White v. City of Burlington, 1:18-cv-00969

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtTHOMAS D. SCHROEDER, Chief District Judge.
Citation408 F.Supp.3d 677
Parties William Z. WHITE, Plaintiff, v. The CITY OF GREENSBORO, Eric G. Sigmon, in his individual and official capacity, Johnny L. Raines, Jr., in his individual and official capacity, William B. Barham, in his individual and official capacity, Brian S. Williamson, in his individual and official capacity, Jason A. Lowe, in his individual and official capacity, B.J. Barnes, Sheriff of Guilford County in his official capacity, Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America James Matthew Stalls, in his individual and official capacity, Elizabeth M. Buskirk, in his individual and official capacity, David W. Cook, in his individual and official capacity, Homer F. Wilkins, in his individual and official capacity, the City of Reidsville, Lynwood F. Hampshire, in his individual and official capacity, Shannon C. Coates, in his individual and official capacity, Robert A. Hassell, in his individual and official capacity, the City of Burlington, James E. Hinson, Jr., in his individual and official capacity, James M. Shwochow, in his individual and official capacity, Eric A. Watkins, in his individual and official capacity, Cody A. Westmoreland, in his individual and official capacity, Don Wayne Scott, Jr., in his individual and official capacity, and Jim Westmoreland, in his individual and official capacity, Lindsay Michelle Albert, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.
Docket Number1:18-cv-00969
Decision Date30 September 2019

408 F.Supp.3d 677

William Z. WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
The CITY OF GREENSBORO, Eric G. Sigmon, in his individual and official capacity, Johnny L. Raines, Jr., in his individual and official capacity, William B. Barham, in his individual and official capacity, Brian S. Williamson, in his individual and official capacity, Jason A. Lowe, in his individual and official capacity, B.J. Barnes, Sheriff of Guilford County in his official capacity, Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America James Matthew Stalls, in his individual and official capacity, Elizabeth M. Buskirk, in his individual and official capacity, David W. Cook, in his individual and official capacity, Homer F. Wilkins, in his individual and official capacity, the City of Reidsville, Lynwood F. Hampshire, in his individual and official capacity, Shannon C. Coates, in his individual and official capacity, Robert A. Hassell, in his individual and official capacity, the City of Burlington, James E. Hinson, Jr., in his individual and official capacity, James M. Shwochow, in his individual and official capacity, Eric A. Watkins, in his individual and official capacity, Cody A. Westmoreland, in his individual and official capacity, Don Wayne Scott, Jr., in his individual and official capacity, and Jim Westmoreland, in his individual and official capacity, Lindsay Michelle Albert, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.

1:18-cv-00969

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina.

September 30, 2019


408 F.Supp.3d 686

Kenneth R. Keller, Trisha L. Barfield, Rachel Scott Decker, Carruthers & Roth, P.A., Greensboro, NC, for Plaintiffs.

Patrick Michael Kane, William Craig Turner, Jr., Fox Rothschild LLP, James Demarest Secor, III, Guilford Co. Sheriff's Attorney, Greensboro, NC, Dan McCord Hartzog, Jr., Michael B. Cohen, Katherine Marie Barber-Jones, Hartzog Law Group LLP, Cary, NC, Scott C. Hart, Esq., Sumrell Sugg Carmichael Hicks & Hart, PA, New Bern, NC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, Chief District Judge.

This lawsuit arises out of the arrest of Plaintiff William Z. White, when he was a Greensboro Police Department ("GPD") officer, and his subsequent firing. White claims that members of the Guilford County Sheriff's Office ("GCSO"), led in part by his brother-in-law, unfairly targeted him by wrongly convincing other law enforcement agencies that he had participated in illegal activity. White alleges multiple constitutional violations, via 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an unlawful taking under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, violation of federal COBRA, 29 U.S.C. § 1166, state law torts of malicious prosecution, trespass, tortious interference with contract, and conspiracy, and violation of the North Carolina Constitution against twenty-four named Defendants across four law enforcement agencies:

• Members of the GCSO -- Sheriff B.J. Barnes in his official capacity; James Stalls, Elizabeth Buskirk, David Cook, and Homer Wilkins, all in their individual and official capacities, and Travelers Casualty & Surety Company of America as issuer of the Sheriff's surety bond1 ("GCSO Defendants");

