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Carbajal v. Larpenter

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 6, 2017

ABELARDO AVILEX CARBAJAL, ET AL.
v.
JERRY LARPENTER et al

         SECTION “L” (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          ELDON E. FALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendants Dallas Bookenberger's and Joseph Renfro's Motion to Dismiss. R. Doc. 9. Plaintiffs Abelardo Avilex Carbajal, Santa D. Carbajal, and Max Carbajal have filed an opposition to the Motion. R. Doc. 16. Defendants timely reply. R. Doc. 21. Having reviewed the parties' arguments and the applicable law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Abelardo Avilex Carbajal (“Mr. Carbajal”), Santa D. Carbajal (“Mrs. Carbajal”), and Max Carbajal (“Max” and together, “Plaintiffs”) have filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleging injuries sustained during an action of alleged police misconduct. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants Jerry Larpenter, Sheriff of Terrebonne Parish (“Larpenter”), Dallas Bookenberger, a narcotics agent of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Narcotics Strike Force (“Bookenberger”), Travis Sanford, a narcotics agent of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Narcotics Strike Force (“Sanford”), and Joseph Renfro, a narcotics agent of Terrebonne Parish Sherriff's Narcotics Strike Force (“Renfro” and together, “Defendants”) violated their civil rights during the preparation and execution of a search warrant on July 16, 2015. R. Doc. 1 at 1-4.

         The events in question began when agents Bookenberger, Renfro, and Sanford allegedly conducted several “trash pulls, ” in which they emptied trashcans located in front of the Carbajal residence. Id. at 5. The first “trash pull, ” which occurred on July 7, 2015 at 4:31 a.m., allegedly yielded white plastic packaging wrapped with grey duct tape that agents tested with an NIK field test kit. The packaging tested positive for cocaine residue. Id. at 5. The second “trash pull” was conducted by the same three agents on July 14, 2015, and allegedly yielded “marijuana shake” weighing .34 grams. Agents again used an NIK field test kit to test the substance; the test showed a presumptive result of THC. Id. at 5-6.

         Plaintiffs claim that Bookenberger, assisted by Sanford and Renfro, then executed a 13-page affidavit for a search warrant alleging that Mr. Abelardo Carbajal engaged in a multi-year course of conduct involving the large scale distribution of cocaine and marijuana in Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Assumption Parishes. Id. at 2. Plaintiffs claim the information in that affidavit regarding their criminal culpability was “untrue, wildly speculative, or made with reckless disregard for the truth.” Id.

         On the basis of this affidavit, Judge David Arceneaux, a State District Court Judge of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, signed the search warrant dated July 15, 2016. Id. at 3. At approximately 5:09 a.m. on July 16, 2015, thirty-three agents from the Terrebonne Narcotics Task Force, the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office, the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Customs Service, and the Louisiana State Police raided Plaintiffs' residence. Id. at 4. Plaintiffs allege that agents removed Mr. and Mrs. Carbajal from their bed, handcuffed them, and had them lay on the floor for the duration of the search; Mrs. Carbajal, who was not clothed, claims a request for a blanket was denied. Id. Agents also handcuffed Max. Id. Plaintiffs maintain that agents removed paneling from their walls and emptied every drawer in their home. They further assert that the agents searched an outbuilding occupied by another relative, and searched all of their oyster vessels located down Bayou Dularge next to the home, including one owned by Mr. Carbajal's daughter and son-in-law. Id. at 4-5. Agents allegedly seized pistols legally owned by Mr. Carbajal, ammunition, paperwork, various cell phones, a purse, and $1, 212.50. Id. at 5. This search lasted approximately 2.5 hours. Id. at 5.

         These items were entered into evidence along with the items obtained through the earlier “trash pulls, ” though the affidavit did not detail from which trash cans this evidence came nor how the agents determined the items belonged to Mr. Carbajal. Id. The evidence was also never sent to the State Police lab for confirmation of the positive field test results. Id. at 6.

         Although the agents' search of the Carbajal residence yielded nothing illegal, Mr. Carbajal was nonetheless arrested on an arrest warrant signed and executed on the basis of Agent Bookenberger's affidavit. Id. at 6. Mr. Carbajal was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Id. at 6. The Government's case against Mr. Carbajal was subsequently dismissed on October 8, 2015 by Judge George Larke in the 32nd Judicial District Court for Terrebonne Parish, who reportedly called the case “one of the weakest he had ever seen.” Id. at 11.

         Plaintiffs maintain that the search warrant affidavit signed by Agent Bookenberger was so false as to indicate bad faith and ill intent, and upon removal of the false and speculative content, the remainder does not set forth probable cause to support the issuance of a search or arrest warrant. Id. at 7. Plaintiffs allege that the bulk of the affidavit providing justification for the search and arrest warrant was based on information provided by purported confidential informants, the names of whom Defendants refused to disclose in state court. Id. at 7-12. Plaintiffs detail the purportedly false and unsubstantiated information. Id. Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants misled the prosecutor into filing charges on the basis of a false affidavit. R. Doc. 1 at 7-12.

         Plaintiffs' loss includes approximately $10, 000 in damage to their home and property, as well as the cash seized and forfeited during the search. Id. at 6. Plaintiffs also assert other losses such as extreme mental anguish, humiliation, physical pain and suffering, among others. Id. at 12-14. In total, Plaintiffs seek $1, 500, 000 in damages. Id. at 14.

         On May 11, 2017, the Court issued an order dismissing Defendants Larpenter and Sanford, as Plaintiffs agreed their claims against these Defendants were barred by qualified immunity. Additionally, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment claims against all Defendants. See R. Doc. 24.

         II. PRESENT MOTION

         Currently pending before the Court is Defendants Bookenberger and Renfro's Motion to Dismiss. R. Doc. 9. Plaintiffs responded in opposition. R. Doc. 16. After reviewing the parties motions and the applicable law, the Court instructed Plaintiffs to submit additional briefing addressing Defendants Bookenberger and Renfro's qualified immunity defense. R. Doc. 24. On June 9, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a supplemental opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss. R. Doc. 25. The Court will discuss each in turn.

         a. Defendants Bookenberger and Renfro's Motion to Dismiss (R. Doc. 9-1)

         Defendants Bookenberger and Renfro assert qualified immunity and argue that Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims must be dismissed.[1] They contend that Plaintiffs' state law claims must be dismissed on similar grounds, or in the alternative, that ...


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