United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
ROBERT E. SAMPSON, Plaintiff,
HIGHLAND COUNTY VA BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, et al., Defendants.
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
E. Sampson, proceeding pro se and in forma
pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. The matter is currently before the court
on defendant T.J. Duffs motion for summary judgment. For the
reasons stated, the defendant's motion will be granted.
Robert E. Sampson ("Sampson"), was arrested on
March 17, 2015. On August 27, 2015, he filed a complaint
against T.J. Duff, the Highland County Sheriff ("Sheriff
Duff), the Mayor of the City of Monterey (the
"Mayor"), and the Highland County Board of
Supervisors (the "Board of Supervisors"). In his
original complaint, plaintiff alleged that he was falsely
arrested in violation of his constitutional rights guaranteed
by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. He further submitted
a letter stating that he did not have sufficient funds to
prepay the filing fee. The court construed the letter as an
application to proceed in forma pauperis and granted
the application. The court also dismissed the action as
frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § l9l5(e)(2)(B)(i).
Sampson appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit remanded with
instructions to allow Sampson to file an amended complaint,
which Sampson did on July 27, 2016. Sampson alleges that
Sheriff Duff arrested him on a charge of felon in possession
of a weapon after Sampson reported a crime to Sheriff Duff.
Sampson asserts that Sheriff Duff lacked probable cause to
arrest him, as Sampson argues that Sheriff Duff had never
seen Sampson with a firearm and had no complaining witness.
April 13, 2017, the court granted the Board and the
Mayor's motions to dismiss and denied Sheriff Duffs
motion to dismiss to the extent plaintiff asserts a claim
against the Sheriff in his individual capacity. Thereafter,
Sheriff Duff filed the instant motion for summary judgment.
The court notified plaintiff of defendant's motion for
summary judgment and of plaintiffs opportunity to respond, as
required by Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th
Cir. 1975). Sampson has responded, but has not filed any
affidavits or other exhibits in support of his position. The
motion is ripe for review.
award of summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant
shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a
genuine dispute of material fact exists, the court must
"view the facts and all justifiable inferences arising
therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party." Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718
F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013). However, the burden is on the
nonmoving party to show that there is a genuine issue of
material fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). To meet this burden,
the nonmoving party must offer "sufficient proof in the
form of admissible evidence" rather than relying solely
on the allegations of his pleadings. Mitchell v. Data
General Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1993).
Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . ." U.S.
Const. amend. IV. To state a claim for an unreasonable
seizure, a plaintiff must show that the officer arrested him
without probable cause. Brown v. Gilmore, 278 F.3d
362, 367 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Dunaway v. New
York, 442 U.S. 200, 213 (1979)). Probable cause means
that the "facts and circumstances within the
officer's knowledge  are sufficient to warrant a
prudent person... in believing . . . that the suspect has
committed ... an offense." United States v.
Williams, 10 F.3d 1070, 1073-74 (4th Cir. 1993). A
plaintiffs claim will survive when it rests upon facts which
made it unjustifiable for a reasonable officer to conclude
that the plaintiff was violating the law. Ornelas v.
United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699 (1996). The fact that
an individual may be acquitted does not render the arrest
unreasonable. Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31,
obtaining a warrant does not provide per se evidence
of objective reasonableness, there is a "presumption of
reasonableness attached to obtaining a warrant." See
Torchinsky v. Siwinski, 942 F.2d 257, 262 (4th Cir.
1991). Similarly, "an indictment 'fair upon its
face, ' and returned by a 'properly constituted grand
jury ... conclusively determines the existence of probable
cause' to believe the defendant perpetrated the offense
alleged." Kaley v. United States, 134 S.-Ct
1090, 1097 (2014) (quoting Gerstein v. Push, 420
U.S. 103, 117 n.19 (1975)). However, when the officer
"would have known that his affidavit failed to establish
probable cause and that he should not have applied for the
warrant, " the presumption of reasonableness can be
rebutted. Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 345
motion for summary judgment, Sheriff Duff has presented
unrebutted evidence demonstrating that he acted with probable
cause. On the morning of March 17, 2015, Sampson and his wife
reported the theft of eleven firearms from their residence.
They provided a list of the firearms stolen. Dec. of Sheriff
Duff, Docket No. 47-1. Later that morning, Sampson reported
that the firearms were not removed from the residence. Id.,
Sheriff Duff then traveled to Sampson's residence to
confirm that the firearms were not stolen. Tr. of April 1,
2015 Hr'g 12, Docket No. 47-2. Sampson invited Sheriff
Duff into the residence and proceeded directly to the closet
in which a wooden ammo crate and a weapons vault were
located. Sampson then opened the weapons vault to demonstrate
that the firearms were indeed there. Dec. of Sheriff Duff,
Docket No. 47-1. At that point, Sampson's wife disclosed
that there was another firearm in the couple's shared
bedroom. Id. Sheriff Duff followed Sampson's
wife to the master bedroom where she produced the firearm.
Id. Prior to arriving at Sampson's house,
Sheriff Duff s office staff had produced Sampson's
criminal history, demonstrating that Sampson was a felon.
Sheriff Duff appeared before a magistrate judge and presented
this information, including Sampson's criminal history.
Dec. of Sheriff Duff, Docket No. 47-1; Tr. of April 1, 2015
Hr'g 16, Docket No. 47-2. The magistrate issued a warrant
for Sampson's arrest for possession of a firearm after
being convicted of a felony. Dec. of Sheriff Duff, Docket No.
47-1. When Sheriff Duff went to execute the warrant,
Sampson's wife opened the door. Sheriff Duff then
witnessed Sampson exit the spare bedroom where the weapons
had been located earlier that day. Tr. of April 1, 2015
Hr'g 17-18, Docket No. 47-2. Sheriff Duff arrested
Sampson and then proceeded to the spare bedroom. Three of the
firearms that were in the vault when Sheriff Duff first
observed them were now on the bed. Id.
cause means that the "facts and circumstances within the
officer's knowledge  are sufficient to warrant a
prudent person ... in believing . . . that the suspect has
committed ... an offense." Williams, 10 F.3d at
1073-74. An officer need not have known with certainty that
the crime was committed. Smith v. McCluskey, 126
F.App'x 89, 93 (4th Cir. 2015). In Virginia, the unlawful
possession of a firearm can be established exclusively by
evidence of constructive possession. See Rawls v.
Commonwealth, 634 S.E.2d 697, 705 (Va. 2006). The
Supreme Court of Virginia has upheld convictions for being a
felon in possession of a firearm upon evidence of "acts,
statements, or conduct by the defendant or other facts and
circumstances proving that the defendant was aware of the
presence and character of the firearm and that the firearm
was subject to his dominion and control." Id.
"While the Commonwealth does not meet its burden of
proof simply by showing the defendant's proximity to the
firearm or ownership or occupancy of the premises where the
firearm is found, these are circumstances probative of
possession and may be considered as factors in determining
whether the defendant possessed the firearm."
Id. (finding sufficient evidence to convict when the
defendant was found apparently sleeping on a mattress, in a
room containing his personal effects, under which a firearm
was located); see also Bolden v. Commonwealth, 654
S.E.2d 584, 587 (Va. 2008) (upholding a conviction when there
was a firearm in the center console of a ...