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Irons v. Patton

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

December 5, 2017

DEREASE L. IRONS, Plaintiff,
JAMES PATTON, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant James Patton's (“Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 88 (“Motion”).) Plaintiff Derease L. Irons (“Plaintiff”) initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on an incident that occurred on July 10, 2012 between him and Defendant, a Sergeant at the Holly Hill Police Department at the time. (Doc. 23.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated his Fourth Amendment rights by performing an unlawful search of the vehicle Plaintiff was driving, and seeks damages accordingly. (Id. ¶¶ 35-44.) Defendant opposes, and moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is due to be granted.

         I. Background[1]

         Around noon on July 10, 2012, Plaintiff drove to Wal-Mart to purchase a gas card in a car he borrowed from his ex-girlfriend (“Vehicle”). (Doc. 87, pp. 50-52.) Accompanying him for the ride was his six-month-old daughter (“Child”) who Plaintiff placed in her car seat in the back on the driver's side, reverse-situated to face the trunk. (Id. at 51; see also Doc. 86, pp. 6-7; Doc. 85-2, p. 12.) When Plaintiff arrived at the Wal-Mart, he parked the Vehicle directly in front of the store, close to the fire lane. (Doc. 87, p. 55.) Believing the stop to be a quick transaction, Plaintiff left the engine running, doors unlocked, windows up, air conditioning on, and his Child inside. (Id. at 53, 54, 93-94). The radio was not turned on. (Id. at 96-97.) Plaintiff went directly to the customer service counter at the front of the store and entered the queue. (Id. at 53.)

         As Plaintiff waited in line, he noticed a police car parked by the Vehicle. (Id. at 56.) From inside, he observed Defendant approach the Vehicle and open its door. (Id. at 62.) While watching, Plaintiff dialed his mother from his cell phone to come meet him at Wal-Mart. (Id. at 62-63.) He had been driving on a suspended license, and upon seeing Defendant at the Vehicle, thought that he would be arrested. (Id. at 63.) He stayed in Wal-Mart for another seven minutes and then exited the store. (Id. at 65.)

         On leaving the store, Plaintiff lingered by the entrance. (Id. at 67.) He did not say anything to Defendant or inch toward the Vehicle, whose door was still open. (Id. at 67- 68.) He stayed on the phone, and then Defendant walked up to him to ask whether he knew anything about the Vehicle or the Child. (Id. at 68.) Eventually, Plaintiff acknowledged both. (Id.; see also Doc. 86, pp. 10-11.) Defendant then arrested Plaintiff for child neglect. (Doc. 87, p. 68.)

         After Plaintiff's arrest, Plaintiff's mother and Officer Misty Howey arrived at the scene. (Id. at 68, 71; see also Doc. 86, pp. 13-14.) Officer Howey transported Plaintiff to the police station where he was charged and then incarcerated pending trial. (Doc. 86, p. 14; see also Doc. 23, ¶¶ 23-24.) While incarcerated, Plaintiff filed a motion to suppress in state court all evidence obtained from the Vehicle, claiming Defendant performed an unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Doc. 23, ¶¶ 25-27.) The court granted Plaintiff's motion to suppress, which resulted in his release from custody with the charges against him dropped.[2] (Id. ¶¶ 28-30.)

         Plaintiff then commenced this § 1983 action, bringing various claims against Defendant, the City of Holly Hill, and Holly Hill Police Department Chief of Police Stephen Aldrich. (Doc. 23.) Whittled down, the sole claim left alleges that Defendant violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights by performing an unlawful search of the Vehicle. (Docs. 37, 40.) On this, Defendant moves for summary judgment. (Doc. 88.) Plaintiff failed to submit a timely response, so the Motion is now ripe for the Court's consideration. (See Doc. 97.)

         II. Legal Standards

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that [it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). As to issues for which the movant would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and support its motion with credible evidence demonstrating that no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party on all of the essential elements of its case. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop. in Green & Tuscaloosa Ctys, 941, F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991)).

         As to issues for which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial, the movant has two options: (1) it may simply point out an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case; or (2) it may provide “affirmative evidence demonstrating that the nonmoving party will be unable to prove its case at trial.” Four Parcels, 941 F.2d at 1438 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325). “The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond the pleadings and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists.” Porter v. Ray, 461 F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1115-17).

         “A factual dispute is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Four Parcels, 941 F.2d at 1437 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, Battle v. Bd. of Regents, 468 F.3d 755, 759 (11th Cir. 2006), such that “when conflict arises between the facts evidenced by the parties, [the] court credit[s] the nonmoving party's version, ” Evans v. Stephens, 407 F.3d 1272, 1278 (11th Cir. 2005). However, “[the] court need not permit a case to go to a jury . . . when the inferences that are drawn from the evidence, and upon which the nonmovant relies, are ‘implausible.'” Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 743 (11th Cir. 1996). “When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         III. Analysis

         Defendant asserts several arguments to support summary judgment in his favor. (See Doc. 88, pp. 8-24.) This Order focuses on Defendant's meritorious qualified immunity argument that: (1) his actions did not violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights; and (2) even if a violation occurred, it was not ...

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