United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Alex Brown, originally filed this matter in the
Circuit Court of Jefferson County, asserting claims under
both federal and state law against the defendants, Officer
Marchello Henry and the City of Birmingham, as well as
fictitious parties. (Doc. 1-1). On July 29, 2015, the
defendants removed to this court under 28 U.S.C. §§
1441 and 1443. (Doc. 1). The parties have unanimously
consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 6). Presently pending is the
defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 13). The
motion is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.
(See Docs. 14-17). For the reasons that follow, the
motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
has been a police officer with the City of Birmingham for
over eight years. (Doc. 14 at 3). Brown is a Birmingham
resident. (Id.). This lawsuit arises from events
surrounding Henry's apprehension and arrest of Brown on
July 20, 2013. (Id. at 4). Henry and his partner
were on patrol when Henry noticed the driver of a silver
minivan drinking a beer. (Id.). Henry saw passengers
in the van, including a man sitting directly behind the
driver. (Id.). Henry attempted to perform a traffic
stop, but the minivan fled. (Id.). Due to safety
concerns, Henry was unable to pursue the minivan directly by
cutting across traffic; instead, he turned onto a side
street. (Id. at 4-5).
lost visual contact with the van and drove through the area
searching for approximately five minutes. (Doc. 14-2 at
33-34). As Henry continued his search, he saw Brown walking
on a sidewalk; Henry thought Brown looked like the passenger
who had been sitting behind the driver of the silver minivan.
(Doc. 14 at 4-5). Henry attempted to speak with Brown to
determine whether he was the occupant of the minivan, but
Brown fled on foot. (Id. at 5). Henry turned on his
lights and siren, called for back-up, and drove his vehicle
in pursuit of Brown. (Id.).
chase proceeded down a narrow alley with a width of
approximately eight to ten feet. (Doc. 14 at 5; Doc. 14-2 at
45-46). Henry pursued in his vehicle at speeds of between
five and fifteen miles per hour until Brown fell down,
injuring his left leg. (Doc. 14 at 21; Doc. 14-2 at 45-47).
At the location where Brown fell, the width of the alley was
further constricted by the presence of a telephone pole.
(Doc. 14-2 at 45-46). Henry apprehended, handcuffed, and
arrested Brown for disorderly conduct. (Doc. 14 at 5).
Paramedics responded to the scene and treated abrasions to
Brown's left leg; Henry also transported Brown in his
patrol vehicle to a nearby hospital, where Brown refused
treatment. (Id. at 5-6). Henry then took Brown to
the City Jail; he was released on bond after approximately
two to three hours. (Doc. 14-1 at 48). On the evening of his
release, Brown sought hospital treatment for his left leg
injury. (Id.). Brown was subsequently charged with
and, after a jury trial, convicted of disorderly conduct in
City of Birmingham v. Alex Deon Brown, No.
2014-002966.00 (Jefferson Cty. Cir. Ct. entered
March 23, 2016). (Doc. 14 at 6; Doc. 14-11). Brown did not
appeal the conviction.
are three principal factual disputes concerning the events
leading to Brown's arrest. First, Brown contends that
during their initial encounter, Henry was attempting to draw
his firearm. (Doc. 16 at 4). Henry denies this. (Doc. 17 at
2). Next, Brown contends the chase ended when Henry hit him
with his patrol vehicle and ran over his left leg. (Doc. 16
at 4). Henry denies that his vehicle made any contact with
Brown. (Doc. 17 at 2). Finally, Henry contends Brown ran
across a busy street and disrupted traffic while attempting
to flee. (Doc. 14 at 5). This was the basis of the disorderly
conduct charge, but Brown contends Henry charged him with
disorderly conduct in order to justify his aggressive
tactics, as well as hitting him and running over his leg.
(Doc. 16 at 4).
on these facts, Brown asserts claims for negligence and
negligent supervision under Alabama law, as well as claims
under federal law for excessive force and false arrest, false
imprisonment, and unlawful detention. (Doc. 1-1 at 2-4). The
complaint names Henry and the City as defendants; Henry is
named in both his individual and official
capacity. (Doc. 1-1 at 1).
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To demonstrate there is a genuine dispute
as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a
party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite
"to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment
motion, the court must view the evidence in the record in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hill v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 510 F.App'x 810, 813
(11th Cir. 2013). "The court need consider only the
cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the
record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).
noted above, Brown asserts claims under both federal and
state law against the City and Henry. The claims against each
defendant will be addressed in turn. As explained below, the
excessive force claim against Henry in his personal capacity
will survive summary judgment; all other claims will be
dismissed as a matter of law.
Henry, Brown asserts federal claims for excessive force and
false arrest, imprisonment, and detention, as well a state
law claim for negligence. The federal claims-and the applicable
qualified immunity defenses-will be addressed first, followed
by an analysis of the negligence claim and state law
immunities. As explained below, under the summary judgment
standard: (1) the false arrest claim is barred by qualified
immunity; (2) qualified immunity does not preclude the
personal capacity claim for excessive force; and (3) Henry is
immune from liability on Brown's negligence claim.
turning to the individual claims, it must be noted that
Brown's claims naming Henry do so in both his personal
and official capacities. "Personal-capacity claims seek
to impose personal liability upon a government official for
actions taken under color of state law." Graham v.
