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Blanchard v. Prater

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

March 31, 2019

NANCY BLANCHARD, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT PRATER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          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 brought claims for defendants' alleged violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and for malicious prosecution.[2] The only claim that remains is plaintiff's claim that defendants violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This matter is before the court on two motions: 1) defendant Jonathan Tabor's motion for summary judgment; and 2) defendants Scott Prater, Doug Tuck, and Adam Williams's motion for summary judgment. The motions have been fully briefed and argued before the court. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant both motions for summary judgment.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         At the time of these allegations, Nancy and Robert Blanchard were married and living at the same residence in Rural Retreat, Virginia, although, according to plaintiff, they had separate entrances and living areas in the home. Ronnie and Wanda Compton[3] were staying at the home, and Jan Vannoy was staying on the property. (Blanchard Dep. 22-23, 28, 78, Dkt. No. 72-1; Vannoy Dep. 44:1-4, Dkt. No. 74-2.) At approximately 12:55 a.m. on January 9, 2014, and about one mile from the Blanchard residence, Wythe County Sheriff's Office (WCSO) deputies arrested plaintiff's husband, Robert Blanchard, who was in possession of guns and methamphetamine. (WCSO Incident Report, Dkt. No. 66-1.) Shortly after, around 1:00 to 2:00 a.m., the Comptons had an interaction with law enforcement. (Blanchard Dep. 126; Compton Dep. 50:8-14, Dkt. No. 75-1.) Plaintiff claims that police officers prohibited the Comptons from returning to plaintiff's residence, but plaintiff was not present for that conversation. (Blanchard Dep. 126, 137.) Rather, the Comptons, who were in a vehicle, were advised-but not compelled-by an unknown law enforcement officer to return home when they were in the vicinity of the Blanchard residence because the police had received a report of two gunshots and a man with a gun in the woods. (Compton Dep. 29:16-23, 33:11-23.)

         Later that day, after learning about Mr. Blanchard's arrest, Williams called Prater to discuss the arrest and learned that a confidential informant had arranged to buy methamphetamine from “Bobby and Nancy” near the Blanchard residence on January 10, 2014. Williams and Prater believed that Bobby and Nancy referred to Mr. and Mrs. Blanchard. Williams then called Tabor because he believed there could be a connection between Mr. Blanchard's case and a case Tabor had been investigating about truck drivers transporting methamphetamine. Prater and Tabor drove to the WCSO to assist Williams and see if they could learn information related to the truck drivers investigation. Tuck joined the other officers because he knew plaintiff from another case he worked on years ago. (Williams Dep. 28:8-29:1, 33:7-22, Dkt. No. 66-4; Prater Dep. 29:10-30:19, 36:12-37:5, Dkt. No. 66-5; Tabor Dep. 13:2- 21, 17:15-22, 81:24-84:22, Dkt. No. 66-6, Tuck Dep. 10:7-13:2, 21:20-22:7, Dkt. No. 69-4.)

         Prater, Tabor, and Tuck saw Williams preparing the affidavit for the search warrant for the Blanchard residence. The affidavit contained information from the confidential informant. They all saw Williams leave to request the search warrant from the magistrate judge. (Prater Dep. 36:19-37:13, 39:14-40:8, Dkt. No. 69-3; Tabor Dep. 17:1-14, 19:21-21:4, 85:11-22, Dkt. No. 69-6; Tuck Dep. 24:12-25:21.) At 11:42 a.m. on January 9, 2014, Williams presented his affidavit for a search warrant to the magistrate. (Search Warrant Affidavit, Dkt. No. 69-5.) Magistrate Whitlock issued the search warrant at 11:55 a.m. for 543 Red Apple Orchard Road, Rural Retreat, Virginia, the correct address.[4] (Search Warrant, Dkt. No. 69-7.) As depicted in the photo Williams used during his investigation, the warrant describes the home as “a single family dwelling with blue vinyl siding and blue shutters” with a “white uncovered porch, ” and includes “any and all outbuildings, vehicles and persons present during the execution of the search warrant.” (Dkt. No. 69-8; Search Warrant.) Although Williams' affidavit correctly identified the suspect as Robert Charles Blanchard, the search warrant erroneously stated “Richard Charles Blanchard.” (Search Warrant; Search Warrant Affidavit.)

