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Strickland v. Hutson

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

July 9, 2015

PEGGY STRICKLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
LASHUN HUTSON, in his individual capacity and also in his official capacity as a Lowndes County Deputy Sheriff, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

CHARLES S. COODY, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Peggy Strickland ("Strickland"), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendant falsely arrested her without probable cause in violation of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Strickland names as the sole defendant Lowndes County deputy sheriff Lashun Hutson ("Hutson"). The court has jurisdiction of the plaintiff's claim pursuant to its federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and M.D. ALA. LR 73.1, the parties have consented to a United States Magistrate Judge conducting all proceedings in this case and ordering the entry of final judgment.

This case is now pending before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. See Doc. #25. The plaintiff has filed a response in opposition to the motion. See Doc. #31. After careful consideration of the motion, evidence and arguments in support of and in opposition to the motion, the court concludes that the defendant's motion (doc. #25) is due to be granted.

II. THE SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

"Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine [dispute][1] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation omitted); FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c) (Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."). The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for [his] motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence which would be admissible at trial indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of her case on which she bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.

Once the defendant meets his evidentiary burden and demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to her case exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; FED.R.CIV.P. 56(e)(2) ("When a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, an opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must... set out specific facts showing a genuine [dispute] for trial."). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in her favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263.

To survive the defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff is required to produce "sufficient [favorable] evidence" establishing a violation of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). "If the evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable... or is not significantly probative... summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-250. "A mere scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-1577 (11th Cir. 1990) quoting Anderson, supra . Hence, when the plaintiff fails to set forth specific facts supported by appropriate evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to her case and on which she will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 ("[F]ailure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.").

For summary judgment purposes, only disputes involving material facts are relevant. United States v. One Piece of Real Prop. Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004). What is material is determined by the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Lofton v. Sec'y of Dep't of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004) ("Only factual disputes that are material under the substantive law governing the case will preclude entry of summary judgment."). "The mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the outcome of the case." McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact, the party opposing summary judgment "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine [dispute] for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co, Ltd., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

III. FACTS[2]

Peggy Strickland ("Strickland") is a rural mail carrier assigned to the United States Post Office in Fort Deposit, Alabama. (Doc. #27, Ex. B1 at 17). Part of her route requires her to travel on Highway 21 in Lowndes County, Alabama. On January 6, 2014, Strickland encountered horses in the middle of Highway 21. (Id. at 26-37). Strickland had previously complained to the postmaster about the horses being in the road because she was afraid she was going to hit one.[3] (Id. at 33, 35).

On another day in January, [4] Strickland was delivering mail on Highway 21 when she came upon a man leading horses down the middle of the road. When she stopped to deliver mail at a local store, she asked the store owner about the horses who told her that Antonio Hicks owned the horses.[5] (Id. at 26, 39, 41). Strickland returned to the post office and reported that the horses were in the road again. (Id. at 42).

On January 15, 2014, Strickland was approaching a row of mailboxes to deliver mail when she saw Hicks sitting on his motorcycle in front of the boxes. (Doc. #27, Ex. B1 at 59; Doc. #27, Ex. 7). Strickland continued on her route, bypassing the mailboxes, but Hicks rode his motorcycle in front of her "weaving and weaving and weaving... [s]lowing down, going fast, slowing down, going fast." (Doc. #27, Ex. B1 at 59). Although Strickland complained to her co-workers, she did not report Hicks' behavior to the postal inspectors or local police. (Id. at 64).

On January 16, 2014, Strickland was on her mail route when she saw a parked car with two men in it.

A: I look across the street, and I see a car sitting there with two gentlemen in it, and they're just sitting there. So I go to turn in Knight Place Road. And when I went to turn in Knight Place Road, they jumped in front of me. And when they jumped in front of me with their car, they spun off, and rocks went all over my car.
So I keep going to deliver the mail, and they're in front of me. And then all of a sudden, they stop right in the middle of the road. When they stop right in the middle of the road, I realize that they've stopped, so I go to go around them.
And as I'm going to go around them, I see someone jump out and go to their trunk and get what I believe to be a weapon and point it, ting, and I took off, floored it.

(Id. at 66-67).

Strickland recognized Hicks as the driver of the car and Clinton Jones as the passenger. (Id. at 74). Strickland called 9-1-1 from Eva Scott's ("Scott") driveway.

I need a sheriff to come out here on 280 Knight's Place Road and I got an individual, I'm a mail carrier, and I got an individual who looks to me like he got a gun out of his car and he's at the end of the road where I have to go...
* * *
... I guess he's got a gun. He stopped in front of me and got something out of his trunk and then when I went to deliver... it's like he's waiting on me... got out of his car...

(Doc. 28, Ex. J, audio file 1).

The Lowndes County Sheriff's department called back and asked Strickland if she knew the direction the subject was headed. (Doc. 28, Ex. J, audio file 2). At that time, Strickland identified Hicks as the driver of the car. (Id. ).

Another member of the Lowndes County Sheriff's department called back. While Strickland was on the phone, Hicks pulled into Scott's driveway. (Doc. 28, Ex. J, audio file 3). Strickland was advised to stay on the phone, but Hicks left. (Id. ) Strickland was able to identify the make of the car and the direction that it went. (Id. ) At no time during the call, did Strickland report that Hicks pointed a gun at her while he was in the driveway.

While Strickland was waiting for deputies to arrive, the operator asked Strickland if she could talk to Eva Scott.

A: Hello.
Q: Hey Eva, this is Gwen. How you doing?
A: I'm alright.
Q: Is that Antonio ...

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