike, grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment, and dismisses this case.


         The Court adopts the thorough background set forth in the R & R without objection. The Court briefly summarizes that background: On October 5, 2013, Defendant Nicholas Santanna, a detective for the Town of Summerville Police Department, received a call about a drive-by shooting near the Planter's Retreat apartment complex. According to Santanna's investigation, Lamont ‘Chaz' Brown was driving a vehicle with John Hilton in the passenger seat when another vehicle pulled up beside them and opened fire, injuring Hilton. Hilton did not initially provide a description of the person who shot him, so Santanna pursued other leads. One lead was an anonymous phone call stating that someone named “D” was bragging to others in Planter's Retreat that he had shot Hilton. The Planter's Retreat office informed Santanna that Dominick Palmer was known to them as “D.” Santanna's leads eventually ran out and he stopped pursing the case until Hilton called him on March 27, 2014. Hilton explained why he changed his mind about assisting the investigation and identified Mr. Palmer as the shooter. Shortly thereafter, Santanna met with Brown. Based on the information he learned from Brown and Hilton, Santanna prepared affidavits for two arrest warrants for Mr. Palmer. A state court magistrate judge agreed that there was probable cause to arrest Mr. Palmer and issued the warrants. Palmer was arrested, but his charges were later dismissed.


         On August 22, 2016, Mr. Palmer filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim of malicious prosecution and Ms. Palmer filed a related claim for loss of consortium. Defendants Santanna and the Town of Summerville[1] filed a motion for summary judgment on June 19, 2017. On August 18, the parties signed a Stipulation of Partial Dismissal, dismissing some defendants and claims. After receiving an extension, Plaintiffs responded to the motion for summary judgment on September 18, Defendants replied on September 25, and Plaintiffs filed a sur-reply on October 17. Defendants moved to strike the sur-reply on October 18. On January 30, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued her R & R. Plaintiffs objected on February 13, and Defendants responded on February 27. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.


         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). Parties may make written objections to the R & R within fourteen days after being served with a copy of it. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a specific objection is made, and it may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. A party's failure to object is taken as the party's agreement with the Magistrate Judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which no specific objection is made-this Court “must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).


         The Magistrate Judge recommends granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment and denying their motion to strike. The parties do not object to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation regarding Defendants' motion to strike. The Court has reviewed that portion of the R & R and, finding no clear error, adopts the recommendation and denies Defendants' motion to strike.

         Plaintiffs object to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that the Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment. To grant a motion for summary judgment, a court must find that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The judge is not to weigh the evidence but rather must determine if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). All evidence should be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990). “[I]t is ultimately the nonmovant's burden to persuade [the court] that there is indeed a dispute of material fact. It must provide more than a scintilla of evidence-and not merely conclusory allegations or speculation-upon which a jury could properly find in its favor.” CoreTel Va., LLC v. Verizon Va., LLC, 752 F.3d 364, 370 (4th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). The Court addresses each objection in turn.

         1. Failure to Include All Material Facts in the Reconstructed Warrant

         Plaintiffs first object that the Magistrate Judge failed to include all omitted material facts when she reconstructed the warrant as part of the analysis of the malicious prosecution claim against Santanna. To establish malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must show “that the defendant (1) caused (2) a seizure of the plaintiff pursuant to legal process unsupported by probable cause, and (3) criminal proceedings terminated in plaintiff's favor.” Evans v. Chalmers, 703 F.3d 636, 647 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Durham v. Horner, 690 F.3d 183, 188 (4th Cir. 2012)). The Magistrate Judge found that Mr. Palmer had established that Santanna caused his seizure and that the criminal proceedings terminated in his favor. The parties do not object to these findings. To establish the second element of his malicious prosecution claim, Mr. Palmer must show that Santanna “deliberately or with a ‘reckless disregard for the truth' made material false statements in his affidavit, or omitted from that affidavit ‘material facts with the intent to make, or with reckless disregard of whether they thereby made, the affidavit misleading.'” Miller v. Prince George's Cnty., 475 F.3d 621, 627 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 171 (1978)). Plaintiffs argue that Santanna deliberately or recklessly omitted material facts in the affidavits he submitted in support of the two warrants to arrest Mr. Palmer.[2] “To determine materiality, a court must ‘excise the offending inaccuracies and insert the facts recklessly omitted, and then determine whether or not the “corrected” warrant affidavit would establish probable cause.'” Id. at 628 (quoting Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 789 (3d Cir. 2000)). “If the ‘corrected' warrant affidavit establishes probable cause, no civil liability lies against the officer.” Id. Probable cause exists when “the circumstances within [an] officer's knowledge are sufficient to lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has been committed by the person being arrested.” State v. Baccus, 625 S.E.2d 216, 220 (S.C. 2006).

         In her R & R, the Magistrate Judge reconstructed the affidavit with facts Plaintiff claimed were material: that Hilton and Brown initially did not identify the shooter, and that they gave varying descriptions of the shooter's vehicle. The Magistrate Judge concluded that these omissions were not material because the reconstructed warrant affidavit did establish probable ...

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