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Jones v. Clark County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

February 14, 2019

DAVID JONES, Plaintiff,
CLARK COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendants.


          Robert E. Wier United States District Judge

         “The Constitution does not guarantee that only the guilty will be arrested.” Baker v. McCollan, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 2695 (1979). David Jones's case is but one-though surely unfortunate-example of that truism. Following remand from the Sixth Circuit, see Jones v. Clark Cnty., 690 Fed.Appx. 334, 336 (6th Cir. 2017), the parties have litigated the case, and Clark County, Sheriff Berl Perdue, Jr., and Officer Lee Murray seek summary judgment. DE #61 (Motion); see also DE ##69 (Response); 72 (Reply). Because, for the following reasons, Jones's federal and state malicious prosecution theories fail, the Court GRANTS DE #61 and dismisses the case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Sixth Circuit, on a preliminary record at the time, previously provided the following case background:

In October 2013, the police tracked a 39-second video of child pornography to an IP address and tracked that IP address to subscriber David Jones. Officer Lee Murray secured and executed a search warrant for Jones's residence, seizing a tablet computer, cellphone, modem, printer, and DVDs. Officer Murray arrested Jones, who waived his right to counsel and answered all questions, denying any knowledge of any child pornography. [T]he police did not investigate the seized devices to determine whether they contained any child pornography, such as the 39-second video. Had the police done any such investigation, they would have discovered that they did not. Nonetheless, Officer Murray recommended charges and the prosecutor obtained a grand-jury indictment charging Jones with promoting a minor in a sexual performance, in violation of K.R.S. § 531.320(2)(b).
Over a year later, in November 2014, the authorities had still done no investigation of the seized devices, at which point Jones's attorney had an expert examine them. They were found to contain no evidence of child pornography. Jones moved to dismiss the indictment and the state court released him on December 15, 2014. Jones had spent 14 months in jail.

Jones, 690 Fed.Appx. at 334-35. At the motion to dismiss stage, the Sixth Circuit found factual issues and remanded Judge Reeves's dismissal order.

         Jones has voluntarily narrowed the case to malicious prosecution theories under federal (via 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1]) and Kentucky law. See DE #69.[2] The Court has reviewed the entire record, including every page of the depositions, see DE #62, and summary judgment exhibits. Defendants' motion is fully briefed and ripe for consideration.[3]

         II. STANDARD

         A court “shall grant summary judgment if 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). A reviewing court must construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from the underlying facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986); Lindsay v. Yates, 578 F.3d 407, 414 (6th Cir. 2009). Additionally, the court may not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter” at the summary judgment stage. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511 (1986).

         The burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact initially rests with the moving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986) (requiring the moving party to set forth “the basis for its motion, and identify[] those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact”); Lindsay, 578 F.3d at 414 (“The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that there is no material issue in dispute.”). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to produce “specific facts” showing a “genuine issue” for trial. Celotex Corp., 106. S.Ct. at 2253; Bass v. Robinson, 167 F.3d 1041, 1044 (6th Cir. 1999). However, “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 106 S.Ct. at 2552; see also Id. at 2557 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (“If the burden of persuasion at trial would be on the non-moving party, the party moving for summary judgment may satisfy Rule 56's burden of production in either of two ways. First, the moving party may submit affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. Second, the moving party may demonstrate to the Court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.” (emphasis in original)).

         A fact is “material” if the underlying substantive law identifies the fact as critical. Anderson, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. A “genuine” issue exists if “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. at 2511; Matsushita Elec., 106 S.Ct. at 1356 (“Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'”) (citation omitted). Such evidence must be suitable for admission into evidence at trial. Salt Lick Bancorp v. FDIC, 187 Fed.Appx. 428, 444-45 (6th Cir. 2006).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants primarily argue that various doctrines grant them immunity from Jones's claims. See DE #61-1, at 8-22. The Court analyzes the federal and state issues distinctly.[4]

         A. Federal Malicious Prosecution Claim

         “[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738 (1982); see also, e.g., Robertson v. Lucas, 753 F.3d 606, 610 (6th Cir. 2014) (affirming grant of qualified immunity to state and federal law enforcement officers); Barnes v. Wright, 449 F.3d 709, 711 (6th Cir. 2006) (reversing denial of qualified immunity to law enforcement officers in a § 1983 suit).

         “Since the defendant[s] have raised the qualified immunity defense, plaintiff bears the burden of showing that defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity.” Johnson v. Moseley, 790 F.3d 649, 653 (6th Cir. 2015). In the summary judgment context, the Court “view[s] all evidence, and draw[s] all reasonable inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ” here Jones. Kent v. Oakland Cnty., 810 F.3d 384, 390 (6th Cir. 2016) (internal alteration removed).

         To evaluate the qualified immunity question, courts engage in a two-part inquiry: “First, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show that the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right? Second, is the right clearly established?” Silberstein v. City of Dayton, 440 F.3d 306, 311 (6th Cir. 2006); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 129 S.Ct. 808, 818 (2009) (holding that courts may address the two questions in either order). The right must be “so clearly established in a particularized sense that a reasonable officer confronted with the same situation would have known that his conduct violated that right.” Moseley, 790 F.3d at 653. The Court must avoid “a high level of generality” in assessing the clarity of the right or misconduct. Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (per curiam) (“The dispositive question is whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established. . . . This inquiry must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.” (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Brosseau v. Haugen, 125 S.Ct. 596 (2004))). “Clearly established means that, at the time of the officer's conduct, the law was sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would understand that what he is doing is unlawful. In other words, existing law must have placed the constitutionality of the officer's conduct beyond debate. This demanding standard protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Dist. of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 589 (2018) (internal quotation marks and citations removed).

         “To succeed on a malicious-prosecution claim under § 1983 when the claim is premised on a violation of the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must prove the following: First, the plaintiff must show that a criminal prosecution was initiated against the plaintiff and that the defendant made, influenced, or participated in the decision to prosecute. Second, because a § 1983 claim is premised on the violation of a constitutional right, the plaintiff must show that there was a lack of probable cause for the criminal prosecution. Third, the plaintiff must show that, as a consequence of a legal proceeding, the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty, as understood in our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, apart from the initial seizure. Fourth, the criminal proceeding must have been resolved in the plaintiff's favor.” Sykes v. Anderson, 625 F.3d 294, 308-09 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks, citations, and footnote removed).

         A critical element is the second-that Jones must show that there was a lack of probable cause for the prosecution.[5] Ultimately, the interplay between the probable ...

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