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2009-UP-483 - Padgett v. City of Greenwood

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Nelson Padgett, Appellant,

v.

City of Greenwood, County of Greenwood, and Jeremiah Atkins, individual and as an employee of the City of Greenwood, Defendants,

of whom City of Greenwood is the Respondent.


Appeal from Greenwood County
 J. Ernest Kinard, Jr., Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2009-UP-483
Heard September 2, 2009 – Filed October 15, 2009   


AFFIRMED


Charles Edward Johnson, of Columbia, for Appellant.

C. Edward Rawl, Jr., and Weston Adams, III, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Nelson Padgett appeals the circuit court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the City of Greenwood (City).  We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Nelson Padgett was arrested and indicted for two counts of armed robbery and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.  Rhonda Thomas, a victim who identified Nelson Padgett from a photo lineup, testified at trial.

Thomas stated that on the night of the robbery, she and Martez Irvin were traveling on a moped when they were approached by a tan Nissan Altima.  A passenger in the Altima held a gun out of the window and told Thomas and Irvin to pull over to the side of the road.  Thomas and Irvin drove to a nearby house and ran to the porch.  Three men exited the Altima.  One of the men took the moped, and the others confronted Thomas and Irvin.  The man who pointed the gun out of the window held the gun to the back of Thomas's head and ordered her to disrobe.  The men also told Irvin to take off his clothes.  The assailants subsequently left in their vehicle, taking Thomas's pocketbook and ring.

Thomas and Irvin hurried to an apartment complex, approached a police officer, and told the officer about the robbery.  Two days later, a detective from the City of Greenwood Police Department (Police Department) contacted Thomas and asked her to come to the police station to review a photo lineup.  Thomas identified Nelson Padgett as one of the perpetrators.  She stated she was "very positive" about her identification.  She identified Nelson Padgett as the person who held the gun to her head and ordered her to remove her clothes. 

Detective Jeremiah Atkins, a police officer who developed Nelson Padgett as a suspect, also testified at trial.  During direct examination, counsel for the State asked Atkins how he developed Nelson Padgett as a suspect.  Atkins explained that Travis Kemp, a victim of a second robbery, identified Samuel Padgett as a perpetrator.  Atkins then interviewed Samuel Padgett's girlfriend, Brandi Wells, and her mother, Vickie Williams.  Wells and Williams stated Samuel Padgett and three other men visited their residence the night of the robberies.  Either Williams or Wells identified one of the men as Samuel Padgett's cousin, "Ned" or "Nelson."  Based on their statements, Atkins called the Saluda Police Department and discovered that a "Nelson Padgett" lived in Saluda.  Atkins obtained a picture of Nelson Padgett from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and used the picture in the photo lineup.  After Thomas identified Nelson Padgett in the photo lineup, Atkins obtained a warrant for his arrest.

Williams testified for the defense.  She stated she never told Atkins "Ned" or "Nelson" accompanied Samuel Padgett on the night of the robberies.  She added she never mentioned the name "Nelson," and she does not know a person named "Ned."

Ultimately, a jury found Nelson Padgett not guilty of the criminal charges.  He subsequently filed this case against the City, the County of Greenwood, and Atkins, alleging various state and federal causes of action.  He later dismissed all causes of action against the County of Greenwood and Atkins, leaving only an action for false imprisonment against the City.  The circuit court granted the City summary judgment and this appeal followed.

LAW / ANALYSIS

Nelson Padgett argues the circuit court erred in granting the City's motion for summary judgment because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether his arrest was supported by probable cause.  Specifically, he argues only one victim identified him from the photo lineup.  He also notes testimony was conflicting regarding whether Williams told Atkins she saw Samuel Padgett with "Ned" or "Nelson" on the night of the robberies.  We disagree.

In reviewing the grant of a summary judgment motion, this court applies the same standard that governs the trial court under Rule 56(c), SCRCP.  Englert, Inc. v. Netherlands Ins. Co., 315 S.C. 300, 302, 433 S.E.2d 871, 873 (Ct. App. 1993).  Pursuant to Rule 56(c), a party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.   In determining whether any triable issues of fact exist for summary judgment purposes, the evidence and all the inferences that can be reasonably drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.  Law v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 368 S.C. 424, 434, 629 S.E.2d 642, 648 (2006).

False imprisonment is "a deprivation of a person's liberty without justification."  Caldwell v. K-Mart Corp., 306 S.C. 27, 30, 410 S.E.2d 21, 23 (Ct. App. 1991).  An action for false imprisonment may not be maintained when the plaintiff was arrested by lawful authority.  Gist v. Berkeley County Sheriff's Dep't, 336 S.C. 611, 615, 521 S.E.2d 163, 165 (Ct. App. 1999).

The fundamental issue in determining the lawfulness of an arrest is whether the officer had "probable cause" to make the arrest.  Id.  The arrestee has the burden of demonstrating a lack of probable cause.  Jackson v. City of Abbeville, 366 S.C. 662, 666, 623 S.E.2d 656, 658 (Ct. App. 2005).  "Probable cause turns not on the individual's actual guilt or innocence, but on whether facts within the officer's knowledge would lead a reasonable person to believe the individual arrested was guilty of a crime."  Id.  Although the question of whether probable cause exists is ordinarily a jury question, it may be decided as a matter of law when the evidence yields but one conclusion.  Parrott v. Plowden Motor Co., 246 S.C. 318, 323, 143 S.E.2d 607, 609 (1965).

An eyewitness identification constitutes sufficient probable cause "unless . . . there is an apparent reason for the officer to believe that the eyewitness 'was lying, did not accurately describe what he had seen, or was in some fashion mistaken regarding his recollection of the confrontation.''' Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 370 (6th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted); see also Torchinsky v. Siwinski, 942 F.2d 257, 262 (4th Cir. 1991) ([I]t is difficult to imagine how a police officer could obtain better evidence of probable cause than an identification . . . by a victim, unless, perchance, the officer were to witness the crime himself.").

Here, Atkins obtained an arrest warrant after Thomas, a victim, identified Nelson Padgett from a photo lineup.  This identification alone provided sufficient evidence of probable cause unless Atkins had reason to believe Thomas was lying, did not accurately describe what she witnessed, or was mistaken regarding her recollection of the robbery.  Here, the record contains  no evidence of Thomas's unreliability.  In fact, Thomas testified she was "very positive" Nelson Padgett was the man who robbed her. 

Nelson Padgett's contention that testimony conflicted as to whether Williams told Atkins she saw Samuel Padgett with "Ned" or "Nelson" on the night of the robberies is without merit.  The record reflects the testimony was not inconsistent.  Atkins testified either Williams or Wells stated "Ned" or "Nelson" was with Samuel Padgett on the night of the robberies.  He added, "I know [Wells] for sure said Nelson."

AFFIRMED.[1]

KONDUROS and LOCKEMY, JJ., and GOOLSBY, A.J., concur.


[1] The City also argues it is immune from liability under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.  Because we are affirming on other grounds, we do not address this issue.  Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, Inc., 335 S.C. 598, 613, 518 S.E.2d 591, 598 (1999) (holding an appellate court need not review remaining issues when its determination of a prior issue is dispositive of the appeal).