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Cimiotta v. Slaubaugh

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

September 26, 2019

KENNETH DEAN CIMIOTTA, Plaintiff,
v.
RYAN SLAUBAUGH, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID J. HALE, JUDGE

         Before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Ryan Slaubaugh (Docket Number 34). After careful consideration, the Court will grant the motion for the following reasons.

         I.

         In his complaint (DN 1), Plaintiff alleged that on September 18, 2016, he was pulled over by Defendant, an Elizabethtown Police Department (EPD) Officer, because the light on his rear license plate was not working. However, he asserted that a video of the traffic stop shows that the light was working. He alleged: “After almost a year charges were dropped on September 12, 2017, have been in jail almost six months on these charges.” Plaintiff alleged: “false arrest[;] unlawful containment[;] illegal search and seizure[;] harassment[; and] profiling.”

         The motion for summary judgment argues that Defendant had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff due to a civil traffic infraction of not having his license properly illuminated; that the grand jury’s indictment of Plaintiff after his arrest conclusively established probable cause; that Defendant is qualifiedly immune; that Plaintiff’s claims are too vague and lacking in specificity; that Plaintiff failed to comply with the discovery process[1]; and that Plaintiff is precluded from recovering punitive damages.

         Among the attachments to the summary-judgment motion is Defendant’s affidavit (DN 34-2). According to the affidavit, Defendant has been a patrol officer with the EPD since 2013 and serves as a training officer responsible for training new patrol officers. He further claims that in 2015 he completed a three-day course on prosecuting drugged or impaired drivers and is certified as a Drug Recognition Expert. He also avers that in 2015 and 2016 he won the Governor’s Award for outstanding achievement in the apprehension of impaired drivers.

         Defendant states that at 2:01 a.m. on Sunday, September 18, 2016, Defendant was on patrol and observed a vehicle in the E-town Motel parked with its engine running and lights on. He avers that the “E-town Motel is old, run-down, and is a hotspot for dangerous drug-related activity” (DN 34-2, para. 3). He continues:

I did not observe anyone come out of the motel and get in the running truck, and did not see anyone do a pre-inspection of the vehicle. I followed the truck as it traveled on South Dixie and turned right onto Springfield Road, and then left onto Pierce Street into “the Bottoms, ” another area of Elizabethtown that is a known haven for crime and drug-related activity.

(DN 34-2, para. 4).

         Defendant avers that as Plaintiff’s truck “turned onto Pierce Street, I could not read the truck’s license plate. There was a faint light emanating from it but the plate itself was illegible and was only readable when my headlights were shining on it” (DN 34-2, para. 5). He further states that “I made the decision to stop the truck for this traffic violation. I did not know who was driving the truck until I pulled it over.” Defendant states that “[t]his was a pretext stop. I suspected drug-related activity given the time of the morning, th[e] fact that the engine was left running, and the fact that the truck was departing from the E-town Motel and heading into the Bottoms” (DN 34-2, para. 6).

         Defendant’s affidavit goes on to describe how he approached the driver’s side window, told Plaintiff why he was being stopped, and asked the usual questions, including where Plaintiff had been and where he was going (DN 34-2, para. 7). He avers that he observed that Plaintiff acted very nervously and that his story did not make sense, including the fact that his driver’s license indicated that Plaintiff lived on Battle Training Road, which is located in a different direction from the Bottoms (DN 34-2, para. 7-8). He avers that he then asked Plaintiff to get out of his truck, which Plaintiff did, and asked if he could pat him down, which Plaintiff agreed to (DN 34-2, para. 9-10). During the limited pat-down of Plaintiff’s outer clothing, Defendant states that he did not feel any weapon but did feel something in his pocket that he recognized to be drugs (DN 34-2, para. 10).

         Defendant claims that when he asked Plaintiff what was in his pocket, Plaintiff first replied it was money, which was inconsistent with what Defendant felt; Defendant then shone his flashlight in the pocket and found a clear baggie containing crystal methamphetamine (DN 34-2, para. 11). Defendant arrested Plaintiff and, believing that there was likely more drug-related contraband in the truck, looked into the truck and observed a backpack in plain view (DN 34-2, para. 12-13). According to the affidavit, Defendant found $4, 000 in cash, seven baggies of methamphetamine, a digital scale, a baggie of marijuana, and other drug-related paraphernalia (DN 34-2, para. 13). Plaintiff was arrested for rear license not illuminated, first- degree trafficking in controlled substance, first-degree possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana (DN 34-2, para. 14).

         According to the motion for summary judgment, in October 2016, Plaintiff was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of failing to have his license plate properly illuminated and four drug charges. However, on September 5, 2017, the prosecutor dismissed all charges against Plaintiff without prejudice (DN 1, p. 4; DN 34-7, pp. 48-49).

         Also attached to the motion is the affidavit of prosecutor Shane Young, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Hardin County, Kentucky, at the time of Plaintiff’s arrest (DN 34-10, para. 1). He avers that after Plaintiff’s arrest he “took a photograph of [Plaintiff’s] license plate while his truck was impounded. The bulb had mud or some substance obscuring it.” (DN 34-10, para. 2). He further avers that “[a]s a prosecutor, I typically perform a screening function wherein I examine the facts and charges of each case and make an independent finding as to whether I think that probable ...


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