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Brown v. Belt

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

April 15, 2019

DAN BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT BELT, Deputy Sheriff, Clay County Sheriff's Office; GARRETT SAMPLES, JR., Sheriff, Clay County Sheriff's Office; TYLER CARUTHERS, Deputy Sheriff, Clay County Sheriff's Office; CLAY COUNTY COMMISSION; COLONEL C.R. “JAY” SMITHERS, Superintendent, WV State Police; STEVEN DEMASKE, Trooper, WV State Police; and TYLER DANA MCFEELEY, Trooper, WV State Police, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN T. COPENHAVER, JR., SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is the joint motion for summary judgment, filed March 6, 2019, by defendants Robert Belt (“Deputy Belt”), Tyler Caruthers (“Deputy Caruthers”), Garrett Samples, Jr. (“Sheriff Samples”) and the Clay County Commission (the “Commission”) (collectively, “the County Defendants”). Also pending is their motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute, filed March 6, 2019.

         I. Facts as Alleged

         While the court is ruling on the County Defendants' motion for summary judgment, in the interest of thoroughness, the plaintiff's allegations in the First Amended Complaint are set forth below.

         Plaintiff Dan Brown is a resident of Clay, West Virginia. First Am. Compl. (“Compl.”) ¶ 4. On July 26, 2013, defendant Deputy Robert Belt, a deputy sheriff of Clay County, West Virginia saw Mr. Brown on the side of the road with a flat tire. Id. ¶ 10. Deputy Belt then approached Mr. Brown, allegedly without any reasonable suspicion, began to conduct a traffic stop for driving under the influence (“DUI”) and searched his vehicle. Id. ¶ 11. Mr. Brown alleges that Deputy Belt caused the blowout of his tire that resulted in the officer pulling him over, Id. ¶ 33, and that Deputy Belt knew of Mr. Brown's whereabouts due to information obtained from Shonda Tanner, a mutual acquaintance, Id. ¶¶ 30-33.

         When Deputy Belt ordered Mr. Brown to undergo three field sobriety tests, the “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, ” the “Walk and Turn, ” and the “One-Leg Stand, ” Mr. Brown pointed out that he suffered from several physical disabilities that prevented him from being able to adequately complete the tests. Id. ¶¶ 12-17. In particular, he has long had nystagmus, an eye condition, as well as a leg injury that makes him unable to place weight on his leg. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Mr. Brown has been determined by the United States Social Security Administration to be fully disabled. Id. ¶ 25. Although Mr. Brown told Deputy Belt that he was “100% disabled” and “could not take the normal tests for DUI, ” Deputy Belt continued to administer the three tests without offering accommodations. Id. ¶¶ 12, 21. Following the tests, Deputy Belt arrested Mr. Brown for DUI. Id. ¶ 21.

         Mr. Brown did take a preliminary breath test, and the result showeda blood alcohol level of 0.0. Id. ¶ 18. He asked to be given ablood test to provide further proof of his sobriety, but Deputy Belt failed to request or administer one. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

         The DUI charge was later dismissed, and when Mr. Brown contested the revocation of his driver's license in an administrative hearing, Deputy Belt admitted to being negligent when filling out the DUI information sheet. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Also at this hearing, Deputy Belt is said to have stated that he had never received training on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or on how to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled individuals whose disability impairs their ability to pass field sobriety tests. Id. ¶ 23.

         Over a year and a half after the July 2013 incident, on or about February 20, 2015, Mr. Brown reported a robbery of over $40, 000 worth of tools from his property. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Deputy Belt responded to Mr. Brown's call to the authorities yet did not file a police report or investigate the robbery. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Because Deputy Belt did not file a police report, Mr. Brown's insurance claim was made more difficult to support. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Additionally, the tools were never recovered. Id. ¶ 29. Mr. Brown believes this failure to investigate to be retaliation for the original DUI charge being dismissed. Id. ¶ 26.

         On May 22, 2015, Mr. Brown was once again arrested for DUI. Id. ¶ 36. Mr. Brown alleges on good faith information and reasonable belief that Deputy Belt communicated to members of the West Virginia State Police to “target” the plaintiff and charge him with DUI. Id. ¶ 35. West Virginia State Troopers Huff, Tallman and defendant Demaske were the arresting officers for charges of DUI, left of center driving, and no proof of insurance. Id. ¶ 36. Mr. Brown informed the officers of his disability and subsequently failed the three standard field sobriety tests. Id. ¶¶ 64, 67. He later took a breath test which revealed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.0. Id. ¶ 65. All three charges were later dismissed after the officers failed to appear or present any proof of impairment. Id. ¶ 37.

