United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Final
Summary Judgment. (Doc. #18). The parties have fully briefed
the motion (Docs. # 18-1, 21-22), and it is under submission.
John Arthur Dawson (“Plaintiff”) alleges that the
City of Leeds (“Leeds”), Chief of Police Byron
Jackson (“Jackson”), and Inspection
Superintendent Brad Watson (“Watson”) falsely
arrested him, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the
Fourth Amendment, and unlawfully converted his property under
Alabama state law. In moving for summary judgment, Defendants
justify their actions toward Plaintiff on September 22, 2014
on his stubbornness. (Doc. 18 at 1-2). They contend that
Plaintiff's argumentativeness and his refusal to move his
car rose to the level of “obstructing governmental
operations, ” which justified his arrest. (Id.
at 1-2). And, Defendants deny converting Plaintiff's
property because there was no unlawful removal of property.
(Id. at 5). Moreover, even if a viable tort claim
could be asserted by Plaintiff, Defendants argue that Jackson
and Watson are protected by quasi-judicial immunity,
qualified immunity, and state agent immunity. Likewise,
according to Defendants, the City of Leeds is not liable for
the false arrest due to a lack of vicarious liability.
(Id. at 3). And, in any event, Defendants claim that
Leeds is entitled to municipal immunity from the state-law
intentional tort of conversion. (Id. at 5).
careful review, the court concludes that Defendants are
entitled to summary judgment on the false arrest claim
because no genuine dispute of material fact exists for that
claim. Defendant Jackson is entitled to quasi-judicial
immunity and qualified immunity for the false arrest claim.
Defendant Watson is not liable for any constitutional
violation that occurred during the arrest because he did not
personally participate in the arrest, nor did he have any
authority to order that the arrest take place. Moreover, the
court finds no basis for vicarious liability against
Defendant Leeds and further finds there is no substantial
evidence that an unlawful custom or policy instituted by
Leeds was the moving force behind the arrest. As such, all
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment for the false
arrest claim. Moreover, because all federal law claims in
this action have been resolved, this court declines to
exercise jurisdiction to proceed further on the conversion
received a Notice of Public Nuisance from Defendant Leeds on
September 19, 2013, stating that a public nuisance existed on
his property at 1305 Vivian Street. (Doc. 18-2 at 6). The
alleged nuisance included “overgrown grass and weeds,
in violation of Section 11-13 of the Leeds Code of
Ordinances.” (Id.). The notice directed
Plaintiff to abate the nuisance within fifteen days.
October 7, 2013, a Uniform Non-Traffic Citation and Complaint
was issued to Plaintiff. (Id. at 2). The citation
stated that Plaintiff had “allowed an accumulation of
weeds, junk, inoperable motor vehicles, junk, debris [and]
litter” to accumulate on his property, in violation of
City of Leeds Ordinance Number 606. (Id.). Under
Section 1 of this ordinance, it is unlawful for a lot to have
“injurious, noxious, or unsightly weeds, ”
inoperable motor vehicles, or various forms of litter on any
lot or premises. (Doc. 18-5 at 3). Section 4 of this
ordinance allows for a municipal judge to order abatement and
removal of the violation. (Id. at 5).
January 17, 2014, Plaintiff was found guilty in the Leeds
Municipal Court. (Id. at 9). The municipal court
ordered Plaintiff to “abate [the] property to meet code
requirements” and pay a $500 fine. (Id.).
Plaintiff immediately gave notice of an appeal. (Id.
at 9, 11-12). On March 18, 2014, a trial was set in the
Circuit Court of Jefferson County for August 11, 2014. (Doc.
18-6 at 1). Proceeding pro se, Plaintiff mistakenly
thought that the trial was set for August 18, 2014.
(Id. at 14). When he failed to appear on August 11,
a circuit judge dismissed Plaintiff's appeal and a writ
of procedendo was ordered. (Id. at 3). On September
2, 2014, Plaintiff's first motion to reinstate his appeal
was denied by the circuit court. (Id. at 5). Three
days later, on September 5, 2014, Plaintiff's second
motion to reinstate appeal was denied due to mootness.
(Id. at 7).
Monday, September 22, 2014, Defendant Watson arrived at
Plaintiff's property. (Doc. 18-6 at 14). The subsequent
events at Plaintiff's property were captured on video.
(Doc. 18-6 at 8, Ex. 9 at 00:01-59:18). Upon entering the
property, Watson and Plaintiff began to speak with each
other, and Watson appeared to explain that an abatement was
taking place and that Plaintiff's second motion to
reinstate appeal had been denied. (Id. at
00:01-01:04). Plaintiff disputed this, saying that he still
had an appeal pending. (Id. at 01:04-01:37).
Defendant Watson informed Plaintiff that he was
“obstructing a lawful operation” and asked
someone off-camera to contact a police officer. (Id.
at 01:38-01:48). The men continued to compare paperwork and
argue about whether there had been a denial; during this
conversation, Plaintiff insisted that he had filed a third
motion to reinstate appeal that had not been denied.
