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Paoli v. Stetser

United States District Court, D. Delaware

November 10, 2014

TROOPER STETSER, et al., Defendants.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.


Pending before the court are Magistrate Judge Burke's Report and Recommendations ("the R&R"), dated July 11, 2014 (D.I. 72), and the Objections filed by defendants Trooper Ashley Stetser, Corporal Kimberly Layfield, Trooper Joshua Rowley, Corporal Troy Ralston, Corporal Carlisle, Trooper James O'Neil, Corporal Matthew Warrington, Sergeant John Barnett, Sergeant Michael Whaley, Lieutenant Kenneth Hardy, Captain Glen Dixon, and Delaware State Police Troop 7 (collectively, "the Defendants"), on July 28, 2014.[1] (D.I. 73.) For the reasons below, the court will sustain the Defendants' Objections, and adopt the remaining unchallenged portions of the R&R (D.I. 72.) Thus, the court grants the Defendants' motion for summary judgment in full. (D.I. 52.)


In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Burke recommended that the court grant the Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to all Defendants except Trooper Joshua Rowley ("Rowley"). (D.I. 72 at 44-49.) The Defendants' contend that Magistrate Judge Burke erred and that summary judgment is proper with respect to Rowley. (D.I. 73.) The Defendants do not object to the remainder of the R&R.

Specifically, the Defendants argue that Magistrate Judge Burke failed to credit information possessed by Rowley that did not conflict with Paoli's version of events. The Defendants contend that the undisputed facts show that Rowley received a call from dispatch indicating that Paoli was located in the north parking lot. The Defendants argue that Magistrate Judge Burke improperly discounted this information because of a non-material discrepancy in the parties' testimony concerning when Paoli placed a call from her phone. Moreover, the Defendants argue there was no justification for Magistrate Judge Burke discrediting Rowley's sworn testimony that he could hear movement from within the mobile home. The Defendant's maintain that Rowley "had reason to believe" that Paoli was inside the mobile home, or he, at worst, made a reasonable mistake as to the existence of probable cause. See Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980). Thus, the Defendants argue, there was no constitutional violation.

In the alternative, the Defendants argue that Rowley was entitled to qualified immunity. Magistrate Judge Burke did not address the Defendants' arguments on qualified immunity because it was not properly raised before him. (D.I. 72 at 47 n.27.) The Defendants' argue that consideration of Rowley's qualified immunity defense at this stage is not improper and supports summary judgment.


The magistrate judge filed his Report and Recommendation pursuant to Rule 72(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; the pending objections, therefore, are dispositive and the court's review is de novo. 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The court may accept, reject, or modify the recommendations of the magistrate judge. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The court also may receive further evidence or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions for proceedings. Id.


After having reviewed the record in this case, the R&R, the parties' submissions, and the applicable law, the court finds that the magistrate judge committed legal error in reaching his determination that summary judgment as to defendant Rowley was not appropriate. As to the remainder of the R&R, the court agrees with and affirms the magistrate judge's recommendation that summary judgment be granted for the other Defendants.

A. Rowley: March 7, 2011, Arrest

In the R&R, the magistrate judge found that the record did not support Rowley's contention that he possessed "reason to believe" that Paoli was located within the mobile home when he entered the vehicle to execute the arrest warrant. (D.I. 73 at 3-5.) In Payton, the Supreme Court announced: "[F]or Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within." Payton, 445 U.S. at 603. As explained by Magistrate Judge Burke in the R&R:

[A]n arrest warrant supported by probable cause had been issued with respect to the March 7, 2011 arrest, and Defendant Rowley was acting pursuant to that warrant when he entered Plaintiff's motor home without a search warrant. Thus, resolution of this claim turns on ...

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