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Alcocer v. Bulloch County Sheriff's Office

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

September 29, 2017




         Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment (doc. 57) and two motions to exclude expert testimony (docs, 71, 72) filed by Defendants, Sheriff Lynn M. Anderson, Deputy Randall Norman, Sergeant Kent Munsey, Jailer Ashley Mills, Captain John Staten, and Captain Jason Kearney. (Doc. 57.) Plaintiff, Judith Alcocer, has sued for damages under § 1983 alleging that Defendants committed a variety of constitutional violations. Defendants claim that they committed no constitutional violations and that they cannot be found liable for damages under 18 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion for summary judgment and it DENIES Defendants' motion to exclude expert testimony.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At approximately 1:30 p.m. on January 30, 2014, Deputy Randall Norman and Sergeant Kent Munsey of the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office") observed Plaintiff driving east on U.S. Highway 80 in Bulloch County, Georgia. (Doc. 94-2 at 2.) After running Plaintiff's license plate through the Georgia Crime Information Center ("GCIC"), Deputy Norman discovered that the owner of the vehicle had a suspended license. (Doc. 57-1 at 2.) Suspecting that Plaintiff was the vehicle's owner, he pulled onto the road to stop Plaintiff. (Id.)

         Before Deputy Norman could activate his lights, however, Plaintiff pulled into a convenience store parking lot and went inside to make a purchase. (Doc. 105 at 4.) Deputy Norman followed her into the parking lot and confronted her in the store. (Doc. 57-1 at 2.) Deputy Norman confirmed Plaintiff's identify and that she was the vehicle's owner. (Id.) He then issued Plaintiff a citation for driving with a suspended license, arrested her for the misdemeanor offense, and transported her to the Bulloch County Detention Center ("Detention Center") . (Id.)

         Detention Center staff booked Plaintiff and scanned her fingerprints into the computer system. Plaintiff's prints were then "automatically sent to several different databases, including GCIC, NCIC, and federal law enforcement agency databases." (Doc. 57-1 at 4.) Around 2 p.m., the Sheriff's Office received a fax from Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("I.C.E."). (Doc. 97-1 at 2.) It stated:

I.C.E. records indicate that this subject is not legally in the United States and appears to be subject to removal proceedings. . . . This is not a government detainer. This information is for law enforcement use and is being provided for informational purposes only. This response is not supported by fingerprints.


         While Detention Center staff were booking Plaintiff, her sister, Susana Hinojosa, attempted to secure her release. (Doc. 96 at 8-11.) Mrs. Hinojosa asked Detention Center staff what she needed to do to get Plaintiff out of jail. (Id. at 10.) They told Mrs. Hinojosa that Plaintiff needed a $2, 000 bond. (Id.) Mrs. Hinojosa walked across the street to a bonding company, secured a bond for Plaintiff, returned to the Detention Center, and awaited Plaintiff's release. (Id. at 10-12.)

         After waiting several hours, the bonding company called Mrs. Hinojosa. (Id. at 12) It informed her that the Detention Center would not release Plaintiff because Plaintiff was under an I.C.E. hold. (Id.) Mrs. Hinojosa once again questioned Detention Center staff about Plaintiff's release. (Id.) Detention Center staff confirmed that they would not release Plaintiff because I.C.E. had placed a hold on her. (Id.)

         Naturally, Mrs. Hinojosa protested. (Id. at 13.) She informed Detention Center staff that Plaintiff was a United States citizen born in South Carolina. (Id.) She also asked what documentation she needed to prove Plaintiff's citizenship. (Id.) Detention Center staff, however, largely ignored Mrs. Hinojosa. Ultimately, she failed to secure Plaintiff's release and had to return home for the evening. (Id. at 13-14.)

         The next morning, January 31, 2014, Mrs. Hinojosa continued her efforts. (Id. at 15-16.) She called the Sheriff's Office every fifteen minutes from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. (Id.) Around 11 a.m. the Sheriff's Office finally gave her a number for I.C.E.'s Savannah office. (Id. at 16.) She eventually reached Mr. Franks, an I.C.E. agent. (Id. at 17, 19.) Mr. Franks told Mrs. Hinojosa that he would contact the Sheriff's Office to see why it was holding Plaintiff. (Id. at 20.) He also said he would look into sending an order to release Plaintiff. (Id.) Lastly, he told Mrs. Hinojosa to take Plaintiff's birth certificate, social security card, medical records, and school records to the Sheriff's Office. (Id.)

         Mrs. Hinojosa followed Mr. Frank's instructions and took the suggested paperwork to the Detention Center around 12 p.m. that day. (Id. at 15, 23.) According to Mrs. Hinojosa, when she tried to show the paperwork to the Detention Center staff, "they didn't want to look at it because they told me ICE had a hold. So they were very rude. They were like we don't need to look at that. So I can't even tell you who I showed the paperwork to because they didn't look at it." (Id. at 24.) Still unable to secure Plaintiff's release, Mrs. Hinojosa took the paperwork with her and returned to her job. (Id. at 23.)

