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Reddick v. Lienhard

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

June 27, 2017

ADDISON REDDICK, Plaintiff,
v.
BENJAMIN LIENHARD, Defendant.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the Court in the captioned matter is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant;against Plaintiff's sole claim in the case, a false arrest claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Upon consideration of the record evidence, the parties' briefs, and the relevant law, the motion for summary judgment (doc. 10) is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On July 4, 2014, Defendant Benjamin Lienhard, an Investigator with the Bulloch County (Sheriff's Department, and other members of the county crime suppression team met with an informant who stated that he could |have Arizona Zeb Connell deliver heroin to the officers | in a sting operation. Defendant planned to pose as a heroin buyer. (Dep. of Benjamin Lienhard, Doc. 9-1, at 13-14, 17-19.) The informant contacted Mr. Connell and told him what kind of vehicle the buyer (Defendant) would be in for their meeting. (Id. at 14.) Mr. Connell changed the meeting place on that day two times before settling upon Parker's convenience store. (Id.)

         Defendant drove to Parker's and parked in a parking space. Thereafter, Mr. Connell and Plaintiff Addison Reddick pulled up in a white Honda Civic and parked a couple of spaces down from Defendant. (Id. at 14-15.) Although Mr. Connell was driving the Civic, Plaintiff owned the vehicle. (Dep. of Addison Reddick, Doc. 13-1, at 23-24.) When the Civic pulled in, Defendant did not know the occupants' identities. (Lienhard Dep. at 14.) Once Mr. Connell exited the vehicle, the other observing members of the crime suppression unit identified him.[1] The officers followed Mr. Connell into the store and confronted him. (Id. at 15.) Meanwhile, Defendant approached the Civic, in which Plaintiff had remained. (Id.) Defendant identified himself to Plaintiff, explained why he was there, and asked basic questions. (Id. at 15-16.) After Plaintiff identified herself, Defendant recognized her name and knew that she had been previously convicted of possession of cocaine.[2] (Id. at 16, 63-64.)

         According to Plaintiff, Defendant informed her that she was going to jail for being a part of a drug sale. (Reddick Dep. at 40.) Plaintiff told the officers that she did not know anything about drug activity. (Id. at 45.) Nevertheless, after Plaintiff was detained in a patrol car, a police canine made a positive alert on the Honda Civic, indicating the presence of drugs. (Lienhard Dep. at 16.) Defendant and his colleagues then began searching the car. (Id.) While searching, Defendant observed small pieces of a white, rock-like substance on the floorboard where Plaintiff had been seated. (Id. at 17, 24 & Ex. 1.) The substance looked like crack cocaine to Defendant. (Id.) Defendant performed a field drug test on the substance. The field test involved opening a vial containing certain chemicals, placing the substance in I the vial, and observing whether the substance changed color. A color change to blue indicated a positive result for cocaine. Defendant followed these' steps and observed the substance turn blue inside the vial. (Id. at 25, 41, 50 ("The best of my recollection was that the substance turned blue inside the vial that was emersed (sic) in liquid.").)

         For her part, Plaintiff contends that the field drug test was not positive. She claims that she saw Defendant pick up a substance from inside the car and place it in a field test vial. She claims the vial did not change color and that she witnessed the officers throw the vial in nearby bushes. (Reddick Dep. at 46-48.) The officers then came over to Plaintiff and asked her whose cocaine it was. (Id. at 47.)

         Plaintiff was placed under arrest and transported to the Bulloch County jail. Plaintiff retrieved the vial from the bushes after she bonded out of jail.[3] (Id. at 49.) The vial was retained by her parents and then turned over to her attorney.[4] (Id. at 49-50.) Plaintiff contends that when the vial was retrieved from the bushes, there was no blue coloring in it. (Id. at 51.) Plaintiff insists that the substance pulled from the car was actually biscuit crumbs.[5] (Id. at 35.)

         Defendant's report of investigation does not mention that he conducted a field test of any substance. (Lienhard Dep. at 39-40 & Ex. 1.) However, Defendant testified at deposition that he conducted the test and that it was positive for cocaine. (Id. at 27-28, 41.) He could not recall what he did with the vial after the test. (Id. at 45.) Defendant further testified that it is his agency's practice to "dispose of" the field test vial, typically in a trash can. (Id. at 45-48.)

         In addition to the field test, Defendant collected a sample of the white substance on the floor board as evidence. (Id. at 51-52 & Ex. 5.) The Georgia Bureau of Investigation i ultimately determined, however, that the collected substance was not a controlled substance. (Id., Ex. 6.)

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         The Court should grant summary judgment only if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Facts are "material": if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and must draw "all justifiable inferences in [its] favor, " United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property. 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (internal punctuation and citations omitted).

         The moving party has the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on file, the basis for the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). How to carry this burden depends on; who bears the burden of proof at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993) . If the movant bears the burden of proof at trial, that party "must show that, on all the essential elements of its case, ... no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." Four Parcels, 941 F.2d at 1438. On the other hand, if the non-movant has the burden of proof at trial, the movant may carry the initial burden in one of two ways--by negating an essential element of the non-movant's case or by showing that there is no jevidence to prove a fact necessary to the non-movant's case. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 606-08 (11th Cir. 1991) (explaining Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970) and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986*)). Before the Court can evaluate the non-movant's response in opposition, it must first consider whether the movant has met its initial burden i of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Jones v. City of Columbus, 120 F.3d 248, 254 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam). A mere conclusory statement that the non-movant cannot meet the burden at trial is insufficient. Clark, 929 F.2d at 608.

         If--and only if--the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment only by “demonstrat[ing] that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. Again, how to carry this burden depends on who bears the burden of proof at trial. If the movant has the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment only by coming forward with evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. If the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must tailor its response to the method by which the movant carries its initial burden. If the movant presents evidence affirmatively negating a material fact, the non-movant "must respond with evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial on the material fact sought to be negated." Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. If the movant shows an absence of evidence on a material fact, the non-movant must either show that the record contains evidence that was "overlooked or ignored" by the movant or "come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1116-17. ...


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