United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
LAWRENCE S. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
JARED BOGGS, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Kentucky State Trooper, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.
This case presents the issue of whether an individual confronted by law enforcement has a clearly-established First Amendment right to record the confrontation using a video camera or other recording device. Because the Court concludes that the alleged right is not clearly established, the plaintiff's claim asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 will be dismissed. Likewise, the undisputed evidence does not support the plaintiff's state law damage claims for assault and battery. As a result, those claims also will be dismissed.
Defendant Jared Boggs is a Kentucky State Police Trooper assigned to the Harlan, Kentucky post. This action arises from a traffic stop made by Trooper Boggs on January 7, 2013, on Kentucky Highway 3451 in Harlan County, Kentucky. At the time of the incident, Plaintiff Lawrence Williams, then a minor, was riding a Kawasaki off-road motorcycle, performing "wheelies" in a residential area marked by "Slow, Children at Play" signs. Boggs claims that, before the incident, he had warned Williams about similar conduct. On the date of the incident, Boggs did not issue a warning. Instead, the trooper stopped Williams and cited him for operating an ATV on the roadway, careless driving, no/expired registration plates, no/expired Kentucky registration receipt, and failure to maintain required insured/security. Williams subsequently pleaded guilty to all of the charges.
Williams was video-recording his activities on January 7th using a camera mounted on his helmet. During the traffic stop, Boggs attempted to remove the camera from Williams' helmet and allegedly retain it as evidence of the plaintiff's illegal activities. Williams objected to and resisted Boggs' efforts. However, the plaintiff eventually removed the camera himself and ended the recording. Williams concedes that Boggs did not harm him in any way or damage any of his property during the encounter.
Williams was a minor at the time of the incident. On March 12, 2013, Williams' mother filed suit against Boggs in Harlan County Circuit Court, asserting claims of assault and battery under state law and a violation of her son's First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983., See Tracey Williams v. Jared Boggs No. 13-CI-00145 (Ky. Cir. 2013). Williams was later added as the named plaintiff after turning eighteen years-old. In relevant part, the original Complaint contained the following allegations regarding the confrontation with Boggs:
4. The Defendant committed the assault upon realizing Plaintiff had been videotaping a traffic stop in which Defendant was being highly abusive to Plaintiff.
5. In attempting to tear the helmet camera system from the head of Plaintiff while assuming a threatening tone and posture and stating and commanding Plaintiff to turn it (the camera) off, Defendant committed the tort of Assault by intentionally putting Plaintiff in a reasonable apprehension of an immanent harmful or offensive contact.
[Record No. 1-2]
In his opposition to the defendant's motion for summary judgment, Williams' counsel states that, in the plaintiff's interview with another officer following the incident, Williams indicated that Boggs tried to "jerk" the camera off his head. [Record No. 30, p. 7] And in the next paragraph of his memorandum, counsel states that review of the video reflects that the defendant "can plainly be seen grabbing the camera with such force that it moves Plaintiff's entire head." [ Id. ]
As noted previously, the plaintiff's Complaint contained three counts for relief which sought a judgment for assault (Count I), battery (Count II), and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. More specifically, Mrs. Williams contended that Boggs violated her son's "first amendment right to film a police officer guaranteed [to him] by the United States Constitution. The Complaint sought an unspecified amount of punitive damages. However, the damage clause was later amended to request punitive damages of $15, 000.00.
Neither the original nor First Amended Complaint allege that the plaintiff suffered injury or property loss as the result of the defendant's actions. Further, the First Amended Complaint filed following removal of the action to this Court outlines the same conduct in support of the plaintiff's three claims. However, Williams adds to his narrative that, before attempting to "tear" the helmet camera system off his (Williams') head, Boggs "assumed a threatening tone and posture (gritting teeth and clinched fist) and then stating and commanding Plaintiff to take it (the camera) off..." [Record No. 21, p. 2, ¶ 7]
After the close of discovery, Defendant Boggs moved the Court for entry of summary judgment in his favor. [Record No. 28] Boggs asserts that, based on the testimony of the parties and the video of traffic stop, there are no genuine issues of material fact. Boggs contends that summary judgment is appropriate regarding the claim asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because Williams cannot show that a constitutional violation occurred during the traffic stop on January 7, 2013. However, he contends that, even if the Court concludes that the plaintiff had a constitutionally-protected right to record the parties' interactions, that "right" was not clearly established. Thus, he asserts that qualified immunity bars Williams' § 1983 claim. Finally, Boggs argues that the remaining state law claims should be dismissed because Williams did not suffer any actual damage or property loss and punitive damages cannot be awarded under the facts presented.
Williams opposes the defendant's motion for summary judgment. [Record No. 30] According to the plaintiff, authority from other jurisdictions indicate that the plaintiff had a recognized right to record the confrontation with the defendant on January 7, 2013. Thus, he contends that qualified immunity does not apply. Further, Williams asserts that, because the legal question of immunity is ...