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Mountain Pure, LLC v. Roberts

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

March 19, 2015

MOUNTAIN PURE, LLC, ANGELA SMITH, GERALD MILLER, COURT STACKS, KIMBERLY HARBESON, SCOTT MORGAN, TRACY BUSH, QUINTON RILEY, KADEENA DEPRIEST, WILLIAM MORRIS, PLAINTIFFS
v.
CYNTHIA M. ROBERTS, BOBBI SPRADLIN, AND JOHN DOES 1-20, DEFENDANTS

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For Mountain Pure LLC, Angela Smith, Gerald Miller, Court Stacks, Kimberly Harbeson, Scott Morgan, Tracy Bush, Quinton Riley, Kadeena Depriest, William Morris, Plaintiff: B. Michael Easley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Easley & Houseal, P.A., Forrest City, AR; Timothy O. Dudley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney at Law, Little Rock, AR.

For Cynthia M Roberts, Bobbi Spradlin, Defendant: Richard M. Pence, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Shannon S. Smith, U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR.

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OPINION AND ORDER

Kristine G.s Baker, United States District Judge.

On March 6, 2013, plaintiff Mountain Pure, LLC, and individual plaintiffs Angela Smith, Gerald Miller, Court Stacks, Kimberly Harbeson, Scott Morgan, Tracy Bush, Quinton Riley, Kadeena DePriest, and William Morris, who are employees of Mountain Pure, filed this action asserting Fourth Amendment claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), against Special Agents Cynthia M. Roberts and Bobbi Spradlin (together, " named defendants" ), as well as other agents named as John Does 1-20 (Dkt. No. 1). On December 20, 2013, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint (Dkt. No. 20). Specifically, plaintiffs allege that named defendants Ms. Roberts and Ms. Spradlin planned and executed a search of the Mountain Pure bottling plant that allegedly violated their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. On January 24, 2014, named defendants filed two motions for summary judgment, one against Mountain Pure (Dkt. No. 46) and the other against individual plaintiffs (Dkt. No. 49), both of which have been fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, named defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.

I. Factual Background

Unless otherwise noted by citation, the following facts are taken from named defendants' statement of facts as to which there is no genuine issue for trial regarding claims of plaintiff Mountain Pure, LLC (Dkt. No. 48); named defendants' statement of facts as to which there is no genuine issue regarding the claims of individual plaintiffs (Dkt. No. 50); and plaintiffs' responses to those statements of facts (Dkt. Nos. 54, 57).

At all times relevant to this case, named defendant Ms. Roberts was a Special Agent for the Office of the Inspector General of the Small Business Administration (" SBA-OIG" ), and named defendant Ms. Spradlin was a Special Agent for the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service (" IRS-CID" ). Named defendants were case agents in the investigation of John B. Stacks for alleged false statements, misrepresentations, wire fraud, and money laundering regarding a Small Business Administration loan to Mountain Pure.

As part of that investigation, Ms. Spradlin filed for and received a warrant to search the bottling plant and to seize certain

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paper and electronically-stored records. The warrant authorized the search for and seizure of, among other things, " any and all business records," including billing invoices, ledgers, accounts receivables, accounts payable, shipping logs, and QuickBooks files; " any and all purchasing records," including invoices, asset lists, purchase agreements, and lease agreements; and certain of Mountain Pure's computers or electronic media, including documentation and manuals necessary to access them (Dkt. No. 59-5).

Ms. Roberts prepared an operational plan for the search. On January 18, 2012, at approximately 8:45 a.m., pursuant to the search warrant and with named defendants acting as team leaders, approximately 35 federal and state law enforcement agents searched the Mountain Pure bottling plant. The agents approached the bottling plant in a long convoy of 15 to 20 vehicles with lights flashing and sirens blaring. They surrounded the plant and blocked all entrances and exits. Each officer was wearing a ballistic vest and was armed with a government-issued handgun, secondary weapon (either a collapsible baton or pepper spray), and handcuffs -- all of which is required for the execution of any search warrant pursuant to SBA-OIG and IRS-CID policies.

