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Smith v. Munday

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 3, 2017

APRIL SMITH, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
JASON MUNDAY; CHARLES MCGINLEY; BRIAN GREENE; RODNEY JORDAN; CITY OF LINCOLNTON; LINCOLNTON POLICE DEPARTMENT; JOHN DOE; JANE DOE, Defendants-Appellees, and RUFUS LYNCH; MARK LESASSIER, Defendants. APRIL SMITH, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
JASON MUNDAY; CHARLES MCGINLEY; BRIAN GREENE; RODNEY JORDAN; CITY OF LINCOLNTON; LINCOLNTON POLICE DEPARTMENT; MARK LESASSIER; JOHN DOE; JANE DOE, Defendants-Appellees, and RUFUS LYNCH, Defendant.

          Argued: September 20, 2016

         Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Statesville. Richard L. Voorhees, District Judge. (5:12-cv-00202-RLV-DSC)

         ARGUED:

          Algernon Williams, Sr., LAW OFFICE OF ALGERNON WILLIAMS, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Patrick Houghton Flanagan, CRANFILL SUMNER & HARTZOG LLP, Charlotte, North Carolina; Joseph Finarelli, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Matthew K. Lilly, CRANFILL SUMNER & HARTZOG LLP, Charlotte, North Carolina; Roy Cooper, North Carolina Attorney General, Donna Elizabeth Tanner, Assistant Attorney General, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and KING and AGEE, Circuit Judges.

         Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded by published opinion. Chief Judge Gregory wrote the opinion, in which Judge King joined. Judge Agee wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

          GREGORY, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff-appellant April Yvette Smith brought a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of her constitutional rights when she was arrested and held in police custody for eighty days. She named as defendants the investigating officers, Defendants Jason Munday and Charles McGinley; the arresting officers, Defendants Brian Greene and Mark Lesassier; the Chief of Police, Defendant Rodney Jordan; the City of Lincolnton; and the Lincolnton Police Department.[1] She raised Fourth Amendment and tort claims in both direct and supervisory contexts, all of which center around the allegation that she was arrested without probable cause.

         The district court found that the officers had probable cause to believe that Smith illegally possessed and sold crack cocaine. Thus, no officers violated her constitutional rights or caused her injury, and neither their supervisor nor employer failed to prevent such injuries. The district court accordingly granted summary judgment in favor of all of the defendants. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

          I.

         When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we "view all reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence in the light that is most favorable to the non-moving party." Nader v. Blair, 549 F.3d 953, 958 (4th Cir. 2008).

         On March 10, 2009, officers Munday and McGinley conducted an undercover investigation using a confidential informant, Rufus Lynch Sr. J.A. 84, 105. The officers searched Lynch, wired him with audio and video recorders, and gave him sixty dollars. J.A. 84-85. Lynch then went to 728 East Pine Street, where he purchased crack cocaine from two individuals. J.A. 85. After the transaction, Lynch returned to the officers. Id. He told the officers that he purchased drugs from April Smith, a black female. Id. The detective's notes identify April Smith as such: "B/F April Smith, " and "April B/F skinny $20 1 rock in plastic, Smith 40s." Supp. J.A. 17.

         Because the audio recorder had no batteries, it failed to record the transaction. Supp. J.A. 17. And because the camera wired to Lynch pointed in the wrong direction, the video recording did not capture the drug sale. J.A. 85. The video instead shows an unidentified black woman sitting on a front porch, and two other individuals standing on the porch. J.A. 79. It also recorded a discussion of prices. Id.

          At some point during the next nine months, Munday scanned police databases for residents of Lincoln County named April Smith with criminal records. He then stumbled upon April Yvette Smith, a black woman who lived in Lincoln County and had been convicted of selling crack cocaine in 1993, 1997, and 2005. His search also revealed at least two other April Smiths with criminal records. Supp. J.A. 40-41. He had no indication that the woman who sold crack cocaine to Lynch in March 2009 had a criminal record, or was even a Lincoln County resident. And the record reflects no further attempt by Munday to investigate Smith or connect her to the crime.

         Nevertheless, nine months after the sale, on December 20, 2009, Munday applied for and received an arrest warrant for Smith, on charges of possession with intent to sell crack cocaine and selling or distributing cocaine. Supp. J.A. 77. And on December 22, 2009, Defendants Greene and Lesassier served the arrest warrant and arrested Smith in her home, which was eleven miles away from the site of the drug sale. See Supp. J.A. 86. Smith was held in custody for approximately eighty days, facing the threat of prosecution. Over the course of her incarceration, Smith allegedly lost her job. J.A. 43. The Lincoln County District Attorney's Office then requested that the charges be dismissed.

          Smith filed suit, alleging constitutional violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, [2] and state-law claims for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent supervision, gross negligence, assault, battery, false imprisonment, and false arrest.

         The district court found that no constitutional violation occurred. The district court reasoned that the investigating officers were looking for a black woman named April Smith who sold drugs, and they found a black woman named April Smith who had sold drugs in the past, and who was arrested only eleven miles away from where the drug sale occurred. The one factor the district court believed counseled against probable cause was Smith's weight. The seller was a skinny woman; conversely, Smith was 160 pounds upon arrest, and alleged that she weighed more than 200 pounds in March 2009, when the sale occurred. But the officers were unaware of Smith's weight at the time of the transaction, and the district court reasoned that 160 pounds was not so different from "skinny, " especially with an intervening nine months, so as to discredit a finding of probable cause. Thus, even if she ultimately might not have been the correct individual, the district court found that--at the time, with the information then known--the investigating officers had probable cause to believe that Smith was the woman who sold Lynch crack cocaine.

         But even ignoring Smith's weight, a criminal history, common race, common gender, and unfortunately common name is not enough to establish probable cause. For this reason, we reverse the district court and remand for further proceedings.

         II.

         We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert County, 48 F.3d 810, 817 (4th Cir. 1995). Summary judgment should be granted only when "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). All "factual disputes and any competing, rational inferences [are resolved] in the light most favorable to the party opposing that motion." Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry. Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996)).

         A.

         The district court properly stylized Smith's false arrest claims against the investigating officers as malicious prosecution claims. J.A. 107. A claim of malicious prosecution under § 1983 is a claim "founded on a Fourth Amendment seizure that incorporates elements of the analogous common law tort of malicious prosecution." Lambert v. Williams, 223 F.3d 257, 262 (4th Cir. 2000). This Fourth Amendment claim requires "that [1] the defendant ha[s] seized plaintiff pursuant to legal process that was not supported by probable cause and [2] that the criminal proceedings have terminated in ...


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