United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the Summary Judgment Motion [DN 44] of Defendants Jimmy Lyons ("Lyons"), Brucie Moore ("Moore"), and Megan Randolph ("Randolph"). Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.
This controversy arises out of a dispute over the sale of two "gold" buffalo bullion bars. The dispute began on September 20, 2011, when Defendant David Jenkins visited Plaintiff's Jewelry and Repair Store and sold Plaintiff the bars for $3, 300. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 21.) After Jenkins left the store, Plaintiff discovered that the bars were counterfeit. Plaintiff immediately called Jenkins, asking him to return the money. (Id. ¶ 24.) When Jenkins asserted that he would not return the money, Plaintiff called the Morganfield Police Department for its assistance. (Id. ¶ 25.) Officer Geoffrey Deibler was dispatched to Plaintiff's store. On his arrival, Officer Deibler called Jenkins, advising him to return the money, as failing to do so would constitute felony theft by deception. (Id. ¶ 26.) Jenkins appeared reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, he agreed to come back to Plaintiff's store and return it. (Id. ¶ 28.)
After the money's return, several events transpired that gave rise to the instant cause of action. First, Detective Lyons from the Union County Sheriff's Office called Officer Deibler, inquiring as to why he had become involved in the matter. (Id. ¶ 30; Deibler Testimony, Trial Transcript [DN 22-7] 79.) Lyons had talked to Jenkins' father-in-law and believed that Jenkins should not have been forced to return the money to Plaintiff. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶¶ 31-33; Deibler Testimony, Trial Transcript [DN 22-7] 75.) Second, Officer Deibler returned to Plaintiff's store the following day with a criminal citation, charging Plaintiff with falsely reporting an incident. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶¶ 37, 40.) According to Plaintiff's allegations, Officer Deibler told him that Moore, the County Attorney of Union County, had received a call from Jenkins. Officer Deibler also stated that Moore had "got [ sic ] ahold of the [store's surveillance video] and wanted charges pressed against Marvin Butts...." (Id. ¶¶ 37-39.) Officer Deibler expressed his opinion to Plaintiff that he should plead guilty to the charged misdemeanor or take a deferment. (Id. ¶ 42.) Third, Jenkins had a small claims complaint served on Plaintiff the next day for bad business and embarrassment. (Id. ¶ 44.) According to Plaintiff's theory, Moore and Officer Deibler conspired with Jenkins to serve Plaintiff a criminal citation devoid of probable cause. (Id. ¶ 66.) This was done to get Plaintiff to accept some sort of plea or deferment so that Jenkins could use it against Plaintiff in his small claims suit as conclusive evidence of Plaintiff's wrongdoing. (Id. ¶ 72.)
Randolph, the Assistant County Attorney of Union County, appeared on behalf of the Commonwealth during Jenkins' jury trial. Ultimately, the jury found that Plaintiff was not guilty of falsely reporting an incident, and Jenkins' small claims complaint was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 62.) Plaintiff, however, brought this federal action against Jenkins, the Morganfield Defendants, Moore, Lyons, and Randolph, alleging numerous causes of action. The Morganfield Defendants moved for summary judgment. The Court granted the motion. The matter is now before the Court on the summary judgment motion of Moore, Lyons, and Randolph.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Before the Court may grant a summary judgment motion, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).
Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than show that there is some "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence... of a genuine dispute[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252.
Plaintiff alleges that Lyons, Moore, and Randolph are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the unlawful initiation and continuation of a criminal citation (Count I) and malicious abuse of process (Count II). He also alleges that they are liable under § 1985(3) for conspiring to deprive Plaintiff of his due process and equal protection rights (Count III). In addition, Plaintiff asserts causes of action against Lyons, Moore, and Randolph for: malicious prosecution (Count IV), negligence and gross negligence (Count VII), and defamation (Count X). He also asserts causes of action against Lyons and Moore-but not Randolph-for conspiracy to defraud (Count V) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IX).
