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Williams v. Walski

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 16, 2014

Cornelius Lorenzo Williams, Plaintiff,
v.
Officer Walski, Defendant.

Cornelius Lorenzo Williams, pro se.

Joseph E. Flynn, Jardine Logan & O'Brien P.L.L.P., 8519 Eagle Point Blvd., Suite 100, Lake Elmo, Minnesota 55042, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Cornelius Williams' Objections [Doc. No. 112] to United States Magistrate Judge Janie S. Mayeron's April 11, 2014 Report and Recommendation [Doc. No. 111] ("R & R"). The Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendant Officer Walski's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 84] be granted, that Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions [Doc. No. 102] be denied, and that Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice. For the reasons set forth below, the Court overrules Plaintiff's Objections and adopts the R & R.

II. BACKGROUND

The factual and procedural background of this case is well documented in the Magistrate Judge's R & R, and is incorporated herein by reference.[1] Briefly stated, Plaintiff's claims stem from a traffic stop that occurred in the afternoon of February 21, 2012, in the city of Winona, Minnesota. (See Compl. [Doc. No. 1] ¶ 1.) Defendant, Winona police officer Ryan Walski, had earlier been told by an investigator with the Winona Police Department that Plaintiff was driving without a valid Minnesota driver's license. (Walski Aff. [Doc. No. 89] ¶ 3.) The information provided by the investigator included a print-out from the Department of Vehicle Services ("DVS") showing that Plaintiff did not have a valid license, as well as a photograph of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) Prior to February 12, 2012, Defendant had added those documents to a clipboard he carried with him in his patrol car, which contained information on other individuals who he knew did not have a valid driver's license. (Id. ¶ 4.)

While on patrol on February 21, 2012, at approximately 4:03 p.m., Defendant observed Plaintiff driving his vehicle. (Id. ¶ 5 & Ex. 3.) Because Defendant knew that Plaintiff did not have a valid driver's license, he activated his squad lights and pulled up behind Plaintiff's vehicle as it pulled to a stop on the street. (Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant approached the vehicle and asked Plaintiff if he had a driver's license. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff responded that he did not. (Id.) Defendant then asked Plaintiff to provide proof of insurance, and Plaintiff stated that he was insured by Progressive Insurance. (Id. ¶ 10.) Defendant returned to his squad car and called Progressive Insurance, and he was informed that Plaintiff's insurance policy had been canceled in 2011. (Id. ¶ 11 & Ex. 2 (Squad Video 17:07:50-17:09:30); see Goodwin Aff. [Doc. No. 88], Ex. E (Insurance Policy Records).) At that time, Defendant cited Plaintiff for driving without a license, [2] driving without insurance, [3] and giving false information to a police officer. (Walski Aff. ¶ 12 & Ex. 3.)

Because Plaintiff's car was uninsured and parked on a public street, Defendant impounded the vehicle pursuant to "standard and well-established procedure in Winona." (Id. ¶ 13.) Pursuant to Winona Police Department policy, an inventory search must be conducted on all automobiles impounded by the Winona City Police Department. ( Id., Ex. 4.) Under the policy, "the passenger compartment, the glove compartment and the trunk" are to be searched. ( Id., Ex. 4, ¶ 3.1.) Defendant and another Winona police officer conducted the inventory search of Plaintiff's vehicle and discovered in the passenger compartment a digital scale and a "blue marijuana pipe" containing apparent burnt marijuana residue. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 16.) Based on his training and experience, Defendant recognized the pipe as a type used for smoking marijuana and the scale as a type used to weigh narcotics. (Id. ¶ 16.) He also noticed the smell of marijuana. (Id. ¶ 17.) Defendant seized both items and issued Plaintiff a citation for possession of illegal drug paraphernalia.[4] (Id. ¶ 18 & Ex. 5.) Later that evening, insurance was obtained for Plaintiff's vehicle. (See Pl.'s Objs., Ex. 1 (showing an insurance policy for Plaintiff's vehicle that was effective at 5:49 p.m. on February 21, 2012).)

