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Martin v. Dotson

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

January 29, 2019

DANIEL JESUS MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER MIKE (CPL) DOTSON, et al., Defendants. DANIEL JESUS MARTIN, #278 226, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. MICHAEL BRYAN, Defendant.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Daniel Jesus Martin filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Defendants Michael Bryan, Mike Dotson, and the Ozark Police Department (“the Department”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights when Plaintiff was subjected to a search in a motel room and subsequent arrest for unlawful possession of controlled substances in November 2015. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and damages. Docs. 5, 10, 11, 26, 31 & 32.

         Defendants filed answers, special reports, supplemental special reports, and evidentiary materials addressing Plaintiff's claims for relief. See Docs. 37, 39, 42, 43, 44, 57, 62, 63, 77, 79, 80, 83, 85 & 86. In their supplemental special report, Defendants argue, among other defenses, that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims of unlawful search, false arrest, and malicious prosecution claims under the doctrine set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Doc. 86 at 3-8. Upon receipt of Defendant's reports, the court directed Plaintiff to file a response, including sworn affidavits and other evidentiary materials, and specifically cautioned Plaintiff that “at some time in the future the court will treat Defendants' report and Plaintiff's response as a dispositive motion and response.” Docs. 45 & 87. Plaintiff responded to Defendants' June 9, 2016 report and materials (Docs. 50, 51 & 73), but filed no response to Defendants' January 5, 2017 supplemental report and materials. Pursuant to the court's June 10, 2016 order (Doc. 45), the court now treats Defendants' supplemental special report as a motion for summary judgment and finds summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of Defendants.[1]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “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). “Summary judgment is appropriate ‘if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam). The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24.

         Defendants have met their evidentiary burden and demonstrated the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Thus, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to establish with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings that a genuine dispute material to the case exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3) (“If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact [by citing to materials in the record including affidavits, relevant documents or other materials], the court may . . . grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it . . . .”); see also Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014) (holding that court may considers facts pled in a plaintiff's sworn complaint when considering summary judgment).

         A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263. The evidence must be admissible at trial, and if the nonmoving party's evidence “is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative . . . summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). But a “mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). Only disputes involving material facts are relevant, and what is material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. To demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact, the party opposing summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine [dispute] for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244, 1253 (11th Cir. 2013) (“To be sure, [plaintiff's] sworn statements are self-serving, but that alone does not permit us to disregard them at the summary judgment stage [because] [c]ourts routinely and properly deny summary judgment on the basis of a party's sworn testimony even though it is self-serving.”) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “‘Inferences based upon speculation are not reasonable,' and may not defeat a motion for summary judgment. Conclusory, uncorroborated allegations by a plaintiff in an affidavit or deposition will not create an issue of fact for trial sufficient to defeat a well supported summary judgment motion.” Solliday v. Fed. Officers, 413 Fed.Appx. 206, 207 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Marshall v. City of Cape Coral, Fla., 797 F.2d 1555, 1559 (11th Cir. 1986), and citing Earley v. Champion Int'l Corp., 907 F.2d 1077, 1081 (11th Cir. 1990)); see also Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (holding that conclusory allegations based on subjective beliefs likewise are insufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact). Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the court, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of sufficiently establishing a genuine dispute of material fact. Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Thus, a plaintiff's pro se status alone does not mandate this court's disregard of elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case. Here, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate a requisite genuine dispute of material so as to preclude summary judgment on his claims against Defendants. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Injunctive Relief

         Plaintiff seeks to be released from imprisonment or to have his probation terminated. Docs. 5, 11 & 26; No. 1:16-cv-245, Doc. 1. This court cannot grant release from prison in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973) (“[W]hen a state prisoner is challenging the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus.”). Plaintiff's request for release therefore is due to be denied.

         B. The Ozark Police Department

         Plaintiff names the Ozark Police Department as a defendant. But a county sheriff's department “is not a legal entity and, therefore, is not subject to suit or liability under section 1983.” Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992). Additionally, “the departments and subordinate entities of municipalities, counties, and towns that are not separate legal entities or bodies do not have the capacity to sue or be sued in the absence of specific statutory authority.” Ex parte Dixon, 55 So.3d 1171, 1172 n.1 (Ala. 2010). Finally, to the extent Plaintiff attempts to sue the Department under the doctrine of respondeat superior (see Doc. 10 at 3), this is not a valid avenue for relief. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991) (“Because suits against a municipal officer sued in his official capacity and direct suits against municipalities are functionally equivalent, there no longer exists a need to bring official-capacity actions against local government officials, because local government units can be sued directly[.]”). Consequently, the Ozark Police Department is due to be dismissed as a defendant.

