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Iacobucci v. Town of Bonneau

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

September 26, 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 Town of Bonneau (the “Town”), Bonneau Police Department (the “Police Department”), and Franco Fuda’s (“Fuda”) (collectively, “defendants”) motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff Wendy Iacobucci’s (“Iacobucci”) third cause of action asserting federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 and Iacobucci’s first cause of action asserting a state law claim for false arrest/imprisonment, and that the court deny the defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to Iacobucci’s remaining four state law causes of action and remand those claims to state court for disposition, ECF No. 83. For the reasons discussed below, the court adopts the R&R, grants defendants’ motion for summary judgement as to Iacobucci’s first and third causes of action, denies the defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to Iacobucci’s remaining four state law causes of action, and remands those claims to state court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The R&R ably recites the facts, and Iacobucci did not object to the R&R’s recitation thereof.[1] Therefore, the court will only briefly summarize material facts as they appear in the R&R for the purpose of aiding an understanding of its legal analysis.

         This action arises out of an incident that occurred on December 31, 2015, in which Fuda, the Town’s chief of police, pulled over Iacobucci’s car while she was driving within the Town’s jurisdiction. Fuda clocked Iacobucci’s vehicle traveling 56 miles per hour as it passed his patrol car in a 45-mile-per-hour zone.[2] During the stop, Fuda discovered in the vehicle several pill bottles prescribed to individuals other than Iacobucci that contained various opioids. Additionally, Iacobucci informed Fuda that she had two firearms in her vehicle but that she could not produce a concealed weapons permit. Fuda conducted field sobriety tests, dashboard camera evidence of which shows Iacobucci performed poorly. Fuda arrested Iacobucci, who spent the night in jail and was released on bond the following day.

         Iacobucci was charged with speeding, driving under the influence, violation of a concealed weapons law, and three counts of drug possession. On March 8, 2016, Fuda received toxicology results that indicated Iacobucci did not have any drugs in her system when she was arrested. The following day, Fuda informed Iacobucci’s lawyer of the negative toxicology results. One year later, on March 14, 2017, all of Iacobucci’s charges were dropped.

         In her second amended complaint, the operative complaint before the court, Iacobucci alleges state and federal claims against the Town, the Police Department, and Fuda. Specifically, Iacobucci asserts six causes of action: (1) a state law action for wrongful arrest/false imprisonment, (2) a state law action malicious prosecution, (3) an action under 28 U.S.C § 1983 for violation of her civil rights, (4) a state law action for negligence, (5) a state law action for negligent hiring, and (6) an action for a declaratory judgment under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-10, et. seq. Under her sole federal cause of action, Iacobacci alleges five violations of her civil rights: (1) an unlawful seizure, (2) unlawful discrimination, (3) malicious prosecution, (4) a violation of due process under Brady, [3] and (5) a violation of her right to a speedy trial.[4]

         On May 29, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R, recommending that this court grant defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to Iacobucci’s first and third causes of action and remand the remaining claims to state court, ECF No. 83. Iacobucci filed objections to the R&R on June 5, 2019, ECF No. 84. On June 19, 2019, Fuda, as well as the Town and the Police Department, filed responses to those objections, ECF Nos. 85 and 86, respectively, to which Iacobucci replied, ECF No. 87. The matter is now ripe for review.

         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.


         Iacobucci objects to the R&R on three grounds. First, she objects to the R&R’s findings generally, contending that they are “based on factual conclusions reserved for the jury to decide.” ECF No. 84 at 1. Within this general objection, Iacobucci specifically cites to eight findings of the Magistrate Judge, which she claims improperly determine issues of fact reserved for the jury. Although this objection borders on generalized and conclusory, the court will interpret Iacobucci’s first objection as several objections to specific findings based on her specific citations to the R&R.[5] Four of these specific findings relate to probable cause, which the court will address in one section. The other four findings to which Iacobucci specifically points concern distinct arguments and will be addressed in turn. Second, Iacobucci objects to the R&R on the basis that it failed to consider her argument that Fuda was a final policy maker whose actions could be imputed to the Town. Finally, Iacobucci objects to the R&R because, she contends, it ignored certain persons’ admissions that a right at issue was clearly established. Because the court finds each of Iacobucci’s objections without merit, it adopts the R&R.

         A. First Objection

         a. Probable Cause

         Iacobucci objects to a number of the R&R’s findings, which, taken together, are tantamount to an objection to the R&R’s conclusion that probable cause existed for Iacobucci’s arrest.[6] In short, Iacobucci argues that the issue of probable cause should be left for determination by a jury. Under these circumstances, however, no reasonable jury could find that probable cause for Iacobucci’s arrest was lacking. Probable cause is an element necessary to Iacobucci’s first cause of action for wrongful arrest and to her wrongful seizure claim under her third cause of action for a violation of her federal rights. Therefore, because there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of probable cause, summary judgment is appropriate for Iacobucci’s state wrongful arrest cause of action as well as her unlawful seizure claim under her § 1983 cause of action.

         Iacobucci’s third cause of action asserts a claim under § 1983 that her constitutional rights were violated by the defendants when she was unlawfully seized without probable cause. A civil action under § 1983 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). To state a claim under ยง 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States ...

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