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Kleinschnitz v. Phares

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 24, 2015

JACOB KLEINSCHNITZ, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM PHARES, in his individual capacity, Defendant.

OPINION

MYRON H. THOMPSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jacob Kleinschnitz brought this action against several defendants, including police officer William Phares, contending that they violated his rights under federal and state law when Phares arrested him. After several claims were dismissed, Kleinschnitz v. Phares, 2013 WL 5797621 (M.D. Ala. 2013), the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to the remaining claims, and the magistrate judge entered a recommendation that summary judgment be granted on all claims. This court adopted the recommendation with respect to three of the four claims but withheld judgment as to the final claim. Kleinschnitz v. Phares, 2015 WL 507341 (M.D. Ala. 2015).

Now before the court is the magistrate judge's recommendation that judgment be granted as to the remaining claim, Kleinschnitz's malicious-prosecution claim under Alabama law against Phares. The court had original jurisdiction over Kleinschnitz's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) and accordingly has supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). For the reasons that follow, the court declines to adopt the magistrate judge's recommendation and instead will dismiss the malicious-prosecution claim with leave to refile in state court.

I. SUMMARY-JUDGMENT STANDARD

"A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if 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). In construing the facts, the court must view the admissible evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In May 2012, around midnight, 19-year-old Kleinschnitz started his drive home after a late night at work. Nearby, police were responding to a robbery call. Phares, a police officer responding to the robbery call, saw Kleinschnitz's car driving at a speed he estimated to be above the speed limit. Lacking a description of the vehicle used in the robbery or of the suspects, Phares sped up to follow the car and turned on his blue emergency lights when he caught up to it.

Earlier, in March or April 2012, Kleinschnitz's parents had shown him a video on Youtube.com in which former defendant Dothan Police Chief Benton had issued a public service announcement advising people that there was a person who was impersonating a police officer inducing people to pull over by driving in what appeared to be an unmarked police car and flashing blue lights behind them in traffic. Benton advised people that, if they were being pulled over and could see that the vehicle was a marked police car, to go ahead and pull over. If visibility was low because it was nighttime, however, and drivers could not tell whether a real police vehicle was behind them, he advised people to find a safe, populated, well-lit location to pull into before stopping. He also said not to speed, lest the officers think that people are fleeing. Finally, he said that officers are aware that people may respond in this way, and in fact, that this contingency is written into the department's procedural orders. YouTube.com, Dothan Police Chief Greg Benton's Advice on Blue Lights Behind You, uploaded on May 4, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSJxDCC9Qcw (last visited Feb. 24, 2015). Phares worked for the Dothan police department at the time the chief made this announcement and presumably was among those bound by the procedural order.[1]

Kleinschnitz-not wanting to evade an actual police officer but concerned that the car behind might him not be in fact a police car-slowed to below the speed limit and waved out the window at Phares, attempting to indicate that he was not fleeing but merely looking for a place to pull over. About a minute after turning on his lights, Phares turned on his siren. About two and a half minutes after starting to follow Kleinschnitz, Phares received a description of the robbery suspects' vehicle; based on the description, it was clear that he was not following the suspects' vehicle. Nonetheless, Phares continued to pursue Kleinschnitz. Kleinschnitz called 911 and told the dispatcher that someone was trying to pull him over, that he was not sure it was a police officer, and that he was not fleeing but instead looking for a safe, well-lit, and populated place to pull over; the area was dark. The dispatcher relayed Kleinschnitz's intentions to Phares, who continued to pursue. During the pursuit, Kleinschnitz-though driving under the speed limit-violated traffic laws. While following the dispatcher's instructions, Kleinschnitz told herthat he planned to pull into a particular gas station, and she relayed this information to Phares. When Kleinshnitz did pull over at that station, Phares and several other officers who had arrived on the scene ordered him out of the vehicle and arrested him for obstructing governmental operations, a Class A misdemeanor in Alabama. 1975 Ala. Code § 13A-10-2.[2] After being ordered to the ground, Kleinschnitz told Phares that he had not stopped immediately because he had been uncomfortable stopping in the area.

The next day, Phares swore out a municipal-court complaint against Kleinschnitz for obstructing governmental operations but not for any traffic offenses. In that complaint, Phares swore that Kleinschnitz "refused [to give] any reason for not stopping." Later, in his deposition, Phares contradicted this sworn statement. Attachment to Plaintiff's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. no. 35-7).

Kleinschnitz demanded a trial and was acquitted of the charge. He then brought suit in this court. His state-law malicious-prosecution claim against Phares remains.

III. DISCUSSION

Phares argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on the claim for malicious prosecution because he had probable cause to arrest Kleinschnitz. The magistrate judge did not decide whether Phares had probable cause for obstructing governmental operations, instead apparently relying on its finding that he had 'arguable' probable cause to grant Phares immunity.[3] Because these arguments do not ...


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