Agents conducted a security sweep and secured the premises, eventually moving occupants of the bottling plant's offices to the break room. Upon entry into the building, agents shoved Mr. Morgan and Mr. Bush against a wall. There is a dispute as to whether agents had drawn their weapons at this time, though it is undisputed that named defendants Ms. Roberts and Ms. Spradlin neither drew their weapons nor directed any search team member to do so. Mr. Court Stacks testified that an agent drew his gun upon entering his office. Mr. Miller claims that he was detained outside and brought into the bottling plant.

Agents either confiscated cell phones from individual plaintiffs upon their entry to the break room or directed that cell phones be left behind at desks or in purses, bags, or cars. Individual plaintiffs were not allowed to make calls for most of the duration of the search. According to Ms. DePriest, " the phones were shut off, not just personal phones taken, but the phone lines shut down. We couldn't make any out-going or incoming calls at all whatsoever" (Dkt. No. 50-10, at 4-5). Mr. Stacks and Ms. DePriest asked to make personal phone calls, and Mr. Bush asked to call an attorney (Dkt. No. 55-2, at 14). Other employees who are not plaintiffs asked to make calls to arrange for children to be picked up and other similar things (Id. at 12-13). In addition to cell phones, agents seized an iPod Touch from Ms. Smith; firearms from Mr. Bush and Mr. Morgan; pocket knives from Mr. Riley and Mr. Morgan; a thumb drive and hard drive from Mr. Morgan; and personal property from Ms. DePriest. Specifically, agents seized from Ms. DePriest two white, five-inch binders labeled " Confidential Property of CoorsTek Internal Auditing Program" ; one blue, half-inch binder containing completed tax forms and tax schedules from college classes; and a 2006 tax accounting college textbook.

Agents also interviewed all individual plaintiffs, though the extent of the interviews differed, most apparently lasting between 30 minutes and 1.5 hours. At least one individual defendant, Mr. Bush, testifies that named defendants told him that he could not leave until he submitted to interrogation (Id. at 16); the amended complaint alleges that other individual plaintiffs were told the same.

Once all the bottling plant employees were identified, which evidence suggests

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took approximately two hours, production restarted. By sometime between 1:30 and 4:00 p.m., all individual plaintiffs had been told that they could leave but that, if they did, they could not come back. Ms. Smith left when the agents told her that she could leave, whereas Ms. Harbeson testified that she left around 2:15 or 2:30 p.m. The search concluded at approximately 8:20 p.m. Some individual plaintiffs might have been told earlier in the day that they could leave but that, if they did, they could not come back. Mr. Stacks stayed until 8:00 p.m., and agents denied him permission to call his wife until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. Mr. Morgan chose to stay and was allowed to call his mother at 5:00 p.m., though it appears that he had not previously asked to do so (Dkt. No. 50-6, at 9). Mr. Miller left at 8:30 p.m. Mr. Bush left when the search concluded. It appears that agents told Ms. DePriest that she could leave earlier than the others because of her job duties, but she chose to stay. Mr. Morris and Mr. Riley were allowed to return to work around the time production restarted at the plant and left between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m., at the end of their shifts.

No Mountain Pure property was damaged, no one was handcuffed or arrested, and no one sustained a physical injury. Agents returned cell phones, Ms. Smith's iPod, firearms, and pocket knives when the individuals who claimed ownership of the property left or upon conclusion of the search pursuant to the search warrant, whichever occurred first. Mr. Morgan's thumb drive and hard drive were returned a few days after the search, upon his request. Ms. DePriest's binders and college textbook have not been returned, though it appears she never actually requested their return from the agents and the college textbook is not listed as an item that was seized.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that the defendant is entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Miner v. Local 373, 513 F.3d 854, 860 (8th Cir. 2008). " The mere existence of a factual dispute is insufficient alone to bar summary judgment; rather, the dispute must be outcome determinative under prevailing law." Holloway v. Pigman, 884 F.2d 365, 366 (8th Cir. 1989). However, parties opposing a summary judgment motion may not rest merely upon the allegations in their pleadings. Buford v. Tremayne, 747 F.2d 445, 447 (8th Cir. 1984). The initial burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish that there is a genuine issue to be determined at trial. Prudential Ins. Co. v. Hinkel, 121 F.3d 364, 366 (8th Cir. 2008). " The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

A government official sued in his individual capacity may raise the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. The doctrine of qualified immunity " protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights ...


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