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Harper v. Booth

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 23, 2019

Mark Harper, Plaintiff,
v.
Christopher Booth, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         This suit arises out of claim that a police officer violated plaintiff's constitutional rights by unlawfully stopping the driver and towing his car, all while plaintiff was suffering from a serious medical condition.

         I. Background

         Mark Harper (“Harper” or “plaintiff”), who is African American, was driving in Attleboro, Massachusetts when he was pulled over by Officer Christopher Booth (“Booth” or “defendant”). Booth, who was driving a marked police car, had conducted a random query of plaintiff's license plate which reported that the vehicle's license plate was cancelled and last registered to a different vehicle. The attached license plate was also issued to a person with a suspended license.

         During the stop, Booth notified plaintiff that the vehicle's license plate was cancelled and registered to another vehicle, which plaintiff did not dispute. Plaintiff did, however, have a valid license at that time. Following this colloquy, Booth ordered Harper out of the vehicle and informed him that he would be towing it. At some point during this interaction, Harper allegedly told Booth that he was on the way to the hospital because he was having a heart attack. Although it is unclear if Booth indicated that he or the tow truck driver would transport plaintiff to the hospital, the tow truck driver, who eventually towed the vehicle, dropped Harper off at a nearby gas station. From there, plaintiff called 911 and an ambulance transported him to an emergency medical center.

         Subsequently, plaintiff filed suit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Officer Booth committed constitutional violations by interfering with his right to travel, racially profiling him and denying him of his property and medical care. The defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment in response to which plaintiff has filed a hand-written opposition pro se. A hearing on the motion for summary judgment was held on April 22, 2019.

         II. Legal Analysis

         A. Legal Standard

         The role of summary judgment is to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial. Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991). The burden is on the moving party to show, through the pleadings, discovery and affidavits, that there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law”. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law”. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where the evidence with respect to the material fact in dispute “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party”. Id.

         If the moving party has satisfied its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine, triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The Court must view the entire record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and indulge all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. O'Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d 905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). Summary judgment is appropriate if, after viewing the record in the nonmoving party's favor, the Court determines that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         B. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         1. Freedom to Travel

         Plaintiff argues that the vehicle stop violated his fundamental right to travel, which defendant does not address. The constitutional right to travel refers to interstate travel, as opposed to intrastate travel, and thus is not applicable here. Nevertheless, the Court will briefly address the issue.

         The “right to travel” under federal law protects the right of 1) a citizen of one State to enter and to leave another State, 2) a citizen to be treated as a welcome visitor when temporarily present in the second State and 3) permanent residents to be treated like other citizens of that State. Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489, 500 (1999). The fundamental right to travel is not, however, an absolute privilege and citizens are, in any event, required to comply with federal and state laws. Thus, plaintiff cannot claim that his right to travel was violated because 1) he was traveling within the state and 2) ...


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