Mattox v. City of Beaufort, C/A No. 9:14-CV-00384-DCN-MGB

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtMARY GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Decision Date29 June 2015
PartiesMICHELLE MATTOX, PLAINTIFF, v. CITY OF BEAUFORT, JOSH DOWLING, TRISHA GUTTERSON, DEFENDANTS.
Docket NumberC/A No. 9:14-CV-00384-DCN-MGB

MICHELLE MATTOX, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF BEAUFORT, JOSH DOWLING, TRISHA GUTTERSON, DEFENDANTS.

C/A No. 9:14-CV-00384-DCN-MGB

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA CHARLESTON DIVISION

June 29, 2015


REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

The Plaintiff brings this action under Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983 and under South Carolina state law. The Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains causes of action for False Arrest/False Imprisonment, Gross Negligence, Slander/Libel Per Se, Abuse of Process, Malicious Prosecution, and Civil Rights Violations 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983 and 1988. (Dkt. No. 10.) This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 29.) Under Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, pretrial proceedings in this action have been referred to the assigned United States Magistrate Judge.

The Plaintiff brought this action on or about January 14, 2014, in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas, and the Defendants removed the case to federal court on February 13, 2014. (Dkt. No. 1.) The Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint, with leave of the court, on March 6, 2014, and the Defendants answered on March 17, 2014. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 11.) The Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support ("Memorandum") on December 15, 2014. (Dkt. No. 29.) The Plaintiff responded on January 14, 2015, and the Defendants replied on January 26, 2015. (Dkt. Nos. 36, 39.)

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ALLEGED FACTS1

Defendants Dowling and Gutterson were officers with the City of Beaufort Police Department at all times relevant in the Amended Complaint. (Dkt. Nos. 29-2, 29-7.) Defendants Dowling and Gutterson were participating in a Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") drug investigation involving Kimberly Filbert in 2012. (Id.) On May 29, 2012 Kimberly Filbert was arrested on six counts of forgery unrelated to the drug investigation and held in the Beaufort County Detention Center (BCDC). (Dkt. 36 at 1.) Filbert is the Plaintiff's daughter and had a child, who is deceased, with the victim of the forgeries, Joe Estrada. (Dkt. No. 36-1.) The total amount of the forged checks was approximately $125.00. (Id.) Defendants Dowling and Gutterson requested a high bond on the forgery charges and bond was set at $60,000. (Id.)

Following Filbert's arrest, Defendants Dowling and Gutterson sought to have Filbert cooperate in the DEA investigation. (Dkt. No. 36-1; Dkt. 29-3) Defendants Dowling and Gutterson came to Filbert multiple times pressuring her to cooperate and told her "they would make trouble for anyone" who aided her in being released from BCDC. (Id.) Defendants Dowling and Gutterson called Filbert's family members and in-laws telling them not to aid Filbert. (Id.)

Defendants Dowling and Gutterson monitored Filbert's recorded jail phone calls, some of which were placed to her mother, the Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 29-2.) The contents of these calls between Filbert and the Plaintiff led Defendant Dowling to investigate the Plaintiff. (Id.) Defendant Dowling included detailed information on the contents of the recorded telephone calls

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in his Incident Report and these recordings have been provided to the court. (See Dkt Nos. 29-3, 29-8.) These statements include the following:2

Filbert: I want freaking Joe to drop the charges on me; he said he was going to.

Mattox: Have you talked to him?

Filbert: No, I can't call his phone.

Mattox: I'll see if I can get him today.3

* * *

Filbert: Tell him all he has to do is drop the charges, and I'll go and pay those stupid checks.

Mattox: Alright.

Filbert: That I have a couple of hundred, and I can go pay them but he has to drop the charges so I can get out.

Mattox: Alright.

Filbert: And, I mean, just stress it to him.

Mattox: Huh?

Filbert: Just stress it to him.

Mattox: I will.

Filbert: Tell him I'm facing seven years in prison for every single check, and there are six of them.4

* * *

Filbert: He's got to go to the Solicitor's Office and tell them that he wants to drop the charges.

Mattox: Ok, I will call back and let him know that.5

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* * *

Filbert: Talk to him and tell him what I told you, and tell him I said thank you and before I go to treatment the first thing I am going to do is pay back that money.

Mattox: Alright.

Filbert: I swear to God, but he's got to go in there and be like I want these charges dropped now, and I want her released now.

Mattox: Alright, I'll tell him that.

Filbert: Thank you.6

* * *

Filbert: Were you able to talk to him again?

Mattox: Yes.

Filbert: What did he say, what did you tell him?

