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Head v. Baisden

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

November 9, 2017

ANTONIO HEAD, Plaintiff,
CARY BAISDEN, et al., Defendants.



         This case is before the court on the Magistrate Judge's June 29, 2017 Report and Recommendation (Doc. # 32) and Defendant Cary Baisden's Objections to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. # 33). Although Defendant Baisden has filed objections, he has not objected to the Report and Recommendation's description of the Amended Complaint. Accordingly, the court accepts and adopts that description for purposes of reviewing Baisden's objections.

         I. Standard of Review

         The court reviews objected-to portions of a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation de novo. Heath v. Jones, 863 F.2d 815, 822 (11th Cir. 1989). The court reviews those portions that are not specifically objected to under the “clearly erroneous” standard. See Liberty Am. Ins. Grp., Inc. v. WestPoint Underwriters, L.L.C., 199 F.Supp.2d 1271, 1276 (M.D. Fla. 2001).

         II. Analysis of Objections

         After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that Baisden's objections are due to be sustained as to Plaintiff's outrage claim, but otherwise overruled.

         A. Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Analysis of Unlawful Search and False Arrest Claims

         Defendant Baisden argues that the Amended Complaint contains a conclusory allegation that he stopped and searched Plaintiff's vehicle for no discernible reason. (Doc. # 33 at 4-5). Baisden insists that the Amended Complaint should have alleged the facts known to Baisden before conducting the traffic stop in order to state a plausible violation of clearly established Fourth Amendment law. (Id. at 5-6). Moreover, Baisden argues that the search can be justified or qualified immunity can be granted by considering several exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. (See Id. at 7-13). The court is not convinced by any of these objections.[1]

         First, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint presents sufficient allegations of facts to support its contention that Baisden lacked a discernible reason for the traffic stop. Plaintiff alleges that he was driving with a friend in Tuscaloosa when Baisden turned on his blue lights to pull the vehicle over. (Doc. # 20 at ¶¶ 8-9). According to Plaintiff, he immediately pulled off of 10th Avenue onto a side street. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff states that Baisden lied during a probable cause hearing when he testified that (1) Plaintiff sped up and traveled an eighth of a mile before stopping, and (2) Baisden immediately observed a gun in the vehicle. (Id. at 3-4 nn. 3 & 4). Indeed, Plaintiff avers that Baisden examined the vehicle for eight minutes before entering it without a warrant, an assertion that plausibly alleges Baisden tried and failed to find contraband in plain view to justify entering the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 16). These allegations plausibly assert that Baisden lacked reasonable suspicion for an investigatory traffic stop. United States v. Lewis, 674 F.3d 1298, 1303 (11th Cir. 2012) (describing the Fourth Amendment standards for an investigatory stop).

         Second, Defendant Baisden incorrectly contends that Plaintiff must explicitly plead what was known by Baisden at the time of the traffic stop to proceed past the motion to dismiss stage. It is true that the court must consider the facts known to Baisden at the time of the stop to determine whether Baisden had arguable probable cause for the arrest. See Jones v. Cannon, 174 F.3d 1271, 1283 (11th Cir. 1999). It does not follow, however, that a plaintiff is obligated to explicitly plead the facts a defendant “knew” to present a plausible unlawful search or false arrest claim. This is so because the court can plausibly infer that a police officer observed the events pled by a plaintiff in a complaint. So, if a plaintiff pleads that he followed all traffic laws and was nonetheless pulled over, a plausible inference is that the officer observed no traffic violation justifying a stop. That inference may be overcome by testimony or other evidence presented later in the case, but it is enough for the case to proceed to discovery.

         Third, Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that Baisden's warrantless search occurred during an investigatory stop, not an arrest. Defendant Baisden insists that the warrantless search of Plaintiff's vehicle was permitted under numerous exceptions for searches incident to an arrest because Plaintiff had been arrested by the time of the search. (See Doc. # 33 at 7-13). There is not a brightline test distinguishing an investigatory stop from an arrest. United States v. Blackman, 66 F.3d 1572, 1576 (11th Cir. 1995). The court must consider the degree of intrusion on the detainee's freedom to determine whether it constitutes an arrest. Id. Factors to be considered include “the public interest served by the seizure, the nature and scope of the intrusion, and the objective facts relied upon by the officers.” Id.

         While Plaintiff has stated that Baisden pointed a gun towards him and placed him in handcuffs, Plaintiff alleges that Baisden explicitly stated that he was not under arrest. (Doc. # 20 at ¶¶ 11-12, 14). Baisden insists that the stop must be construed as an arrest because he pointed a firearm at Plaintiff and directed him to put his hands in the air. (Doc. # 33 at 7). But this is not necessarily so. As the Eleventh Circuit clearly explained in Blackman, “the fact that police handcuff the person or draw their weapons does not, as a matter of course, transform an investigatory stop into an arrest.” 66 F.3d at 1576. Indeed, the stop Plaintiff has alleged is very similar to the stop presented in Blackman, where officers handcuffed the defendants after they had voluntarily exited an apartment and one police officer allegedly pointed a gun at one defendant during the course of the investigatory stop. Id. at 1574. At this stage of the proceedings, the court cannot say that it is implausible that Baisden's stop of Plaintiff was an investigatory stop rather than an arrest.[2]

         Finally, the court declines to address whether Defendant Baisden's search of the vehicle was justified by the automobile search exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement because Baisden raised that argument for the first time in his objections to the Report and Recommendation. Baisden did not argue in the pending Motion to Dismiss that the search was justified under the automobile search exception. (See Doc. # 25 at 7-10). Consequently, the Magistrate Judge did not analyze whether the automobile search exception justified the search described in the Amended Complaint. (See Doc. # 32 at 26-27). Although the court has the authority to consider arguments raised for the first time in an objection to a report and recommendation, Williams v. McNeil, 557 F.3d 1287, 1292 (11th Cir. 2009), it declines to do so with respect to the automobile search exception because that issue was not addressed in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and has not been sufficiently developed at this time.[3]

         B. Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Analysis of ...

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