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Demar v. Slusser

United States District Court, D. Vermont

May 16, 2017

Michele Demar, Plaintiff,
v.
Richard Slusser, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER (Doc. 26)

          John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Michele Demar brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Vermont State Trooper Richard Slusser [1] violated her Fourth Amendment rights by initiating a traffic stop of a motor vehicle driven by her without having a reasonable suspicion that she was engaged in criminal activity. (Doc. 1 at 4-5, ¶¶ 34-36.) Demar seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and reasonable attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Id. at 5-6.)

         Presently before the Court is Slusser's Motion for Summary Judgment, wherein Trooper Slusser argues that there is no dispute as to any material fact and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Doc. 26.) Slusser asserts that: (1) the subject traffic stop was valid under the Fourth Amendment because it was supported by Slusser's reasonable suspicion that Demar had committed a traffic violation (id. at 6-10); and (2) Slusser is otherwise entitled to qualified immunity because it was objectively reasonable for Slusser to believe that his conduct did not violate clearly established law (id. at 10-13). As required by Local Rule 56, Slusser submitted a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts with his Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 26-1.) See L.R. 56(a). Demar opposes the Motion, and has submitted a Statement of Disputed Material Facts with her Opposition, in compliance with Local Rule 56(b). (Docs. 33, 33-1.)

         Both parties have consented to direct assignment of this matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Docs. 2, 11.) See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). On May 4, 2017, a hearing was held on Slusser's Motion. For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS Slusser's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 26) and DISMISSES Demar's Complaint (Doc. 1).

         Background

         The material facts, drawn predominantly from Demar's Complaint (Doc. 1) and Slusser's Rule 56 Statement (Doc. 26-1), are summarized as follows. They are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. On the morning of February 14, 2013, Trooper Slusser was on routine patrol in his fully marked state police cruiser on Interstate 89. (Doc. 26-1 at 1, ¶ 5; see also Doc. 1 at 2, ¶¶ 5, 9.) Demar was traveling on Interstate 89 at this time, operating a Subaru Impreza bearing Vermont license plate number FAP692.[2] (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶¶ 6-7; Doc. 26-1 at 1, ¶¶ 2-3.) Slusser observed a woman operating this vehicle and ran a license plate check of FAP692 using the computer assisted dispatch system (CAD) in his cruiser. (Doc. 26-1 at 2, ¶¶ 6, 8.) The CAD search revealed that the Subaru was registered to Henry A. Demar and that he was married to a woman named Michele Demar. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) “The database contained a description of Michel[]e Demar, her age, and her address, which was the same as Henry Demar's.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Trooper Slusser also determined from this search that Michele Demar's driver's license had been suspended “as a result of prior convictions for Driving Under the Influence 1, Driving Under the Influence 2, and a Civil Administrative Driving Suspension 2 (an 18-month license suspension).” (Id. at 3, ¶ 12.) The parties dispute the extent to which Slusser confirmed that the physical appearance of the driver matched the description of Michele Demar in the database. Demar contends that Slusser merely observed “a female operator” and denies any implication that “Trooper Slusser affirmatively identified [her] as the driver at any time prior to the seizure.” (Doc. 33-1 at 1, ¶ 6 (first quoting Doc. 26-3 at 2); see also Doc. 33 at 5 (“As the video depicts, the Trooper travelled alongside the Subaru but stopped before pulling alongside the vehicle to a point where he could have corroborated some of the alleged ‘description' that he received, or at least the approximate age of the driver, of which he was also allegedly aware.”); id. at 6 (“The Defendant . . . made no effort to confirm whether the driver matched the description of the person whom he suspected might be the driver.”).) By contrast, Slusser states that before initiating the traffic stop he knew “that a woman matching the description of Michel[]e Demar was driving the car, ” in addition to the other information he discovered through the CAD search. (Doc. 26 at 3.)

         Slusser activated his cruiser lights and initiated a traffic stop of the Subaru Impreza. (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶ 10; Doc. 26-1 at 3, ¶ 13.) He approached the vehicle and asked the driver if she was Michele. (Doc. 26-1 at 3, ¶ 16; Doc. 33-1 at 2, ¶ 16.) Demar answered affirmatively, and Slusser stated that this was a “problem” because she had a suspended license. (Id.) Demar admitted that her license was suspended. (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶ 13; Doc. 26-1 at 3, ¶ 17.) Slusser returned to his cruiser, ran additional CAD searches, and confirmed with dispatch that Demar's license was suspended. (Doc. 1 at 3, ¶¶ 18-19; Doc. 26-1 at 4, ¶ 18.) Slusser then issued Demar a citation for Driving with a Suspended License. (Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 21; Doc. 26-1 at 4, ¶ 19.) Demar contends that Slusser “offered to dismiss the citation” if Demar would cooperate as an informant (Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 22), and that Slusser “purposefully used an unlawful seizure . . . in furtherance of his desire to recruit informants” (id. at 5, ¶ 40).

         In November 2013, the day before a hearing on Demar's Motion to Suppress and Dismiss was scheduled in the Windsor County Superior Court, the State dismissed the charges against Demar. (Id. at 4, ¶¶ 31-32.) Demar commenced this action on February 11, 2016 asserting that Slusser's motor vehicle stop was an unconstitutional seizure.

         Discussion

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court is “‘required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all factual inferences in favor of the' nonmovant.” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Bankers Leasing Ass'n, 182 F.3d 157, 160 (2d Cir. 1999)). If the moving party demonstrates that there are no genuine issues of material fact, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must present “‘significantly probative supporting evidence' of a disputed fact.” Hamlett v. Srivastava, 496 F.Supp.2d 325, 328 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). The nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 554 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)).

         “A genuine issue of material fact is one that ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law' and as to which ‘a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Noll v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 787 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). “The trial court's function in deciding such a motion is not to weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact, but to decide instead whether, after resolving all ambiguities and drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, a rational juror could find in favor of that party.” Pinto v. Allstate Ins. Co., 221 F.3d 394, 398 (2d Cir. 2000).

         II. Fourth Amendment Claim

         Trooper Slusser argues that he had a reasonable suspicion for the stop because he knew prior to conducting the stop that the vehicle was registered to Henry Demar, that Henry's wife Michele Demar had a suspended license, that the Demars resided at the same address, and that a woman matching Michele Demar's description was driving the car. (Doc. 26 at 3 (citing Doc. 26-1 at 2-3, ¶¶ 6, 10-12).) Demar counters that Slusser merely observed “‘a female operator'” of the vehicle (Doc. 33-1 at 1, ¶ 6 ...


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