The City of Winona Attorney's Office ultimately dismissed the citations. (Flaherty Aff. [Doc. No. 90] ¶ 2.) Assistant City Attorney Michael Flaherty stated that his office believed it would be necessary to obtain a writ of habeas corpus in order to transport Plaintiff from prison (where he was to be incarcerated on an unrelated charge) to Winona County for trial. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) Given the "significant expense" and "unnecessary burden on the court system" associated with that course of action, the Attorney's Office decided to dismiss the charges. (Id. ¶ 4.)

On November 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendant[5] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant had no legitimate reason for stopping him, and that Plaintiff was the victim of "racial profil[ing]." (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff further alleges that his vehicle was "illegally searched and towed." (Id. ¶ 4.) He also claims to have been harassed by Defendant from February 21, 2012 to May 1, 2012. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff seeks $40, 000 in damages. (Id. at 6.)

Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to establish the existence of an unconstitutional policy or practice by the City of Winona sufficient to support liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. [Doc. No. 86], at 8-12.) Defendant further asserted that Plaintiff's constitutional rights were not violated because the traffic stop, subsequent inventory search of Plaintiff's vehicle, and seizure of Plaintiff's drug paraphernalia were constitutional. (See id. at 12-20.) Finally, Defendant argued that, even if the claims are construed to be against Defendant in his individual capacity, rather than in his official capacity, they fail because Defendant is protected under the doctrine of qualified immunity. (See id. at 20-25.) In support of his motion, Defendant submitted his own affidavit and exhibits [Doc. No. 89], as well as an affidavit of his counsel that attached numerous exhibits [Doc. No. 88], and an affidavit from the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Winona [Doc. No. 90].

In opposition, Plaintiff argued that Defendant obtained information about Plaintiff illegally and that Defendant's seizure of Plaintiff's property was unconstitutional because Defendant did not have a search warrant and it was not proven that there was marijuana residue on the property. (See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. [Doc. No. 97] ("Pl.'s Opp."), at 1-3.) He also argued that Defendant violated the police department's inventory policy because he failed to take inventory of the trunk of the car, and that the policy itself is unconstitutional. (See id. at 3-4, 8.) Finally, Plaintiff argued that statements contained in Defendant's affidavit and in the affidavit of the Assistant County Attorney are inaccurate. (See id. at 12.) Specifically, Plaintiff argued that Defendant's statement that he-rather than the officer who assisted him with the inventory search-found the pipe and scale, was false. (Id. at 5.) Defendant submitted a reply [Doc. No. 100].

Plaintiff subsequently moved for sanctions under Minnesota Statutes § 549.211, requesting that the Court strike the affidavits of Defendant and the Assistant City Attorney and award Plaintiff costs and attorneys' fees in the amount of $1, 000. (See Notice of Mot., Mot. for Minn. Stat. 549.211 Sanctions [Doc. No. 102].) Plaintiff's motion is based on the allegedly inaccurate statements contained in those affidavits, which he argued were prejudicial to his case. (See Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Minn. Stat. 549.211 Sanction [Doc. No. 104], at 1.) In response, Defendant argued that Minnesota Statutes § 549.211 does not apply in federal court, motions to strike affidavits are not authorized under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the purported inaccuracy is irrelevant. (Def.'s Mem. in Resp. to Pl.'s Mot. for Minn. Stat. § 549.211 Sanctions [Doc. No. 107], at 1-2.)

The Magistrate Judge issued her R & R on both motions on April 11, 2014.[6] She interpreted Plaintiff's Complaint as asserting claims under § 1983 for a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. (Report and Recommendation dated Apr. 11, 2014 [Doc. No. 111] ("R & R"), at 7-8 & n.8.) Because Plaintiff did not state in his Complaint whether he was suing Defendant in his official ...


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