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Brockinton v. City of Sherwood

August 17, 2006

ROGER BROCKINTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF SHERWOOD, ARKANSAS, A BODY PUBLIC; KEL NICHOLSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHIEF OF POLICE FOR SHERWOOD, ARKANSAS; JOHN H. SCOTT, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY ; ALEXANDER KILGORE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; JERRY D. BRADFORD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; CHRISTOPHER R. CONE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; VERNON D. BLOCKER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; EDDIE P. ALVIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; JAMES S. CALHOUN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; THE COUNTY OF VAN BUREN, ARKANSAS, A BODY PUBLIC; SCOTT BRADLEY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF VAN BUREN COUNTY, ARKANSAS; RUSSELL PRIDGEN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE FORMER SHERIFF OF VAN BUREN COUNTY, ARKANSAS; AND RANDY GURLEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Webber Wright United States District Judge

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Plaintiff Roger Brockinton brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of his rights to "liberty, privacy, and property as guaranteed by the 4th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution," art. VII, § 22 of the Arkansas Constitution, and Rule 15 of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure.*fn1 He also asserts state law claims of false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, conversion, and outrage. The matter is before the Court on defendants' motions for summary judgment to which plaintiff responded. Separate Van Buren County defendants filed a reply and a response to plaintiff's supplement to his response. After careful review of the motions, responses, reply, briefs, statements of undisputed facts, and exhibits, the Court finds the motions should be granted.

Background

According to plaintiff, Mike Wiley purchased a 1966 Buehler Jet boat from Charles Mills sometime in 2000. The boat was either the original or an exact replica of the one used in a James Bond movie, "Thunderball." Sometime in 2001, Wiley and his friend Glen Prater, took the boat to plaintiff's house in Sherwood, Arkansas, to store it because, according to Brockinton, Wiley did not trust his girlfriend, Pamela Murphy, with it. Subsequently, Wiley borrowed some money from plaintiff and told plaintiff to hold the boat as security for the loan. Before he fully repaid the loan, Wiley died in an automobile accident.

Murphy had been living with Wiley in a residence on Resort Road in Higdon, which is located in Van Buren County, Arkansas. On or about July 12, 2002, after Murphy returned to the Higdon residence from Wiley's funeral in North Little Rock, Arkansas, she called the Van Buren County Sheriff's Department ("VBCSD") and deputy Randy Gurley was dispatched to Murphy's residence. Gurley testified Murphy told him, and he observed, that the gate had been cut and her fence was down. Murphy told Gurley that a neighbor, Keith Bradford, told her two men had come and taken two boats and a lawn mower.*fn2 One of the men was identified by Bradford as Tom Travis.*fn3 Murphy showed Gurley a bill of sale and a boat registration in the name of Charles Mills and Linda Mills. Gurley said he contacted Charles Mills from Murphy's residence and asked him if he had sold a boat to Wiley and Murphy, and Mills confirmed he did.

Deputy Gurley completed a report on the incident and turned it over to his sergeant. Gurley said either he or his sergeant entered the boat as stolen into the Arkansas Crime Information Center ("ACIC"). Murphy later informed Gurley that Wiley's sister, Penny Guess, had located the boat in Sherwood, Arkansas. Gurley advised Murphy to contact the Sherwood Police Department ("SPD").

On July 14, 2002, Murphy visited the SPD and gave separate defendant John Scott, an investigator, a copy of the written statement she had given the VBCSD. According to Scott, Murphy claimed the boat was stolen from her residence and that it had been located on Hillcrest Road in Sherwood. Scott further testified that John Aldridge, who accompanied Murphy to the SPD, said he had driven by 600 Hillcrest in Sherwood and identified the boat as belonging to Murphy and Wiley. Also on July 14, Guess gave Scott a statement saying she had driven by 600 Hillcrest and confirmed the boat belonging to Murphy and Wiley was at that location and the resident's first name is Roger. Scott said he ran the boat hull number provided by Murphy, and ACIC showed it stolen out of Van Buren County.

