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Bey v. Abrams

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

April 20, 2017

KENNETH ABRAMS, et al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         This case is before the court on Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. # 52, 53). Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, filed responses to the Motions. (Docs. # 54, 55). Because Plaintiff's submissions proved difficult to follow and were in parts incomplete, the court entered an Order explaining potential deficiencies in his filings, and directed Plaintiff to file additional responses consistent with Rule 56 and this court's Appendix II. (Doc. # 56). In accordance with the court's Order, Plaintiff filed briefs in opposition of Defendants' motion, and the motion is now fully briefed. (Doc. # 57, 58, 59, 60).

         Plaintiff asserts various state and federal law claims stemming from his March 8, 2014 arrest and subsequent detainment. Plaintiff's claims against the Defendant Officers[1] arise from Plaintiff's arrest at his home. Plaintiff's claims against the Defendant Sheriffs[2] arise from allegedly abusive conduct that occurred during his subsequent detention at the Tuscaloosa County Jail.

         II. Relevant Undisputed Facts [3]

         On March 8, 2014, Defendants Steven Westbrook and Anthony Parker received a call from dispatcher, Joyce Mayfield, directing them to serve a writ of arrest on Tammie Smith Bey. (Doc. # 52 at pp. 19, 28, 39-40). Mayfield told Defendants that Tammie Smith Bey was sitting on the front porch of her residence, located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and 17th Street in Northport, Alabama. (Id. at p. 39). When Defendants Westbrook and Parker arrived at the corner, they saw Tammie Smith Bey -- who they knew from previous interactions -- on the front porch of the house where they had each seen her before. (Id. at pp. 19-20, 28-29). Plaintiff -- who Defendants Westbrook and Parker did not recognize -- was also on the porch. (Id.).

         As Defendants Westbrook and Parker got out of their car and started walking towards the house, both Tammie Smith Bey and Plaintiff got up and went into the house. (Id. at pp. 20, 29). Defendant Parker knocked on the door, and Plaintiff eventually answered the door. (Id.). After Plaintiff opened the door, Defendant Parker could see Tammie Smith Bey inside the home, and Defendant Westbrook could hear her inside the home. (Id.). However, when they sought to arrest Tammie Smith Bey, Plaintiff attempted to close the door on Defendants Westbrook and Parker, and stated that they had no authority to detain her. (Id.). Defendant Parker stopped the door from closing, and grabbed Plaintiff to put him into custody for interfering with Tammie Smith Bey's arrest. (Doc. # 13, Exhibit B, Video of Arrest; Doc. # 52 at pp. 20, 29). A struggle ensued. (Id.). Defendant Conger responded to the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 17th Street after Defendants Parker and Westbrook began their attempt to arrest Plaintiff. (Doc. # 52 at p. 36). He arrived while Defendants Parker and Westbrook were still attempting to arrest Plaintiff on the porch, and he joined in their efforts to attempt to restraint Plaintiff. (Doc. # 13, Exhibit B, Video of Arrest; Doc. # 52 at p. 36). Eventually Defendants restrained Plaintiff, put him under arrest, and transported him to the Tuscaloosa County Jail. (Doc. # 13-4; Doc. # 52 at pp. 20, 29).

         The writ of arrest listed Tammie Smith Bey's address as 1706 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. (Doc. # 13-3). However, the house where Defendants arrested Plaintiff was 1702 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard - where Plaintiff was temporarily living by permission of a friend. (Doc. # 13 at ¶ 19; Doc. # 52 at p. 61). Defendants Parker and Westbrook did not have the writ of arrest in their possession at the time of their altercation with Plaintiff. (Doc. # 52 at pp. 20, 29). However, Defendant Parker had observed Tammie Smith Bey on the porch of 1702 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard approximately five or six times before March 8, 2014. (Doc. # 52 at p. 28). Defendant Parker had also spoken to Tammie Smith Bey in the front yard of 1702 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when he was called out to the house for an issue with the water meter. (Id.). Defendant Westbrook had seen Tammie Smith Bey on the porch of 1702 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard approximately six times before March 8, 2014. (Id. at p. 19). Indeed, approximately two months prior to March 8, 2014, Defendant Westbrook responded to a car accident at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 17th Street, and took a witness statement from Tammie Smith Bey on the porch of 1702 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. By contrast, neither Defendant Westbrook nor Defendant Parker had ever seen Tammie Smith Bey at 1706 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. (Id. at pp. 21, 30). The houses located at 1702 and 1706 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard are next door to each other, and share a common driveway. (Id. at pp. 24, 26). Moreover, neither of the houses located at 1702 and 1706 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is marked with a street number. (Id.). At no time prior to, or during, the arrests did Plaintiff or Tammie Smith Bey tell Defendants that 1702 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was not Tammie Smith Bey's house. (Doc. # 13, Exhibit B, Video of Arrest; Doc. # 52 at pp. 21, 30).

