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Moore v. City of Selma

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division

July 6, 2015

JEANETTE T. MOORE, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of J.M., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SELMA, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

CALLIE V. S. GRANADE, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24) and supporting exhibits, Plaintiff's ("Mrs. Moore's") response in opposition (Doc. 29) and supporting exhibits, and Defendants' Reply (Doc. 30) and supporting exhibits. The Court finds that both Officer Jonathan McGuire and Chief William T. Riley, III are entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24) is due to be GRANTED.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

On May 10, 2012, J. M., a seventeen-year-old boy, got into an argument with his mother, Jeanette Moore, over household chores. J. M. took his stepfather's gun from a drawer and stormed out of the house. J. M.'s mother and stepfather called the police and, during the ensuing standoff, police officer Jonathan McGuire ("Officer McGuire") fired a single shot, striking J. M. in the chest. The wound proved fatal. Jeanette T. Moore, acting as personal representatives of her son's estate, filed suit, seeking relief under both federal and state law. (Doc. 1). In her amended complaint, Mrs. Moore alleged that lethal force was unnecessary and excessive, and therefore, that Office McGuire deprived her son of his Fourth Amendment rights ("Count 1"). (Doc. 22). Moore also alleged several state law claims against both Officer McGuire and Chief Riley: (1) negligence against Officer McGuire ("Count 2"); (2) wantonness against Officer McGuire ("Count 3"); (3) assault and battery against Officer McGuire ("Count 4"); (4) negligence against Chief Riley ("Count 5"); (5) wrongful death against Officer McGuire ("Count 6") and the tort of outrage against Officer McGuire ("Count 7"). (Doc. 22).

On May 10, 2012, Mrs. Moore and her son, J. M., argued over chores that Mrs. Moore assigned J. M. (Doc. 22, ¶ 3; Exh. 4, p. 84; Doc. 25, Exh. 1). Upset because he did not want to complete the chores, J. M. began mumbling and complaining. (Doc. 22, ¶4). Mrs. Moore required J. M. to leave the house until he calmed down. (Doc. 22, ¶4).

J. M. left the house and walked up the street. (Doc. 22, ¶5). A few minutes later, J.M. returned to the house and Mrs. Moore reiterated that he had to leave until he calmed down. (Doc. 22, ¶5). J. M. walked straight past his mother, entered her bedroom and locked the door behind him. (Doc. 22, ¶5). Mrs. Moore asked J. M. to come out of her bedroom. While in the bedroom, J. M. removed a handgun, belonging to his stepfather, Roderick Moore ("Mr. Moore"), from a top drawer. (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p. 95). After about a minute, J. M. came out of the bedroom carrying in the handgun in his right hand. (Doc. 22, ¶6; Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p. 96). J. M. proceeded to the carport door (Doc. 22, ¶6). Mrs. Moore then told her daughter, Mon'Shaay Smith, and the children, Mrs. Moore's grandchildren, to leave because J.M. had a gun. (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p. 96). J. M. left the home carrying the handgun and stopped in the front yard next to the fence. (Doc. 22, ¶7). Mrs. Moore followed him and requested that he give her the gun. (Doc. 22, ¶7). J. M. refused, stating "that he felt as though he was being treated like a child and that nobody loved him." (Doc. 22, ¶7).

After unsuccessfully attempting to disarm J. M., Mrs. Moore asked Mr. Moore to call the police and request the Selma Police Department's assistance in disarming J. M. (Doc. 22, ¶9). Mr. Moore called for police assistance, advising the dispatcher that J.M. had taken his gun. (Doc. 25, Exh. 5, p. 6; Doc. 25, Exh. 1). Mon'Shaay Smith, J.M.'s sister, also called 911 and requested police assistance. (Doc. 25, Exh. 1; Doc. 25, Exh. 7).

Meanwhile, J. M. repeatedly refused to relinquish the handgun and continued crying and stating "y'all ain't real with me" and other phrases that Ms. Moore was unable to understand. (Doc. 22, ¶10).

In a matter of minutes of receiving the call, Officer Jonathan McGuire arrived at the Moores' home. (Doc. 22, ¶11; Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 62). Officer McGuire got out of his patrol car and did not turn on his VIDMIC. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 62). Officer McGuire walked up to the carport, where he met with Mr. Moore. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 55). Mr. Moore informed Officer McGuire about the events leading up to Officer McGuire's arrival. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 54; Doc. 22, ¶12). Specifically, that J.M. had a firearm and had threatened to kill everyone in the house. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 55). Mr. Moore told Officer McGuire that J.M. had walked to the left side of the house. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 55). Officer McGuire told Mr. Moore to "hang tight" and he would go check it out. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 55). Officer McGuire jogged to the other side of the house and during that jog, his VIDMIC fell off. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 56). Officer McGuire did not see J.M. and returned to Mr. Moore on the left side of the house. (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, pp. 57-58).

