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Brooksbank v. Koch

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

March 6, 2018

RUSSELL P. BROOKSBANK PLAINTIFF
v.
DEWAYNE S. KOCH DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH H. MCKINLEY, JR., CHIEF JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [DN 33]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Court holds that Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Russell P. Brooksbank filed this lawsuit after a disagreement with a Kentucky State Police Officer Dewayne S. Koch. These are the only facts that are undisputed by the parties: On September 2016, Officer Koch stopped an Advanced Ready Mix vehicle driven by Valerie Coleman in the parking lot of a Thorton's gas station after seeing the driver without a seatbelt. During the traffic stop, Brooksbank arrived in the Thorton's parking lot. Because he was an employee of Advanced Ready Mix, he approached Coleman to offer assistance. While Officer Koch was talking to Coleman about the circumstances of the traffic stop, Brooksbank made a comment to Officer Koch in which he called him as “ass.”

         Shortly after, Brooksbank pulled out of the Thorton's parking lot and was pulled over by Officer Koch. During the traffic stop, there was a physical altercation when Officer Koch attempted to reach into the car to grab Brooksbank's cell phone. Ultimately, Brooksbank was arrested for assaulting an officer. Now, Brooksbank has filed this lawsuit, bringing claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment, and claims under state law for battery, false arrest/imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence, and punitive damages. In this Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Brooksbank asks the Court to find him entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Officer Koch's 1983 liability.

         II. Standard of Review

         Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, 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 thereafter 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 merely 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). Instead, 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.

         III. Discussion

         In his Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Brooksbank argues he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of Officer Koch's liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His motion is divided into four subparts: (1) Officer Koch's initial traffic stop violated Brooksbank's First and Fourth Amendment rights, (2) the seizure of Brooksbank's cell phone violated his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, (3) the false arrest of Brooksbank violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and (4) that Officer Koch cannot use the defense of qualified immunity. The Court will discuss each part in turn.

         Initial Stop

         Brooksbank asks the Court to find him entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his claim that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Officer Koch pulled him over. The Court cannot grant summary judgment on this matter as the parties tell a different story of the essential facts. According to Brooksbank, after his initial encounter with Officer Koch in which he called him an “ass, ” Officer Koch was “infuriated.” (Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 23.) Brooksbank claims that Officer Koch was “intent on exacting revenge and retaliating” against him. (Id. ¶ 30.) The Complaint alleges that Brooksbank was attempting to turn left out of Thorton's parking lot with his turn signal activated. At this time, Brooksbank's left hand was protruding out of the driver's side window with his ring and pinky fingers slightly curled to prevent his wedding ring falling off. According to Brooksbank, the reason for the traffic stop was “solely on the alleged vulgar gesture consisting of Mr. Brooksbank allegedly giving him the middle finger.” (Id. ¶ 34.) If Brooksbank's recitation of the facts are correct, then Officer Koch may not have had the required probable cause to make a traffic stop. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996).

         However, Officer Koch tells a completely different story.[1] According to Koch, after he left the Thorton's parking lot, he continued on his usual beat. Later, he saw a truck attempting to turn right out of the Thorton's gas station. Officer Koch states that he pulled the car over, unaware that it was Brooksbank. According to Officer Koch, the reason for the traffic stop is that Brooksbank had “failed to properly signal his intention to turn” as he was not using a turn signal and the hand gesture that he was making out of the window was inappropriate. (Answer [DN 6] ¶ 19.)

         Whether Brooksbank's Fourth Amendment rights were violated depends on whether Officer Koch had probable cause for pulling Brooksbank over. Further, there can be no First Amendment violation if the reason for the traffic stop was wholly unrelated to any offensive gesture made by Brooksbank that would constitute protected speech. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Officer Koch, the initial stop could be found by a reasonable jury to be properly based on probable cause of the traffic violation of improper signaling. If so, there would be no Fourth Amendment violation. Further, a reasonable jury could find the traffic stop ...


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