         When Plaintiff arrived at Tuscaloosa County jail, he was put in “the pink room.” (Doc. # 53-1, p. 304). Jail Personnel asked Plaintiff his name, to which he replied “I am here unlawfully and at this time I can't give you my name.” (Id.). Plaintiff represented to Defendants that he refused to provide his name, or allow Defendants to take his fingerprints or picture for a “mugshot.” (Id. at pp. 313-316). Defendants tried to forcefully take Plaintiff's fingerprints on two separate occasions. Defendants first tried to take Plaintiff's fingerprints at around 7:30 a.m. (Id. at p. 317; Doc. # 58, Security Camera Video, Video # 1 at 20:00). Plaintiff refused to provide his fingerprints. (Id.). Accordingly, Defendants grabbed Plaintiff and tried to force his hands open. (Id.). A scuffle ensued. The video footage of the incident shows jail personnel surrounding Plaintiff while they try to physically force his hands onto the fingerprint scanning machine. (Id.). At one point, Plaintiff fell to the ground. Plaintiff claims that someone twisted his arm, and put their knee in his side, during this fracas. (Doc. # 53-1 at p. 314). When it became clear that Plaintiff refused to give his fingerprints, Defendants returned him to a one-man cell. (Id. at p. 318). Plaintiff claims that Defendant Abrams told him “that's how we do mother f'ers. We are going to let you rest up and then we are going to ‘F' you up again.” (Doc. # 53-1 at p. 305).

         Later that day, jail personnel brought Plaintiff back to the “booking area” in an attempt to secure his fingerprints and identifying information. (Id. at p. 80, pp. 318-19). When Plaintiff again refused to comply, Defendants again struggled with Plaintiff in an attempt to physically force him to place his fingers on the fingerprint scanner. (Id.). Plaintiff stated that one of the Defendant sheriffs hit him with a closed fist in his armpit. (Id. at pp. 335, 337). Further, he testified that one of the Defendants kicked him while he was on the ground, while others twisted his arms, attempted to pry open his hands (which were balled into fists), and struck him in the side with a knee. (Id. at pp. 334-337). He also alleges that Defendant Anderson tased him while he was on the ground. (Id. at pp. 317, 337). It was this tasing, he contends, that eventually caused him to comply, and submit to having his fingerprints and mugshot taken. (Id. at pp. 337-38). In total, this second scuffle lasted for approximately two and a half minutes, before Plaintiff relented, and allowed Defendants to take his fingerprints and picture. (Doc. # 58, Security Camera Video, Video # 3 at 14:00).

         It is unclear whether Plaintiff alleges that a third incident of physical force occurred at the jail. At one point in his deposition, he alleges that “they did something” to him behind a wall, and outside of the view of the security cameras, before taking him to the booking area for the first time. (Id. at p. 309). However, he stated that the person who transported him from the pink room to the booking area, and presumably was involved in this possible third incident, was named “Stevens, ” and is not one of the named Defendants in this action. (Id.). When describing this incident, Plaintiff stated it was “real quick. I know I just received punches, one guy grabbed me by my face. I forgot his name.” (Id. at p. 312). However, elsewhere in the same deposition, Plaintiff stated that Defendants used physical force “[o]nly to get [his] fingerprints.” (Id. at. p. 328).