         On January 15, 2016, Mr. Brown called the police to report a man invading his home and battering him. Id. ¶ 38. Defendant Trooper McFeeley, a West Virginia State Trooper, responded to the call and arrested Mr. Brown for burglary, destruction of property, and providing false information to the state police, all without prosecuting the alleged crimes that Mr. Brown called to report. Id. ¶ 39. Mr. Brown asserts that this arrest was in retaliation for filing the original complaint in this lawsuit on July 27, 2015 against defendants Deputy Belt, Clay County Sheriff Garrett Samples, Jr., and the Clay County Commission (“the Commission”). Id. at 21-22.

         Later, on July 5, 2016, Mr. Brown was driving in downtown Clay when he was in a minor car accident. Id. ¶ 43. Deputy Belt responded to the accident along with Deputy Tyler Caruthers, a fellow Clay County deputy sheriff. Id. ¶ 44. They conducted DUI field sobriety tests and charged Mr. Brown with DUI. Id. ¶¶ 44-45, 48. Mr. Brown had informed the deputies that he was physically unable to pass the field sobriety tests, yet the officers continued to conduct the same three field sobriety tests as had been conducted by Deputy Belt at a previous stop. Id. ¶¶ 47-48, 67. Mr. Brown participated in a breath test which again showed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.0. Id. ¶ 65. Mr. Brown admitted to taking his daily prescription medications but also stated that no one had ever told him they might impair his ability to drive. Id. ¶ 49. Mr. Brown requested a blood test to prove that he had only taken his prescribed medications, but the officers refused. Id. ¶ 50.

         Upon arriving at the police station, Mr. Brown was taken to a dark closet and held there for approximately four hours while waiting for an expert from the Charleston, West Virginia detachment who was to conduct specialized testing of the plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 46, 51-52. During that time, he was placed under a “red light” for further testing of impairment. Id. ¶ 52. This treatment triggered a migraine, and the officers would not allow Mr. Brown to take his medication to alleviate it. Id. This charge for DUI was still pending as of plaintiff's filing of his motion to amend the complaint on September 15, 2016. Id. ¶ 54; ECF No. 23.

         On July 23, 2016, Trooper McFeeley arrested Mr. Brown for another burglary. Id. ¶ 53. Mr. Brown claims that upon arrest, Trooper McFeeley elected not to believe Mr. Brown's story regarding the incident and that the officer's choice was motived by retaliatory intent for the filing of this lawsuit on July 27, 2015. Id. ¶¶ 105, 151.

         The court notes that the details of the July 26, 2013 arrest that the plaintiff provides in his deposition vary meaningfully from the allegations contained in the First Amended Complaint. The plaintiff states that as he drove past Deputy Belt on that date his tire started to go flat, which led to his pulling over at a nearby service station. Pl.'s Dep., ECF No. 69-1, at p. 49. While stopped at the service station, Deputy Belt pulled in behind the plaintiff and inquired as to why he was driving on a flat tire. Id. While the plaintiff alleged in his complaint that Deputy Belt caused his tire to go flat, he admits that he has no “direct evidence” that Deputy Belt caused his tire to go flat. Id. at 52.

         The plaintiff further states that after speaking with Deputy Belt about the flat tire, the plaintiff pulled out his registration, insurance card, and driver's license. Id. at 53. Upon taking those items out (it is not specified from where), Deputy Belt saw a pill bottle and the plaintiff said the officer's whole demeanor changed. Id.. After seeing the pill bottle, Deputy Belt remarked on the changing conditions of plaintiff's eyes and informed the plaintiff that he was going to conduct field sobriety tests. Id. at 54.[1]

         The plaintiff also stated that he was taking Oxycodone, Valium and Adderall daily at the time the original complaint was filed on July 27, 2015, Id. at 36, and that he carried these pill bottles in his glove compartment, Id. at 44.

         II. Procedural Posture

         On July 27, 2015, plaintiff filed his original complaint with the court against Deputy Belt, Sheriff Samples, and the Commission for the actions taken by Deputy Belt during the July 26, 2013 DUI arrest. The complaint contained five “causes of action” which the court treated as Counts 1 through 5, namely, Count 1, failure to provide reasonable accommodation under Title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; Count 2, negligent hiring, supervision, and/or training; Count 3, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment due process violations; Count 4, wrongful arrest; and Count 5, intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). On October 13, 2017, the court ruled on the joint motion to dismiss of Deputy Belt, the Commission and Sheriff Samples, the only defendants then charged in the complaint. ECF No. 26. Pursuant to that motion, the court dismissed the negligent hiring prong of Count 2[2] and all of Counts 4 (wrongful arrest) and 5 (IIED) but did not dismiss any other claims. Id. at 15.

