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Spencer v. Bunton

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

June 22, 2018

RANDY L. SPENCER, Plaintiff,
v.
RYAN BUNTON, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Status

         Plaintiff, a former inmate of the Florida penal system, is proceeding on a pro se Amended Complaint (Doc. 29) filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 70) (Motion). The Court previously advised Plaintiff of the provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, and notified him that the granting of a motion for summary judgment may foreclose subsequent litigation on the matter. See Order (Doc. 31). Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 73) (Response). The Court directed supplemental filings on three issues, and as directed, Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 81) (Reply) and Plaintiff filed a Sur-Reply (Doc. 82) (Sur-Reply). The Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges:

On November 18, 2009, Sergeant (“Sgt.”) Ryan Bunton, Badge #646, of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office in Lake City, Florida, detained [Plaintiff] on an alleged traffic infraction of “wide turn.” Bunton claimed that he was informed by Dispatch that Plaintiff was on “Parole, ” so Bunton ordered Plaintiff to exit his vehicle for investigation in the absence of any particularized suspicion that Plaintiff is committing, had committed, or was about to commit a crime. Without warrant or consent, Bunton ordered Plaintiff to move some fifteen (15) feet to the rear of Plaintiff's vehicle, where Bunton repeatedly searched Plaintiff's body and vehicle.
Consequently, Bunton arrested Plaintiff and transported him to jail. The State Attorney nolle prossed the case on December 5, 2009.[2] The Parole Commission, following a hearing, found the Plaintiff “not guilty” and ordered him released from the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) on January 27, 2010. However, because of the illegal search and seizure and arrest of the Plaintiff by Bunton, the DOC transferred Plaintiff to involuntary civil commitment under the custody of Department of Children and Family (“DCF”) on Florida Jimmy Ryce Act; subjected Plaintiff to involuntary forensic psychiatric examinations before [being] released on January 31, 2010.
But for the illegal search and seizure, the Plaintiff, for some 75 days, suffered mental anguish by loss of liberty, work and income, and family ties.

         Amended Complaint at 9-10. As relief, Plaintiff requests a declaratory judgment and an award of $200, 000 “to compensate for suffering mental anguish and punitive damages.” Id. at 10-11.

         III. Parties' Summary Judgment Positions

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not suffer a constitutional violation and he is entitled to qualified immunity. In support of his arguments, Defendant submitted a partial transcript of Plaintiff's deposition, the written warning Plaintiff received for the traffic violation, an affidavit, a property receipt for the Lortab pill, incident reports, and an arrest affidavit. Defendant's affidavit regarding the incident states in pertinent part:

At all times material to this case, I was a Sergeant on the drug task force at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
On the evening of November 18, 2009, while on duty, I was surveilling a residence as part of a drug task force. Officer Mitchell Cline was with me. Prior to starting my shift that night, I notified Sergeant (then, Corporal) Jackson, part of the Sheriff's canine unit, of the area the drug task force was surveilling and advised him to be in the area.
Sometime around or after 6:30pm, I observed a black Toyota Four Runner drive by and make a very wide radius right turn onto Charmont Street and continue to travel partially in the wrong lane (the oncoming traffic lane.)
Thereafter, I initiated my emergency lights to conduct a traffic stop.
Once stopped and pulled over, I made contact with the driver, Randy L. Spencer (Plaintiff), and asked for his license, registration, and proof of insurance. Mr. Spencer complied.
I went back to my patrol vehicle and conducted a check of the drivers license through Columbia County Sheriff's Office dispatch and was advised that Mr. Spencer was currently on parole for murder, cocaine sale, and burglary. I also requested Sgt. Jackson and his canine unit, who were in the immediate area, to come to the scene. Sgt. Jackson arrived in less than two minutes from the request. In the meantime, another deputy who was at the scene began writing the warning citation.
While the warning citation was being filled out, Sgt. Jackson had his narcotics dog sniff the exterior of the vehicle, wherein the canine gave a positive alert to the presence of illegal drugs.
Sgt. Jackson then informed me that the canine gave a positive alert to the presence of illegal drugs.
I then conducted a search of the vehicle and located a white pill with the markings M367 under the front passenger seat. The pill was identified as a Lortab (Hydrocodone), a controlled substance. . . . I collected the pill and later placed it into evidence.
Mr. Spencer, who was the only occupant of the vehicle, advised that he did not have a prescription for hydrocodone.
Mr. Spencer was then arrested for possession of a controlled substance pursuant to Florida Statutes § 893.13 and transported to the Columbia County Jail.

