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Blanchard v. Prater

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

March 29, 2018

SCOTT PRATER, et al, Defendants.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Nancy Blanchard brings this action against Scott Prater, an investigator for the Smyth County Sheriff's Office; Jonathan Tabor, Special Agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Doug Tuck, a deputy with the Wythe County Sheriff's Office; and Adam Williams, an investigator for the Wythe County Sheriff's Office.[1] Blanchard brings claims for defendants' violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and for malicious prosecution. This matter is before the court on two motions: 1) defendant Jonathan Tabor's motion to dismiss the amended complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1), and 2) defendants Scott Prater, Doug Tuck, and Adam Williams' motion to partially dismiss the amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The motions have been fully briefed and argued before the court. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant in part and deny in part Tabor's motion to dismiss, and it will grant Prater, Tuck, and Williams' motion to partially dismiss.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Nancy Blanchard (Blanchard) is an owner and resident of a home located on Apple Orchard Road in Wythe County, Virginia. Robert Blanchard (Mr. Blanchard), Blanchard's husband, was a truck driver who would occasionally stay at the Apple Orchard Road address. Mr. and Mrs. Blanchard “maintain[ed] separate areas, and use[d] separate entrances to gain entry into their respective living areas” at the address. (Compl. ¶ 5.)

         On the night of January 9, 2014, law enforcement officers arrested Mr. Blanchard on gun and drug possession charges. Later that night, defendants Prater, Tabor, Tuck, and Williams proceeded to the Blanchard home, where they established a perimeter and refused to permit anyone to enter or leave the property. Several hours after they arrived, defendants began a thorough search of the Blanchard home and curtilage. Prater, Tabor, and other law enforcement officers, at defendants' direction, seized Blanchard and would not allow her to leave the property until they removed her to question her about alleged illegal activity. Tuck informed Blanchard that a search warrant had been obtained and that he would give her a copy. Nevertheless, at that time “no search warrant had been obtained.” (Id. ¶ 15.)

         “Several hours after” the search began, Williams prepared and presented an affidavit for search warrant to a magistrate, who issued a search warrant. (Id. ¶ 17.) The affidavit listed as defendant a person other than Mr. or Mrs. Blanchard, it erroneously described the house as blue with a white porch, and it “lacked necessary facts to support the reliability of a confidential informant whose testimony was relied upon.” (Id. ¶ 18.) In the meantime, defendants removed property that they failed to record on the search warrant inventory list and damaged property within the home.

         When defendants questioned Mr. Blanchard, he refused to state the identity of his drug supplier. Defendants “threatened to obtain criminal charges against Mrs. Blanchard despite there being no evidence that she had done anything illegal, ” (id. ¶ 21), but Mr. Blanchard still refused to provide the information.

         On April 21, 2014, Williams testified before the grand jury for the Circuit Court for Wythe County. “Upon information and belief, ” Williams provided “misleading and false testimony, ” which included that Blanchard “possessed Methamphetamine, possessed Methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and/or sell it, and possessed a firearm while engaged in distributing Methamphetamine.” (Id. ¶ 27.) The testimony was misleading and false because “absolutely no evidence existed, or now exists, ” that would support it. (Id. ¶ 35.) Also “[u]pon information and belief, ” defendants Prater, Tabor, and Tuck “assisted Williams” in providing this misleading testimony. (Id. ¶ 28.) Blanchard was subsequently indicted-for the offense date of January 9, 2014-on three counts of possessing or using a firearm while committing or attempting to commit the illegal distribution of drugs in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-308.4.C and one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Blanchard was arrested on the indictments on April 24, 2014, and she was incarcerated at the New River Valley Regional Jail-in solitary confinement because a family member worked there-until May 19, 2014. The charges were nolle prosequied on March 2, 2015.

         On April 21, 2015, again based on Williams' testimony, the grand jury indicted Blanchard on two of the same counts. She was arrested on April 29, 2015, and the charges were dismissed on March 2, 2016.


         A. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff's allegations must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard “requires the plaintiff to articulate facts, when accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff has stated a claim entitling him to relief, i.e., the ‘plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The plausibility standard requires more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In determining whether the plaintiff has met this plausibility standard, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and in any documents incorporated into or attached to the complaint. Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007). Further, it must “draw[] all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, ” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999), but it need not “accept legal conclusions couched as facts or ‘unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments, '” Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008)).

         B. Tabor's ...

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