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Macias v. Early

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

July 17, 2019

CHAD EARLY, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, Daniel Lee Macias (“Macias”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. ECF Doc. 1. Defendants Investigator Cameron Johnson and Deputy Gaither have filed a Motion to Dismiss and Request for Judicial Notice (ECF Doc. 17).[1] The matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and N.D. Fla. Loc. R. 72.2(C). Upon consideration of the parties' written submissions, including Macias's response (ECF Doc. 20), and the relevant law, the undersigned recommends that the Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED.


         Macias is a prisoner currently confined at Suwannee Correctional Institution. At the time he initiated this action, Macias was a pretrial detainee at the Walton County Jail. The Defendants are employees of the Walton County Sheriff's Office (“WCSO”). Macias's complaint sets forth the factual allegations that follow, the truth of which are accepted for purposes of determining Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         On November 13, 2016, two (2) WCSO deputies, including Defendant Early, arrived at a residence shared by Macias, his girlfriend, Haley Page (“Page”), and Joseph Beeler (“Beeler”) to execute a misdemeanor arrest warrant on Beeler. The deputies believed that Beeler was located inside the residence. Page answered the door and did not give consent for the deputies to enter; nonetheless, Early forcibly entered the residence. Macias says no exigent circumstances justified immediate entry, and the deputies did not have a valid search warrant or probable cause to believe illegal activity was taking place.

         Defendant Gaither then arrived at the residence and ordered Macias to present photo identification. Macias asserts Gaither lacked the reasonable suspicion necessary for the detention and had no immediate need for Macias to provide proof of identity. Deputy Gaither then followed Macias for “officer safety” to his bedroom to retrieve the identification. ECF Doc. 1 at 6.

         That same day, Defendant Investigator Johnson executed an affidavit of probable cause for a search warrant of the residence. ECF Doc. 20 at 7. With the search warrant in hand, the deputies seized items from Macias's room, including various digital media storage devices. Macias contends the seized digital medial storage devices “were not immediately identifiable as contraband.” ECF Doc. 1 at 6.

         As a result of the items obtained during the search, Macias was charged with felony possession and several drug related offenses. See State of Florida v. Macias, Case No. 16-CF-868, ECF Doc. 17-2 at 2. A subsequent computer forensic analysis of the digital devices seized during the search also revealed images of child pornography. Thus, Macias was separately arrested and charged with child pornography related offenses. See State of Florida v. Macias, Case No. 17-CF-470, ECF Doc. 17-3 at 2. Macias filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search warrant in both state court cases and the motion was granted.[2] ECF Doc. 1 at 9-16. The charges were also subsequently dismissed. See Dockets, ECF Doc. 17-2 at 2-6 and 17-3 at 2-4.

         Based on the foregoing, Macias alleges Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment, as well as sections Four, Nine, Twelve, and Twenty-Three of Article 1 of the Florida Constitution. Specifically, Macias takes issue with Early's initial entry into the residence; Gaither's subsequent detention of him and entry into Macias's bedroom; and Johnson's probable cause affidavit for the search warrant.[3] As relief, Macias seeks damages for defamation of character and mental anguish. He also asks that the WCSO publicly recant their statements regarding his arrest. The WCSO, however, is not a party to this action.


         In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court reads a plaintiff's pro se allegations in a liberal fashion, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), and accepts “[a]ll well-pleaded facts in plaintiff's complaint and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts . . . as true.” McGinley v. Houston, 361 F.3d 1328, 1330 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as where the facts alleged are internally inconsistent or where they run counter to facts of which the court can take judicial notice.” Ellen S. v. Fla. Bd. of Bar Exam'rs, 859 F.Supp. 1489, 1492 (S.D. Fla. 1994) (citation omitted). Further, mere “labels and conclusions” are not accepted as true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)) (noting courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation”).

         As the Supreme Court reiterated in Iqbal, although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, it does demand “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint must state a plausible claim for relief, and “[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The mere possibility the defendant acted unlawfully is insufficient to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim. Id. The complaint must include “[f]actual allegations . . . [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, or, “nudge[] the[] claim[] across the line from conceivable to plausible . . . .” Id. at 570. Moreover, “courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint ‘obvious alternative explanations,' which suggest lawful conduct rather than unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Am. Dental Ass'n v. Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682).


         Before discussing the merits of the motion to dismiss, the Court will address the request for judicial notice. The Defendants ask that the Court take judicial notice of the filings and dockets for Beeler's state court case, Case No. 16000393CTAXMX and Macias's state court cases: Case No. 16-CF-868, and No. 17-CF-470. The undersigned finds that judicial notice is appropriate. See Fed. R. Evid. 201; see e.g., United States v. Berrojo, 628 F.3d 368, 369 (5th Cir. 1980) (“The doctrine of judicial notice permits a judge to consider a generally accepted or readily verified fact as proved without requiring evidence to establish it.”). The undersigned also finds that it is appropriate for the Court to consider the dockets, submissions and filings in those state court cases in determining this motion to dismiss. See Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1134 (11th Cir. 2002) (“a document attached to a motion to dismiss may be considered by the court without converting the motion into one for summary judgment only if the attached document is: (1) central to the plaintiff's claim; and (2) undisputed. ‘Undisputed' in this context means that the authenticity of the document is not challenged.”).


         Under 42 U.S.C. §1983, an individual who has been deprived of a right guaranteed to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States under color of state law, has a right to seek appropriate relief in a United States District Court. The Fourth Amendment provides “the right of the people to be secure in their persons ... against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation....” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Although a violation of the Fourth Amendment can form the basis of a § 1983 action, Defendants argue that they are immune from liability. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned agrees.

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Because Macias sues the Defendants in their individual capacities, his claims are subject to the doctrine of qualified immunity. To receive qualified immunity, the public officials, “must first prove that [they were] acting within the scope of [their] discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, Macias does not dispute the Defendants were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority and under color of law at all material times. ECF Doc. 1 at 5.

         The Supreme Court has established a 2-pronged test for evaluating a claim of qualified immunity: (1) whether a constitutional right has been violated on the facts alleged; and (2) whether the right was “clearly established.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001). The Court may exercise its sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). The Court may grant qualified immunity if the Plaintiff fails to carry his burden on either prong. See, e.g., Id. at 242-44 (evaluating only Saucier's second prong and holding that law enforcement officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of their conduct was not clearly established).

         In Fourth Amendment cases an officer is entitled to qualified immunity if he had arguable probable cause for his conduct i.e., for the search, seizure or arrest. See Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1327 (11th Cir. 2009). Arguable probable cause exists where reasonable officers possessing the same knowledge and in the same circumstances could have believed probable cause existed to arrest; even if ultimately that belief was mistaken. Id.; Wood v. Kesler, 323 F.3d 872, 878 (11th Cir. 2003). ‚ÄúProbable cause is defined in terms of facts and circumstances sufficient to ...

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