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Walker v. Lovejoy

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

September 27, 2019

MICHAEL WALKER, individually, Plaintiff,
v.
M. H. LOVEJOY, in his individual capacity, B. E. DONAHOE, in his individual capacity, B. W. PAULEY, in his individual capacity, PUTNAM COUNTY COMMISSION, a political subdivision of the State of West Virginia, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending is Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 9. Defendants request the Court dismiss Counts One, Two, and Five of the five total counts in Plaintiff Michael Walker’s Complaint. For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS the motion and DISMISSES Counts One, Two, and Five of the Complaint.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on December 17, 2018. ECF No. 1. The Complaint’s five counts, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, involve two separate incidents. Plaintiff alleges the following facts.

         On or about December 18, 2016, Plaintiff was at his friend’s house when a domestic dispute broke out between his friend and his friend’s sibling. Id. at 2. The sibling called the police, and Deputy Lovejoy arrived at the house. Id. at 2–3. After approximately thirty to forty-five minutes, Deputy Lovejoy noticed Plaintiff was openly carrying a holstered pistol. Id. at 3. Deputy Lovejoy then walked over to Plaintiff and said, “[l]ook at me you stupid son of a bitch, you’re putting all of our damned lives at risk because you’re carrying a gun.” Id. Deputy Lovejoy attempted to confiscate the pistol, but Plaintiff refused and said he would leave the property instead. Id. Deputy Lovejoy stopped Plaintiff from leaving, stating he was concerned Plaintiff might sneak around and shoot at the deputies. Id. Deputy Lovejoy then confiscated Plaintiff’s firearm, arrested him for obstruction, and took him to jail. Id. at 3–4. Based on this incident, Count One alleges Deputy Lovejoy unlawfully seized Plaintiff and confiscated his firearm, and Count Two alleges Deputy Lovejoy unlawfully arrested Plaintiff. Id. at 8–10.

         Counts Three and Four arise from a separate incident on or about February 21, 2017. Id. at 10–14. Plaintiff alleges Deputies B. E. Donahoe and B. W. Pauley stopped Plaintiff while Plaintiff was walking on a public roadway and carrying an AR-15 rifle strapped to his backpack. Id. at 4. Deputy Donahoe demanded Plaintiff provide identification and then called in Plaintiff’s information to run a criminal background check. Id. at 5. Plaintiff said he wanted to leave the encounter, but Deputy Donahoe told Plaintiff he could only leave when dismissed. Id. During their exchange, Deputy Donahoe allegedly told Plaintiff:

Everybody in the world I deal with, that has a gun, I check and see whether they have committed a crime, that would keep them from carrying or to possess a gun. If you have not, you can keep going down the road. As for taking that in a store, or going in a store, I would highly advise against it.

Id. at 6. After criticizing Plaintiff’s reticence to talk with law enforcement, Deputy Donahoe allowed Plaintiff to leave. Id. at 7. Based on this incident, Count Three alleges Deputy Donahoe unlawfully seized Plaintiff, and Count Four alleges Deputy Pauley is liable as a bystander to the unlawful seizure. Id. at 10–14. Count Five, based on both incidents, alleges the Putnam County Commission has an unlawful policy, custom, and practice of violating the rights of citizens who lawfully carry firearms. Id. at 14.

         Defendants filed their Partial Motion to Dismiss on January 30, 2019. ECF No. 9. They argue the Court should dismiss Counts One and Two because no Fourth Amendment violations occurred, so qualified immunity applies to Deputy Lovejoy. ECF No. 10, at 4–10. Defendants argue the Court should dismiss Count Five because no unlawful policy, custom, and practice exists. Id. at 11–15. Plaintiff opposed the motion in a response, and Defendants filed a reply. ECF Nos. 11, 12.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff’s complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing [the plaintiff] is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The facts contained in the statement need not be probable, but the statement must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim has facial plausibility when “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). In considering the plausibility of a plaintiff’s claim, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Count One: Unreasonable Search and Seizure in Violation of the Fourth Amendment on December 18, 2016

         Count One alleges two Fourth Amendment violations occurred on December 18, 2016. ECF No. 1, at 8–9. First, Plaintiff alleges Deputy Lovejoy unlawfully seized him. Id. Second, Plaintiff alleges Deputy Lovejoy unlawfully frisked him and confiscated his firearm. Id. Plaintiff argues Deputy Lovejoy had no authority to prevent him from leaving the house or to confiscate his firearm because Deputy Lovejoy had no reason to suspect Plaintiff of criminal activity. Id. Defendants argue qualified immunity applies because Deputy Lovejoy did not violate the Fourth Amendment by seizing Plaintiff and confiscating his firearm. ECF No. 10, at 4–8.

         Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages in § 1983 actions “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982) (citation omitted). The qualified immunity defense requires a two-step analysis. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). The first question is whether “[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury . . . the facts alleged show the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right.” Id. If no violation occurred, the analysis ends, and the plaintiff cannot prevail. Id. If the Court finds a violation may have occurred, the Court must consider whether the constitutional right was “clearly established, ” meaning “it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Id. at 201–02 (citation omitted). The “clearly established” standard ensures officers are only liable “for transgressing bright lines” and not for “bad guesses in gray areas.” Maciariello v. Sumner, 973 F.2d 295, 298 (4th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted); e.g. Estate of Armstrong ex rel. Armstrong v. Village of Pinehurst, 810 F.3d 892, 909 (4th Cir. 2016) (holding officers’ use of stun gun violated the Fourth Amendment, but qualified immunity applied because the arrestee’s right not to be tased was not clearly established). Because Count One alleges two Fourth Amendment violations, the Court examines them separately.

         A. ...


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