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Armstrong v. Scott

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

February 27, 2019

ROBIN ZAK ARMSTRONG, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
QUENTIN SCOTT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Robin Zak Armstrong and Timothy-Brian Armstrong, proceeding pro se, filed this unlawful detention action after they were arrested at a driver's license checkpoint operated by the Boaz City Police Department. The Plaintiffs allege that they were unlawfully detained after Boaz City Police Officers Quentin Scott and Brandon Hester failed to bring them before a magistrate judge for a probable cause determination immediately after their arrests. On July 24, 2017, the court (Hopkins, J.) granted in part and denied in part the Defendants' motion to dismiss the third-amended complaint. (Doc. 81 at 59-60). As a result of the court's ruling, the only remaining claims in this action are: (1) Mrs. Armstrong's unlawful detention claim against Officer Hester (Count VII) and (2) Mr. Armstrong's unlawful detention claim against Officer Scott (Count XII). (Id.).

         This matter is currently before the court on the Defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Doc. 148; Doc. 149). The motions have been fully briefed and the issues are ripe for review. (Doc. 150; Doc. 157; Doc. 160). For the reasons explained below, the court WILL GRANT the Defendants' motions.

         I. 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). The court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Baas v. Fewless, 886 F.3d 1088, 1091 (11th Cir. 2018). 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 courts, “a pro se litigant does not escape the essential burden under summary judgment standards of establishing that there is a genuine issue as to a fact material to his case in order to avert summary judgment.” Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990).

         II. FACTS

         The court previously set forth the procedural history of this action in its memorandum opinion and order denying the Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend their complaint. (Doc. 168). The court incorporates the procedural history contained in that opinion and provides the following summary necessary to address the current motion.

         On May 28, 2016, the Boaz Police Department operated a driver's license checkpoint at the intersection of County Road One and Double Bridges Road. (Doc. 46 at 34). The purpose of the checkpoint was to target uninsured motorists and unlicensed drivers. (Doc. 151-5 at 59). That afternoon, at approximately 3:08 p.m., a white Ford truck entered the checkpoint driven by Mr. Armstrong. (Doc. 46 at 34; Doc. 151-2 at 6). Mrs. Armstrong accompanied Mr. Armstrong in the front passenger seat. (Id.).

         At the checkpoint, Officer Michael Hempel approached Mr. Armstrong's vehicle and asked for his driver's license. (Doc. 46 at 34; Doc. 151-5 at 59). In response, Mr. Armstrong explained that he did not need a driver's license because “he was a man [acting] in his private capacity and that he was not using the public roads for any commercial activity.” (Doc. 46 at 11, 34). Officer Hempel activated his body cam and proceeded to ask Mr. Armstrong for other identifying information including his name, social security number, and date of birth. (Id. at 34). Mr. Armstrong provided only his first and last name. (Id.).

         Officer Hempel went to his patrol car to run this information, but was unable to determine whether Mr. Armstrong held a valid driver's license. (Id.). Officer Hempel then returned to Mr. Armstrong's vehicle accompanied by Officer Quentin Scott and advised Mr. Armstrong that he was required to have a driver's license while operating a motor vehicle on the public roadways. (Doc. 46 at 15, 34). At this point, Mrs. Armstrong began to record the officers with a video camera and stated “that sounds like a threat.” (Id. at 34).

         Officer Hempel told Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong that he was “not there to play games” and ordered Mr. Armstrong to exit the vehicle. (Id.). Mr. Armstrong refused to follow Officer Hempel's orders and asked permission to reach for his wallet. (Id.). Out of concern for his safety, Officer Hempel explained that he “would rather [Mr. Armstrong] not reach for anything” and asked him to exit the vehicle a second time. (Doc. 46 at 34). Mr. Armstrong again refused to vacate the vehicle, telling Officer Hempel to “hold on a second.” (Id.). Officer Hempel opened the driver's side door, unfastened Mr. Armstrong's seatbelt, and removed him from the vehicle. (Id.). Once Mr. Armstrong was outside of the vehicle, Officer Hempel placed him under arrest for obstructing a government operation. (Id.). Officer Scott escorted Mr. Armstrong to the backseat of his police cruiser. (Doc. 46 at 34-35).

         After Mr. Armstrong was taken into custody, Officer Hempel directed his attention to Mrs. Armstrong. (Id. at 35). Officer Hempel explained that Mrs. Armstrong could leave with the vehicle if she presented a valid driver's license. (Id.). Mrs. Armstrong refused to provide Officer Hempel with her license and continued to film the officers with her video camera. (Id.). Without another driver available to remove the vehicle, Officer Hempel called for a tow truck and told Mrs. Armstrong that the vehicle would be impounded. (Doc. 46 at 35). When Officer Hempel opened the driver's side door to retrieve the keys, Mrs. Armstrong pushed his hand away from the ignition and claimed “it was her private property.” (Id.). Officer Hempel directed Mrs. Armstrong to step out of the vehicle and placed her under arrest for obstructing a government operation. (Id.).

         Officer Scott drove the Armstrongs to the Boaz City Jail. (Doc. 151-6 at 11). On the way, Mr. Armstrong asked Officer Scott to bring him directly before a magistrate judge for a probable cause hearing. (Doc. 46 at 16; Doc. 151-8 at 10, 26). Officer Scott informed Mr. Armstrong that the magistrate's office was closed for the holiday weekend and estimated it could take seventy-two hours to fulfill his request. (Doc. 151-5 at 36-37; Doc. 151-8 at 10, 26; Doc. 46 at 31).

         When the Armstrongs arrived at the jail, they were directed to Officer Brandon Hester for booking. (Doc. 151-5 at 22). Officer Hester began the administrative booking and intake procedures with Mrs. Armstrong at 4:28 p.m. (Doc. 151-2 at 15). Mrs. Armstrong requested that Officer Hester take her before a magistrate judge, but was also told it could take up to seventy-two hours to go before the magistrate judge because of the holiday weekend. (Doc. 46 at 13, 24- 25). Unsatisfied with this response, Mrs. Armstrong refused to cooperate in the booking process. (Id. at 13, 35; Doc. 151-1 at 3). As a result, Officer Hester placed Mrs. Armstrong in a holding cell and informed her that she would not be released from custody until she “answered [his] questions ...


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