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Bryant v. Town of Bluffton

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

September 17, 2019




         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant’s report and recommendation (“R&R”) that the court grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and the case be dismissed, ECF No. 45. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R, grants the motion for summary judgment and dismisses the case with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The R&R ably recites the facts, and its statement of the facts is uncontested. See ECF No. 50 at 2 (“The facts are described in full by the Magistrate and Plaintiff agrees they are substantially set out in the light most favorable to him . . .”). Therefore, the court will only briefly summarize the facts as they appear in the R&R for the purpose of aiding an understanding of its legal analysis.

         Plaintiff Johnnie Bryant’s (“Bryant”) claims arise out of his arrest by defendants John Destasio (“Destasio”) and Christian Gonzales (“Gonzales”) and subsequent prosecution. On the night of January 5, 2014, Bryant approached his neighbors’ home about an unidentified car that was parked near his apartment. Bryant, a reserve deputy with the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office, brought his weapon with him. Bryant’s neighbor, Tracey Asbill, answered the door with his pit bull in tow. It did not take long for the interaction to become tense and the pit bull aggressive. Fearful of the dog, Bryant removed his weapon from the back of his pants. Around this time, Laura Quigley, the other resident of the home, involved herself in the interaction, screaming and cursing at Bryant. Here, the recollections of the parties and witnesses involved diverge. Asbill and Quigley contend that Bryant pointed his gun at them. Bryant claims that at all times he kept his gun pointed to the ground or at the pit bull.

         Destasio arrived while the scene was deescalating and gathered statements from the parties and witnesses. Gonzales arrived shortly after. Destasio and Gonzales radioed the station and explained the circumstances to their superior, who informed the officers that there was probable cause to arrest Bryant under South Carolina’s “point and present” law, S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-410, et seq. Destasio and Gonzales arrested Bryant, who was released after posting bond the following day. On February 20, 2014, a grand jury issued an indictment for the charge against Bryant. However, Bryant’s charge was later dropped.

         Bryant initiated this action in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, Beaufort County, alleging a state law claim for malicious prosecution against the Town of Bluffton (“Bluffton”) and federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against Destasio and Gonzales, for unlawful seizure and “wrongful prosecution.” On the basis of Bryant’s federal claims, the defendants removed the case to the United States District Court. Subsequently, the defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, ECF No. 36. Bryant responded to the defendants’ motion, ECF No. 39, to which the defendants replied, ECF No. 44. On June 14, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued its R&R, recommending that the defendants’ motion for summary judgment be granted and the case be dismissed, ECF No. 45. On July 8, 2019, Bryant made objections to the R&R, ECF No. 50.

         II. STANDARD

         A. R&R

         The magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The recommendation carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. Id. at 270-71. The court may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge . . . or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the R&R to which a specific objection is made. Id. However, de novo review is unnecessary when a party makes general and conclusory objections without directing a court’s attention to a specific error in the magistrate judge’s proposed findings. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a specific objection, the court reviews the R&R only for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous’ when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948).

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show 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(c). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247–48 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. “[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 non-moving party and draw all 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., 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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