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Bentley v. McCarty

October 25, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: S. Arthur Spiegel United States Senior District Judge


This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 38), Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion (doc. 47), and Defendants' Reply Memorandum in Further Support of its Motion (doc. 48). For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

Plaintiffs Arnold and Nancy Bentley filed the instant suit against Defendants Jeff McCarty, Kenneth Dick, Richard DeMint, and Shawn Cooley, employees of the Adams County Sheriff's Office, after a warrant search of Plaintiffs' property allegedly uncovered cocaine and marijuana (doc. 38). Plaintiffs claim that Defendants fabricated the evidence against them and raise the following federal causes of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) violation of Fourth Amendment rights not to be arrested or otherwise seized, not to be held in custody, and/or not to be prosecuted without probable cause, (2) violation of Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by allegedly planting and/or fabricating evidence, (3) violation of Fourth Amendment rights for alleged malicious prosecution (doc. 1).

The facts in this case were outlined in a previous Order of the Court (doc. 28), and for the most part, are restated here. The Defendants in this matter executed a search warrant of the Plaintiffs' home on July 15, 2002 (doc. 20). A confidential informant ("CI") provided the information which secured the warrant (Id.). The CI reported seeing someone buy an ounce of cocaine from Plaintiffs in the early morning of July 15, 2002 at a mobile home located on the Plaintiffs' property (Id.). Defendants maintain that while searching the Plaintiffs' property, a drug dog discovered a ziplock bag within a paper bag (Id.). The ziplock bag contained a white powdery substance that the Defendants maintain was cocaine (Id.). The Defendants aver that this cocaine was found underneath the mobile trailer described by the CI (Id.).

However, the Plaintiffs maintain that while the search warrant was being executed, Plaintiff Arnold Bentley witnessed one of the Defendants, Officer Jeff McCarty, enter the Plaintiffs' barn and exit with a paper sack that the Plaintiffs believe contained "deer cocaine"*fn1 (Id.). The Plaintiffs submit that they routinely stored deer cocaine in their barn (Id.). Plaintiff Arnold Bentley alleges that he witnessed Defendant McCarty throw the bag he brought from the barn in front of the trailer (doc. 47). Mr. Bentley also claims that the cocaine produced at Plaintiffs' criminal trial was bagged differently than the white powder found in Plaintiffs' barn (Id.). The Plaintiffs deny ever possessing and/or selling cocaine (doc. 20.). The Plaintiffs were charged with possession of cocaine in an amount that equals or exceeds 100 grams but is less than 500 grams -ultimately, the Plaintiffs were found not guilty (Id.).

Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on August 31, 2006 (doc. 38). Defendants present several theories in support of their motion, but their arguments can be summarized as follows: (1) Plaintiffs have no evidence to support their claim of fabrication of evidence, or, alternatively, (2) Defendants are qualifiedly immune from prosecution (Id.). Plaintiffs dispute the qualified immunity argument and point primarily to Plaintiff Arnold Bentley's eye-witness testimony as evidence in support of their claims (doc. 47).

II. Applicable Legal Standard

Although a grant of summary judgment is not a substitute for trial, it is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; see also, e.g., Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464 (1962); LaPointe v. United Autoworkers Local 600, 8 F.3d 376, 378 (6th Cir. 1993); Osborn v. Ashland County Bd. of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Servs., 979 F.2d 1131, 1133 (6th Cir. 1992)(per curiam). In reviewing the instant motion, "this Court must determine 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." Patton v. Bearden, 8 F.3d 343, 346 (6th Cir. 1993), quoting in part Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)(internal quotation marks omitted).

The process of moving for and evaluating a motion for summary judgment and the respective burdens it imposes upon the movant and the non-movant are well settled. First, "a party seeking summary judgment ... bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact[.]" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); see also LaPointe, 8 F.3d at 378; Guarino v. Brookfield Township Trustees, 980 F.2d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 1992); Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989). The movant may do so by merely identifying that the non-moving party lacks evidence to support an essential element of its case. See Barnhart v. Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling Co., L.P.A., 12 F.3d 1382, 1389 (6th Cir. 1993).

Faced with such a motion, the non-movant, after completion of sufficient discovery, must submit evidence in support of any material element of a claim or defense at issue in the motion on which it would bear the burden of proof at trial, even if the moving party has not submitted evidence to negate the existence of that material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. 317; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). As the "requirement [of the Rule] is that there be no genuine issue of material fact," an "alleged factual dispute between the parties" as to some ancillary matter "will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (emphasis added); see generally Booker v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., Inc., 879 F.2d 1304, 1310 (6th Cir. 1989). Furthermore, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see also Gregory v. Hunt, 24 F.3d 781, 784 (6th Cir. 1994). Accordingly, the non-movant must present "significant probative evidence" demonstrating that "there is [more than] some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" to survive summary judgment and proceed to trial on the merits. Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 339-40 (6th Cir. 1993); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Guarino, 980 F.2d at 405.

Although the non-movant need not cite specific page numbers of the record in support of its claims or defenses, "the designated portions of the record must be presented with enough specificity that the district court can readily identify the facts upon which the non-moving party relies." Guarino, 980 F.2d at 405, quoting Inter-Royal Corp. v. Sponseller, 889 F.2d 108, 111 (6th Cir. 1989)(internal quotation marks omitted). In contrast, mere conclusory allegations are patently insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See McDonald v. Union Camp Corp., 898 F.2d 1155, 1162 (6th Cir. 1990). The Court must view all submitted evidence, facts, and reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970); United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654 (1962). Furthermore, the district court may not weigh evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses in deciding the motion. See Adams v. Metiva, 31 F.3d 375, 378 (6th Cir. 1994).

Ultimately, the movant bears the burden of demonstrating that no material facts are in dispute. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. The fact that the non-moving party fails to respond to the motion does not lessen the burden on either the moving party or the Court to demonstrate that summary judgment is appropriate. See ...

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