         III. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary 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 judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for 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 which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and -- by pointing to affidavits, or depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or admissions on file -- designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324.

         The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. See 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. See Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. For Bibb Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir. 2007); Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine, “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See Id. at 249.

         When faced with a “properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the non-moving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). As Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on her allegations made in the complaint; instead, as the party bearing the burden of proof at trial, she must come forward with at least some evidence to support each element essential to her case at trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [her] pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 248 (citations omitted).

         Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative.” Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1262 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla. 1999) (“The law is clear . . . that suspicion, perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a motion for summary judgment.”).

         IV. Analysis

         In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has asserted eleven claims for relief against Defendants. (See Doc. # 13). After granting in part and denying in part Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, the following counts remain against Defendant Officers: Count One: state law false arrest and false imprisonment claims; and Counts One and Two: Fourth Amendment false arrest and false imprisonment claims. The following counts remain against Defendant Sheriffs: Counts One and Two: Fourth Amendment excessive force claims; and Count Six: state law assault and battery claims.

         A. Plaintiff's Individual Capacity Claims Against Defendant Officers

         As mentioned above, the court previously granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss with respect to certain of Plaintiff's claims implicating federal, individual capacity claims against Defendant Officers. In their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant Officers have asserted qualified immunity as a defense to Plaintiff's remaining Fourth Amendment false arrest and false imprisonment claims. (See Doc. # 52 at p. 9).

         Qualified immunity shields “government officials performing discretionary functions . . . from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity utilizes an “objective reasonableness standard, giving a government agent the benefit of the doubt unless her actions were so obviously illegal in the light of then-existing law that only an official who was incompetent or who knowingly was violating the law would have committed them.” GJR Investments, Inc. v. County of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1366 (11th Cir. 1998). The Eleventh Circuit has cautioned that, “[b]ecause qualified immunity shields government actors in all but exceptional cases, courts should think long and hard before stripping defendants of immunity.” Lassiter v. Ala. A&M Univ., Bd. of Trustees, 28 F.3d 1146, 1149 (11th Cir. 1994). “We generally accord . . . official conduct a presumption of legitimacy.” U.S. Dep't of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164, 179 (1991).

         The court determines whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity by engaging in a three-step analysis. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1136-37 (11th Cir. 2007). The initial burden is on the official claiming qualified immunity to establish that he was acting within his discretionary authority. Id. Once that initial showing is made, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the “defendant's conduct violated a statutory or constitutional right.” Id. at 1136-37 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). Finally, “the plaintiff must show that the violation was ‘clearly established.'” Id. at 1137; Snider v. Jefferson State Cmty. Coll., 344 F.3d 1325, 1328 (11th Cir. 2003) (“When case law is needed to ‘clearly establish' the law applicable to the pertinent circumstances, we look to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the highest court of the pertinent state.” (citing Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1032-33 n.10 (11th Cir. 2001) (en banc))). If Defendant Officers can establish that they are entitled to qualified immunity, then Plaintiff's remaining federal, individual capacity claims will be dismissed. See Randall, 610 F.3d at 714.

         (1) Discretionary Function Analysis

         “A government official proves that he acted within the purview of his discretionary authority by showing objective circumstances which would compel the conclusion that his actions were undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority.” Sims v. Metro. Dade County, 972 F.2d 1230, 1236 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). In determining whether this test is met, the court does not analyze whether the official actually acted lawfully. See Id. Rather, the issue is whether “the act complained of, if done for a proper purpose, would be within, or reasonably related to, the outer perimeter of [the governmental officer's] discretionary duties.” Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1282 (11th Cir. 1998); see also Godby v. Montgomery Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 996 F.Supp. 1390, 1401 (M.D. Ala. 1998) (“It is perfectly logical for a court to find that someone who was acting illegally was acting within his discretionary authority.”).

