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Williams v. West Virginia State Police

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

January 26, 2018

AMANDA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
WEST VIRGINIA STATE POLICE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has reviewed the Motion for Summary Judgment of the West Virginia State Police, Colonel C.R. Smithers, Lt. Colonel T.D. Bradley, and Trooper M.W. Price (Document 48) and Memorandum of Law in Support (Document 49), the Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 55), the Reply of the West Virginia State Police, Colonel C.R. Smithers, Lt. Colonel T.D. Bradley, and Trooper M.W. Price to Plaintiff's Response to Their Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 57), and all attached exhibits. The Court has also reviewed the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 50) and Memorandum of Law in Support (Document 52), the Response of the West Virginia State Police, Colonel C.R. Smithers, Lt. Colonel T.D. Bradley, and Trooper M.W. Price to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 54), the Plaintiff's Reply to Defendants' Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 56), and all attached exhibits. Finally, the Court has reviewed the Amended Complaint (Document 26). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted, and the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should be denied.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff, Amanda Williams, initiated this action on September 20, 2016, naming the West Virginia State Police, Colonel C.R. Smithers, Lt. Colonel T.D. Bradley, and Trooper M.W. Price (“Trooper Price”) as defendants. Pursuant to the Court's March 2, 2017 Memorandum Opinion and Order (Document 25) granting the Plaintiff's motion to amend, the Plaintiff filed her amended complaint on that same date.

         As the result of a criminal investigation regarding the illegal sale of narcotics, Trooper Price and various members of both the Beckley/Raleigh County Drug and Violent Crimes Unit and the West Virginia State Police executed a search warrant at the Plaintiff's residence, located at 115 Barnes Court, Crab Orchard, West Virginia, on September 29, 2014. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 7.) Throughout the course of the investigation, Trooper Price had arranged multiple controlled purchases of narcotics from the Plaintiff and her husband and recorded the purchases through video surveillance. (Id. at Ex. 6.) The video surveillance reveals that the Plaintiff's husband sold narcotics from a 2005 white Mercedes-Benz automobile and that this same automobile was in the Plaintiff's driveway during another controlled buy. (Id.; Defs.' Mem. in Supp. at 5.) When Trooper Price executed the search warrant on the Plaintiff's residence, this Mercedes was located in the driveway. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 5.)

         In executing the September 29, 2014 search warrant, Trooper Price arrested the Plaintiff's husband and inquired of the Plaintiff concerning the white Mercedes automobile. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 5.) According to the investigation report, Trooper Price informed the Plaintiff that he intended to seize the automobiles used in the controlled buys. However, Trooper Price “spoke with Amanda Williams, and obtained a Settlement and Disclaimer Form for the vehicle which shows the owner, Amanda Williams, voluntarily forfeited the [white Mercedes] to the West Virginia State Police.” (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 5 and Ex. 1.) Specifically, Trooper Price “advised the Plaintiff that if she executed a ‘Settlement and Disclaimer' agreement, signing title to the [white Mercedes] over to the West Virginia State Police, then the West Virginia State Police would not seize a second car owned by the Plaintiff.” (Pl.'s Amended Compl. at ¶ 12.) The Plaintiff did indeed sign a Settlement and Disclaimer form, waiving her right, title, and interest to the 2005 white Mercedes-Benz having VIN number W2DBRF40JX5F711827. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 1.)

         On September 11, 2015, the Plaintiff filed a Petition for Preliminary Injunctive Relief in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia. (Id. at Ex. 2.) The Plaintiff's state court petition was nearly identical to her amended complaint filed in this action, and specifically claimed that Trooper Price and the other Defendants violated her civil and constitutional rights by all but forcing her to sign over her title to her white Mercedes through the Settlement and Disclaimer form rather than properly seizing her car pursuant to the West Virginia Contraband Forfeiture Act (“WVCFA”). (Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 2, at ¶¶ 10-12.) Similar to her amended complaint in this case, the Plaintiff's petition for injunctive relief alleged that Trooper Price “failed to provide the Plaintiff with any Due Process protections . . . in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Civil Rights Violation), as the result of an alleged criminal violation committed by her husband.” (Compare Pl.'s Amended Compl. at ¶ 15 and Defs.' Mem. in Supp., Ex. 2, at ¶ 12.)

         An evidentiary hearing was held in Kanawha County Circuit Court regarding the Plaintiff's petition, and after the submission of briefs on the issue, the court denied her petition for injunctive relief. (Id. at Ex. 3.) The court's order described in great detail the events that occurred when the Defendants executed the search warrant at the Plaintiff's residence, and specifically explained that “[Ms. Williams] was not deprived of any statutory due process rights under the WVCFA because her automobile was not seized pursuant to that statute; rather, the automobile was obtained pursuant to a written agreement voluntarily entered into by [Ms. Williams] in which she waived all her rights under the WVCFA.” (Id. at Ex. 3, p. 8, ¶ 8.) The state court found that Ms. Williams executed the Settlement and Disclaimer form, which is “a voluntary waiver of any rights Ms. Williams may have had if the seizure had been conducted pursuant to the WVCFA.” (Id. at p. 10, ¶ 12.) The court further found that Ms. Williams entered into this agreement willfully, not under duress, was not underage, and was not under arrest or even detained at the time she signed the agreement. (Id. at p. 10, ¶ 13.) In other words, the court found that Ms. Williams' automobile “was not ‘seized' within the meaning of the [WVCFA], but rather was obtained pursuant to a written agreement wherein Ms. Williams voluntarily surrendered the vehicle[1] to the West Virginia State Police.” (Id. at p. 9, ¶ 11.) Thus, the court found that Ms. Williams was “not entitled to claim any due process rights…contained within the statute as they were effectively waived, ” and denied her petition for preliminary injunctive relief. (Id. at p. 11-13.)

         The Plaintiff did not appeal the state court's November 20, 2015 order to the West Virginia Supreme Court. She initiated this lawsuit nearly a year after the state court entered its ruling.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The well-established standard in consideration of a motion for summary judgment is that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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)-(c); see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 549 (1999); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Hoschar v. Appalachian Power Co., 739 F.3d 163, 169 (4th Cir. 2014). A “material fact” is a fact that could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). A “genuine issue” concerning a material fact exists when the evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 180 (4th Cir. 2013); News & Observer, 597 F.3d at 576.

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. When determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must view all of the factual evidence, and any reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hoschar, 739 F.3d at 169. However, the non-moving party must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. “At the summary judgment stage, the non-moving party must come forward with more than ‘mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another' to resist dismissal of the action.” Perry v. Kappos, No.11-1476, 2012 WL 2130908, at *3 (4th Cir. June 13, 2012) (unpublished decision) (quoting Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, nor will it make determinations of credibility. N. Am. Precast, Inc. v. Gen. Cas. Co. of Wis., 2008 WL 906334, *3 (S.D. W.Va. Mar. 31, 2008) (Copenhaver, J.) (citing Sosebee v. Murphy, 797 F.2d 179, 182 (4th Cir. 1986). If disputes over a material fact exist that “can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party, ” summary judgment is inappropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If, however, the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, ” then summary judgment should be granted because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element . . . necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         When presented with motions for summary judgment from both parties, courts apply the same standard of review. Tastee Treats, Inc. v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 2008 WL 2836701 (S.D. W.Va. July 21, 2008) (Johnston, J.) aff'd,474 Fed.Appx. 101 (4th Cir. 2012). Courts “must review each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law, ” resolving factual disputes and drawing inferences for the non-moving party as to each motion. Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and ...


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