Mattox: Be there first thing in the morning at the Solicitor's Office, OK.7

The Plaintiff made one phone call to Estrada. (Dkt. No. 29-4.) Defendant Dowling called Estrada as part of his investigation and recorded the phone call. (Id.) The following is the conversation in part starting at 00:50 into the recording:

Dowling: What day did Michelle Mattox reach out to you?

Estrada: Like the last day or two.

Dowling: Did she reach out via telephone?

Estrada: Yeah.

Dowling: So she called you up on this phone number I'm calling right now?

Estrada: Yeah, yeah, yes sir.

Dowling: . . . What specifically did Michelle state to you?

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Estrada: She just wanted me to drop the charges, 'cause she didn't want her daughter in jail.

Dowling: Did she offer you something?

Estrada: Oh no, she didn't offer me nothing. No. She didn't do that, no.

Dowling: I thought, earlier you had said she was going to pay your restitution.

Estrada: Oh she, she wanted to pay, pay the stuff, yeah, but that's about it.

Dowling: How much money was she offering you?

Estrada: Ah, she didn't say. I don't know, because I don't really know how much, how much money, you know they owe in Publix, you know, what she did in Publix.

Dowling: . . . I'm trying to ascertain, what did she specifically say when she called up, in your own words?

Estrada: She just said, ah, if I drop the charges and she get out of jail, they'll try to pay everything that they owe at Publix. And, and that's it.

***

Dowling: There's been no transfer of money?

Estrada: No, no, no. no, we just talked on the phone. We didn't see each other or nothing.

Dowling: How many times did she call you up?

Estrada: Only one time.8

(Dkt. No. 29-4.)

On June 11, 2012, Defendant Dowling appeared before the Honorable Richard Arlen Brooks.9 Judge Brooks issued Defendant Dowling arrest warrants N-165071 and N-165072 for

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"Conspiracy" and "Public official, bribes, influence action of public employee, member, official or witness" respectively. (Dkt. No. 29-10.) Judge Brooks issued both warrants based solely on the sworn affidavits on the faces of the warrants. (Dkt. No. 36-3.) Defendant Dowling swore before Judge Brooks the affidavits were "true and correct." (Id.) In warrant N-165071, Defendant Dowling swore "Ms. Mattox, via recorded jail phone calls, did enter a conspiracy...to contact...Estrada to influence his testimony...by offering money to the victim. This criminal offense is corroborated by the victim who stated he was offered money by the defendant...." (Dkt. No. 29-10.) In warrant N-165072, Defendant Dowling swore "Ms. Mattox...did agree...to contact Mr. Joe Estrada and offer him money for the agreement [sic] he dismiss the pending General Session charges against Ms. Filbert. This criminal offense is corroborated by the victim who stated he was contacted by the defendant and offered money in return for dismissing the charges...." (Id.)

Following the filing of this lawsuit, Judge Brooks reviewed excerpts of the jail phone calls and the phone call between Defendant Dowling and Estrada. (Dkt. No. 36-3.) Judge Brooks states in his affidavit that he would not have issued the warrants had he known that there was no attempt to influence testimony but rather Estrada was asked to go to the solicitor. (Id.) Judge Brooks swears that these facts would have been "critical" in his finding of probable cause, and based on his review of the calls, he "see[s] no facts from which one could conclude testimony was sought to be influenced or bought by money." (Id. at ¶13.) Judge Brooks further states that, based on the recorded call with Estrada he "could not have concluded that Mr. Estrada corroborated that he was offered money" because "the recording confirms he was not offered money," but rather "Filbert would make restitution to a third party (Publix)." (Id. at 15.)

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Judge Brooks states in his affidavit that, based on "what actually occurred in the recorded calls," he would not have issued either warrant. (Id. at 16.)

After receiving the arrest warrants from Judge Brooks, Defendant Dowling contacted Defendant Gutterson to assist him in arresting the Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 29-7.) The Plaintiff was arrested on June 11, 2012, and transported to BCDC. (Dkt. No. 29-2.) While the Plaintiff was being arrested, Defendant Gutterson told her "I told you not to try and help your daughter get out of jail." (Dkt. No. 36-2.) Once in BCDC, the Plaintiff called a bail bondsman and reported the charges and facts surrounding them over a recorded jail phone line that was monitored by Defendant Dowling. (Dkt. No. 29-2 at ¶14.) The Plaintiff spent "several days" in BCDC and lost her job as a result of being arrested. (Dkt. Nos. 36 at 5; 10 at ¶14.)

Both of the Plaintiff's warrants were dismissed at the preliminary hearing by the...

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