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Carney v. Lewis

United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Western Division

December 18, 2014




This cause is before the court on the motion of defendant Derrick Lewis to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Plaintiff David O. Carney has responded in opposition to the motion, but also, “in light of the issues raised in the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, ” he has moved to amend his complaint to provide “a more detailed statement of the consequences of the Plaintiff’s arrest and charges [that] will aid the Court in determining what constitutional injuries resulted from actionable conduct.” The motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment has been fully briefed by the parties, and while defendant has yet to respond in full to the motion to amend, he has expressed his opposition to the motion. The court, having considered the parties’ submissions, concludes that defendant’s motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment is well taken and should be granted. The court further concludes that the motion to amend should be denied on the basis that the proposed amendment would be futile.

Plaintiff’s Complaint

According to the allegations of the complaint (and the proposed amended complaint), on May 28, 2011, as plaintiff was driving home from work on Highway 16 in Leake County, Mississippi, defendant Derrick Lewis, a Mississippi State Highway Patrol trooper, stopped him using blue lights and sirens. Carney alleges that Lewis, rather than pull in behind Carney’s vehicle on the side of the road, pulled alongside Carney’s vehicle, rolled down his window and shouted at Carney, asking if he was “an idiot” and demanding that he move his vehicle further down the highway. Carney did so, and when he pulled off the road as directed by Lewis, Lewis pulled in behind him, exited the patrol vehicle and approached Carney’s vehicle. At Lewis’s request, Carney provided his driver’s license and proof of insurance. Lewis went to his patrol car and returned with a traffic ticket for speeding. Carney asked Lewis why he had called him an idiot; and in response, Lewis ordered Carney out of the vehicle. Carney complied. Lewis then proceeded to arrest Carney for disorderly conduct and failure to obey, stating that Carney had “pointed his finger at Lewis in a threatening manner” and “refused to remain outside the vehicle after being told.”[1] Carney alleges that “the only plausible provocation for the arrest was [his] use of words and gestures protected by the First Amendment.” Carney was transported to the Leake County jail where he was formally charged with disorderly conduct and failure to obey, and with speeding (71 m.p.h. in a 55 m/p.h. zone). Following booking, he posted a cash bond of $1, 500 and was released. After a not guilty plea to all the charges, Carney was tried in justice court, where he was found guilty of speeding and failure to obey. Carney appealed his conviction on the failure to obey charge but not the speeding conviction. After a number of continuances, the prosecution moved for dismissal of the failure to obey charge.

Based on these allegations, Carney filed the present lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting the following claims:

Trooper Lewis’s actions under color of state law deprived Dr. Carney of several Constitutionally protected liberties without due process of law by:
a. Retaliating against Dr. Carney for exercising his freedom of speech under the First Amendment;
b. Violating his right to be free from unreasonable seizures under the Fourth Amendment; and
c. Subjecting him to prosecution without probable cause in violation of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Motion to Dismiss

“Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages liability unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Reichle v. Howards, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093, 182 L.Ed.2d 985 (2012) (citation omitted). “The basic steps of the qualified-immunity inquiry are well-known: a plaintiff seeking to defeat qualified immunity must show that (1) the official violated a statutory or constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Burnside v. Kaelin, ___F.3d ___, 2014 WL 6913938, at *2 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 370 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc)). The court may grant qualified immunity “on the ground that a purported right was not ‘clearly established’ by prior case law, without resolving the often more difficult question whether the purported right exists at all.” Reichle, 132 S.Ct. at 2093 (citation omitted).

In his motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, Officer Lewis contends he is entitled to dismissal of Carney’s claims on the basis of qualified immunity as Carney cannot show that Lewis violated a clearly established constitutional right or that Lewis’s actions were objectively unreasonable. The burden is thus on plaintiff to demonstrate inapplicability of qualified immunity. See Kovacic v. Villarreal, 628 F.3d 209, 211 (5th Cir. 2010) (“Once a defendant invokes qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the defense is not available.”). For the reasons that follow, the court concludes he has not done so.

Arrest: Fourth Amendment

Lewis argued in his motion that Carney cannot possibly establish a Fourth Amendment violation for unreasonable seizure since, as a matter of law, Carney’s unappealed conviction for speeding is conclusive proof as to the existence of probable cause for Carney’s arrest. Indeed, the law is clear that Carney’s conviction on the speeding charge not only bars any claim relating to his arrest and prosecution for that offense, but also precludes a Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest on the other charges, as well. This is because “[c]laims for false arrest focus on the validity of the arrest, not on the validity of each individual charge made during the course of the arrest[, ]” Price v. Roark, 256 F.3d 364, 369 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Wells v. Bonner, 45 F.3d 90, 95 (5th Cir. 1995)), so that “[i]f there was probable cause for any of the charges made ... then the arrest was supported by probable cause, and the claim for false arrest fails, ” id. (quoting Wells, 45 F.3d at 95); see also Pfannstiel v. City of Marion, 918 F.2d 1178, 1183 (5th Cir. 1990) (stating that “[e]ven if there was not probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for the crime charged, proof of probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for a related offense is also a defense.”); Whitfield v. City ofRidgeland, Civil Action No. 3:11CV744TSL-JMR, 2013 WL 6632092, at *4-5 (S.D.Miss. Dec. 17, 2013) (finding that where there was probable cause to arrest ...

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