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Buckner v. Shumlin

United States District Court, Second Circuit

December 13, 2013

Sean Buckner, Plaintiff,
Peter Shumlin, William Sorrell, Keith W. Flynn, Robert D. Ide, Howard A. Kalfus, Robert Appel, Joseph Bahr, Nelson Campbell, Paul Erlbaum, Tom Marsh, Chief Steven Soares, Erik McNeice, William Jenkins, James Beraldi, Linda Shedd, Richard Slusser, John Zonay, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER Docs. 46, 61, 64, 65, 72, 73

J. GARVAN MURTHA, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sean Buckner, proceeding pro se , brings this action claiming he has been the victim of racial profiling, and that public officials have conspired to violate his rights. Pending before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss, as well as two motions filed by Buckner seeking, among other things, injunctive relief. For the reasons set forth below, the motions to dismiss are GRANTED in part, Buckner's motions are DENIED, and this case is DISMISSED with leave to amend.

Factual Background[1]

On May 17, 2011, Buckner stopped his vehicle on the shoulder of Interstate 91 due to "an emergency condition." (Doc. 45 at 5.) Vermont State Trooper Erik McNeice subsequently pulled up behind the vehicle and performed a routine license plate check before exiting his cruiser. Trooper McNeice then requested Buckner's license, registration, and insurance information. He also asked for identification from Buckner's passenger and inquired as to who owned the car.

Buckner is an African-American male. His passenger was a white female. The vehicle had North Carolina license plates. When Trooper McNeice asked for identification, Buckner informed him that he felt uncomfortable, and requested that another officer be present. Trooper McNeice reportedly told Buckner his behavior - visibly nervous, smoking a freshly-lit cigarette, and asking for another officer to be present - was suspicious. Trooper McNeice subsequently returned the occupants' identification papers and "released" them. Id . at 13.

Buckner was unable to start his car due to a low battery, and a tow truck was called. Trooper McNeice contacted his "personal friend, " Windsor Police Sergeant James Beraldi, to ask if Sergeant Beraldi had any information about Buckner. Id . Sergeant Beraldi responded that he knew of Buckner, and allegedly described him as "a crackhead." Id . Based upon this information, Trooper McNeice ordered an exterior dog sniff of the vehicle.

Trooper Richard Slusser arrived with a dog and a sniff was conducted. The dog did not indicate the presence of contraband in the vehicle. Trooper McNeice issued Buckner a written warning for lack of proof of insurance.

State Police Lieutenant William Jenkins later reviewed the "tape" of Buckner's interactions with Trooper McNeice, and found no wrongdoing by McNeice. Id . at 14. Lieutenant Jenkins also informed Buckner he must send in his proof of insurance, and that failure to do so would result in a ticket. Buckner allegedly "told Lieutenant William Jenkins that [he] would not send in proof of insurance and to send [him] the ticket because [he would] use that to take them to court." Id . Buckner reports he never received the ticket.

Buckner later filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission ("VHRC"). VHRC investigator Nelson Campbell interviewed both Buckner and Sergeant Beraldi. Sergeant Beraldi allegedly told Campbell that he did not have any reason to suspect Buckner of being "a crackhead, " and according to the Amended Complaint, the Town of Windsor now denies Sergeant Beraldi ever made such a characterization. Id.[2]

The VHRC ruled against Buckner in a 3-0 vote. Buckner alleges that prior to the vote, he requested a recording of his interview with Campbell, as well as notes from Campbell's interview of Sergeant Beraldi. He claims the interview recording was not produced because, according to the VHRC, it was "either erased or damaged'" when moved from one computer to another. Id . at 15.

Other state officials, including Vermont Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith W. Flynn, Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ide, and Special Assistant Attorney General Howard A. Kalfus have allegedly declined to find that Buckner was "treated like a criminal." Id . Buckner claims these findings are evidence of "systemic oppression within the state government, " and that he lives in "a state of apartheid in the State of Vermont." Id . at 5.

Buckner further claims that according to an "unconfirmed rumor, " the Windsor Police Department was conspiring with the Vermont State Police immediately prior to the May 2011 incident "to for lack of better words get me.'" Id . at 15. Buckner reported this rumor to Windsor Town Manager Steven Cottrell and Windsor Police Chief Steven Soares who, together with Sergeant Beraldi, allegedly "escorted [Buckner] out as if the complaint was frivolous." Id . at 16.

Buckner next alleges that he was "physically assaulted by the Town of Windsor on November 10, 2010, " and that he was "coerced to do a body search by the Town of Windsor on November 10, 2010." Id . It is not clear whether this allegation is related to his other claims, or whether it constitutes an independent claim. No individual defendants are named in this allegation.

Buckner also complains about an incident involving a traffic stop in January 2008. While driving home on Interstate 91, he was allegedly stopped by Trooper McNeice for a routine license plate inspection. Trooper McNeice then arrested Buckner for driving under the influence of alcohol ("DUI"). Buckner contends that his breath alcohol content was.049, while the threshold for a DUI conviction in Vermont is.08. Although he was never convicted, Buckner reports "[t]he State of Vermont testified that my prior arrest for DUI was probable cause for further investigating me for illegal activity." Id . at 16. This latter allegation appears to provide background for Buckner's subsequent interaction with Trooper McNeice in May 2011.

Buckner contends that since filing this case, he has continued to be the subject of "harass[ment]" by State Police and the Windsor Police Department. Id . at 6. Specifically, he cites being pulled over by Trooper Slusser on Interstate 89 in September 2012; another stop on Interstate 91 in November 2012; and entry into his home by Windsor police in September 2012, reportedly because they "thought [Buckner] was breaking into the place." Id . at 9. During the November 2012 traffic stop, Buckner's passenger was allegedly assaulted by a State Police officer. A complaint was lodged with the State Police internal affairs division, but Buckner "nor [his] passenger has heard anything regarding the investigation." Id . at 10.

The Amended Complaint asserts federal constitutional claims, as well as state law claims such as defamation, slander, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Buckner also asks the Court to initiate a Department of Justice investigation, and to declare Vermont's intertate highway rules, "exterior sniff law, " and "Fair housing and Public Accommodations law" unconstitutional. Id . at 18. Other requested relief includes exemplary, compensatory and statutory damages.

Defendants previously moved to dismiss, and the Court dismissed all of Buckner's claims against them in their official capacities. The Court also granted Buckner leave to amend his Complaint to add individual capacity claims as to all Defendants except Defendant Howard Kalfus. Buckner filed a timely Amended Complaint, and Defendants again move to dismiss.

Also pending before the Court are Buckner's "Motion for Injunctive Order to Refrain from Destroying Evidence and to Produce Evidence Requested" and "Motion to Enforce." (Docs. 72, 73). The first motion seeks the production and/or preservation of video and audio recordings regarding a traffic stop by Vermont State Police Officer Christopher Lora. Officer Lora is not a party in this case. The "Motion to Enforce" requests relief against Attorney Christopher Callahan for his alleged involvement in "facilitating a drug task force' investigation" of Buckner. (Doc. 73.) Attorney Callahan is also not a party.


I. Motions to ...

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