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Carver v. City of Pell City

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

January 8, 2015

KYRA CARVER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PELL CITY, GREGORY TURLEY, FRANKLIN GREEN, RICHARD WOOD, and JAMES JONES, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Kyra Carver ("Ms. Carver") initiated this civil rights lawsuit on May 14, 2013, against Defendants City of Pell City ("Pell City"), Chief of Police Gregory Dean Turley ("Chief Turley"), Officer Franklin Green ("Officer Green"), Officer Richard Woods ("Officer Woods"), and Officer James Jones ("Officer Jones"). Chief Turley and Officers Green, Woods, and Jones were sued in their individual and official capacities. Ms. Carver's complaint contains counts which assert federal and state constitutional claims stemming from her arrest on May 16, 2011, for the purchase of pseudoephedrine. (Doc. 1 ¶ 9).

According to Ms. Carver's complaint (doc. 1), the following six claims are pending: (1) unlawful seizure and excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officers Jones, Woods, and Green; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Officers Jones, Woods, and Green; (3) negligence against Officer Jones, Woods, and Green; (4) failure to train and supervise in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Chief Turley and Pell City; (5) failure to enact or enforce policy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Chief Turley and Pell City; and (6) malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment against all Defendants.

Pending before the court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 13) (the "Motion"), filed on September 24, 2014. The parties have supported and opposed the Motion. (Docs. 13-17). Accordingly, the Motion is ready for disposition and, for the reasons explained below, is due to be GRANTED as to all Ms. Carver's claims.

II. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) ("[S]ummary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The party requesting summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings in answering the movant. Id. at 324. By its own affidavits - or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file - it must designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

The underlying substantive law identifies which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. If the evidence presented by the non-movant to rebut the moving party's evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may still be granted. Id. at 249.

How the movant may satisfy its initial evidentiary burden depends on whether that party bears the burden of proof on the given legal issues at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). If the movant bears the burden of proof on the given issue or issues at trial, then it can only meet its burden on summary judgment by presenting affirmative evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact - that is, facts that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. Id. (citation omitted). Once the moving party makes such an affirmative showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce "significant, probative evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable issue of fact." Id. (citation omitted) (emphasis added).

For issues on which the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it can satisfy its initial burden on summary judgment in either of two ways. Id. at 1115-16. First, the movant may simply show that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-movant's case on the particular issue at hand. Id. at 1116. In such an instance, the non-movant must rebut by either (1) showing that the record in fact contains supporting evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, or (2) proffering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency. Id. at 1116-17. When responding, the non-movant may no longer rest on mere allegations; instead, it must set forth evidence of specific facts. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 358 (1996). The second method a movant in this position may use to discharge its burden is to provide affirmative evidence demonstrating that the non-moving party will be unable to prove its case at trial. Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. When this occurs, the non-movant must rebut by offering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict at trial on the material fact sought to be negated. Id.

B. Qualified Immunity

"The defense of qualified immunity completely protects government officials performing discretionary functions from suit in their individual capacities unless their conduct violates "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1357 (11th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Gonzalez v. Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1233 (11th Cir. 2003)). "To receive qualified immunity, a governmental official first must prove that he was acting within his discretionary authority. Id.

This is a two-part test. Under the first step, "the defendant must [prove that he or she was] performing a function that, but for the alleged constitutional infirmity, would have fallen within his legitimate job description." Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1266 (11th Cir. 2004). Next, the defendant must prove that he or she was "executing that job-related function." Id. at 1267. "Once a defendant establishes that he was acting within his discretionary authority, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity." Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1358.

Until 2009, the Supreme Court had required a two-part inquiry to determine the applicability of qualified immunity, as established by Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Under the Saucier test, "[t]he threshold inquiry a court must undertake in a qualified immunity analysis is whether [the] plaintiff's allegations, if true, establish a constitutional violation." Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 736 (2002).

If, under the plaintiff's allegations, the defendants would have violated a constitutional right, "the next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly established." Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1358 (quoting Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201). The "clearly established" requirement is designed to assure that officers have fair notice of the conduct which is proscribed. Hope, 536 U.S. at 739. This second inquiry ensures "that before they are subjected to suit, officers are on notice their conduct is unlawful." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 206.

The "unlawfulness must be apparent" under preexisting law.[1] Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). Therefore, a temporal requirement exists related to this inquiry. More particularly, a plaintiff must show that a reasonable public officer would not have believed her actions to be lawful in light of law that was clearly established at the time of the purported violation. See id. at 639 ("[W]hether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on the objective legal reasonableness' of the action[, ] assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established' at the time it was taken[.]") (emphasis added) (citation omitted); Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004) ("If the law at that time did not clearly establish that the officer's conduct would violate the Constitution, the officer should not be subject to liability or, indeed, even the burdens of litigation.").

However, the Saucier framework was made non-mandatory by the Supreme Court in Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009), in which the Court concluded that, "while the sequence set forth [in Saucier ] is often appropriate, it should no longer be regarded as mandatory." Thus, "judges of the district courts and the courts of appeals should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand." Id.

Despite the Supreme Court's modification of Saucier 's analytical process, the substantive analysis remains unchanged; an officer is entitled to qualified immunity protection as long as he "could have believed" his conduct was lawful. Hunter v. Bryan, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S.Ct. 534, 536, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991). Therefore, to deny immunity, a plaintiff must affirmatively demonstrate that "no reasonable competent officer would have" acted as the public official did. Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

A. Admitted Facts

This court's "Uniform Initial Order Governing All Further Proceedings, " entered on June 24, 2013, specifically sets forth the requirements regarding the preparation and submission of briefs and evidentiary materials in support of and in opposition to potentially dispositive motions. (Doc. 7). Accordingly, "the court reserve[d] the right sua sponte to STRIKE any statement of fact or responsive statement that fail[ed] to comply with these requirements." (Doc. 7 at 18). Appendix II of the court's Uniform Initial Order requires that "[a]ll briefs submitted either in support of or opposition to a motion [for summary judgment] must begin with a statement of allegedly undisputed relevant material facts set out in separately numbered paragraphs. " (Doc. 7 at 15). As to Ms. Carver, the Uniform Initial Order set forth the following requirements for stating facts:

Opposing Party's Statement of Facts

Each party opposing a summary judgment motion also must submit a statement of facts divided as follows.

a. Response to Movant's Statement

The first section must consist of only the non-moving party's disputes, if any, with the moving party's claimed undisputed facts. The non-moving party's response to the moving party's claimed undisputed facts shall be in separately numbered paragraphs that coincide with those of the moving party's claimed undisputed facts. Any statements of fact that are disputed by the non-moving party must be followed by a specific reference to those portions of the evidentiary record upon which the dispute is based. All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted for summary judgment purposes unless controverted by the response of the party opposing summary judgment.

b. Additional Undisputed Facts

The second section may contain additional, allegedly undisputed facts set out in separately numbered paragraphs that the opposing party contends require the denial of summary judgment. The second section of the opposing party's statement of facts, if any, shall be clearly designated as such. The opposing party should ...

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