Kentucky, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Meanwhile, official
capacity claims "generally represent only another way of
pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is
an agent." Id. Accordingly, the Eleventh
Circuit has recognized that an official capacity suit is in
reality a suit against the entity. Id.; Owens v.
Fulton County, 877 F.2d 947, 951 n.5 (11th Cir. 1989)
("For liability purposes, a suit against a public
official in his official capacity is considered a suit
against the local government entity he represents.").
Where the complaint names a local government entity as a
defendant, the court should dismiss as redundant the official
capacity claims against the individual defendant. Busby
v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991).
the official capacity claims against Henry are duplicative of
the claims against the City. Accordingly, the claims against
Henry in his official capacity will be dismissed; only the
personal capacity claims against Henry will be considered.
Federal Claims and Qualified Immunity
immunity offers complete protection for government officials-
including municipal officers-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." Vinyard v.
Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982));
see Busby, 931 F.2d at 770. To defeat a qualified
immunity defense on summary judgment, a plaintiff must
satisfy two requirements: (1) the facts taken in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff must establish a
constitutional violation; and (2) the constitutional
violation must infringe on a "clearly established"
right. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001);
see Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002). A
plaintiff must satisfy both requirements to defeat an
official's assertion of qualified immunity. Pearson
v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). The Supreme Court
has held "that government officials performing
discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability
for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person should have known."
Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818.
it is undisputed that investigation, pursuit, apprehension,
and arrest of criminal suspects are among a municipal police
officer's discretionary functions. Brown v. City of
Huntsville, 608 F.3d 724, 741 (11th Cir. 2010).
Therefore, the court will analyze whether Brown's federal
claims against Henry are barred by qualified immunity.
False Arrest, Imprisonment, and Detention
claim for false arrest, imprisonment, and detention hinges on
his contention that Henry manufactured the disorderly conduct
charge to excuse the aggressive tactics he employed to
apprehend Brown. Therefore, the central inquiry is whether,
at the time of Brown's arrest, Henry had arguable
probable cause to believe Brown had committed the offense of
disorderly conduct. See Von Stein v. Brescher, 904
F.2d 572, 579 (11th Cir. 1990). Arguable probable cause is
present where "a reasonable officer in the same
circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as the
officer in question could have reasonably believed
that probable cause existed in the light of well-established
law." Eubanks v. Gerwen, 40 F.3d 1157, 1160
(11th Cir. 1994). The Eleventh Circuit has repeatedly held
that arguable probable cause is distinct from actual probable
cause. See, e.g., Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 7
F.3d 1552, 1559 (11th Cir.1993).
law defines disorderly conduct-a Class C misdemeanor-as
including the obstruction of "vehicular or pedestrian
traffic." Ala. Code. § 13A-11-7(a)(5), (b). Brown
contends that, because Henry admits Brown was not subject to
arrest when he initially attempted to conduct the
investigatory interview, Brown's subsequent apprehension
and arrest constitute a false arrest. (Doc. 16 at 12-14).
Henry acknowledges that, at the time he first encountered
Brown and attempted to speak to him-to investigate the
drinking driver of the silver minivan-Brown was not subject
to arrest. (Doc. 14-2 at 39-42). However, Henry contends
Brown committed the crime of disorderly conduct when he fled
across a busy street, causing vehicles to brake and swerve to
avoid hitting him. (Id. at 42). Brown's
opposition does not explicitly refute Henry's contention
that he obstructed traffic when he ran across the road.
Accordingly, even accepting the facts in the light most
favorable to Brown, it is undisputed that he impeded traffic
while fleeing, constituting disorderly conduct under Alabama
law. As such, Henry had arguable probable cause to arrest him
for that offense. See Brown, 608 F.3d at 735;
Gold v. City of Miami, 121 F.3d 1442, 1445-46 (11th
Brown had explicitly contradicted Henry's testimony that
he impeded traffic, Brown's subsequent conviction would
preclude reconsideration of this factual issue. Brown was
convicted of disorderly conduct following a jury trial in
Jefferson County Circuit Court. The jury verdict noted Brown
was guilty "of Disorderly Conduct as charged in the
complaint." (See Doc. 14-11). The complaint, in
turn, alleged Brown impeded "the flow of traffic by
running in the street. Cars swerved to prevent from
hitting" him, in violation of section 13A-11-7 of the
Alabama Code. (See Doc. 14-12).
Accordingly, the doctrine of issue preclusion limits this
court from reconsidering whether Brown committed disorderly
conduct and, by extension, whether Henry had arguable
probable cause to arrest him for the offense. See
Willingham v. Loughnan, 321 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir.
2003). Specifically, the summary judgment standard
notwithstanding, issue preclusion would prevent the court
from accepting any assertion that Brown did not impede
traffic while fleeing from Henry.
foregoing reasons, Brown had arguable probable cause to
arrest Henry for disorderly conduct. Therefore, Brown is
entitled to qualified immunity on the claim for false arrest,
imprisonment, and detention. See Gold, 121 F.3d at
1445-46; Brown, 608 F.3d at 735.