Doc. 70-3 at 1-3 (paragraph enumeration omitted).

         Defendant completed an Arrest Affidavit dated November 18, 2009:

On the above listed date, I observed a black Toyota 4 Runner turn right onto Charmont Street. The vehicle made a very wide radius turn and continued to travel partially in the wrong lane (oncoming traffic lane). I initiated my emergency lights and attempted to conduct a traffic stop on the vehicle. The vehicle continued to travel in the middle of the roadway refusing to stop. After driving down Charmont Street for a lengthy distance, the vehicle made an abrupt right turn and then continued on for a few more yards in the ditch, eventually coming to a stop. As I exited my vehicle I could see the silhouette of the driver/defendant leaning toward the passenger side of the vehicle. Officer Mitchell Cline, who was with me during the stop, approached the passenger side of the 4 Runner. I made contact with the driver, Randy L. Spencer and asked for his license, registration, and proof of insurance. Spencer complied. As he handed the requested items to me I could plainly see his hands shaking badly. I conducted a check of the drivers license through CCSO dispatch and was advised that Spencer was currently on parole for murder, cocaine sale, and burglary. I then requested Cpl. K. Jackson assist with his K-9. Cpl. Jackson was in the immediate area and arrived in less than two minutes from the request. I started my warning citation for the stop and Cpl. Jackson conducted a K-9 search of the vehicle. After the citation was completed, Cpl. Jackson advised he had received a positive alert by his K-9, and I could search the vehicle. I then conducted a search of the vehicle and located a white pill with the markings M367 under the front passenger seat where I had seen Spencer leaning as he initially pulled to a stop. The pill was identified as a Lortab (Hydrocodone). I collected the pill and later placed it into evidence. Spencer, who was the only occupant of the vehicle, advised he did not have a prescription for the Lortab, but the vehicle belonged to his sister and she might have a prescription for them. Spencer was arrested and transported to CCJ. The vehicle was released to the registered owner. There was also $430.00 in U.S. currency in the center console of the vehicle. Both Spencer[] and the registered owner of the vehicle (Linda Hill) stated that the money was for the vehicle car payment. The $430.00 U.S. currency was also released to Hill.

Doc. 70-4 at 2-3 (capitalization omitted).

         Another officer authored a statement regarding the incident:

On 11-18-09 I assisted Sgt. R. Bunton 646 with a traffic stop at the corner of Beadie St. an[d] Charmont St. After K9 alert the vehicle was searched and the driver Randy Spencer was arrested. During the drive to the county jail Randy asked me if he could “make a deal[.]” I advised him I was not the one to make deals with but I would relay his request to Sgt. Bunton. While I was speaking to Sgt. Bunton over the phone[, ] Randy overheard him state that a small amount of crack cocaine had also been located in the vehicle. Randy then stated to me that he and another person, who he only knew by nickname, had “cut up a quarter ounce of crack cocaine” and that any found inside the vehicle was a small amount that had fallen f[ro]m the cutting.