         C. Dotson and Bryan

         Plaintiff identifies three main claims with overlapping allegations in No. 1:16-cv-58-ECM. Docs. 5, 10 & 11. The various claims grow out of Plaintiff's assertion that his motel room was illegally searched and that he was unlawfully arrested for possession of a controlled substance for which he was then maliciously prosecuted. First, Plaintiff claims that he suffered a violation of his due process rights, his equal protection rights, and his right to be free from illegal search, seizure, and arrest. Doc. 5 at 2 (citing the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments). Plaintiff asserts that Dotson searched his motel room without probable case and arrested him, then turned the evidence and case over to Bryan. Doc. 5 at 3. Plaintiff contends that Bryan's “abuse [is] in progress.”[2] Doc. 5 at 3; Doc. 10 at 3. Plaintiff alleges that Dotson conducted a premature investigation with no probable cause and then arrested Plaintiff for possession of a controlled substance. Doc. 5 at 2-3; Doc. 10 at 1 & 3. Second, Plaintiff claims Dotson was biased and prejudiced against Plaintiff resulting in a “fundamental miscarriage of justice” and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Doc. 5 at 3; Doc. 10 at 2. Plaintiff also asserts a violation of the Sixteenth Amendment.[3] Doc. 10 at 3. Plaintiff claims that there were multiple people in the motel room when Dotson entered and that none of them took ownership of the drugs found in the room, but Dotson arrested only Plaintiff, who was the only black man in the room. Doc. 10 at 1-3. Third, Plaintiff asserts that even after he reached the jail he was not informed of charges against him. Doc. 5 at 3. At the jail, however, Plaintiff alleges that Dotson told him he was being booked on possession of a controlled substance “because [he] was closest to” the drugs. Doc. 5 at 3; Doc. 10 at 2.

         In No. 1:16-cv-245-ECM, Plaintiff names only Bryan as a defendant. Doc. 1 at 1-2. Plaintiff alleges Bryan gave Dotson permission to arrest Plaintiff, kept Plaintiff imprisoned after Dotson arrested Plaintiff, swore falsely in front of the County Circuit Clerk that he had enough evidence to file a complaint against Plaintiff, and denied Plaintiff his equal protection rights by not taking time to investigate Dotson's reason to arrest Plaintiff, a biracial person, even though everyone in the motel room was culpable. Doc. 1 at 3. The court construes Plaintiff's claims against Bryan in No. 1:16-cv-245-ECM to be for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

         D. Summary of Material Facts

         For purposes of considering Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the nonmoving party. Disputes of fact will be noted.

         On Sunday, November 29, 2015 at 12:56 a.m., Dotson, a corporal with the Ozark Police Department, was on patrol in uniform when he discovered a man in a white truck parked behind the Quality Inn motel at 858 South U.S. Highway 231 in Ozark, Dale County, Alabama. Doc. 43-1 at 2. Dotson knew the area to be a common location for drug activity and prostitution, and he was suspicious of the man's presence in the area at that hour. Dotson approached the man, identified himself as a police officer, and inquired why the man was there. The man said the he was waiting for a friend named Tammy Shaw who was in Room 123 in the motel. The man agreed to wait while Dotson went to the motel to confirm his story. Doc. 43-1 at 2-3.

         Dotson walked to Room 123 of the motel, which was on the ground floor. Doc. 43-6 at 1-2. He knocked on the door and announced himself as a police officer. Doc. 43-1 at 3. Dotson states in a declaration that he knocked two more times and heard movement in the room, but no one answered immediately. A woman named Tammy Shaw and a man named Will Dasinger opened the door, stepped outside, and shut the door behind them. The delay and movement in the room led Dotson to suspect that the occupants hid drugs after he knocked and announced his presence. Doc. 43-1 at 3. Plaintiff notes that Dotson did not mention the additional knocks and shuffling during his testimony at Plaintiff's revocation hearing. Doc. 50 at 2.

         While the door was open, Dotson could see another man on the bed in the room and movement elsewhere in the room. Doc. 43-1 at 3. Shaw confirmed that she was acquainted with the man in the white truck, and she said she was ...


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