         On September 15, 2016, the plaintiff filed for leave to amend the complaint. The court granted the motion on March 30, 2018, and the First Amended Complaint with the named defendants as set forth in the case caption above was deemed filed on that same day, thereby adding as defendants Deputy Tyler Caruthers, Trooper Steven Demaske, Trooper McFeeley, Colonel Smithers and Magistrate Jeffrey Boggs. The court at the same time ordered that the negligent hiring claim, now in Count 4, be dismissed; that the July 26, 2013 action for wrongful arrest against Deputy Belt, now in Count 6, was time barred due to the one-year statute of limitations and was dismissed; and that Magistrate Boggs, named in several counts, be dismissed from the action. ECF No. 29, at 6.

         The First Amended Complaint raises sixteen “causes of action, ” which the court treats as Counts 1 through 16. One or more of the County Defendants is the subject of the following nine counts: Count 1, discrimination and failure to provide reasonable accommodations under Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, during the first DUI traffic stop, on July 26, 2013, against Deputy Belt, the Commission and Sheriff Samples, the former Clay County Sheriff; Count 3, discrimination and failure to provide reasonable accommodations, as in Count 1, during the third DUI traffic stop, on July 5, 2016, against Deputy Belt, Deputy Caruthers, the Commission and Sheriff Samples; Count 4, negligent supervision and/or training against Sheriff Samples and the Commission arising from the July 26, 2013 and July 5, 2016 DUI arrests; Count 5, violation of Due Process Rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from the July 26, 2013, and July 5, 2016 DUI arrests against Deputy Belt, Deputy Caruthers, the Commission and Sheriff Samples; Count 9, wrongful arrest for DUI on July 5, 2016 against Deputy Belt, Deputy Caruthers, the Commission and Sheriff Samples; Count 11, retaliation claim under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failure to investigate the robbery of Mr. Brown's property on February 20, , 2015 against Deputy Belt, Sheriff Samples and the Commission; Count 12, retaliation claim under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. §1983 for “targeting” Mr. Brown in the DUI arrest on May 22, 2015 against Deputy Belt; Count 14, retaliation claim under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for wrongful arrest and “torture” in the DUI arrest of July 5, 2016 against Deputy Caruthers, Deputy Belt, Sheriff Samples, and the Commission; and Count 16, intentional infliction of emotional distress/outrage against all defendants for all of the allegations contained in the First Amended Complaint.

         On December 17, 2018, the County Defendants filed a motion to compel plaintiff's responses to discovery requests. ECF No. 64. The plaintiff failed to respond to this motion. On January 4, 2019, Magistrate Judge Dwane L. Tinsley granted the County Defendants' motion to compel and further ordered that each of the “Requests for Admissions contained in the Defendant Robert Belt's Request for Admissions to Plaintiff served on or about October 18, 2018, shall be deemed admitted.” ECF No. 65, at 2-3 (emphasis added). The requests for admission were as follows:

1. Admit that plaintiff failed all three field sobriety tests on July 26, 2013.
2. Admit that Deputy Belt had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff on July 26, 2013 based upon Plaintiff's failure on all three field sobriety tests.
3. Admit that Plaintiff was not arrested based upon his disabilities on July 26, 2013.
4. Admit that Plaintiff failed all three field sobriety tests on July 5, 2016.
5. Admit that Deputy Belt had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff on July 5, 2016 based on Plaintiff's failure on all three field sobriety tests.
6. Admit that Plaintiff was not arrested based upon his disabilities on July 5, 2016.
7. Admit that Deputy Belt did not retaliate against Plaintiff by failing to investigate a robbery/burglary.
8. Admit that Deputy Belt did not retaliate against Plaintiff by communicating with other officers to arrest Plaintiff.
9. Admit that Deputy Belt did not retaliate against Plaintiff by arresting him following the July 5, 2016 traffic accident.
10. Admit that Deputy Belt did not request an expert from Charleston, West Virginia to come interrogate Plaintiff following the July 5, 2016 traffic accident.
11. Admit that Deputy Belt did not deny Plaintiff medications following the July 5, 2016 traffic accident.
12. Admit that Plaintiff was not “tortured” following the July 5, 2016 traffic accident.

ECF No. 64-1, Ex. A, at 18-20.[3]

         The County Defendants filed their joint motion for summary judgment on March 6, 2019, along with a motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute. Defendants Colonel Smithers and Trooper McFeeley filed their motion for summary judgment later that same day. Instead of filing any response in opposition, plaintiff's counsel filed, on March 20, 2019, a motion to withdraw as counsel. The court held a hearing on March 28, 2019, on plaintiff's counsel's motion to withdraw, at which hearing the plaintiff, though directed by order to appear in person, failed to appear. At the hearing the court deferred judgment on the motion to withdraw and informed plaintiff's counsel that it would consider the plaintiff's response to the above-listed dispositive motions, if such responses were filed, though late, by March 29, 2019. No. response has been provided by plaintiff to any of the pending dispositive motions.

         III. Standard of Review

         A party is entitled to summary judgment “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Material facts are those necessary to establish the elements ...


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