United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Spartanburg Division
C. Coggins, Jr., United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment. ECF No. 28. In accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), (D.S.C.),
this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge
Jacquelyn D. Austin for pre-trial proceedings and a Report
and Recommendation (“Report”).
filed this action in the Spartanburg County Court of Common
Pleas. ECF No. 1. Defendants filed a timely notice of
removal. On June 4, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment. ECF No. 28. Plaintiff filed a Response in
Opposition, and Defendants filed a Reply. ECF Nos. 31, 35. On
October 3, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report
recommending that the Motion for Summary Judgment be granted.
ECF No. 44. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the
procedures and requirements for filing objections to the
Report and the serious consequences if they failed to do so.
Plaintiff, through counsel, filed objections to the Report.
ECF No. 45.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976).
The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of
any portion of the Report of the Magistrate Judge to which a
specific objection is made. The Court may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the
Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate
Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(b). The Court will review the Report only for clear error
in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial
Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th
Cir. 2005) (stating that “in the absence of timely
filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de
novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that
there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to
accept the recommendation.” (citation omitted)).
initial matter, Plaintiff states that she is not objecting to
the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that summary
judgment be granted with respect to her claims that the local
ordinance is unconstitutional and that Defendants violated
her Second Amendment rights. ECF No. 45 at 1. After
considering the record in this case, the applicable law, and
the Report of the Magistrate Judge, the Court finds no clear
error and agrees with the recommendation of the Magistrate
Judge with respect to these claims.
Magistrate Judge also recommends granting summary judgment
with respect to Plaintiff's claims that her Fourth
Amendment rights were violated and for malicious prosecution.
The Magistrate Judge determined that Defendants Knighton and
Castillo are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to
Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims because it was
reasonable for these Defendants to believe they had probable
cause to arrest her. The Magistrate Judge found that
Plaintiff's claim for malicious prosecution also fails
because it was reasonable for Knighton to believe that he had
probable cause to arrest her. In making her recommendation,
the Magistrate Judge cites two cases for the proposition that
a witness's statement can be sufficient evidence to
establish probable cause.
objections, Plaintiff asserts that probable cause is
dispositive with respect to her Fourth Amendment claims and
her malicious prosecution claim. Plaintiff argues that a
genuine issue of material fact exists with respect to whether
there was probable cause to arrest her. She contends that the
cases cited by the Magistrate Judge are distinguishable from
the present action and that the evidence called into question
the reliability of the victim. The Court begins with a
discussion of the relevant caselaw.
argues that there was more support for probable cause in
Torchinsky v. Siwinski, 942 F.2d 257 (4th Cir.
1991), than a bare statement by the victim. Significantly,
Plaintiff argues that a neutral magistrate issued the arrest
warrant. The Court agrees that an arrest warrant issued by a
neutral magistrate is compelling evidence of probable cause;
however, the Court disagrees with Plaintiff's argument
that the officer in Torchinsky appeared to rely on
more concrete proof in making his arrest. The victim in
Torchinsky was hospitalized and experienced
drowsiness during an interview with the officer. The victim
also changed his story throughout the officer's
interviews with him. Initially, he gave conflicting stories
about how he was injured; then stated it was Mr. Torchinsky
who assaulted him; then stated it was Mr. Torchinsky and his
wife; then, after their arrest, stated it was not the
Torchinskys who attacked him.
present action, the witness identified Plaintiff to Knighton
and Castillo at the scene. Moreover, as in
Torchinsky, the evidence available to Knighton and
Castillo supported the witness's statement. The presence
of boards with nails through them that Plaintiff admitted to
placing near her home and the fact that she stated that she
told officers that she had been on her porch with a BB gun in
her lap during the argument supported the witness's
also argues that United States v. Beckham, 325
F.Supp.2d 678 (E.D. Va. 2004), is distinguishable from the
present action. Plaintiff contends that Beckham
stands for the proposition that where information would lead
an arresting officer to be suspicious of a statement, further
investigation is required. Plaintiff asserts that the fact
that she and the witness were engaged in an ongoing dispute
and the boards by the roadway could have easily corroborated
her story that she was protecting her property from
destruction by the construction crew.
it is possible that the evidence at the scene may have also
supported Plaintiff's version of events, this does not
change the fact that a victim's statement may constitute
sufficient probable cause unless there is an apparent reason
for the officer to believe that the victim is lying. See
Beckham, 325 F.Supp.2d at 687 (“Because of this
sensible principle, ‘[a]n eyewitness identification
will constitute sufficient probable cause unless, at the time
of the arrest, there is an apparent reason for the officer to
believe that the eyewitness was lying, did not accurately
describe what he had seen, or was in some fashion mistaken
regarding his recollection of the confrontation.'”
(citation omitted)); see also Torchinsky, 942 F.2d
at 262 (“It is surely reasonable for a police officer
to base his belief in probable cause on a victim's
reliable identification of his attacker.”).
reasonable officers need not “resolve every doubt about
a suspect's guilt before probable cause is
established.” Torchinsky, 942 F.2d at 264.
Rather, in order to “prove an absence of probable
cause, [a plaintiff] must allege a set of facts which made it
unjustifiable for a reasonable officer to conclude”
that a criminal offense has been committed. Brown v.
Gilmore, 278 F.3d 362, 368 (4th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff
has failed to do that here. Based on the evidence at the
scene, it was reasonable for Knighton to believe that the
victim was telling the truth; thus, there existed probable
cause to support Plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff's
objections are overruled.
the Court adopts the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge.
Defendants' Motion ...