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Southall v. City of Thibodaux

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 16, 2017


         SECTION: "A" (5)



         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 70) filed by Defendants Scott Silverii, Shawn Snow, Thibodaux City, and Unidentified Parties. Plaintiff Jonathan Southall opposes the Motion. (Rec. Doc. 78). The Motion, set for submission on July 12, 2017, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument.

         I. Background

         On May 7, 2012, Jonathan Johnson, Plaintiff's son, was driving Plaintiff's vehicle in Thibodaux, Louisiana, when Thibodaux police officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop for a speed limit violation. Johnson refused to stop the vehicle and proceeded to lead the officers on a high-speed chase. Johnson eventually abandoned the vehicle and continued to flee on foot. The officers apprehended him shortly thereafter and placed him under arrest. After placing Johnson under arrest, the officers called in a K9 unit to perform a sniff from the exterior of Plaintiff's vehicle. Although Plaintiff's attorney, who was present at the scene, contends that he did not see the dog give any indication, Defendants contend that the K9 indicated a positive alert for narcotics near the passenger's side door. The officers performed a search of the interior of the vehicle, but nothing was recovered.

         Plaintiff filed this civil rights lawsuit as a result of the officers' search of his vehicle. Plaintiff alleges that the officers conducted an unlawful search of his person and property, in violation of his Constitutional rights. In the instant motion, Defendants seek summary judgment in their favor on Plaintiff's claims against them for constitutional violations.

         II. Analysis

         Defendants seek summary judgment in their favor arguing 1) Plaintiff had no reasonable expectation of privacy necessary to allege an unconstitutional search, 2) Plaintiff's alleged injury does not arise from a municipal custom or policy, 3) individual liability claims are barred by qualified immunity, 4) Plaintiff cannot state a valid claim for punitive damages, and 5) Plaintiff cannot state a valid claim for illegal search of his person.

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ” when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, “show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James, 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). The court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Once the moving party has initially shown “that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's cause, ” the non-movant must come forward with “specific facts” showing a genuine factual issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). Conclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. (citing SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993)).

         a. Expectation of Privacy

         Defendants first argue that Plaintiff lacked an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in his vehicle when officers conducted a search. In his response, Plaintiff asserts that the issue is whether Defendants' search of Plaintiff's vehicle fell under the automobile exception, which requires probable cause to search a vehicle without a warrant. Plaintiff maintains that Defendants did not have probable cause to search his vehicle under the circumstances.

         The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution[1] protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Soldal v. Cook County, III, 506 U.S. 56, 63 (1992). However, “the extent to which the Fourth Amendment protects people may depend upon where those people are.” Minnesota v. Carter, 525 .U. 83, 88 (1998). The Supreme Court of the United States has recognized “that the ready mobility of the automobile justifies a lesser degree of protection of” privacy interests. California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390 (1985). This “lesser expectation of privacy [which] has historically been applied to motor vehicles” has come to be known as the automobile exception to the requirement that officers obtain a search warrant. United States v. Hernandez, 647 F.3d 216, 220 (5th Cir. 2011).

         The automobile exception provides that officers may conduct a warrantless search of an automobile if “(1) the officer conducting the search had probable cause to believe that the vehicle in question contain[ed] property that the government may properly seize; and (2) exigent circumstances justified the search.” United States v. Castelo, 415 F.3d 407, 412 (5th Cir. 2005). This exception is justified by a reduced expectation of privacy while ...

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