MASSEY v. OJANIIT, NO. 13-1460

Decided: July 21, 2014

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment as to Officers Ojaniit and Esposito, and dismissed the appeal as to Officer Ledford.

The Appellant initiated a civil action against officers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and North Carolina law, after his release from prison in early 2010. The Appellant alleged that the police department fabricated evidence that led to his arrest, convictions, and subsequent incarceration. In support of his claims, Appellant’s relied on two allegedly falsified reports. The officers moved for a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (F.R.C.P.) 12(c) judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted all three motions, although the magistrate’s report recommended that the Appellant’s claims against Ledford be dismissed, and the motions by Ojaniit and Esposito be denied. The district court stated that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, and Appellant failed to state a § 1983 claim on which relief could be granted against Ojaniit or Esposito. The Appellant then filed a timely appeal.

The Fourth Circuit stated that the Appellant’s attempt to revive his claim against Officer Ledford failed because he unequivocally stated to the district court that he did not object to the magistrate’s recommendation that Ledford’s F.R.C.P. Rule 12(c) motion be granted. Thus, Appellant’s failure to file an objection to the magistrate’s report waived his right to appeal on that issue. The Court stated that it applied a F.R.C.P. Rule 12(b)(6) standard to determine the district court’s grant of F.R.C.P. Rule 12(c) judgments to Ojaniit and Esposito. The Appellant failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted under § 1983 because the facts alleged did not assert a violation of a constitutional right. The Fourth Circuit stated that fabrication of evidence alone is insufficient to support a claim for a due process violation, and that the Appellant must plead facts that demonstrate that his loss of liberty directly resulted from the fabrication. Further, the Court agreed that there was not a “sufficiently strong [causal nexus]” that led to a conclusion that Esposito’s allegedly fabricated statement and Ojaniit’s fabricated statement were the but-for proximate cause of the Appellant’s convictions, nor were the convictions a foreseeable consequence of the alleged fabrication. The Appellant’s Fourth Amendment claim failed to meet the materiality requirement, in that, even after removing the fabricated evidence, there was still sufficient probable cause to arrest the Appellant. Appellant’s conspiracy claim also failed because he did not state a claim for deprivation of a constitutional right. Additionally, Appellant’s state law claims fell short because he failed to present probable cause and adequately plead the essential elements for his these claims. Thus, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment as to Officers Ojaniit and Esposito, and dismissed the appeal as to Officer Ledford.

Full Opinion

Alysja S. Garansi

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