Mr. Moore, Mrs. Moore, and Officer McGuire then walked towards the backyard where J.M. was last seen and discovered that J. M. had jumped over the fence and was standing behind a storage unit in the adjacent neighbor's backyard. (Doc. 22, ¶12; Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 57). Still armed, J. M. then jumped back over the fence into his backyard. (Doc. 22, ¶13; Doc. 25, Exh. 5, p. 17). Officer McGuire asked J. M. to drop the weapon. (Doc. 22, ¶13; Doc. 25, Exh. 5, p. 17). J. M. did not drop the handgun and said that he did not "do anything" and was "not going anywhere." (Doc. 25, Exh. 5, p. 17). Both Mr. and Mrs. Moore asked J. M. to put down the gun. (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p.41; Exh. 5, pp. 24, 25, 45). J. M. responded that he "was tired" and did not "want to do this no more." (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, pp. 43, 112).

At this point, Officer McGuire removed his gun from the holster. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, pp. 59-60). Officer McGuire ordered J.M. to drop the weapon three times. (Doc. 25 Exh. 1; Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p. 46). Suddenly, someone screamed causing J. M. to abruptly turn. (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p. 47). Officer McGuire then fired a single shot, striking J. M. in the chest. (Doc. 25, Exh. 1; Exh. 4, p. 46; Exh. 2, p. 60). Once J. M. fell to the ground, Officer McGuire started running. (Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 60). Officer McGuire picked up his VIDMIC and continued to run towards the residence, calling for both backup and an ambulance. (Doc. 25, Exh. 1; Doc. 25, Exh. 2, p. 60).

Mrs. Moore began screaming "You shot him! You shot him!" and rushed to J. M., who was lying on his back. (Doc. 22, ¶16). J. M. had fluid draining from his mouth. (Doc. 22, ¶17). Officer McGuire's shot had struck an artery. (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p. 146). Mrs. Moore, a nurse, leaned over J.M. and began CPR. (Doc. 22, ¶ 17). Mrs. Moore yelled at Officer McGuire that he had shot her only son and Officer McGuire began apologizing. (Doc. 22, ¶18). Within minutes, Selma police officers arrived at the scene, and one of the officers began assisting Mr. and Mrs. Moore in attempting to save J. M.'s life. (Doc. 22, ¶19).

Approximately ten to fifteen minutes after the additional officers arrived, an ambulance arrived and transported J. M. to the hospital. (Doc. 25, Exh. 4, p. 146). J. M. was pronounced dead at the hospital as a direct result of the gunshot wound inflicted by Officer McGuire. (Doc. 22, ¶21; Doc. 25, Exh. 1).

At the scene, officers recovered the 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson handgun and a magazine with fifteen rounds of ammunition, which was in J. M.'s possession at the time of the shooting. (Exh. 1).

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

A party is entitled to summary judgment when the party can show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Which facts are material depends on the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).

When a party moving for summary judgment points out an absence of evidence on a dispositive issue for which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the nonmoving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25 (1986) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Thereafter, summary judgment is mandated against the nonmoving party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine issue of fact for trial. Id. at 322, 324-25. The party opposing a motion for summary judgment must rely on more than conclusory statements or allegations unsupported by facts. Evers v. Gen. Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 986 (11th Cir.1985) ("conclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value").

The Court must consider all inferences drawn from the underlying facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and resolve all reasonable doubts against the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The Court is not, however, required to accept all of the non-movant's factual characterizations and legal arguments. Beal v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 20 F.3d 454, 458-59 (11th Cir. 1994).

LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Federal Claim

Mrs. Moore argues that Officer McGuire used excessive force when he shot J.M., depriving her son of a clearly established constitutional right. Mrs. Moore contends she is entitled to relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because Officer McGuire used excessive force against her son, violating his Fourth Amendment rights.

In civil rights actions brought under § 1983, the doctrine of qualified immunity "offers complete protection for government officials sued in their individual capacities if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Vineyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Harlow, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The Eleventh Circuit applies a multi-step, burden shifting qualified immunity analysis:

In order to receive qualified immunity, the public official must first prove that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.... Once the defendant establishes that he was acting within his discretionary authority, the burden ...

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