         Later in the day, Mr. Frank's called Mrs. Hinojosa to tell her that he was sending a fax ordering the Detention Center to release Plaintiff. (Id. at 21.) The time stamp on the order sent by Mr. Franks states 3:39 p.m. (Doc. 94-5 at 2.) Plaintiff left the Detention Center at 5:44 p.m. on January 31, 2014 - approximately 25 hours after her initial arrival. (Doc. 94-1 at 2.)

         Defendants, for their part, never explicitly deny that they were holding Plaintiff because of the detainer. Neither do they deny that they refused to post the bond secured by Mrs. Hinojosa. Rather, they state only that on January 31 - the day after Plaintiff's arrest - they "received a notification from [I.C.E.] that the detainer previously placed by the Savannah [I.C.E.] office was cancelled, " and "in any event, Plaintiff secured a bond .... and [ ] left the [Detention Center] at approximately 5:45 p.m." (Doc. 57-6 at 5.)


         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law, and a dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must view factual disputes 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 [the non-moving party's] favor." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (internal punctuation and citations omitted). The Court should not weigh the evidence or determine credibility. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         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). Because the standard for summary judgment mirrors that of a directed verdict, the initial burden of proof required by either party depends on who carries the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 323. When the movant does not carry the burden of proof at trial, it may satisfy its 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 evidence 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., 477 U.S. 317). The movant cannot meet its initial burden by merely declaring that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial. Clark, 929 F.2d at 608.

         If - and only if - the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant must "demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. When the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must tailor its response to the method by which the movant carried its initial burden. If the movant presented 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 v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993) . 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 1117. The non-movant cannot carry its burden by relying on the pleadings or by repeating conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. See Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981). Rather, the non-movant must respond with affidavits or as otherwise provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

         In this action, the Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff notice of the motion for summary judgment and informed her of the summary judgment rules, the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Doc. 59.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), are satisfied. The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motion is now ripe for consideration.


         In her complaint, Plaintiff challenges two separate seizures. First, Plaintiff challenges the validity of her arrest for driving without a suspended license. Second, Plaintiff challenges the validity of her extended detention at the Detention Center.

         Plaintiff brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 allows citizens to sue state governments and state officials for violations of rights granted them under the United States Constitution. To succeed in a § 1983 action, "a plaintiff must make a prima facia showing of two elements: (1) that the act or omission deprived plaintiff of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the act or omission was done by a person acting under color of law." Marshal Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983) .

         Plaintiff claims Defendants committed four constitutional violations. Plaintiff alleges that: (1) Deputy Norman and Sergeant Munsey violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure when they ran her license plate through the GCIC database and seized her based on the results (doc. 26 ¶¶ 108-112); (2) Jailer Ashley Mills and Captain John Staten violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure when they refused to post her bond until they could verify her immigration status (id. ¶¶ 72-76); (3) Deputy Norman and Sergeant Munsey violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause when they targeted her for a search and seizure based upon racial profiling (id. ¶¶ 93-109); and (4) Defendants violated her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights when they detained her without probable cause (Id. ¶¶ 139-158); and (6) Sheriff Anderson, Captain Staten, Captain Kearney, and Sergeant Munsey are subject to supervisory liability for the unconstitutional actions of their subordinates (id. ¶¶ 8-9) .

         In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants make three arguments. First, all Defendants challenge the legal and factual basis of the alleged constitutional violations. Second, Sheriff Anderson, Captain Staten, and Jailer Mills argue they are entitled to qualified immunity with regards to their role in detaining Plaintiff. Third, Sheriff Anderson, Captain Staten, Captain Kearney, and Sergeant Munsey argue that they are not subject to supervisory liability.

         Because the first step in a § 1983 action is determining whether a constitutional violation occurred, the Court begins with Defendants' challenges to Plaintiff's constitutional claims. If Plaintiff establishes any constitutional violations, the Court will consider Defendants' arguments that they are entitled to qualified immunity and thus exempted from liability under § 1983. It will also consider Defendants' arguments that they should not be subject to supervisory liability under § 1983.

         A. Constitutional Violations

         1. Unconstitutional Stop and Seizure Claim

         Plaintiff claims Deputy Norman and Sergeant Munsey violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure when they ran her license plate, when they seized her at the store, and when they arrested her. The Court previously concluded that Deputy Norman and Sergeant Munsey did not violate the Constitution when they ran her license plate. (Doc. 60 at 9-10.) It also concluded that they did not violate the Constitution when they stopped her at the store. (Id.) Thus, the only question is whether they violated the Constitution when they arrested Plaintiff.

         To make a constitutional arrest without a warrant, an officer must establish probable cause. Poulakis v. Rogers, 341 Fed.Appx. 523, 526 (11th Cir. 2009). An officer establishes probable cause when he has "facts and circumstances within [his] knowledge sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that the suspect had committed or was committing a crime." U.S. v. Gonzalez, 969 F.2d 999, 1002 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964)). Deputy Norman received reliable information that the owner of Plaintiff s vehicle had a suspended license. Plaintiff has not challenged the reliability of the GCIC records upon which Deputy Norman relied. After Deputy Norman confirmed Plaintiff's identity and her ownership of the vehicle, he had more ...

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