         Defendants met at the Virginia State Police Drug Task Force Office in Wytheville, about twenty to thirty minutes away from the Blanchard residence, before executing the search. Upon arrival at the Blanchard residence, Williams checked in with the WCSO dispatchers, and the officers secured the perimeter of the residence.[5] (Williams Dep. 59:1-10, 60:11-62:4, 81:22- 82:6, Dkt. No. 69-2; Tabor Dep. 23:8-24:19, 26:24-27:3, 83:24-84:17, 85:23-86:5, Dkt. No. 69-6.) Defendants notified Mrs. Blanchard that they had a search warrant and entered her home.[6]Vannoy was at the residence at the time. (Williams 67:1-68:5, Dkt. No. 69-2; Tabor Dep. 27:23-28:7, Dkt. No. 66-6.) During the search, officers found methamphetamine, smoking devices, and guns. (Search Inventory & Return, Dkt. No. 66-10.)

         Throughout the search, Mrs. Blanchard could not freely roam around the house, but she was not handcuffed, physically restrained, or arrested. (Williams Dep. 70:3-15, Dkt. No. 69-2.) As Williams and other officers searched the residence, WCSO investigator Denise Cook took pictures of items identified during the search.[7] (Cook Dep. 12:13-18, Dkt. No. 66-13.) Plaintiff stated that Tabor followed her around the house when she went inside to secure her dogs, asked for her consent to look through the numbers of her home telephone's caller ID, which she gave, told her to take a seat in the living room, and sat next to her until he left the residence. (Blanchard Dep. 74:5-13, 88:3-11, 134, Dkt. No. 72-1.) Tabor agrees that Mrs. Blanchard told him that he could look through the caller ID to see numbers Mr. Blanchard had dialed the night before. (Tabor Dep. 43:16-45:1, Dkt. No. 66-6.)

         At some point during the search, Tabor asked to interview Vannoy and Mrs. Blanchard. Mrs. Blanchard agreed, and he conducted her interview in his government-issued vehicle with Prater present. Tabor did not handcuff Mrs. Blanchard and told her that she was not under arrest. (Blanchard Dep. 60, 74, Dkt. No. 72-1.) His interview focused on Mr. Blanchard because he was investigating his connection to the truck drivers transporting methamphetamine. Plaintiff claims that Prater read her Miranda rights to her during this interview. She went back inside with Tabor to the living room, he pulled the chair out for her, and sat with her for a little while. (Blanchard Dep. 62, Dkt. No. 72-1.) After being called a liar by officers other than defendants, she told Tabor that she wanted to see the search warrant and wanted a lawyer, so Tabor said he was not going to question her anymore, and he told Tuck that she wanted the warrant and a lawyer. (Blanchard Dep. 58, 74, Dkt. No. 72-1.) She remained in the living room until they left because they said to sit there while they finished the search and she thought that is what she was supposed to do. (Blanchard Dep. 74, Dkt. No. 72-1.) Tabor claims that Mrs. Blanchard only said she wanted a lawyer and that she would not answer any more questions. (Tabor Dep. 47:1- 24, Dkt. No. 69-6.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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). A genuine issue of material fact exists only where the record, taken as a whole, could lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009). “[W]hen a court considers a summary judgment motion, ‘[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'” Greater Baltimore Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013) (en banc) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)).

         A party opposing summary judgment “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (citations omitted). Parties may point to such facts by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . or . . . showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “Moreover, “[t]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. Instead, the non-moving party must produce “significantly probative” evidence from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor. Abcor Corp. v. AM Int'l, Inc., 916 F.3d 924, 930 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50).

         B. The Search of the Home was Lawful and Pursuant to a Valid Search Warrant

         Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated her Fourth Amendment rights when they conducted a search of her home before they had a search warrant and with no exigent circumstances. Defendants contend that ...


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