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Nazir EL v. D. Capiak

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 20, 2019

NAZIR EL, Plaintiff,
v.
D. CAPIAK, Defendant.

          Nazir El, Roselle, New Jersey; Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Donna Lynn Culver, Esquire, Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CONNOLLY, U.S. District Judge:

         Plaintiff Nasir El, a/k/a Anthony Tillman ("Plaintiff'), who proceeds pro se, commenced this action on June 1, 2017. (D.I. 1) The Amended Complaint is the operative pleading and the matter proceeds against Defendant D. Capiak ("Defendant"). (D.I. 24) The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[1] Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment, opposed by Plaintiff. (D.I. 33) The matter has been fully briefed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Amended Complaint

         As alleged in the Amended Complaint, [2] on May 6, 2017, Plaintiff was involved in a traffic stop near the Delaware Memorial Bridge by Defendant, a Delaware River Bay Authority ("DRBA") patrolman, after an internal database search of the license plate of the car Plaintiff was driving revealed that the car's registered owner had a suspended driver's license. (D.I. 24 at 2) During the stop, Defendant asked Plaintiff to provide him with a driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. (Id.) When Plaintiff produced a Moorish National identification card, Defendant asked, "so you don't think you need to follow our laws?" and "so you're from Morocco?" and Plaintiff replied, "this is Morocco." (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's expression was one of bewilderment and lack of understanding. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that on the day in question, his car was insured and registered. (Id. at 3)

         After Plaintiff was informed of the reason for the traffic stop and asked to step out of the car, he requested that Defendant's supervisor be called to the scene. (Id.) Upon the supervisor's arrival, an unnamed individual handcuffed and searched Plaintiff and placed Plaintiff in Defendant's vehicle. (Id.) While Plaintiff was detained, his car was searched and then towed to Nick's Auto Repair. (Id.) About an hour later, Plaintiff was driven to a McDonald's parking lot and released. (Id.)

         While not clear, the Amended Complaint seems to attempt to raise claims for violations of: (1) the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution for unlawful search and seizure made without probable cause and a warrant; (2) the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution for unlawful taking of property without compensation and without due process; (3) procedural and substantive due process; (4) unlawful issuance of traffic tickets under 21 Del. C. § 2108 (registration), § 2118 (insurance), and § 6901(a)(1) (towing of unregistered vehicle or expired vehicle registration); (5) the constitutions of Delaware and New Jersey; and (6) 18 U.S.C. § 241 (conspiracy), § 242 (deprivation of rights under color of law), and § 245 (federally protected activities). (D.I. 24 at 3, 4, 8, 23-27) Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and compensatory damages.

         B. Facts[3]

         On May 6, 2017, at approximately 2:40 p.m., while on a routine patrol of Interstate 295 northbound in Delaware, Defendant saw a black Acura car with a Delaware license plate approach the Delaware Memorial Bridge. (D.I. 35 at ¶ 2)[4] Pursuant to DRBA standard procedure, Defendant ran the car's Delaware license plate through a computer database. (Id.) Search results indicated that the car was registered to Plaintiff (who was later identified as Anthony Tillman), that Plaintiffs Delaware driver's license was suspended, and that Plaintiff had an outstanding Delaware capias for a speeding ticket. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 3)

         Because the results indicated that the driver of the car could be in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756, which prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver with a suspended license, Defendant followed the vehicle over the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey and pulled Plaintiff over onto the shoulder. (Id. at ¶ 3) Defendant walked to the driver's side of Plaintiff's vehicle, and asked Plaintiff for his driver's license, registration card, and proof of insurance. Plaintiff said, "no"; and then explained that the laws of the United States did not apply to him and he therefore did not have to comply with Defendant's request. (Id.) Plaintiff told Defendant that Defendant would be subject to suit in federal court and asked to speak to Defendant's supervisor. (Id. at ¶ 4). Defendant then radioed Master Corporal Wasson, who arrived shortly thereafter and spoke to Plaintiff, who remained in his car. (Id.)

         After Plaintiff and Wasson spoke for a short time, Wasson called Defendant over and asked Plaintiff to step out of the car. (Id. at ¶ 4) When Plaintiff exited the car, Defendant handcuffed him, patted him down for safety, and discovered on Plaintiffs person a Moorish-American identity card and a debit card issued to Anthony Tillman. (Id.) Plaintiff was placed in the back seat of Defendant's DRBA vehicle and detained until his identity could be confirmed pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 1902, which permits officers to detain individuals for up to two hours while their identity is ascertained. (Id.)

         During Plaintiffs detention, Wasson ran a computer search, which revealed a Delaware driver's license with a photograph of Anthony Tillman and an expired New Jersey driver's license with a photograph of Anthony Tillman. (Id. at ¶ 5) Wasson asked Plaintiff if he was Anthony Tillman; Plaintiff replied that he was not, and stated that Anthony Tillman was his friend. Id. Wasson and Defendant agreed that Plaintiff was Anthony Tillman based on the license photographs. (Id.)

         As Plaintiff did not have his insurance card and registration in his possession, he could not legally operate a vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 6) Because Plaintiff was not legally permitted to operate his car, and leaving the car on the side of the highway would constitute a public safety hazard, the officers decided to tow it in accordance with DRBA Directive § 61 A3.[5] (Id.) Mario's Towing Company was called to tow the vehicle. (Id.) Next, Defendant inventoried the contents of the car in accordance with DRBA Directive § 61.4.3.[6] Mario's Towing Company arrived and towed Plaintiffs car. (Id.)

         Defendant then drove Plaintiff to a McDonald's parking lot in Pennsville, New Jersey. (Id. at ¶ 7) There, he uncuffed Plaintiff and issued him: (1) a citation for driving with a suspended license in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756; (2) a citation for failure to have an insurance identification card in his possession in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2118; (3) a citation for failure to have a registration card in his possession in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2108; (4) a citation for failure to have a license in his possession in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2721; and (5) a special complaint for interfering with an officer in violation of Pennsville Township Codified Ordinance, Chapter 8, Article 8.1-16. (Id. at ¶ 7 and Exs. B, C) Defendant explained to Plaintiff that he could retrieve his vehicle from Mario's Towing Company with a signed copy of the tow slip from the DRBA indicating that Plaintiff had proof of insurance and registration. (Id.) Plaintiff was also provided with a tow slip which listed the conditions under which he could retrieve the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 7 and Ex. D) Defendant left the McDonald's parking lot at approximately 3:49 p.m. (Id. at ¶ 7)

         On Monday, May 8, 2017, Plaintiff went to Mario's Towing to retrieve his vehicle. (D.I. 42) Plaintiff was told that the owner of the vehicle first had to appear at the DRBA to obtain a tow slip to confirm proof of insurance and registration.[7] (Id.) Plaintiff stated to a female employee that the car could stay with Mario's Towing, but he wanted to retrieve some personal effects from the car. (Id..) Plaintiff was told that the car and its contents had been seized ...


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