• City of Greensboro and employees James Schwochow, Eric Sigmon, Johnny Raines, William Barham, Brian Williamson, Jason Lowe, Lindsay Albert, James Hinson, Don Wayne Scott, and Jim Westmoreland, all in their individual and official capacities ("Greensboro Defendants");

• City of Burlington and employees Cody Westmoreland and Eric Watkins, in their individual and official capacities ("Burlington Defendants"); and

• City of Reidsville and employees Lynwood Hampshire, Shannon Coates, and Robert Hassell, in their individual and official capacities ("Reidsville Defendants").2
408 F.Supp.3d 687

Before the court are the motions to dismiss by the GCSO Defendants, Greensboro Defendants, and Burlington Defendants for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).3 (Docs. 36; 43; 45; 47.) Plaintiff responded but also moved for leave to file a second amended complaint (Doc. 54), which the Defendants opposed. (Docs. 68, 69, 70, 71.) Following a hearing on these motions on September 10, 2019, the court granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend, with the parties' agreement that the court will treat Defendants' briefs in opposition to Plaintiff's motion for leave as supplements to Defendants' pending motions to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The allegations of the second amended complaint, taken in the light most favorable to White, show the following.

White, while employed as a GPD police officer (Doc. 81 ¶ 31), earned additional income by buying and reselling houses and certain equipment in his spare time. (Id. ¶ 32.). In August 2016, a Scott's Tractor store in Reidsville, North Carolina, reported a theft of nine mowers to the Reidsville Police Department ("RPD"). (Id. ¶ 34.) A few days later, on August 24, White unknowingly purchased and took possession of one of these stolen mowers. (Id. ¶ 35.) Before purchasing the mower, he told his brother-in-law, Defendant James Stalls, that he was considering buying the mower. (Id. ¶ 36.) Stalls, an officer in the GCSO (id. ¶ 17), was jealous of White's side business flipping houses and equipment, so much so that Stalls began to spread rumors within the GCSO and among local fire stations that White was either responsible for the mower thefts or was dealing with stolen equipment. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 41.)

White went on vacation with his family over the following Labor Day weekend, and while he was away Stalls entered his house, ostensibly to check on a pet at the request of White's wife, and investigated the mower White had recently purchased. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 43.) Stalls found the mower, removed the cover, and took photographs, including of the mower's vehicle identification number (also known as a VIN). (Id. ¶ 43.) Stalls then told GCSO Deputies Cook and Buskirk what he had done and provided the information he had obtained. (Id. ) Stalls asked Cook to search the GCSO database for the mower's VIN, which both men knew was prohibited by GCSO policy and procedure. (Id. ) Because Stalls and Buskirk were engaged in an extramarital affair, Buskirk was motivated to share Stalls' jealousy and animosity toward White. (Id. ¶¶ 43, 41.)

408 F.Supp.3d 688

As a result of the Scott's Tractor store theft and other lawn mower thefts in the area, a multi-department law enforcement effort developed. (Id. ¶ 39.) Buskirk, armed with the information Stalls provided from his search of White's home and Cook's VIN check, encouraged Defendant Hampshire, an officer of the RPD, to investigate White. (Id. ¶ 45.)

On September 15, 2016, White offered the mower for sale on Craigslist. (Id. ¶ 47.) David Terry and his wife contacted White four days later about purchasing the mower. (Id. ¶ 48.) Prior to the Terry's contact, however, they had received a text message containing a photo of "an engine number or serial number." (Id. ¶ 47.) White contends that one of the Defendants sent this text message to the Terrys. (Id. ¶ 51.)

The Terrys purchased and took possession of the mower on September 19. (Id. ¶ 48.) The next day, they told White they believed the mower was stolen, and although White disagreed, he advised them to report it to law enforcement if that was their conclusion. (Id. ¶ 50.)

The Terrys in fact contacted the Durham County Sheriff's Office ("DCSO") about the mower and provided a serial number. (Id. ¶ 52.) That serial number, which ended in "866," was different from the VIN photographed by Stalls while in White's residence. (Id. ) DCSO determined that the "866" serial number was associated with one of the mowers stolen from Scott's Tractor, and informed RPD. (Id. ¶ 53.) The same day the Terrys reported the mower stolen, DCSO took possession of it and the RPD reported the mower as "recovered" in its database. (Id. ¶¶ 53–54.) On November 10, after law enforcement again met with the Terrys, Hampshire changed the VIN of the "recovered" mower in the law enforcement database to a number ending in "684." (Id. ¶ 67.) No law enforcement officer personally viewed the lawn mower to confirm the serial number. (Id. ¶¶ 68, 73.)

