United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
CARLTON W. REEVES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment
filed by Defendants City of Madison, Mississippi;
Investigator Cole Terrell; and Chief Gene Waldrop
(collectively, the “Madison Defendants”), Docket
No. 48, and on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, filed
by Plaintiff Joanne Pitts, Docket No. 73. The Motions are
fully briefed and ready for adjudication.
Facts and Procedure
night of May 1, 2014, Joanne Pitts and her brother Jeremy
Shedd were driving separately on Highway 463 in Madison
County. Pitts was in a red Chevrolet truck, and Shedd was in
a gray Honda Accord. Both vehicles were owned by Pitts.
Madison Investigator Cole Terrell observed the Honda
traveling at a very low rate of speed and swerving between
lanes. He conducted a traffic stop. Terrell then smelled
marijuana and asked Shedd to exit the car. A pat down search
of Shedd yielded a clear tube of crystal methamphetamine and
a small plastic bag containing marijuana. Terell arrested
Shedd. After Shedd was taken into custody, Pitts' Honda
was searched and seized.
the same time Shedd was stopped, Agent Clark conducted a
traffic stop of the Chevrolet. Clark identified the driver as
Pitts, who admitted that she and Shedd often used drugs at
her home and that Shedd regularly used her Honda to transport
drugs. Pitts gave consent for officers to search
her home for drugs and was arrested based on an outstanding
warrant. Officers subsequently searched her home
and found various drugs and drug paraphernalia. Pitts was
charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug
that night, Investigator Terrell served both Pitts and Shedd
with a Notice of Intention to Forfeit Seized Property
regarding the Honda. The notice instructed that Pitts and
Shedd had 30 days to file a petition for judicial review or
the Honda would be forfeited to the Madison Police
Department. A petition was never filed. On June 23, 2014, MPD
issued a Declaration of Forfeiture.
2015, Pitts filed this action in the Madison County Circuit
Court. She brought state claims of civil conspiracy and
conversion. In November 2015, she amended her complaint to
include constitutional violations under Section 1983. The
action was properly removed to this Court pursuant to federal
Madison Defendants now seek summary judgment on all claims.
Pitts also seeks partial summary judgment on her Fourteenth
Amendment claim, as well as other claims not included in her
Amended Complaint. Specifically, she claims that the Madison
Defendants violated the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth
Amendment and the Mississippi Constitution and that the
Madison Police Department, as a non-entity incapable of being
sued, improperly sought and obtained title to her Honda.
judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden
of identifying the basis for its motion and the portions of
the record that support it. Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v.
Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015).
“Once a summary judgment motion is made and properly
supported, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and
designate specific facts in the record showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial.” Wallace v. Tex. Tech
Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996).
considering a summary judgment motion, the court “must
view all facts and evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party.” Juino v. Livingston Parish
Fire Dist. No. 5, 717 F.3d 431, 433 (5th Cir. 2013)
(citation omitted). But “[u]nsubstantiated assertions,
improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation are not
sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.”
Brown v. City of Houston, 337 F.3d 539, 541 (5th
Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).
immunity “protects government officials from liability
from civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)
(quotation marks and citation omitted). In other words,
“qualified immunity generally protects all but the
plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law.” Good v. Curtis, 601 F.3d 393, 400 (5th
Cir. 2010). “When a defendant invokes qualified
immunity, the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate the
inapplicability of the defense.” McClendon v. City
of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002).
determine whether an official is entitled to qualified
immunity, the court must determine: “(1) whether an
official's conduct violated the plaintiff's
constitutional rights, and (2) whether the right violated was
clearly established at the time of the violation.”
Poole v. City of Shreveport, 691 F.3d 624, 637 (5th
Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). “For a right to be
clearly established under the second step of the qualified
immunity analysis, the contours of that right must be
sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would
understand that what he is doing violates that right.”
Bishop v. Arcuri, 674 F.3d 456, 466 (5th Cir. 2012).
“The defendant's acts are held to be objectively
reasonable unless all reasonable officials in the
defendant's circumstances would have then known that the
defendant's conduct violated the United States
Constitution.” Thompson v. Upshur Cty., Tex.,
245 F.3d 447, 457 (5th Cir. 2001).
Section 1983 Claims against Investigator Terrell
parties discuss at great length the Fourth Amendment right to
be free from unreasonable searches and seizure and the
Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due
process. Each will be considered below.
argues that the search and seizure of her Honda-the vehicle
being driven by her brother-were unlawful because the traffic
stop was “pretextual.” Investigator Terrell
contends that the stop, search, and seizure were valid under
the Fourth Amendment. The Court agrees with Terrell.
initial matter, Investigator Terrell asserts that Pitts
“lacks standing to raise a constitutional claim”
regarding the initial stop of the Honda. Docket No. 79 at 2.
He cites no authority to support this contention.
vehicle owner's Fourth Amendment interest in his vehicle
is not limited to police intrusions occurring only while he
is present. See United States v. Kye Soo Lee, 898
F.2d 1034, 1038 (5th Cir. 1990) (holding that the renter of a
truck had standing to challenge the search of locked cargo
while the truck was operated by others). Though Pitts was not
present during the traffic stop, she maintained a reasonable
expectation of privacy when she lent her car to her brother
and therefore has standing.
Initial Traffic Stop
Whren v. United States, the Supreme Court held that
a traffic stop, even if pretextual, does not violate the
Fourth Amendment if an officer has “probable cause to
believe that a traffic violation has occurred.” 517
U.S. 806, 810 (1996). “[P]robable cause to make a
traffic stop exists, inter alia, when a defendant
commits a traffic violation and a law-enforcement officer
observes the violation.” United States v.
Rosales-Giron, 592 F. App'x 246, 251 (5th Cir.
Terrell pulled over Shedd for careless driving, a violation
of Mississippi law. “[A] court must reasonably interpret
a wide range of factors when determining carelessness under
the careless-driving statute.” Id.
“Mississippi's careless-driving statute is broadly
worded to encompass drivers who fail to exercise due regard
for the width . . . of the streets and highways.”
Id; see, e.g., Henderson v. State, 878
So.2d 246, 247 (Miss. Ct. App. 2004) (determining that
“swerving off the side of the road or crossing the
marker lines constitutes probable cause for a traffic
stop”); Saucier v. City of Poplarville, 858
So.2d 933, 934 (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (finding probable cause
where a vehicle decreased its speed, “bump[ed] the
centerline, ” then crossed “into the center lane
and jerked . . . back into the right lane”).
incident report, Terrell states that he observed the Honda
“traveling at a very low rate of speed in a 45 mph
zone” and “swerv[ing] from side to side, each
time crossing over into the other lane.” Docket No.
73-2 at 7. His observations constituted probable
cause to make a traffic stop.
searches are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment,
subject to a few specific exceptions.” United
States v. Samuels, 628 F. App'x 322, 322 (5th Cir.
2016) (citing Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S.
218, 219 (1973)). In this case, the defense argues that two
exceptions validated the warrantless search of Pitts'
car: (1) Investigator Terrell had probable cause to believe
the car ...