A. COUNTS I, II, AND IV: CAUSES OF ACTION BASED ON 42 U.S.C. § 1983 AGAINST LYONS, MOORE, AND RANDOLPH IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES
Count I (entitled "Unlawful Initiation/Continuation of Criminal Citation"), Count II (entitled "Malicious Abuse of Process"), and Count IV (entitled "Malicious Prosecution") center on Plaintiff's prosecution for "Falsely Reporting an Incident, " a Class A misdemeanor under Kentucky law. See K.R.S. § 519.040. Specifically, in Counts I, II, and IV, Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights by "serving him with a criminal citations [ sic ] devoid of probable cause, " "maliciously us[ing] a legal process to accomplish some ulterior purpose for which it was not designed or intended, " and instituting a criminal proceeding without probable cause "with malice and/or a primary purpose other than that of bringing an offender to justice." (Compl. [DN 1] ¶¶ 66, 70, 81-85.) Moore and Randolph argue that they are entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity from these claims, as Plaintiff has challenged actions which relate to their roles as County Attorney and Assistant County Attorney. (Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mem.") [DN 44-1] 3-6.) Lyons argues that Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed as to him because Plaintiff has not established a violation of his constitutional rights. (Id. at 12-13.) Finally, Moore, Randolph, and Lyons argue that in the alternative, they are each entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's § 1983 claims. (Id. at 15-16.)
Absolute Prosecutorial Immunity. Moore and Randolph argue that they are entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity from Counts I, II, and IV, as Plaintiff has challenged actions which relate to their roles as County Attorney and Assistant County Attorney. "A prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity from § 1983 liability when he acts as an advocate for the government by engaging in activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.'" Rose v. Hulbert, 2012 WL 3096664, at *2 (W.D. Ky. July 30, 2012) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman , 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976)); see Pusey v. City of Youngstown , 11 F.3d 652, 658 (6th Cir. 1993). To determine whether a prosecutor is acting within the scope of his prosecutorial duties, the Court employs a "functional approach." Burns v. Reed , 500 U.S. 478, 486 (1991). "[T]he critical inquiry is how closely related is the prosecutor's challenged activity to his role as an advocate intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process." Ireland v. Tunis , 113 F.3d 1435, 1443 (6th Cir.1997) (citing Pusey , 11 F.3d at 658). Describing the conduct protected by immunity, the Supreme Court in Imbler opined that advocatory conduct includes "initiating a prosecution" and "presenting the State's case." Imbler , 424 U.S. at 431.
In this case, Plaintiff admits in his response brief that Randolph acted within the scope of her prosecutorial duties. (Pl.'s Mem. [DN 47] 8 ("Plaintiff admits that actions taken by Ms. Randolph fall squarely under prosecutorial duties."); 9 ("Plaintiff has no reason to believe that Ms. Randolph was doing anything more than her job as she was instructed.").) Thus, the Court finds that Randolph is entitled to absolute immunity, and Counts I, II, and IV are DISMISSED as to her. This is consistent with the "functional approach, " as Plaintiff alleges only that Randolph acted as counsel in his state-court prosecution for falsely reporting an incident-and it is clear that presenting the Commonwealth's case against Plaintiff was advocatory conduct. The parties disagree, however, as to whether Moore acted within the scope of her prosecutorial duties.
Moore argues that she acted within the scope of her prosecutorial duties. In this respect, Moore notes that Plaintiff essentially challenges her decision to bring criminal charges against him. Officer Deibler stated that prior to charging Plaintiff with falsely reporting an incident, he consulted with Moore about what he needed to do. According to Officer Deibler, Moore reviewed the evidence, as well as Kentucky law, and informed him that she would charge Plaintiff with falsely reporting an incident. (See Deibler Testimony, Trial Transcript [DN 22-7] 58-60.) Moore argues that making the decision to file criminal charges against Plaintiff was within the scope of her duties. She cites Ireland v. Tunis , 113 F.3d 1435, 1446 (6th Cir. 1997), in support of her position. There, the Sixth Circuit held that a prosecutor's decision to file a criminal complaint and seek an arrest warrant fell "squarely within the aegis of absolute prosecutorial immunity." Id . Further, Moore cites Grant v. Hollenbach , 870 F.2d 1135, 1138 (6th Cir. 1989), and Weathers v. Anderson, 2012 WL 3313805, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 13, 2012), to argue that prosecutors are even absolutely immune from claims alleging they acted wrongfully, knowingly, or maliciously in bringing false charges against a defendant.
In addition, Moore argues that Plaintiff only challenges two other aspects of her conduct. First, Plaintiff alleges that when Jenkins was attempting to decide whether he would return the money, Moore received a phone call from Jenkins while she was out grocery shopping. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 39.) Second, Plaintiff alleges that Moore currently serves, or has in the past served, as a board member of a local bank where Jenkins is employed. (Id. ¶ 59.) Moore ...