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Coleman v. Calvert County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 6, 2018

WAYNE E. COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CALVERT COUNTY, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Wayne E. Coleman alleges that his Constitutional rights were violated during a traffic stop and subsequent search performed by officers of the Calvert County Sherriff's Department. On September 22. 2016. this Court granted summary judgment to all Defendants on all counts except for Coleman's unreasonable search and seizure claim against Officers Gott. Phelps and Fvans in their individual capacities. ECF No. 32 at 1.[1] Phelps. Gott and Evans, filed a second Motion for Summary Judgment on July 14. 2017. ECF No. 52. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         Coleman's Complaint focuses on the events of February 4, 2014. That morning. Coleman was driving his pick-up truck home along Route 260 when Officer Gott pulled him over for not having a rear license plate. ECF No. 52-3 at 5. Gott approached the driver's side door, informed Coleman that he lacked a rear license plate, and asked for identification, Id. Coleman handed Gott a sovereign citizen "personal identification card"'[3] and a "Public Servant's Questionnaire."" Id. at 5-6, The Questionnaire asserted the right of a "sovereign natural person" to collect information from a "Public Servant" pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552a(e)(3). Id. at 5. Upon receiving these papers. Gott returned to his vehicle and requested a supervisor because Coleman was not providing his license. ECF No. 52. Ex. A at 09:47:30.[4]

         Supervising Officer Phelps then arrived on the scene. ECF No. 52, Ex. A at 09:45:55. Both Phelps and Gott approached the driver's side window of the truck, and Phelps asked Coleman to produce a driver's license, telling him he could go to jail for failing to produce a license during a traffic stop. ECF No. 27. Ex. A at 09:51:00. After Coleman failed to comply. Phelps opened the truck door, took Coleman's hand, and said, "climb on out. I don't want to drag you out of the vehicle." Id. at 09:51:17. At the same time, the two officers grabbed each of Coleman's arms and moved him to the side of the truck. Id. at 09:51:17. The officers placed Coleman's hands on the truck and frisked him after he reached for his back pocket, Id. at 09:51:26. The officers additionally searched inside at least some of Coleman's pockets and seized a wallet: they also lifted off his hat and looked underneath it. Id. Inside the wallet, the officers found Coleman's Virginia driver's licensed.[5] ECF No. 52-3 at 13. Phelps escorted Coleman by his shirtsleeve behind the truck and ordered him to sit on the roadside guardrail. ECF No. 52. Ex. A at 09:52. At this point. Officer Cress arrived on the scene. Id. at 09:53:45.

         The officers informed Coleman that his truck would be impounded because it could not be legally operated without a rear plate. Id. at 10:09:15. Phelps asked Coleman if he wanted anything from the truck before it was towed, and Coleman mentioned only an unsealed, stamped letter that Phelps brought to him. Id. at 10:10:30. Coleman was charged criminally for driving an uninsured vehicle, failing to attach registration plates, and operating an unregistered vehicle on the highway. ECF No. 27-4. But rather than making a custodial arrest, the officers issued Coleman a summons. Id.

         In his Complaint. Coleman raised a number of claims against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 42 U.S.C. § 1986. 18 U.S.C. § 241. Maryland state law and Maryland's Declaration of Rights. ECF No. 16 ¶¶ 23-96. Coleman sought the following relief: a declaration that his rights were violated: an injunction ordering Defendants to avoid Coleman on sight and forbidding them from detaining him; compensatory and punitive damages: statutory damages and reimbursement of funds paid or lost; and court costs. Id. ¶¶ 97-102.

         On September 22. 2016. the Court granted in part Defendants" Motion to Dismiss or. in the Alternative. Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 27; ECF No. 32. The Court granted summary judgment to "Defendants on all counts except for the unreasonable search and seizure claim in Count I with respect to Gott. Phelps, and Evans in their individual capacities." Id. at 22. Regarding that claim, the Court reasoned that while Gott and Phelps had "'a reasonable suspicion that Coleman was armed and dangerous." there "remains an issue of whether the officers exceeded the permissible scope of the frisk" when they searched Coleman's pockets, Id. at 10. In its Memorandum Opinion, the Court noted that Defendants had raised the argument that the officers had probable cause to arrest and search Coleman based on his failure to provide satisfactory identification. Id. at 11 n.8. However, the Court denied summary judgment at that time as the Court did not have knowledge of "the contents of the card" that Coleman provided to the officers before the search, which could have negated probable cause if the information provided was sufficient, Id.

         On July 14. 2017. Defendants tiled the now-pending Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 52. On July 17. 2017. a letter was sent to Coleman, advising him of his right to respond to the Defendants" Motion. ECF No. 53. On August 7, 2017. Coleman tiled a Response in Opposition to Defendants" Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 55. which he amended on August 9. 2017. ECF No. 56.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "Under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 56(c). summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."'" Celotex Corp. v Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute exists as to material facts, Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). If the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to identify specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. Importantly, at the summary judgment stage, it is not the Court's function to weigh the evidence but simply to decide if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). A dispute of material fact is genuine if the conflicting evidence creates "fair doubt." Car v. Oily. Of Prince William, 249 F.3d 295, 299 (4th Cir. 2001). such that "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255. Nevertheless, a "mere scintilla of proof is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Peters v. Jenney, 327 F.3d 307. 314 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). To defeat the motion, the party opposing summary judgment must submit evidentiary materials showing facts on the basis of which the finder of fact could reasonably decide the case in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. If a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an essential element on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In their Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendants make two arguments as to why the Court should grant summary judgment on their behalf.[6] First, Defendants argue that they had probable cause to arrest Coleman at the time they searched his pockets, and that the search was therefore valid as a search incident to arrest. See ECF No. 52-1 at 5. Second. Defendants argue that, at the very least, they are entitled to qualified immunity "given the complete absence of any case, reported or otherwise, addressing ...


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