As the investigation into the lawn mower thefts continued, Buskirk continued to push for officials to specifically investigate White, based on the information unlawfully obtained by Defendants Stalls and Cook. (Id. ¶¶ 57, 60.)

In November 2016, Defendant Hampshire met with other law enforcement officers, including Buskirk, about the lawn mower thefts. At this meeting, Buskirk identified White in a photograph and revealed that he was a GPD police officer. (Id. ¶ 61.) This led Hampshire to seek the involvement of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation ("SBI"), which assigned SBI Agent Denny to assist in the investigation.4 (Id. ¶ 62.)

On November 2, 2016, Hampshire and Defendant Wilkins, a deputy with GCSO, went to White's residence where, without a warrant, they entered the garage and looked around, noting the presence of police equipment. (Id. ¶ 63.) A week later, Hampshire and SBI Agent Denny interviewed White regarding the sale of the lawn mower to the Terrys. (Id. ¶ 66.) During this interview,...

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20 practice notes
  • Howard v. City of Durham, 1:17cv477
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • September 16, 2020
    ...their individual capacity, is analogous to 487 F.Supp.3d 427 qualified immunity in the federal context." White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F. Supp. 3d 677, 705 (M.D.N.C. 2019). A public official is entitled to immunity from suit unless he "engaged in discretionary actions which were allegedl......
  • Hines v. Johnson, 1:19CV515
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • March 30, 2020
    ...143 N.C. App. 97, 100, 545 S.E.2d 243, 245-46 (2001) (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F. Supp. 3d 677, 690 n.9 (M.D.N.C. 2019) ("[A]ny motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity will be considered under Rule 12(b)(2)."). Public official immun......
  • White v. City of Greensboro, 1:18-cv-00969
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • February 21, 2022
    ...GPD equipment, nor did the search warrant extend to GPD equipment. 18 White, 532 F.Supp.2d at 312-14; White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F.Supp.3d 677, 705-08 (M.D. N.C. 2019).[6] Therefore, Holder's opinions as to these legal issues is not the proper basis for expert opinion and would not as......
  • Bumpass v. Birkhead, 1:21CV394
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • February 28, 2022
    ...objective." Id. at 836. It is not sufficient that "someone cloaked with state authority" causes harm. White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F.Supp.3d 677, 695 (M.D. N.C. 2019) (citing Lewis, 523 U.S. at 848). Instead, the action must be "so egregious, so outrageous, that it may fairly be said to......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • Hines v. Johnson, 1:19CV515
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • March 30, 2020
    ...143 N.C. App. 97, 100, 545 S.E.2d 243, 245-46 (2001) (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F. Supp. 3d 677, 690 n.9 (M.D.N.C. 2019) ("[A]ny motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity will be considered under Rule 12(b)(2)."). Public official immun......
  • Howard v. City of Durham, 1:17cv477
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • September 16, 2020
    ...their individual capacity, is analogous to 487 F.Supp.3d 427 qualified immunity in the federal context." White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F. Supp. 3d 677, 705 (M.D.N.C. 2019). A public official is entitled to immunity from suit unless he "engaged in discretionary actions which were allegedl......
  • White v. City of Greensboro, 1:18-cv-00969
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • February 21, 2022
    ...GPD equipment, nor did the search warrant extend to GPD equipment. White, 532 F. Supp. 3d at 312-14 ; White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F. Supp. 3d 677, 705-08 (M.D.N.C. 2019).6 Therefore, Holder's opinions as to these legal issues is not the proper basis for expert opinion and would not ass......
  • White v. City of Greensboro, 1:18-cv-00969
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • February 21, 2022
    ...GPD equipment, nor did the search warrant extend to GPD equipment. 18 White, 532 F.Supp.2d at 312-14; White v. City of Greensboro, 408 F.Supp.3d 677, 705-08 (M.D. N.C. 2019).[6] Therefore, Holder's opinions as to these legal issues is not the proper basis for expert opinion and would not as......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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