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Krumtum v. Crawford

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

August 24, 2016

MATTHEW G. KRUMTUM, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN B. CRAWFORD, ET AL., Defendants.

          Matthew G. Krumtum, Pro Se Plaintiff; W. Bradford Stallard and Nathaniel D. Moore, Penn, Stuart & Eskridge, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendants Stephen B. Crawford, John S. Austin, and Faith Espositio; Maria Kathryn Maybury, Pro Se Defendant;

          J. Christian Obenshain and Donald E. Jeffrey, III, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendant James F. Weaver;

          Mary Foil Russell, Russell Law Firm, Bristol, Virginia, for Defendants John Bradwell and Jerry Allen Wolfe.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         This civil case was removed from state court asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. The plaintiff, a lawyer suing on his own behalf, complains that he was wrongfully arrested and prosecuted for violating a domestic protective order obtained by his former wife. After the charge was dismissed, he filed the present suit against everyone in sight, including his former wife, her attorney, the prosecutor, the arresting police officer, and the magistrate who issued the warrant. The defendants have all moved to dismiss. I find, among other things, that on the undisputed facts there was probable cause to believe that the plaintiff had violated the protective order, and I will dismiss the case.

         I.

         The following facts are taken from the plaintiff's Complaint and incorporated documents, which I am bound at this point to accept as true.

         The plaintiff, Matthew Krumtum, a lawyer, was married to defendant Maria Kathryn Maybury, also a lawyer. The couple experienced marital problems and separated. On May 15, 2013, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for the City of Bristol, Virginia, entered a Protective Order against Krumtum. The Protective Order mandated that he was to have “no contact of any kind” with Maybury. (Protective Order 17, ECF No. 1-4.) The Protective Order provided that it would remain in effect for two years, until May 15, 2015.

         On February 28, 2014, the plaintiff delivered a 25-page typed letter to Maybury's divorce attorney, defendant Faith Esposito, at the attorney's office. A preface to the letter stated, “This is a personal letter from me to my wife. We were schoolmates, we had four children together so have some decency and allow us to have perhaps this one last private moment. I would appreciate exercising discretion and refrain from using, just this once, this communication in litigation.” (Letter 1, ECF No. 46.) The letter began, “Dear wife Kathy, This is my letter home.” (Id.) The letter reminisced about their history together, included a discussion of their sex life, and urged their reconciliation.

         Defendant Steven Crawford, a sergeant with the Bristol Police Department, obtained the letter and filed a criminal complaint against the plaintiff, alleging that the delivery of the letter constituted a violation of the Protective Order. Based upon Crawford's complaint, defendant James Weaver, a Virginia magistrate, issued an arrest warrant pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 16.1-253.2 upon his finding that there was probable cause to believe that the plaintiff had violated the Protective Order.[1] The plaintiff was arrested pursuant to the warrant on the night of February 28. Defendant John Bradwell, an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Bristol, prosecuted the case. Krumtum pleaded not guilty and the charge was dismissed at trial by the state court. The record does not reveal the reasons for the dismissal.

         The plaintiff then filed this lawsuit in the Bristol Virginia Circuit Court against John Austin (the Bristol police chief), Sgt. Crawford, attorney Esposito, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Bradwell, Jerry Allen Wolfe (the Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Bristol), Magistrate Weaver, Eugene E. Lohman (the state court judge who dismissed the prosecution against the plaintiff), Maybury, and three John Does. He alleged seven causes of action: malicious prosecution under federal law (Count I); malicious prosecution under state law (Count II); false imprisonment under state law (Count III); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV); § 1983 conspiracy (Count V); § 1983 violation of constitutional rights (Count VI); and defamation (Count VII). He asserts each claim against each defendant.

         While the case was in state court, defendants Maybury, Austin, Crawford, Esposito, Wolfe, Bradwell, and Weaver filed demurrers in an effort to be dismissed.[2] The action was then removed to this court. After removal, defendants Austin, Crawford, and Esposito filed motions to dismiss. The plaintiff has since filed two consolidated responses that purportedly address all of the demurrers and motions to dismiss; he has also responded directly to Maybury's demurrer. Certain of the defendants have filed replies that address the plaintiff's responses. The matter is now ripe for decision.[3]

         II.

         “The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). Rule 12(b)(6) does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “[I]t does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992).

         In deciding whether a complaint will survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court evaluates it and any documents attached or incorporated by reference. Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007). In ruling, the court must regard as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), and must view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002).

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a cause of action against “[e]very person who, under color of any statute . . . of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws. . . .” “The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails.” Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992). To state a claim for relief, the plaintiff must show that he was “deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law.” Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999).

         In Virginia, suits for malicious prosecution are not favored, and the standard for maintaining such actions is more stringent than it is for most other tort claims. Lee v. Southland Corp., 244 S.E.2d 756, 758 (Va. 1978). For the plaintiff to prevail in his state malicious prosecution claim, he has the burden of showing that the prosecution was (1) malicious, (2) instituted by or with the cooperation of the defendant, (3) without probable cause, and (4) terminated in a manner not unfavorable to the plaintiff. Id. Similarly, the Fourth Circuit has recognized a claim that derives from the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures that incorporates elements of the common law tort of malicious prosecution. See Lambert v. Williams, 223 F.3d 257, 262 (4th Cir. 2000). However, the Fourth Circuit has stressed that malicious prosecution is not an independent cause of action under § 1983. Id. I will nonetheless recognize the plaintiff's claim for “malicious prosecution under federal law” as the type of Fourth Amendment claim discussed in Lambert and will analyze the plaintiff's claim using that standard.

         In a malicious prosecution action, malice may be presumed from lack of probable cause, but “the lack of probable cause can never be inferred, even from the most express malice.” W. Union Tel. Co. v. Thomasson, 251 F. 833, 837 (4th Cir. 1918). As has been stated,

Probable cause is based upon a practical assessment of the totality of the circumstances. There is probable cause for an arrest when facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense. Probable cause requires more than bare suspicion but requires less than evidence necessary to convict. In instances where arresting officers take the additional procedural step of ...

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