United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
RICKEY S. ELEY and TAWANNE S. ELEY, Plaintiffs,
BRYAN J. ALLEN, Defendant.
A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge
a car accident, Officer Bryan J. Allen took out arrest
warrants for Rickey S. Eley ("Mr. Eley") and
Tawanne S. Eley ("Mrs. Eley") for giving false
reports to a police officer and violating Virginia's
hit-and-run laws. According to the Eleys, Officer Allen had
no basis or cause for these charges, so they have sued
Officer Allen for violating their Fourth Amendment rights,
engaging in malicious prosecution, and defaming them. Officer
Allen has moved to dismiss all claims. Because the facts and
inferences as plead by the Eleys sufficiently state a claim
for a Fourth Amendment violation and malicious prosecution,
the Court will deny the motion to dismiss these claims. The
Court, however, will grant the motion to dismiss the
Eleys' defamation claim because absolute privilege covers
the alleged defamatory statements.
October 17, 2015, the Eleys were driving in Petersburg,
Virginia. Specifically, Mrs. Eley drove and Mr. Eley sat in
the front seat. The car the Eleys drove had an inoperable
inside door handle on the driver's side door.
intersection, another car ran a red light and collided with
the Eleys' car. Mrs. Eley could not open the driver's
side door because of the broken door handle, so Mr. Eley
reached across Mrs. Eley, rolled down the driver's side
window, and opened the driver's door from the outside.
Mr. Eley helped his wife get out of the car on the
driver's side, then got out of the car on the
passenger's side. Mr. Eley then called 9-1-1. While they
waited, the teenage driver of the other car acted
aggressively and belligerently.
Allen arrived at the scene and interviewed "the
individuals involved and witnesses." (Compl. ¶26.)
The Eleys explained the accident. The driver and passengers
of the other car accused the Eleys of switching seats after
the accident. The Eleys responded to this accusation by
explaining the broken door handle to Officer Allen. During
the investigation, Officer Allen was condescending and
arrogant to the Eleys, and he grew increasingly frustrated
and angry as the investigation continued without resolution.
Officer Allen left without charging either vehicle with any
that evening, Officer Allen took out warrants for the
Eleys' arrest. In statements to a magistrate, he alleged
that both of the Eleys gave false reports to a police officer
and violated Virginia's hit-and-run laws. The magistrate
issued the arrest warrants, which police executed the next
day. While in custody, the Eleys explained the facts to
officers in the City of Suffolk, who said that "the
charges never should have been taken out." (Compl.
¶ 51.) A magistrate released the Eleys on their
unsecured recognizance. In February 2016, the
Commonwealth's Attorney dropped the charges.
Mr. Eley, who served as a high school principal in North
Carolina, reported the charges to the superintendent, who
then reported to the school board. On November 16, 2015, the
school board forced Mr. Eley to resign. At least four media
outlets reported the story and portrayed Mr. Eley in a very
negative light. As a result, Mr. Eley has not found a
Eleys have sued Officer Allen for (I) violation of their
Fourth Amendment rights; (II) malicious prosecution; and
(III) defamation. Officer Allen has moved to dismiss all
claims against him.
I: Fourth Amendment Claim
Court will deny the motion to dismiss Count I because the
Eleys plausibly alleged that Officer Allen showed reckless
disregard for the truth when he took out warrants for their
arrest. A police officer violates the Fourth Amendment-made
applicable to the states through the Fourteenth
Amendment-"if, in order to obtain a warrant, he
deliberately or with reckless disregard for the truth makes
material false statements or omits material facts."
Miller v. Prince George's Cnty., 475 F.3d 621,
631 (4th Cir. 2007) (citing Franks v. Delaware, 438
U.S. 154, 155 (1978)) (quotation marks omitted). An officer
acts with reckless disregard when, having viewed all the
evidence, he "entertained serious doubts as to the truth
of his statements or had obvious reasons to doubt the
accuracy of the information he reported." Id.
at 627 (citation and quotation marks omitted).
case, the Eleys have plausibly alleged that Officer Allen
showed reckless disregard for the truth when he took out
warrants for their arrest. Accepting as true all allegations
in the complaint, Officer Allen had a mature couple telling a
consistent story, a broken door handle on their car, and a
belligerent teenager and his friends. Nevertheless, Officer Allen
presented to the magistrate only statements that the Eleys
made false reports to a police officer and violated
Virginia's hit-and-run laws. Officer Allen omitted
potentially material facts from his statement, including the
Eleys exculpatory version of events. Further, Officer Allen
plausibly had reason to doubt the accuracy of the information
he reported. Accordingly, Count I survives Officer
Allen's motion to dismiss.