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Hutter v. Huneke

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 29, 2016

MASON L. HUTTER, Plaintiff,

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Plaintiff Mason L. Hutter, an inmate at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, brings this lawsuit alleging that a Pierce County sheriff's deputy violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and state law by pulling him over, arresting him, and fabricating testimony in support of a warrant for a blood draw. Hutter has made an initial partial payment of the filing fee, as previously directed.[1]

         The next step in this case is to screen the complaint. In doing so, I must dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law cannot be sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A. Because Hutter is a pro se litigant, I must read his allegations generously. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972) (per curiam).

         After reviewing the complaint with these principles in mind, I conclude that Hutter may proceed on Fourth Amendment claims, but I will not consider the state law causes of action discussed in his complaint unless he shows that he has complied with Wisconsin's notice-of-claim statute.


         Mason L. Hutter is currently an inmate at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution. But Hutter's allegations involve events occurring on January 23, 2016, while he was on probation. He states that early that morning, he was driving a friend home when he was pulled over by defendant Rick Huneke of the Pierce County Sherriff's Department. Huneke said that he smelled alcohol inside the vehicle. Hutter responded that he was sober and was “cabbing” his friend home.

         Huneke asked Hutter to step out of the car, and then had him perform field sobriety tests. Hutter says that he performed these tests with “minimal issues, ” but Huneke said that he failed the tests. Huneke asked Hutter to take a preliminary breath test and give a blood sample, but Hutter refused. Huneke got a warrant to draw Hutter's blood and took him to the hospital, where the blood draw was performed.

         Hutter was booked for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, third-offense. His probation was revoked on two other cases because of the incident and he was sentenced to a total of about three years of incarceration. But his criminal case for the events of January 23 was ultimately dismissed on the prosecutor's motion. Hutter says that Huneke made “‘incorrect sorry'” statements in the criminal OWI proceedings. I take Hutter to be saying that Huneke no longer believed that Hutter was intoxicated on that night.


         A. Constitutional claims

         Hutter alleges that defendant Huneke pulled him over and arrested him without a valid reason for either of those actions. Under the Fourth Amendment, an officer may conduct a stop for investigatory purposes only when the officer has particularized and reasonable suspicion that the suspect is engaged in illegal activity. Navarette v. California, 134 S.Ct. 1683, 1687 (2014). Reasonable suspicion “is dependent upon both the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability” and is based on the totality of the circumstances. Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330 (1990). It is more than a hunch but less than a preponderance of the evidence or probable cause. Navarette, 134 S.Ct. at 1687.

         An officer arresting a person without a warrant may not do so without probable cause. See Harney v. City of Chi., 702 F.3d 916, 922 (7th Cir. 2012). “Probable cause exists if ‘at the time of the arrest, the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, [to believe] . . . that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.'” Id. (quoting Mucha v. Vill. of Oak Brook, 650 F.3d 1053, 1056 (7th Cir. 2011)).

         Hutter says that he was sober, so I can infer that he contends that defendant Huneke had no reason to pull him over or arrest him. Construing Hutter's allegations generously, I also take him to be saying that Huneke lied to a judge to get a warrant to draw his blood. Therefore, I will allow him to proceed on Fourth Amendment claims against Huneke.[2] But I caution Hutter that at summary judgment or trial, it will not be enough for him to show that Huneke was ultimately mistaken in pulling him over and arresting him. Huneke will not be liable if Hutter's actions driving the car would lead a reasonable officer to believe that he was involved in illegal activity, or if the information available to Huneke, such as the smell of alcohol and Hutter's performance on the field sobriety tests, would lead a reasonable officer to believe that Hutter was impaired, even if that belief turns out to be incorrect.

         Hutter's complaint is unclear about whether he means to name the Pierce County Sheriff's Office as a defendant in addition to Huneke. Even if he did mean to name the sheriff's office as a defendant, he cannot proceed on Fourth Amendment claims against it because he does not allege that Huneke's actions were performed pursuant to a county policy or custom, which is the only way a county may be held ...

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