         Having considered the summary judgment record and Rule 56 evidence, the court concludes that Defendant Officers were acting within the purview of their discretionary duties at the time of Plaintiff's arrest. The video Plaintiff attached to his Amended Complaint, in addition to Plaintiff's own deposition testimony and the affidavits of Defendant Officers, clearly establish that the Defendant Officers' arrest of Plaintiff was undertaken pursuant to their official duties stemming from the execution of the Tammie Smith Bey arrest warrant. Defendant Officers were dispatched to the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 17th Street to arrest Tammie Smith Bey on an outstanding warrant. (Doc. # 52 at p. 19). Plaintiff testified that Defendant Officers pulled up to the house in a Northport police car, and were clearly wearing police uniforms. (Doc. # 53-1 at pp. 142-144). Plaintiff further stated that when Defendant Officers arrived at the front door of his house, they identified themselves as Northport police officers, and stated that they had a warrant for Tammie Bey Smith. (Id. at pp. 151-152). When Plaintiff refused to allow Defendant Officers into the house to arrest Tammie Bey Smith, they then arrested Plaintiff for his alleged interference. (Id. at p. 195). Executing an arrest warrant (in the manner indicated by the Rule 56 evidence) cannot plausibly be argued to be unrelated to, or beyond the outer perimeter of, an officer's discretionary duties.

         Here, the court concludes that Defendant Officers were, without question, acting within the scope of their discretionary authority. Therefore, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to show that the officers' conduct violated a clearly established statutory or constitutional right. See Skop, 485 F.3d at 1136-37.

         (2) Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Claims

         a. Plaintiff's False Arrest Claims

         The Fourth Amendment, which applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV; see Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 578 (11th Cir. 1990). Whether a warrantless arrest of a person, which is a seizure, is reasonable depends on a finding of probable cause. Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d 1220, 1226 (11th Cir. 2004). That is, an arrest without a warrant and lacking probable cause violates the Constitution and can underpin a section 1983 claim. But the existence of probable cause at the time of arrest is an absolute bar to a subsequent constitutional challenge to the arrest. Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., 608 F.3d 724, 734 (11th Cir. 2010); Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1326-27 (11th Cir. 2009).

         Even without probable cause, an arresting officer may still be shielded from individual liability pursuant to the doctrine of qualified immunity if his “actions did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Case, 555 F.3d at 1327 (emphasis added) (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002)). In wrongful arrest cases, the Eleventh Circuit has defined the “clearly-established” prong as calling for an “arguable probable cause” inquiry. Case, 555 F.3d at 1327 (“Absent probable cause, an officer is still entitled to qualified immunity if arguable probable cause existed.”) (quoting Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1195 (11th Cir. 2002)). “Arguable probable cause exists ‘where reasonable officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as the Defendants could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest.” Lee, 284 F.3d at 1195 (quoting Scarbrough v. Myles, 245 F.3d 1299, 1302 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Thus, the qualified immunity inquiry in the context of an arrest focuses on whether or not the officer reasonably, although perhaps mistakenly, believed that probable cause existed. Id. The facts of the case and the elements of the crime dictate whether there was probable cause, or arguable probable cause. Skop, 485 F.3d at 1137-38; Crosby v. Monroe County, 394 F.3d 1328, 1333 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Whether a particular set of facts gives rise to probable cause or arguable probable cause to justify an arrest for a particular crime depends, of course, on the elements of the crime.”).

         Because the police had no warrant for Plaintiff's arrest, Defendant Officers must show that Plaintiff's arrest, at least, was based on arguable probable cause. Here, Plaintiff was purportedly arrested because he acted in a manner which interfered with law enforcement's attempts to arrest Tammie Smith Bey. Under Alabama law, “[a] person commits the crime of resisting arrest if he intentionally prevents or attempts to prevent a peace officer from affecting a lawful arrest of himself or of another person.” Ala. Code § 13A-10-41(a) (emphasis added).

         Generally, under the Fourth Amendment, police with a valid arrest warrant for a suspect are permitted to enter the suspect's home to arrest her absent a search warrant, so long as the police have a reasonable belief that she will be there. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980) (“[F]or Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within.”); see also Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 214-15, n.7 (1981) (“Because an arrest warrant authorizes the police to deprive a person of his liberty, it necessarily also authorizes a limited invasion of that person's privacy interest when it is necessary to arrest him in his ...

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