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Hunter v. City of Leeds

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

March 31, 2017

RONALD HUNTER, JR., Plaintiff,
CITY OF LEEDS, et al., Defendants.



         This case involves Plaintiff's allegations that he was shot without provocation by Leeds city police officers, who then tampered with the evidence of their unlawful actions. This matter is before the court on Defendants' “Motion for Summary Judgment.” (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Response. (Doc. 43).[1] The court determined that it did not require a reply. Additionally, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment before filing a motion to dismiss. Therefore, the court must deal with Plaintiff's untested claims and assume they state a claim. For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: whether any genuine issues of material fact exist, and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

         The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56).

         Once the moving party meets its burden of showing the district court that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party “to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).

         In response, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its] 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, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (emphasis added).

         The court must “view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” to determine whether the non-moving party presented sufficient evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254. The court must refrain from weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations because these decisions belong to a jury. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         Further, all evidence and inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). After both parties have addressed the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant the motion only if no genuine issues of material fact exist and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

         II. Procedural History

         The court initially denied Defendants' summary judgment motion as premature. (Doc. 16). Upon motion by the Defendants, the court vacated that order and directed the parties to brief the Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 25). In its initial Order setting a briefing schedule on the Motion for Summary Judgment, the court directed the Plaintiff to file a response by June 10, 2016 and noted that the Order did not preclude Mr. Hunter from filing a Rule 56(d) motion, which he could do no later than May 27, 2016. (Id.). Mr. Hunter did not file a response but filed a Rule 56(d) motion that the court has already denied. (Doc. 40).

         In ruling on that motion, the court indicated that it would consider Mr. Hunter's statement of facts in his Rule 56(d) motion and the evidentiary submissions attached to that motion in ruling on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Id.). Between the time Mr. Hunter filed his Rule 56(d) motion and the court's ruling on it, his attorney, Ms. Valerie Hicks Powe, withdrew from representing Mr. Hunter, and the court suspended deadlines for 30 days to give Mr. Hunter time to obtain new counsel. (Doc. 37). Mr. Hunter filed an untimely request for additional time to obtain counsel; the court gave Mr. Hunter three weeks to both acquire counsel and respond to the Motion. (Docs. 39, 40).

         Mr. Hunter acquired new counsel and filed a timely response. (Doc. 23). The court concludes that it does not require a reply from Defendants to decide the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. Statement of Facts[2]

         On December 16, 2013, following two 911 calls, the Leeds City Police Department dispatched officers Robert Kirk and Brian Chalian, Sergeant Ron Reaves, Investigator Alan Holman, and Police Chief Byron Jackson to Frisco Avenue in Leeds. The officers were dispatched to investigate a report of a male holding a child hostage at gunpoint at apartment 122 of the Marlee Villa Apartments. Dispatch informed the officers, as they were en route to the apartments, that gunfire had been exchanged; that the suspects had left the apartment; and that one of the suspects, Ronald Hunter, was sitting in a yellow Monte Carlo directly in front of apartment 122.

         When Officers Kirk, Reaves, and Chalian arrived at the complex, they found Mr. Hunter in the Monte Carlo in front of apartment 122. The officers present at the scene aver that Officer Kirk drew his gun and instructed Mr. Hunter-who remained in the car- to show him his hands numerous times, but Mr. Hunter did not comply. Mr. Hunter declares that while he sat in his car in front of the Marlee Villa Apartments, he saw Leeds police arrive but did not see Officer Kirk or any other officer point a weapon at him, nor hear Officer Kirk or any other officer direct him to exit his vehicle. He believed the officers had arrived to arrest another man for shooting at him. He pulled away from the curb to drive home.

         The officers involved contend that they then engaged in a car chase with Mr. Hunter that ended at his home, during which he sped, drove erratically and in the opposing lane of traffic, and ran a red light and a stop sign. Mr. Hunter declares that on his drive home, he never noticed a police car following him; did not hear sirens or see police lights; did not run stop signs or stop lights or drive in the opposing lane of traffic; did not speed; and, as was his custom, blew his horn as he passed a neighbor sitting on her porch and received a wave in return. Officer Kirk maintains that at one point during the car chase, Mr. Hunter stopped the car and, with his right hand, pointed a gun through his back window toward Officer Kirk.

         Mr. Hunter declares that he saw the officers' vehicles in his rearview mirror as he pulled into his driveway. The parties agree that Officer Kirk shot Mr. Hunter while Mr. Hunter was still seated in his car, on the passenger side, with the passenger door open.

         According to Defendants' evidence, upon arrival at Mr. Hunter's home, the officers exited their vehicles. Officer Kirk again directed Mr. Hunter to show him his hands and Mr. Hunter again did not comply. As Officer Kirk continued to give him orders, Mr. Hunter did not comply, and began moving from the driver's side of his vehicle to the passenger side. Mr. Hunter opened the passenger side door and turned to face Officer Kirk. Officer Kirk, observing that Mr. Hunter held a black handgun, directed him to drop his weapon, but instead Mr. Hunter pointed it directly at Officer Kirk. Officer Kirk fired approximately three rounds at Mr. Hunter. After Mr. Hunter leaned back into the vehicle for a moment, he again leaned out of it and pointed his gun in the direction of Officer Kirk, and Officer Kirk fired two to three more rounds at Mr. Hunter.

         Mr. Hunter, conversely, declares that his driver's side door was jammed, so he moved to the passenger side of his car; as he opened the passenger door, he was shot in the stomach. He states that once he opened the passenger door, he heard someone direct him to throw out his gun, and so he dropped it through the opening of the door. As he opened the door, an officer opened fire on him, hitting him in the stomach. When he opened the door wider to get out of his vehicle, he heard shots from several directions and was shot multiple times. He maintains that “[a]t no time during the drive to my home or after I arrived home did I point my gun or make it visible to anyone, including the officers.” (Doc. 29 at 4).

         The police report states that “[t]he victim [Officer Kirk] reported over the radio that he saw a handgun in the suspect's right hand. . . . The suspect came out of the car on the passenger side and pointed his gun at the victim.” (Doc. 9 at 12). A warrant issued for Mr. Hunter's arrest on January 14, 2014, alleging that “Ronald Hunter did, with intent to commit the crime of murder . . .attempt to intentionally cause the death of another person, Robert Kirk, by pointing a pistol at peace officer Robert Kirk . . . .” (Doc. 11 at 2).

         After being indicted for attempted murder “by pointing a pistol at Officer Kirk, ” Mr. Hunter pled guilty to menacing on January 25, 2016. (Doc. 11 at 4). In relevant part, the terms of Mr. Hunter's signed “Proposed Plea Agreement” provide: “Reduce Att Murder to Menacing 13A-6-23. 6 Mos to serve.” (Doc. 12 at 24). Similarly, the plea signed by the Jefferson County Circuit Court judge shows that Mr. Hunter pled guilty to “Att Murder reduced to Menacing.” (Doc. 12 at 25). At his plea hearing, Mr. Hunter stated that he pled guilty to the charge of attempted murder “reduced to menacing.” (Doc. 23-6 at 16).

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Hunter claims violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution; of the Alabama state constitution; and unspecified state and federal statutes. He brings his federal constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ...

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