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Boudreau v. Lussier

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

November 30, 2015

STEVE LUSSIER, et al., Defendants.



On June 2, 2015, Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) in the above-captioned matter (ECF No. 230) recommending that Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 157) be denied; that Defendants City of Cranston and Officers Bagshaw, Weller, and Carroll’s (collectively, the “Cranston Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment as to Counts I, II, and V (ECF No. 174) be granted; that Defendants City of Warwick and Detective Kevin Petit’s (collectively, the “Warwick Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment as to Counts I, II, III, and V (ECF No. 165) be granted; and that Defendants Steve Lussier, John Lussier, Donald Lussier, and Steve Sorel’s (collectively, the “ATC Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 162) be granted as to Counts I and II, and denied as to Count IV. Plaintiff and the ATC Defendants filed objections (ECF Nos. 232 and 233, respectively), and all parties filed responses. (ECF Nos. 234 (Warwick Defs.), 235 (ACT Defs.), 237 (Plaintiff), and 238 (Cranston Defs.).)

After careful de novo review (see Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3)), Magistrate Judge Almond’s R&R is ADOPTED IN PART and REJECTED IN PART. Specifically, this Court accepts and adopts Judge Almond’s recommendation to: deny Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment; grant the Cranston Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment; grant the Warwick Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment; and grant the ATC Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to Counts I and II. The Court declines to adopt the R&R with respect to Count IV against the ATC Defendants, and hereby grants the ATC Defendants’ Motion on Count IV.[1]

I. The Cranston Defendants

In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that the Cranston Defendants unlawfully searched his 2004 Toyota Corolla and 1995 Ford Explorer. After Plaintiff was arrested for driving with a suspended license, the Cranston Defendants impounded both of his cars from the parking lot of his employer, Automatic Temperature Controls, Inc. (“ATC”), and subsequently conducted inventory searches. According to Plaintiff, his arrest, the impoundments, and the inventory searches were all a pretext for the Cranston Defendants to conduct warrantless searches of his cars in conjunction with an investigation into his possession of child pornography. (See R&R 9, ECF No. 230.)

Magistrate Judge Almond found that the Cranston Defendants were justified in impounding the cars pursuant to the “community caretaking function” and that the inventory searches were not a violation of the Fourth Amendment because “it is undisputed that the Cranston Police conducted inventory searches of the vehicles pursuant to Department policy.” (Id. at 9-10 (citing Pl.’s Ex. 119, ECF No. 161-43).) This Court agrees that the impoundment of Plaintiff’s cars was permitted by the community caretaking function. See United States v. Coccia, 446 F.3d 233, 239 (1st Cir. 2006) (“Courts, including this one, have frequently held that impoundments of vehicles for community caretaking purposes are consonant with the Fourth Amendment so long as the impoundment decision was reasonable under the circumstances.”). As the R&R notes, “it is undisputed that Plaintiff’s vehicles were on ATC’s private property at the time of his arrest” and “that ATC, through one of its owners, advised the Cranston Police that it wanted Plaintiff’s vehicles, the 2004 Toyota and the 1995 Ford, and certain other of Plaintiff’s possessions, off of its property so that Plaintiff would not have to return to retrieve them.” (R&R 9, ECF No. 230.) The inventory searches, however, require further analysis.

“When vehicles are impounded, local police departments generally follow a routine practice of securing and inventorying the automobiles’ contents.” South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 369 (1976). The purpose of inventorying impounded vehicles advances three purposes:

[1] the protection of the owner’s property while it remains in police custody, United States v. Mitchell, 458 F.2d 960, 961 (CA9 1972); [2] the protection of the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property, United States v. Kelehar, 470 F.2d 176, 178 (CA5 1972); and [3] the protection of the police from potential danger, Cooper v. California, [386 U.S. 58, 61-62 (1967)].

Opperman, 428 U.S. at 369. The law is clear that a warrantless search must be conducted according to an established policy. See Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 8 (1990) (“Our cases clearly hold that an inventory search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment only if it is done in accordance with standard procedures that limit the discretion of the police.” (emphasis in original)); United States v. Richardson, 515 F.3d 74, 85 (1st Cir. 2008) (“The Fourth Amendment permits a warrantless inventory search if the search is carried out pursuant to a standardized policy.”). As long an inventory search is conducted in accordance with the policy, “[t]he subjective intent of the officers is not relevant.” United States v. Hawkins, 279 F.3d 83, 86 (1st Cir. 2002).

The United States Supreme Court has held that there is no prohibition against an inventory search policy that allows for “the exercise of police discretion so long as that discretion is exercised according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity.” Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 375 (1987). Thus, while a policy may not give police officers “uncanalized discretion, ” it may provide for “the exercise of judgment based on concerns related to the purposes of an inventory search.” Wells, 495 U.S. at 4. For example, “[a] police officer may be allowed sufficient latitude to determine whether a particular container should or should not be opened in light of the nature of the search and characteristics of the container itself.” Id. Moreover, “[t]he reasonableness of any particular governmental activity does not necessarily or invariably turn on the existence of alternative ‘less intrusive’ means.” Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U.S. 640, 647 (1983). As long as the policy is reasonable, courts “are hardly in a position to second-guess police departments as to what practical administrative method will best deter theft by and false claims against its employees and preserve the security of the stationhouse.” Id. at 648.

While it is indeed undisputed that the Cranston Police have an inventory search policy (see Pl.’s Ex. 119, ECF No. 161-43), Plaintiff argues in his Objection that the Cranston Defendants did not follow that policy when they searched his cars, which he claims were locked. (See Pl.’s Objection 5-14, ECF No. 232.) Cranston Police Department General Order 330.41 states: “It is the policy of the Cranston Police Department that any seized vehicle will be inventoried and a detailed list of the vehicle’s effects properly recorded.” (Pl.’s Ex. 119 at Section II, ECF No. 161-43.) However, one of the “Exceptions to the Motor Vehicle Inventory Policy” is that:

All motor vehicles that are already locked at the time of the tow do not need to be inventoried. Any motor vehicles that are unlocked at the time of the tow must be inventoried prior to the tow to protect the Department from disputes over lost or stolen property, negligence, theft, and vandalism.

(Id. at Section III.F.2.) Thus, Plaintiff claims that his cars should not have been inventoried pursuant to the policy.

As an initial matter, Plaintiff does not present any evidence that his 2004 Toyota Corolla was locked at the time he was arrested.[2] Thus, there is no material fact in dispute concerning whether the Cranston Defendants followed their inventory policy with respect to Plaintiff’s Toyota Corolla. Regarding the 1995 Ford Explorer, Plaintiff cites one of Warwick Defendant Det. Petit’s interrogatory responses, which states: “Located in the parking lot of ATC was a green Ford Explorer. . . . I observed the vehicle to be locked and did not enter it.” (Pl.’s Objection 11, ECF No. 232.) Putting aside the question of whether this statement from Det. ...

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