Doc. 70-4 at 9 (capitalization omitted). With his Reply, Defendant submitted another affidavit that he subsequently amended.[3] Compare Doc. 81-1, with Doc. 83. The amended affidavit provides some additional details:

Sometime around 6:30pm, I observed a black Toyota Four Runner, which was later determined to be the vehicle Mr. Spencer was driving. Thus, at 6:30pm, when I first observed the black Toyota Four Runner, I was never “dispatched” to respond to a call because I was already on the scene. The “Time Dispatched” and “Time Arrived” listed as “1830” are defaulted times entered on the report that have no real meaning because I was never dispatched to the scene and because I was already at the scene when I first observed Mr. Spencer's vehicle.
At 6:34pm, I observed the black Toyota Four Runner make a very wide radius right turn onto Charmont Street and continue to travel partially in the wrong lane (the oncoming traffic lane.) It is clear from the face of the traffic warning citation that [the] time the violation occurred was 6:34pm. Thereafter, I initiated my emergency lights to conduct a traffic stop.
To clarify, the time on the traffic warning citation as 6:34pm would not be the time that the traffic warning citation was actually completed or issued to Mr. Spencer. Rather, 6:34pm would be the time the traffic violation was witnessed. The time the ticket was completed was after 6:34pm and encompassed the time it took for Mr. Spencer to pull over and stop; the time it took for me to approach Mr. Spencer's vehicle and get his license and registration; the time it took for me to return to my vehicle and conduct[] a license and registration and outstanding warrants check, including the time it took for Dispatch to respond back to me and advise me that Mr. Spencer was on parole status for various crimes; the time it took for me to request the K9 Unit that was already in the area to come to the scene; the time it took me to return to Mr. Spencer's car and ask him to get out of his vehicle for the safety of myself and other officers at the scene, while we waited for the completion of his warning citation; and the time to physically write the citation itself.
The time recorded on the Property Receipt, “1834, ” was the time the traffic violation occurred, not the time the controlled substance was actually discovered or entered into evidence at the Sheriff's Office. . . .

Doc. 83 at 4-5 (paragraph enumeration omitted).

         Defendant argues that “once a vehicle is stopped, the use of a narcotics dog to sniff a vehicle does not constitute a search and may be conducted during a lawful traffic stop.” Motion at 6 (capitalization and emphasis omitted). Defendant assumes in the Motion that Plaintiff does not contest “the propriety of the traffic stop” itself, and regardless, he states that when an officer observes a traffic violation, he has probable cause to stop the vehicle. Id. Defendant further argues that after a narcotics dog alerts to the presence of illegal drugs in a vehicle, an officer has probable cause to search the vehicle. Id. at 8. Additionally, Defendant states that he had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for possession of a controlled substance based on the loose Lortab pill that was found in Plaintiff's vehicle. Id. at 9-11. Finally, Defendant asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity because he had at least arguable probable cause to search Plaintiff's vehicle and arrest him. Id. at 11-16.

         Plaintiff disagrees with Defendant's contention that Plaintiff is not challenging the propriety of the stop itself. Response at 6, 9-10. Plaintiff points to his statement of facts in the Amended Complaint, where he indicated that Defendant detained him on “an alleged traffic infraction, ” and to his deposition testimony. Id. at 9-10.

Q. But did you get arrested for the wide turn?
A. To - - of course, Mendenhall, [4] you know, I felt like I was not free to end the encounter when the police officer came out with the gun. That's - - to me, I was definitely seized.
I understand the part about stopping for the traffic. That's probable cause to stop for a traffic violation.
But once she told me about the ticket and the warning, I was ready to go. I wasn't expecting this guy to come out with a service gun pointed at me, saying, “Get out the vehicle, ” and arresting me.
. . . .
Q. And you said you agree there was probable cause for the warning for the wide turn but not - - A. I didn't - - I'm not agreeing with that. I'm saying I understand the reason for the momentary seizure, where they're saying police have the course of duty to seize a person if he's saying they committed an infraction. That's what he's alleging. And they say there was a warning. I didn't appeal that, of course, or nothing like that.
Q. Okay. Well, you did the habeas ...

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