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Constitutional – Search & Seizure – DWI Stop – Due Process – Motorcycle Seizure

Northrup v. Albert (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-04-0042, 16 pp.) (Richard L. Voorhees, J.) 5:09CV41; W.D.N.C.

Holding: Where defendant Deputy Goudelock had the impression that plaintiff was speeding, this was sufficient to warrant the deputy’s initial stop of plaintiff. In addition, Deputy Goudelock began to follow plaintiff (and only observed the alleged speeding) following what he believed to be plaintiff leaving the scene of an accident in which plaintiff was involved. Therefore, Goudelock possessed reasonable suspicion, based upon articulable facts (i.e., the crash, the response of the nearby motorists, the broken pieces of  amber safety lights in the road, the motorcycle lying in the road on its side), that plaintiff fled the scene of an accident and, in doing so, committed one or more traffic violations.

Thus, the traffic stop was justified at its inception.

Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted.

Deputy Goudelock learned at the outset of the stop that plaintiff did not have a driver’s license on his person. Thus, aside from any suspicion or concern that plaintiff was impaired, the continued detention of plaintiff was also justified for purposes of exploring whether plaintiff was a licensed driver entitled to operate the motorcycle (the motorcycle endorsement). Accordingly, the brief seizure of plaintiff was reasonably related in scope to the reason for the initial stop.

The court also finds that an objective law enforcement officer could reasonably have believed there was probable cause to arrest plaintiff.

Considering the totality of the circumstances known to Deputy Goudelock and shared with defendant Trooper Albert, the court finds it was objectively reasonable for the officers to conclude that probable cause existed for plaintiff’s arrest for driving while impaired and driving while license revoked. Deputy Goudelock observed plaintiff driving the motorcycle. Through his own independent investigation subsequent to the traffic stop, Trooper Albert determined that plaintiff was impaired and that he was not licensed to drive.

Thus, it was objectively reasonable to believe that probable cause existed for his arrest. Indeed, Magistrate Ruffy, who also had an opportunity to personally observe plaintiff shortly after his arrest, also reviewed the facts as presented and reached the same conclusion.

Plaintiff’s allegation that Trooper Albert lacked probable cause for his arrest does not constitute a violation of a clearly established constitutional right.

The court similarly finds that there are no relevant or material facts in dispute. At best, the facts presented by plaintiff fall within a gray area as opposed to an alleged violation of a bright line rule of law. Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim is barred by qualified immunity.

18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242 make it a crime to willfully deprive someone of his constitutional rights or to become involved in a conspiracy to do so. However, these provisions do not give rise to a civil action for damages, and neither plaintiff nor this court has the authority to issue a criminal complaint. Summary judgment is appropriate as to plaintiff’s claims under §§ 241 and 242.

The sharing of information by law enforcement officers in this case does not constitute a conspiracy to interfere with plaintiff’s civil rights. Plaintiff’s claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1853(3) does not survive summary judgment.

Where plaintiff could not produce a driver’s license and performed poorly during the field sobriety tests the trooper conducted, and where plaintiff was charged with driving while impaired and driving while license revoked, the motorcycle plaintiff was driving was seized in accordance with G.S. § 20-28.3.

According to official records from the DMV, the motorcycle was not registered to plaintiff as of the date of his arrest, July 19, 2008. Trooper Albert reasonably relied on the information concerning ownership available to him at the time of plaintiff’s arrest.

There is no evidence as to who was responsible for failing to follow through with correct titling and registration of the motorcycle at the time of its purchase in 2001, but apparently it was neither Deputy Goudelock nor Trooper Albert. The subsequent discovery that the records were not up to date does not entitle plaintiff to monetary damages for the motorcycle’s impoundment.

It is undisputed that plaintiff received adequate process. The failure of plaintiff or third-parties to act upon such notice in timely fashion is not actionable against Trooper Albert or Deputy Goudelock.


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