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Hupp v. State Trooper Seth Cook

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

July 3, 2018

TIFFANIE HUPP, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE TROOPER SETH COOK, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are Defendants' motion for summary judgment, (ECF No. 92), and Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.[1] (ECF No. 90.) For the reasons discussed more fully below the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 92.) The Court further DENIES Plaintiffs' motion. (ECF No. 90.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 9, 2015, Plaintiff Clifford Myers (“Myers”) contacted the West Virginia State Police (“State Police”) from his home in Waverly, West Virginia to report an altercation with a neighbor. (See ECF No. 33 at ¶ 14.) Troopers Seth Cook (“Cook”) and S.S. Michael (“Michael”) responded to the call. (Id. at ¶ 15.) After conversing with the neighbors and confirming the altercation had subsided, Cook entered Myers' front yard and began walking toward the residence. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Myers' stepdaughter, Plaintiff Tiffanie Hupp (“Hupp”), and her son, three-year-old Riley Hupp (“R.H.”), were playing in the front yard. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Buddy, Myers' dog, was also in the yard and began to bark at Cook's approach. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Cook drew his firearm and pointed the weapon at Buddy. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Hupp ran and placed her body between Buddy and Cook. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Hupp alleges that Cook grabbed her, threw her to the ground, and placed her under arrest. (Id. at ¶ 35.) R.H. witnessed the entire episode. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Cook, after being told that the incident had been recorded, then entered Myers' residence and seized four electronic devices, including Myers' cell phone which had been used to record the incident. (See Id. at ¶¶ 44-47.) The State Police retained possession of these devices for about one month before returning them. (Id. at ¶ 52.)

         Hupp was arraigned in the magistrate court and released on bond. (See ECF No. 92-3 at 83; ECF No. 93 at 18.) West Virginia prosecutors charged Hupp with obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor offense. (See ECF No. 33 at ¶ 55.) On February 29, 2016, the case was tried by a jury in the magistrate court of Wood County, West Virginia. (Id. at ¶¶ 55, 57.) Plaintiffs allege that Cook testified falsely and withheld information from the jury during the trial. (See Id. at ¶¶ 58-62.) At the conclusion of testimony, the jury returned a verdict of acquittal. (Id. at ¶ 66.)

         On January 25, 2017, Plaintiffs Myers, Hupp, and R.H., through his guardian Hupp, filed suit in this Court against Cook, Colonel C.R. “Jay” Smithers (“Smithers”), and the State Police, invoking the Court's federal question jurisdiction over the § 1983 claims and asking the Court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. (See ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs were subsequently granted leave to file an Amended Complaint. (See ECF No. 32.) The Amended Complaint consists of eleven counts, with the central claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See ECF No. 33.) The claims are summarized as follows:

Count I: Unlawful arrest in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Hupp against Cook in his individual capacity);
Count II: Excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Hupp against Cook in his individual capacity);
Count III: Malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Hupp against Cook in his individual capacity);
Count IV: State tort claim for malicious prosecution (Hupp against the State Police and Cook in his individual and official capacities);
Count V: Deliberate indifference and supervisory liability in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Hupp against Smithers in his individual capacity);
Count VI: State tort claim for negligent training, supervision, and retention (Hupp against the State Police and Smithers in his individual and official capacities);
Count VII: Intentional infliction of emotional distress (Hupp and R.H. against the State Police and Cook in his individual and official capacities);
Count VIII: Battery (Hupp against Cook in his individual and official capacities); Count IX: Unlawful search in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Myers against Cook in his individual capacity),
Count X: Unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Myers against Cook in his individual capacity), and
Count XI: Unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Myers against Cook in his individual capacity).

(See id.)

         Defendants moved for partial dismissal on April 11, 2017. (ECF No. 8.) The Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion. (See ECF No. 32.) Specifically, the Court dismissed Counts IV, VI, VII, and VIII of the Amended Complaint to the extent they stated claims against the State Police and its officers in their official capacities, which removed the State Police as a party to this action. (See Id. at 12.) The Court further dismissed Count VI en toto. (See id.)

         On March 8, 2018, Plaintiffs filed the present motion for partial summary judgment seeking judgment as a matter of law on Counts I, II, IX, and X of the Amended Complaint, (ECF No. 90), to which Defendants timely responded, (ECF No. 98), and Plaintiffs timely replied. (ECF No. 103.) Defendants subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment seeking judgment as a matter of law on all of Plaintiffs' remaining claims, (ECF No. 92), to which Plaintiffs timely responded, (ECF No. 99), and Defendants timely replied. (ECF No. 102.) As such, both motions are fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions for summary judgment. This rule provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment should be granted if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Summary judgment is inappropriate, however, if there exist factual issues that reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” The News & Observer Publ. Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). When evaluating such factual issues, the Court must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the [party opposing summary judgment].” Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). However, Rule 56 limits the Court's analysis to the parties' cited materials. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3) (“The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.”).

         The moving party may meet its burden of showing that no genuine issue of fact exists by use of “depositions, answers to interrogatories, answers to requests for admission, and various documents submitted under request for production.” Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir. 1984). Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If a party fails to make a sufficient showing on one element of that party's case, the failure of proof “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323.

         “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 256. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” in support of the nonmoving party is not enough to withstand summary judgment; the judge must ask whether “the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id. at 252.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Cross-motions for summary judgment are reviewed separately if material facts are in dispute. Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003). Here, as discussed more fully below, there is not a genuine dispute of material fact. However, because Plaintiff only asks for partial summary judgment, the Court will address each motion for summary judgment separately beginning with Defendants' motion.

         A. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to each of the remaining counts of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. (See ECF No. 93.) The Court will address each of Defendants' arguments separately.

         1. Qualified Immunity

         Defendants first argue that Cook is entitled to qualified immunity as to Hupp's false arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution claims. (See ECF No. 93 at 10-22.) Specifically, Defendants argue that Cook had probable cause to arrest Hupp for obstructing a law-enforcement officer and thus her arrest and her subsequent prosecution were valid. (See Id. at 12-16, 17-22.) Defendants further argue that Cook used objectively reasonable, de minimis force to arrest Hupp. (See Id. at 16-17.)

         “The doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials from liability for civil damages when their conduct does not violate clearly established constitutional or other rights that a reasonable officer would have known.” Sims v. Labowtiz, 885 F.3d 254, 260 (4th Cir. 2018) (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). In determining whether qualified immunity applies, the Court must look at whether the plaintiff has demonstrated that a depravation of a constitutional right has occurred and whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. See Curtis v. Devlin, No. 1:04-CV-409, 2005 WL 940571, at *7 (E.D. Va. Apr. 19, 2005). The Court may address either prong of the qualified immunity analysis first.

         The Court will address each of Hupp's § 1983 claims separately, beginning with her false arrest claim. As to each claim, the Court will first address whether Plaintiffs' constitutional rights were violated before turning to whether those rights were clearly established.

         i. False Arrest

         As stated above, in Count I of the Amended Complaint, Hupp alleges that Cook arrested Hupp for obstruction without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (See ECF No. 33 at ¶ 93.) In his motion, Cook argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity for Hupp's false arrest claim because a reasonable officer could have believed that Hupp had committed obstruction. (See ECF No. 93 at 12-16.)

         The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A seizure is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment if it is not based on probable cause. See Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 213 (1979). “If a person is arrested when no reasonable officer could believe . . . that probable cause exists to arrest that person, a violation of a clearly established Fourth Amendment right to be arrested only ...


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