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Stewart v. Harlan City Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division at London

October 21, 2014

CARL E. STEWART, Plaintiff,


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This action arises from a property boundary dispute in Harlan, Kentucky. Plaintiff Carl Stewart and his neighbor, Opha Thomas, own adjacent parcels of land on Poplar Street. Stewart and Thomas have disagreed regarding the legal boundary line between the properties and each has undertaken efforts to delineate their land. [Record No. 2] On March 31, 2012, Harlan police received complaints of trespassing and Sergeant Miller investigated the disturbance. [Id.] After speaking with witnesses, observing Stewart's location, and reviewing a survey of the land, Miller arrested the plaintiff. [Record No. 49-15, p. 13] Stewart was charged with third-degree criminal trespassing on Thomas' property. On December 3, 2012, and by agreement of the parties, the charges were dismissed. [Record No. 49-12] Stewart subsequently filed this pro se lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §1983, asserting: (i) wrongful arrest in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and (ii) an unlawful taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment. [Record No. 2]

Defendants Mike Thomas, Craig Miller, Mitchell Alford, and the Harlan City Police Department now move for summary judgment. [Record No. 49] Stewart opposes the motion. [Record No. 52] The defendants also move in limine to suppress purportedly irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial evidence at trial. [Record No. 50] Upon review of the record, the motion for summary judgment will be granted and the motion to suppress will be denied as moot.


Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Chao v. Hall Holding Co., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). A dispute over a material fact is not "genuine" unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. That is, the determination must be "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. CenTra, Inc. v. Estrin, 538 F.3d 402, 412 (6th Cir. 2008). However, once the moving party has met its burden of production, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Sigler v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 532 F.3d 469, 483 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475, 586 (1986)). Instead, the nonmoving party must present "significant probative evidence" of a genuine dispute... to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Chao, 285 F.3d at 424. The nonmoving party cannot simply rely upon the assertions in its pleadings. It must come forward with probative evidence, such as sworn affidavits, to support its claims. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the Court views all the facts and inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.


A. Wrongful Arrest

As the arresting officer, Sergeant Miller argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on Stewart's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment wrongful arrest claims. [Record No. 49-15] The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of individuals to be free from improper arrest and detention. U.C. Const. amend. IV ("The right of people to be secure in their persons... against unreasonable seizures... shall not be violated."). A wrongful-arrest claimant must prove that there was a lack of probable cause to believe that the suspect had committed the crime. Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 156 (2004); Voyticky v. Village of Timerlake, Ohio, 412 F.3d 669, 677 (6th Cir. 2005).

Probable cause to make an arrest exists if, at the moment of the arrest, "the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the arrestee had committed or was committing an offense." Klein v. Long, 275 F.3d 544, 550 (6th Cir. 2001). This determination is assessed "from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." Kostrzewa v. City of Troy, 247 F.3d 633, 639 (6th Cir. 1997). The "validity of the arrest does not depend on whether the suspect actually committed a crime." Logsdon v. Hains, 492 F.3d 334 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 36 (1979)).

Whether an officer is authorized to make an arrest "ordinarily depends, in the first instance, on state law." Logsdon, 492 F.3d at 341. Here, Stewart was arrested under KRS § 511.08. [Record No. 49-8] In its entirety, the statute states:

511.08 Criminal trespass in the third degree.
(1) A person is guilty of criminal trespass in the third degree when he knowingly enters or remains ...

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