(Id. at 02:05-03:57). Defendant Watson reiterated
that Plaintiff was “interfering with a governmental
operation, ” which Plaintiff denied. (Id. at
03:58-04:24). In turn, Plaintiff contended that the abatement
order was not lawful (i.e., “not good”).
(Id.). Plaintiff also retorted that Defendant Watson
was trespassing on his property. (Id. at
and Defendant Watson then briefly walked away from each
other, as Plaintiff continued to look through his paperwork.
(Id. at 05:55-07:20). Plaintiff then claimed that
the judge had granted his “motion to rescind” on
the prior Friday, and that Defendant Watson simply needed to
check to see if he had received it. (Id. at
07:20-08:40). Plaintiff stated that he was in “full
compliance according to the pictures” with the
municipal regulations and asked what else needed to be done;
Defendant Watson responded that he was not in compliance.
(Id. at 08:50-09:50). Plaintiff then proceeded to
walk away, moving several things in his yard while the video
panned around the property. (Id. at 9:50-17:30).
Defendant Watson spoke via telephone to an unknown person,
“Laura, ” who seemingly confirmed that there was
nothing (such as a pending motion) that would prevent Watson
from executing the order. (Id. at 17:30-18:40). At
this point, uniformed police officers, including Defendant
Jackson, arrived. (Id. at 18:40-18:45). Meanwhile, a
voice on Plaintiff's telephone, which he was holding,
appears to state that the motion that had been filed and
granted was one to “retax, ” not one to
“reinstate.” (Id. at 18:45-19:49).
Defendant Watson, who could also hear the voice, agreed with
this statement. (Id.). Watson again explained to
Plaintiff that he was interfering with governmental
operations, while Plaintiff again responded that he was in
full compliance and told Watson and his personnel to get off
his property “right now.” (Id. at
the video, a station wagon with a “No
Trespassing” sign in the back window was parked on
Plaintiff's property several feet in front of a wooden
fence leading to his backyard. (Id. at 00:01-39:20).
Plaintiff explained that he had moved the station wagon to
the front of his gate “for the police” on
Thursday, that he did not need to move it, and that the
municipal court's order did not mandate him to move it
off of his property and into the road. (Id. at
20:45-21:17). At this point, Defendant Watson requested that
one of the police officers walk over, explained to the
officer that he had a municipal court order that needed to be
executed, and stated that Plaintiff was interfering with a
government operation, all of which Plaintiff disputed.
(Id. at 21:17-21:55). Plaintiff stated to the
officer that he was not required to move his car, which he
claimed that he had parked in that spot on Thursday, because
“this is America.” (Id. at 21:55-22:23).
Defendant Watson then claimed that the station wagon had an
expired tag and was immobile. (Id. at 22:23-23:00).
In response, Plaintiff produced what appeared to be
registration documentation and claimed that the police
officer present had seen him move the vehicle previously.
(Id.). Defendant Watson stated that he had to
witness the vehicle moving himself and that Plaintiff was
interfering with a governmental operation. (Id. at
23:00-23:30). Plaintiff proceeded to open the hood of his car
and perform some work on it, failing to start it several
times. (Id. at 23:30-39:20). Eventually, Plaintiff
managed to start the car, back it up a short distance, pull
forward a short distance, and turn the engine off.
(Id. at 39:20-39:40).
Watson walked towards Plaintiff, but Plaintiff made a shooing
hand motion and continued to argue that he was in full
compliance with the city ordinance. (Id. at
41:15-44:40). Plaintiff also claimed that he had not
exhausted his appeal rights because he had a new appeal filed
and pending within the time limit. (Id.). At this
point, Defendant Watson called over Defendant Jackson and
informed him that Plaintiff was refusing to allow the city to
enter his property. Plaintiff argued that he simply had asked
questions and had not refused anything. (Id. at
44:40-45:30). However, Plaintiff stated that he would not
move his car off the property, he was not required to do so,
and the officers could not enter his backyard through his
house without a warrant. (Id. at 45:30-45:45).
Defendant Jackson then handcuffed Plaintiff and informed him
that he was under arrest. Jackson explained that he was
taking Plaintiff to jail for interfering with government
operations. (Id. at 45:45-47:30). Plaintiff's
son proceeded to move two cars, including the station wagon
driven by Plaintiff, out of the way of the city workers.
(Id. at 48:35-56:20). The son then spoke to
Defendant Watson about some items on the property and helped
to open the gate to allow entry into the backyard.
video shows two vehicles parked in the backyard, along with
some overgrowth, but the recording ended before any removal
of items began. (Id. at 56:20-59:18). The parties
now dispute whether the vehicles in question were inoperable
and therefore subject to removal under the ordinance,
citation, or municipal court order. (See Docs. 18-1
at 9; 21 at 7). Charges against Dawson on obstruction of
governmental operations were nol prossed by the City
of Leeds on October 16, 2015. (Doc. 21 at 7).