Sherwood police officers went to 600 Hillcrest and observed a boat behind a red truck in the backyard. Scott compared it to a photograph provided him by Murphy and it appeared to be the same boat. Because no one was home, Scott obtained a search and seizure warrant on July 14, 2002, and officers executed the warrant. Officers ran the boat hull number which showed it to be the one reported by the VBCSD as stolen. The boat was taken into evidence and then released to Murphy pursuant to an ACIC message from the VBCSD.

When Brockinton returned home and found the warrant on his door, he called Scott, who told Brockinton he was going to be arrested. Brockinton called Tom Travis, who secured a bond. Brockinton then went to the SPD and turned himself in. It took one to two hours to process Brockinton and then he left. The charges eventually were dismissed.

Brockinton asserts the SPD did not have jurisdiction to issue an arrest or search and seizure warrant because the alleged crime occurred in Higdon which is in Cleburne County.*fn4 He claims the City of Sherwood is liable for the defendant officers' unconstitutional conduct because it failed to train and supervise its police officers. Plaintiff contends that Van Buren County deputy sheriff Randy Gurley should have known Murphy's allegation of theft was false, failed to use proper procedures in handling the allegation, and should have known he had no authority to handle a matter outside his jurisdiction. Brockinton asserts Russell Pridgen, former sheriff of Van Buren County, Arkansas, failed to train and supervise Gurley, and the VBCSD has a policy, custom, and practice not to train or supervise its officers.

Brockinton seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violation of his constitutional rights, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, outrage, conversion, trespass, and destruction of property. He also seeks injunctive relief.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading but must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).

"[A] genuine issue of material fact exists if: (1) there is a dispute of fact; (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case; and (3) the dispute is genuine, that is, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party." RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 401 (8th Cir. 1995). The inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citations omitted). Further, summary judgment is particularly appropriate where an unresolved issue is primarily legal, rather than factual. Mansker v. TMG Life Ins. Co., 54 F.3d 1322, 1326 (8th Cir. 1995).

Discussion

1. Van Buren County Defendants

Brockinton sues Van Buren County, Arkansas; Scott Bradley, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Van Buren County; Russell Pridgen, individually and in his official capacity as former Sheriff of Van Buren County;*fn5 and Randy Gurley, individually and in his official capacity. These defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that the evidence shows the address was in Van Buren County; the theory of respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 actions; plaintiff has no proof of his allegations; they are entitled to qualified immunity on the individual capacity claims; and there is no proof in support of punitive damages.

a. Individual Capacity Claims

Plaintiff asserts Pridgen, who was Sheriff of Van Buren County at the time of the incident, failed to adequately train and/or supervise Gurley.*fn6 He contends Gurley knew or with due diligence should have known Murphy's report was false but failed to use proper police procedures in handling her allegations. Pridgen and Gurley argue they are entitled to qualified immunity.*fn7

"Qualified immunity protects a government official from liability in a section 1983 action unless the official's conduct violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person would have known." Henderson v. Munn, 439 F.3d 497, 501 (8th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted). "To determine whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, we ask two questions: (1) whether, after viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, there was a deprivation of a constitutional right; and, if so, (2) whether the right was clearly established at the time of the deprivation such that a reasonable official would understand his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Vaughn v. Greene County, Arkansas, 438 F.3d 845, 850 (8th Cir. 2006). To survive a summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity, a plaintiff must assert a violation of a constitutional right, show that this right is clearly established, and raise an issue of material fact as to whether the defendant would have known that the conduct in question violated the clearly established right. Habiger v. City of Fargo, 80 F.3d 289, 295 (8th Cir.1996).

Brockinton claims Gurley violated his rights to due process when he failed to properly investigate Murphy's stolen property complaint. "Negligent failure to investigate other leads or suspects does not violate due process. Even allegations of gross negligence would not rise to the level of a constitutional violation." Wilson v. Lawrence County, 260 F.3d 946, 955 (8th Cir. 2001). Only reckless or intentional failure to investigate other leads offends a defendant's due process rights. Id. See also Whitley v. ...


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